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To end the Tories' assault on the young, Labour must get back into power

Activists should draw inspiration from the party's achievements in 1997-2010. 

Today I’m looking forward to meeting our young members as they prepare for a raft of elections and debates in the Labour youth movement. Our young members have come from far and wide across the country to sunny Scarborough – where their minds will be on far more important matters than picking up sticks of rock or heading down to the beach.

Since May, the number of young people in the Labour Party has nearly tripled. We now have over 55,000 young members – a figure which dwarfs the youth membership of other parties. But now, under a Tory majority government that no one saw coming, it has never been more important for young people to get involved in politics, and stand up for what they believe.

We are Labour because we believe that everyone, no matter who they are or where they come from, should have access to the ladders that can help them move up in the world. Just this week we saw figures from the Sutton Trust, showing 71 per cent of military officers, almost two thirds of top doctors and about half of leading journalists went to private schools – which only 7 per cent of the country has the privilege to attend. David Cameron talks about social mobility, but where is the evidence that this generation of young people will be able to get on in life, whatever their background?

The Tories are hitting young people hardest; with wages low, maintenance grants for the poorest students scrapped, and voter registration rules cynically changed to lock young people out of democracy. The number of young people owning their own home is at its lowest level since records began. University tuition fees have trebled. 853,000 young people are not in employment, education or training. The proportion of people in zero hours contracts is three times higher for young people than for other age groups. 

Labour introduced EMA and worked so hard to get 50 per cent of school-leavers into university - so that, whoever you are, and whatever your background, you had the support and foundations to make your way in the world. In the last government they came for FE students, scrapping EMA and trebling tuition fees. In this Parliament they are coming after poorer students by scrapping maintenance grants, and they don’t think that under-25s deserve a living wage. We know that FE and HE aren’t the only way to get on in life – but only 5 per cent of 16 year olds currently go on to do an apprenticeship.‎ 

But if you are a young person reading this, thinking how unfair it is that your needs seem to be completely ignored by the government – just wait until you see how little they care when you don’t even have a vote at the election. They have taken away the ladders for you to get on in the world, now they are coming for your democratic voice.

We meet in a week where we learned that 1.4 million people have fallen off the electoral register since the rushed changes to voter registration, with young people and student areas some of the worst affected. Some 40 per cent of 16 and 17 year olds who would soon have been eligible to vote for the very first time have disappeared from the electoral register in the last two years, due to the Tories’ hasty, partisan changes. 

That’s why I have written to the government to ask them to do more to encourage voter registration in schools and universities. Please register now and do all you can before May’s elections and the June EU referendum to encourage friends, family members and anyone else you come across to register.

Our young activists will be enjoying themselves this weekend, making good friends and exploring their own and others’ views. But they will all agree on one thing. The most important task any young activist has – the thing that will make all the difference to their own life chances and those of their peer group - is getting rid of this terrible Tory government. The only way we can change things in this country is by getting into power – just think of everything we achieved from 1997-2010. EMA, civil partnerships, redistribution of wealth, lifting people out of poverty, the minimum wage, better pay for public sector workers…the list goes on and on.

I hope that our young members will be shouting from the rooftops about what we achieved then, and then hitting the doorstep to show our determination to do even more in 2020. Labour people, young and old, must do everything they can in the months ahead to win May’s elections and change lives across the country.

Gloria De Piero is Labour MP for Ashfield. 

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The tale of Battersea power station shows how affordable housing is lost

Initially, the developers promised 636 affordable homes. Now, they have reduced the number to 386. 

It’s the most predictable trick in the big book of property development. A developer signs an agreement with a local council promising to provide a barely acceptable level of barely affordable housing, then slashes these commitments at the first, second and third signs of trouble. It’s happened all over the country, from Hastings to Cumbria. But it happens most often in London, and most recently of all at Battersea power station, the Thames landmark and long-time London ruin which I wrote about in my 2016 book, Up In Smoke: The Failed Dreams of Battersea Power Station. For decades, the power station was one of London’s most popular buildings but now it represents some of the most depressing aspects of the capital’s attempts at regeneration. Almost in shame, the building itself has started to disappear from view behind a curtain of ugly gold-and-glass apartments aimed squarely at the international rich. The Battersea power station development is costing around £9bn. There will be around 4,200 flats, an office for Apple and a new Tube station. But only 386 of the new flats will be considered affordable

What makes the Battersea power station development worse is the developer’s argument for why there are so few affordable homes, which runs something like this. The bottom is falling out of the luxury homes market because too many are being built, which means developers can no longer afford to build the sort of homes that people actually want. It’s yet another sign of the failure of the housing market to provide what is most needed. But it also highlights the delusion of politicians who still seem to believe that property developers are going to provide the answers to one of the most pressing problems in politics.

A Malaysian consortium acquired the power station in 2012 and initially promised to build 517 affordable units, which then rose to 636. This was pretty meagre, but with four developers having already failed to develop the site, it was enough to satisfy Wandsworth council. By the time I wrote Up In Smoke, this had been reduced back to 565 units – around 15 per cent of the total number of new flats. Now the developers want to build only 386 affordable homes – around 9 per cent of the final residential offering, which includes expensive flats bought by the likes of Sting and Bear Grylls. 

The developers say this is because of escalating costs and the technical challenges of restoring the power station – but it’s also the case that the entire Nine Elms area between Battersea and Vauxhall is experiencing a glut of similar property, which is driving down prices. They want to focus instead on paying for the new Northern Line extension that joins the power station to Kennington. The slashing of affordable housing can be done without need for a new planning application or public consultation by using a “deed of variation”. It also means Mayor Sadiq Khan can’t do much more than write to Wandsworth urging the council to reject the new scheme. There’s little chance of that. Conservative Wandsworth has been committed to a developer-led solution to the power station for three decades and in that time has perfected the art of rolling over, despite several excruciating, and occasionally hilarious, disappointments.

The Battersea power station situation also highlights the sophistry developers will use to excuse any decision. When I interviewed Rob Tincknell, the developer’s chief executive, in 2014, he boasted it was the developer’s commitment to paying for the Northern Line extension (NLE) that was allowing the already limited amount of affordable housing to be built in the first place. Without the NLE, he insisted, they would never be able to build this number of affordable units. “The important point to note is that the NLE project allows the development density in the district of Nine Elms to nearly double,” he said. “Therefore, without the NLE the density at Battersea would be about half and even if there was a higher level of affordable, say 30 per cent, it would be a percentage of a lower figure and therefore the city wouldn’t get any more affordable than they do now.”

Now the argument is reversed. Because the developer has to pay for the transport infrastructure, they can’t afford to build as much affordable housing. Smart hey?

It’s not entirely hopeless. Wandsworth may yet reject the plan, while the developers say they hope to restore the missing 250 units at the end of the build.

But I wouldn’t hold your breath.

This is a version of a blog post which originally appeared here.

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