Why I’m standing for the NEC

At this weekend’s Labour’s National Youth Conference, I am one of two candidates standing for the NEC Representative Position. Currently I am studying towards a Medical biology PhD and live in Sheffield. I have been driven to stand for this position by the severe lack of opportunities for young people and my absolute passion for equality. The coalition has challenged us to breaking point. I believe Young Labour has the potential to bring about influential change by promoting the strong values of movement and putting young people first. Here I want to paint a vision for what Young Labour should achieve by 2015.

Young people are suffering most as a result of the economic mismanagement of this government. It should fall to Young Labour to lead the debate within the party and wider society to ensure that our response is not just restricted to condemning the Tories and criticise Osborne. We need to channel our experiences and perceptions into formulating a comprehensive alternative to austerity and set Britain on the right course for the future.

Our party will struggle to re-establish credibility if we continue to offer a lesser version of the cuts agenda set by the Conservative Party. As long was we follow their economic argument, we will lose. While we can’t write our manifesto at this point, however, Young Labour need to start campaigning now to help form policies of growth, job creation and investment to have a clear, long term alternative in 2015. We need to have a strong message on young people and well thought out ideas that work for us and are flexible to fit any economic failings that are to come.

Young Labour must have policy making powers, protected by the rule book and clear to all our members. Our movement must have autonomy to hold its own positions and challenge the wider party when needed. We should lead the party towards a platform that protects young people; one that promotes growth not cuts and collectivism not individualism.

This election has a clear choice. I aim to offer members something different-an accountable voice at the Labour party’s highest table. I care deeply about hearing from every corner, every view and every part of Young Labour. Doing this requires two-way communication. I pledge to go to every region including Northern Ireland over my term to hold events where Young members can feed in to policy and Young Labour’s decisions. As well as working with our liberation groups regionally to ensure that all our members voices are heard.

At the heart of my vision for this role is a youth Labour movement which is more transparent and open. One that connects all our members including young workers, students, the young unemployed and those in school education. I would also be the first NEC Youth representative in a long time actively distribute regular NEC reports and contact information, following the good practice of Ann Black and others. Young Labour must be have a leadership fully elected by all members therefore I would push to introduce One Member One Vote for both the chair and NEC positions.

These simple steps will help to build a framework to make Young Labour a stronger movement. For young peoples lives to improve Labour needs to deliver in 2015, Young Labour need to be focused against austerity and all parts of our movement must unify and work together to deliver this.

By Olivia Blake

 

Find out more at:

Website: Olivia4NEC

Twitter: @olivia4nec

London Labour and the anti-cuts movement

This weekend’s credit rating downgrading is yet another reason why the Labour Party must become more outspoken in its opposition to austerity. Growing opposition to the impact of Tory spending cuts on people’s living standards demands that the party connect with emerging community campaigns in defence of public services.

But alongside this, as it develops an investment alternative, it must begin by saying that Labour will reject spending cuts mapped out by George Osborne for a post-election government.

For me, this was the message from members at London Labour Party conference on 16th February, who were in a combative mood, with the Tory government in their sights. London Labour members want their representatives to employ a language that connects with ordinary voters and voices public outrage at the impact of Tory cuts. Policy debates saw repeated attacks on the cuts, whether in emergency services, health, education or local government, delivered by activists from all wings of the party with a greater urgency and a harsher tone than anything heard in Westminster.

Much of the talk was defensive and focused on the immediate threats to living standards brought about by the cuts now coming into force. The current hospital campaigns across the capital and the imminent implementation of benefit cuts were at the forefront.

But members were also encouraged by Ed Miliband’s opposition to the proposed benefit cap and redistributive proposal in the week before of a mansion tax to fund a reduced income tax band for those earning least. Popular with the public, it is also popular with members.

Facing those immediate threats though, there was a clear desire to co-ordinate our opposition, pool our resources, and focus fire on the Coalition. In policy terms the key arguments were that we must oppose privatisation while giving a robust defence of government and local authority intervention in the market. The leadership must take this cue to champion interventionism.

This was demonstrated in the NHS debate, with the commitment to ‘restore the principle of a publicly owned, publicly provided, and publicly accountable NHS’ and to ‘work with health unions, the medical and other health professionals and NHS supporters to campaign against privatisation, cuts and closures’ from the 2012 Annual Conference was passed.

And in the housing debate, where the key policy motion stated that ‘where housing benefits are high, the beneficiaries are not, in fact, the low waged tenants, but the extortionate landlords who own the homes and the skinflint employers who pay them such low wages’. Capping rents, regulating private rented sector, initiating an urgent expansion of council housing and using public funds to bring empty and unused properties back into use were all proposed as alternatives.

We clearly need better co-ordination in the London Labour family on housing. While a few campaigning administrations stand out, too many do not. There are good Labour councils working hard to challenge the government policies that are exacerbating the housing crisis but not everyone within Labour is doing the same thing. A very welcome vote in favour of a special Labour conference of Labour Groups and CLP members backed by the conference, is an opportunity to co-ordinate that.

And the explosion in public outrage at the impact of spending cuts in the NHS was clearly represented in the conference hall. The impressive campaign to save Lewisham Hospital has set the standard for a myriad of campaigns across London to defend other hospitals, including my local, the Whittington. The UNISON motion took apart the privatisation plans in the Health and Social Care Act, while four emergency motions were submitted and passed, committing the London Labour Party to back London demonstrations in defence of the NHS, until a Labour government can reverse cuts.

With an increased willingness to oppose individual cuts, we must develop the broader narrative of ‘austerity isn’t working’. Community campaigns against cuts must be supported, but we need to put our money where our mouth is. As the Labour Party must become more outspoken in its opposition to austerity it should make absolutely clear its outright rejection of any spending limits set out for a post-election government.

Even before it is prepared to set out it’s spending commmitments, the Labour leadership must make clear there is no future for the Coalitions disastrous cuts under a Labour government.

It can and should make that commitment now, but it must develop its own interventionist spending alternative. Because while we oppose cuts for their attack on living standards, we also know investment is necessary to generate new jobs and economic growth.

The anti-cuts campaign is stepping up, Labour must be part of it.

 

London Labour Party Conference February 2013 decisions

Lowering the voting age is now essential

On 24th January, MPs voted in favour of a proposal to lower the voting age in all UK elections from 18 to 16. The Labour Party has showed its support for the move, with Ed Milliband claiming that it is necessary in order to ‘give young people a say in their future’.

Despite not having the right to vote, 16 and 17 year olds are active members of our society and hold a variety of responsibilities within it. They can get married and pay income tax. They are able to join the army, and are routinely sent off into armed conflict. The age of criminal responsibility in the UK is set at 10 – yet people currently have no say in the laws which they are subjected to until the age of 18. It is both unfair and illogical to deny 16 and 17 year olds a democratic voice in a society which both legislates for them, and in which they are expected to participate.

The lowering of the voting age is more essential now than ever before. The problems facing young people today are well-known: the scrapping of EMA, burgeoning student debts, rising rent costs and an insecure job market. With the Tory/Lib Deb coalition’s dogmatic adherence to austerity, and their failure of imagination and ambition in tackling the root causes of youth unemployment, this trend will only continue. And yet this age group are rarely the recipients of much sympathy and attention from politicians or the press.

The attitude to pensioners could not be more different, as shown by the media’s response to Osborne’s 2012 budget, and the government’s fear of tampering with free bus passes or the winter fuel allowance. This is not least because pensioners head to the ballot box in droves, whereas no such political incentives arise when it comes to cutting EMA or other services for those in their late teens. Extending the franchise would encourage politicians to engage with the concerns of young people, who are currently being neglected by the unyielding hierarchies of recession Britain.

Aside from questions of fairness, there are more far-reaching, cultural imperatives for giving 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote, which stem from the troubled state of our current political system. The vast majority of teenagers currently feel alienated from and disillusioned with mainstream politics. The doorstep tropes of ‘all politicians are corrupt’ and ‘all the parties are the same’ may be exaggerations, but they are entrenched in people’s consciousnesses and are developed at an early age. This sense of disconnect is exacerbated by the fact that, at an age when many people are developing their own views and ideas, they also feel so disempowered within the political system.

By participating in this system from a younger age, voters would be encouraged to consider how politics affects their own lives, and take an active interest in election campaigns. A transformation in attitudes among young people will only come about through a gradual, cultural shift, where the current trends of cynicism and distrust of politicians are replaced by a desire to actively engage and effect change in society. This seems unlikely to occur when 16 and 17 year olds are expelled from the democratic process.

Politicians from all parties are fond of preaching, often from the pages of think tank pamphlets, about ‘regaining the public’s trust’ and ‘speaking a language that people understand’. Unless this is superseded by concrete policy changes, these words are all utterly meaningless. Allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote is not the absolute panacea of course, but it would go a long way in extending public engagement with politics, and in the long term strengthening the relationship between politicians and the electorate.

By Tim Gallagher