There is a fundamental problem at the heart of politics: inequality of opportunity.
With youth unemployment at record levels, a retracting public sector (with the public sector being key to graduate retention outside London) and an economy still struggling to achieve and maintain growth, many young people find themselves having to fight like never before to gain any sort of recognition or opportunities.
This is a significant problem for all young people, regardless of their chosen career path or geographical location. However, for young people seeking a career in politics, these factors are compounded by one enormous obstacle: Westminster.
There has been significant controversy recently around the practice of using unpaid interns in Westminster and, without getting into the morals of the issue, there is an underlying problem that would not be solved even if all interns were paid – namely, that it is still felt the route to a full-time job in politics is by being in London and working in Parliament.
Why, when the argument is currently about how to ensure these opportunities are open to all and not exploitative, are we so comfortable with the idea that the only path to having real influence or impact on politics is by living in one specific city in a country of 60 million plus?
Surely the Labour Party, as a party that believes in unanimous equality and has spent such a long time trying to rebalance geographical economic disparities, should be deeply uncomfortable with a reality in which the only way to ‘get on’ in politics – if you live outside London – is by moving there.
As Regions Officer for the Young Fabians, I find this deeply problematic. With a current system where opportunity and influence is so heavily centralised, no matter how well-paid internships may be, if they always require people to be based in London then they close the door to a large number of people who can not/do not want to move to the South East.
As a party, the Labour Party should have a problem with the idea that ‘the only way is London’, especially as this problem is not confined to Politics. The BBC should be lauded for its attempt to move significant numbers of jobs out of London; Manchester is a modern, cosmopolitan, internationally-competitive city, yet the way a large number of BBC executives have reacted to the move you would think they were being exiled to the furthest reaches of the globe.
But attempts remain to address this incredible imbalance in prospects and to give people the opportunity to make an impact and make a career for themselves outside of London.
Conferences like Netroots, though inaugurally based in London (let’s hope for somewhere north of Watford next year, eh?) are an important step to developing a UK-wide political system because they enable activists, bloggers (a non-geographically bounded activity) and campaigners to learn important skills that they can take back with them to their own areas of the country and use to make a difference and an impact in their own communities and in turn develop their own career and profile.
Experts have previously written on how activists can develop a significant online presence for little cost, such as Luke Bozier on Left Foot Forward, and this is clearly something that can be done anywhere in the UK. In a similar vein, this year’s Young Fabian executive is keen to ensure members from across the country are valued and supported in their work, and as such has arranged a number of workshops to help individuals develop their skills and abilities.
We’ve already held a blog and magazine writing workshop in January, led by Paul Richards and Hopi Sen. This gave attendees a chance to gain skills that can they can use no matter where they are in the country. On Saturday 12th March, the Young Fabians will continue this theme with ‘Getting Noticed in the North’, at the Friends Meeting House in Manchester.
Full details of the event, which will be addressed by Shadow Culture Secretary Ivan Lewis, can be found here. Topics covered will include making an impact on Social Media; getting your local campaign noticed on the national stage; what makes a good political website; and what national editors are looking for from regional writers.
Sam Bacon is Regions Officer of the Young Fabians. This blog was originally posted on Left Foot Forward.