Eli Harris, Chair of Queen Mary University Labour Society, calls on the Labour Leadership hopefuls to do more to support young activists.
I don’t envy the MPs who are currently standing for the Labour leadership. They’re facing a barrage of interviews and questions, trying to explain how they’ll achieve the mammoth task of rebuilding our voter base, and how they’ll bring about a better world after over a decade of Conservative austerity. Around a quarter of our membership is made up of young people, and my interest lies in how our future leader will best support the people who will one day lead the party. There are plenty of other internal issues that need addressing, but one that has been overlooked is ensuring our youth wing can play an active role in the national conversation.
This morning I found myself reading about the history of Labour’s youth wing, written by Jeremy Tranmer, and he described Young Labour as “less autonomous, has less central organisation and has not promoted or participated in national campaigns” in comparison to youth wings of the past. This is not because young members don’t care enough to run campaigns. It’s quite the opposite.
Young people are desperate to mobilise themselves, educate themselves, and agitate for change. But we simply lack the resources and support from the party to do so. Our sister youth wing in Austria recently held a weekend conference of political education - holding classes in German and English!- free of charge to attendees. In European parties, it’s common practice to pay a decent wage to the people who are organising their youth, as these parties recognise that without nurturing their young talent, it’ll be impossible for them to compete in the future. By relying on overworked young people to volunteer their free time for the huge task of organising the youth wing, the Labour Party is wearing down its most impressive potential talent, and by not providing the resources needed for young people to organise themselves, the Labour Party is shooting itself in the foot.
If potential leaders are serious about the future of our party, they’ll ask young activists how they can best be supported to grow the youth wing and prepare young people for our turn to lead the party.