Labour should be standing up for students - but it's not
The Labour Party Conference has been another damp squib, and Ed Miliband risks losing a generation of voters
Harrison is a political journalist and second year History and Politics undergraduate. He edits Exeter University's student newspaper Exeposé, having written for a number of publications, including The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and The Egyptian Gazette.
Thursday 26 September 2013
It might not be surprising when students nationwide greet the end of The Labour Party Conference with resigned shrugs and a complete lack of interest; but it is telling.
Conference season is clearly not the most interesting thing for young people, but with a right wing government overseeing the biggest fall in living standards since Queen Victoria's reign, Labour - the opposition and traditional home of young voters - should be connecting with them through a message of hope and change.
My generation is one of many groups hit hard by this government's policies. Thanks to them, we are paying £18,000 more for degrees, have lost out on EMA and face considerable challenges in the job market. Despite such scope to attack coalition policies and win over young voters, Labour is simply not grasping the opportunity or suggesting constructive ideas to improve youth living standards.
Indeed, in this era when “they're all the same” has become an accepted – though false – mantra about politicians, Labour is not seen as a real alternative by young people, despite encouraging steps from Ed Miliband.
Cynical party members will argue that policies aimed at uninterested youngsters – including those who cannot vote – are pointless. But alongside improving young people's lives, there are also considerable electoral gains to be made. With over two million students enrolled in UK universities, and a hotly contested election being predicted, this traditionally left-leaning group is more than capable of winning the marginal seats Labour need to win in 2015.
As it stands, the party has come to accept much of the Tories' false narrative on austerity, outrageously high university fees and internships. And nor do they have a coherent message for combating youth unemployment, student debt, or the cost of postgraduate education.
Miliband claimed this week that he was “bringing back socialism", but though there were some promising policies of that ilk, very few will have resonated with students.
Compounding this sparsity of new ideas is the lack of faith in Miliband, who does not yet appear to have convinced the public of his prime ministerial credentials. Student apathy runs deeper than discontent with Labour's leader, though. Young people appear to have lost collective direction - and perhaps even hope - of changing their lot.
Students have at times vented their frustration through protest - something which should be encouraged – but amidst government threats of rubber bullets and kettling tactics, Labour politicians have lined up to discredit and condemn; where once they backed working people and those in need.
Further student radicalisation now seems unlikely, because many feel there is no clear vehicle to voice their opinions.
What appears more likely is a disconnect with mainstream politics, resulting in further apathy from an already uninterested demographic. The gentlemen's cartel of modern British politics will rumble on, with trivial quibbles about minor aspects of policy and 'scandals' like the McBride revelations.
All that could be averted somewhat, if Labour engaged young people. They are a captive audience, since the Greens lack mass support and the coalition partners' policies have infuriated many.
So barring a much-needed return to widespread direct action or a resurgent socialist party, that just leaves Miliband to unite those on the left with policies true to his party's values.
If he fails to ignore the cat calls of 'Red Ed' from the right wing media, he puts his leadership on the line and jeopardises young peoples' future.
As this promising conference closes, Labour needs only to look at their founding principles to grab the attention of students and those seeking change. If they cannot connect, they gamble not only George Osborne's lost economic decade, but potentially a lost generation of voters and capable workers.
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