By Andrew Lewin
In 2003 I made the decision to join the Liberal Democrats. I did so as a young student passionate about politics and confident I was joining a party that shared my convictions about our society.
I had quickly grown to realise that although I was the product of a first class state education, my good fortune was not shared by thousands of my peers across the country. I was exercised that opportunity was still so determined by either income or postcode and resolved that I wanted to help challenge the status quo.
As a Liberal Democrat activist and later their youngest parliamentary candidate in England, I had long believed the party was equally committed to the future of our young people. It was a belief supported by two manifesto commitments that I promoted time and again on the doorstep; the pledge to scrap university top-up fees and the guarantee of a place in training or work for any young person unemployed for more than 90 days. In the days after the formation of the coalition, my deeply held views didn’t waver, but those of the Lib Dem leadership readily did. It was the start of a journey that was to shatter my faith in the party.
For all the u-turns presided over by Nick Clegg in the past 6 months, I consider the abandonment of the two aforementioned policies the most symbolic; they were bold and progressive, yet both have been needlessly sacrificed at the altar of deficit reduction. The coalition decision to scrap the Future Jobs Fund without a replacement like the ’90 day guarantee’ will drive youth unemployment up still further, while the trebling of top-up fees threatens to create an elite and inaccessible HE sector. Both are measures that our young people can ill-afford today and measures we will all pay the price for in the future. For me, supporting our young people in the education system is not just a moral imperative but an economic one. As this government abandons policies to support young people, it risks creating another lost generation and harming both the social and economic future of the country.
It is not in my nature to stand by and watch this government risk our future, I want to be part of a movement that stands by its values and is ready to offer an alternative vision of Britain.
I have been inspired by Ed Miliband’s leadership of the Labour Party; with a balance of humility and optimism he has set out a direction of travel for the party that aligns with my long held principles. His bold thinking on a graduate tax and living wage are policies that chime both with aspiration and a belief in building a more progressive society.
I am under no illusions it will be easy, but am convinced that the Labour Party can become the natural home for everyone who wants to see Britain invest in a fairer future for all. I join the party today with a clear sense of purpose and a renewed hope for my generation.