Reading this article on Comment is Free yesterday brought home to me how widespread the idea is that young people aren’t interested in party politics, and more so, that they shouldn’t be interested. Apparently single-issue campaigning is where it’s at these days.
Like many young people, I’m an ardent supporter of several pressure groups, including Amnesty International and the Fawcett Society. I’m excited about the Vote for a Change campaign and looking forward to seeing what happens with the Robin Hood Tax proposals. But I’m also a party activist – and that’s where I believe I make more of a difference.
Sure, politics isn’t always thrilling for young people. From the procedure bores at your local ward meetings to the stuffed shirts harrumphing through House of Commons debates, party politics is too often dominated by the pale, male and stale. Tulip Siddiq and Sam Bacon made a great case last week for making politics more accessible to young people, and we must do more to make politics more engaging.
But single-issue campaigns don’t make policy; governments do. While popular campaigns can raise an issue to the top of MPs’ agendas, they can’t directly make legislation or spend public money. They often propose a particular policy without context – the 10:10 campaign, for example, is a great idea, but how does it fit in with government spending priorities, international commitments and cross-departmental plans? Party manifestos, by embodying a set of ideas and values shared by a range of people, contain a series of policies that are (mostly) consistent and workable.
Every one of us has multiple identities and multiple interests. I’m young, a woman, an immigrant, a trade unionist. I’m interested in the economy, the environment, our healthcare and education systems, our international development policy. A campaigning organisation does not and cannot represent all of my hopes and fears and aspirations for the future – but the Labour Party does.
Many young people have been turned off Labour by their objections to particular policies, like the war on Iraq or the introduction of top-up fees. But joining a party doesn’t mean that you have to agree with everything the leadership thinks. The Labour Party is a broad church, with fervent Third Way adherents rubbing shoulders with committed democratic socialists. Challenging and questioning is vital to making the party stronger and more in tune with the wants and needs of the plurality of citizens.
So if you really want to change the world, join a party. Propose motions at your local meetings, go to Conference, campaign for candidates who support your views, stand for election yourself. People who get involved in organisations like Young Labour come from all over and bring with them a multiplicity of ideas, asks and solutions. What unites us is our fundamental commitment to making our society a better place and our belief in the Labour Party as the right instrument to achieve that change.
You can join us in the Labour Party here.