Young people are going to be at the sharp end, says Ken Livingstone

Young people are going to find themselves at the sharp end under this government. A key part of what we do in the next few years will be to make a concerted effort to engage with the concerns of our youngest citizens. And to make that more effective we will also need to give our younger members our confidence and a bigger say.

I have appointed a Young Labour member – Veronica King – as my campaign vice chair because we should not treat young members merely as campaign fodder, but listen to them and involve them more. If I am selected by Labour members – and then if elected as mayor – I want to see a flourishing youth structure for under-27s in our party that can help us win.

The days when the party’s youth section was a constant source of conflict are long gone. Young Labour members are amongst the most committed of the party’s activists. A campaigning prospctus has been forged by Young Labour members that must be allowed to flourish.

There are some basic reforms the party should consider. Greater resources are needed, including the creation of a dedicated post – not replacing any existing staff – of a national youth officer, working full or part-time under the direction of the chair and national committee of Young Labour. It is right that Labour Students has full-time officers to make sure the work of the student wing is as effective as possible. This should be maintained, but similar resources are now needed for Young Labour.

We need to see greater ability for Young Labour to make policy and Young Labour ought to have the ability to decide on and run campaigns.  The proposals that have emerged within Young Labour for named officers so that the national committee can do an even better job make sense.

Changes such as these should protect the representation of trade union appointees on the Young Labour national committee, as well as the places for Labour Students and the Young Fabians.

Students and young people are already feeling the heat under the new government: David Willetts has labelled students a “burden on the taxpayer”.

Cuts to Labour’s Future Jobs Fund for unemployed young people, axing 10, 000 extra university places, restricting access to free school meals, slashing the budget to improve school buildings are all merely the tip of the iceberg.

We need to present a clear alternative, putting investment before cuts and knitting together the millions of all ages whose quality of life will be under threat.

Opposition to what the government threatens will not be enough – we also have to offer hope and a new way forward.  Which means offering clear solutions to the shortage of affordable housing which is a huge upward pressure on the cost of living for young people, many of whom face no viable prospect of a secure affordable home. That means making investment in public housing right at the forefront of our programme.

It must include votes at sixteen, resolving the age inequalities in the minimum wage that discriminate against young people, and making the London living wage more of a reality for more young workers in London.  In London, it means going into the mayoral election with strong messages on these and other issues – such as the defence of the free bus and tram travel scheme for under-18s.

Young people have always played a central role in the most important issues in the world. The next generation has the greatest interest in serious solutions to the global challenge of climate change. The left, with its ideas of mutual endeavour, planning and fairness, is well-placed to give a lead.

From Vietnam to the war in Iraq and nuclear disarmament, young people have led the campaigns for peace and justice from the front.  We could have had ten years of free higher education for the same price – £20 billion – as joining George W Bush’s wars. If Labour is to win and keep the support of those young people most committed to a better society, it must permanently ditch the disfiguring foreign policy that has seen us acting as the junior partner to the most powerful superpower on earth.

These are some of the elements of the framework we should adopt to give voice to the millions of young people who will become engaged with politics over the next few years – including those who take the step to join Labour’s ranks.

Ken Livingstone was successively leader of the greater London council, a Labour MP and London’s first mayor. He is currently a candidate in Labour’s London mayoral selection.

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