Young Labour at the heart of the fightback

by Stephanie Peacock

Whether it’s the tripling of tuition fees, the end of the future jobs fund or the abolition of the education maintenance allowance, this government’s reckless and draconian cuts are hitting the youngest hardest.

So it’s no surprise that since the election we have seen an extra 50,000 party members – many of whom are young members. This is a critical time for young people to join Labour and stand up to the Government’s attack on their opportunities.

A new generation of young people has been politicised by this government’s shameful and devastating actions. The Labour party needs to be on their side. We must provide an alternative and convert that passion and anger into activism. To do that we, as a party, need to do a number of things.

Over the past four years I have had the honour of being the youth rep on our party’s national executive committee. And this weekend, at our youth conference in Glasgow, I stand down. During this time, there have been big changes in Labour’s youth movement. The ones I am proudest of are the successful campaign for a £1 youth membership rate, the introduction of great training and a toolkit for activists and the historic reform of young labour.

First, we need a renewed recruitment drive backed by better support and training for new and young members. The £1 youth rate doubled recruitment. But we need to seize this political moment to make young Labour the biggest and most vibrant political group in the country. That is why I welcome Ed Miliband building on the £1 youth rate by launching a special 1p rate as he seeks to reach out to a new generation of young members.

We need to use our new structures to become a truly effective campaigning organisation. I am proud to have pushed through changes to our party’s constitution. They reform the structures of young Labour and introduce greater democracy and transparency into youth elections.

We have the structures and democracy in place to serve us well in the years ahead. We must now use them to campaign against the devastating cuts that are being introduced.

This requires active and effective young Labour groups campaigning and engaging with their communities. They must be supported by the leadership of our party and engage with all sections of our movement from young members, students and young trade unionists.

Our general secretary, Ray Collins’, commitment to a national youth officer, announced at this year’s party conference, makes clear that the party is beginning to take the youth movement more seriously. I was pleased that at my last NEC meeting in January, the party’s commitment to introduce a youth officer was reaffirmed. This promise now needs to be delivered. It is a position I have been campaigning for since I was elected. I believe it will play a crucial role in supporting young members and young Labour groups to be more active.

We have seen the huge difference that young members can make – whether it be campaigning in hundreds of seats across the country during last year’s general election, taking on the British National party or travelling, in many cases hundreds of miles, to help contribute to our recent fantastic win in Oldham.
Finally, alongside an active youth movement, we need the right policies, ideas and answers. We need young members involved in formulating them and we need to articulate a well-argued response to the government. The party is currently reviewing our policy-making processes – young members must be at the heart of that process and their voices must be heard.

The structures, enthusiasm and commitment are already there within our youth movement. It needs to be channelled effectively, alongside greater support and a real voice, if it really is to make a difference. Much has changed in the last four years, which has helped lay the foundations for the campaigning, supported and ideas-led organisation that young Labour should be. I am sure that the new NEC youth representative and young Labour chair will continue that work to ensure that Labour’s youth movement goes from strength to strength.

Stephanie Peacock has been the NEC youth rep from 2007 to 2011 and stands down this weekend.

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