For F*****’s sake! Tories Out!

 For our Future’s Sake, Tories Out

I’ve never been persuaded that turning out, whenever it suits politicians and their paymasters, to put a cross on a ballot paper is the highest expression of my democratic conviction. It strikes me as bizarre that handing over my say about how the world should be to an individual, who is the obedient follower of his or her party and who is neither accountable or recallable to me, is perceived as the democratic moment of my existence. Neither is my doubt an insult to the memory of those, who struggled for the universal adult franchise. This important victory is but a stepping stone towards more inclusive forms of democratic involvement, Even under its own rules representative democracy denies the vote to young people, who are taxed without representation.

Hence I’ve always treated elections with caution,  even though, in my time, I’ve leafletted and canvassed for Labour. Indeed there have been moments when I have also openly argued against voting Labour and shown sympathy with the anarchist slogan, ‘Don’t Vote, it only encourages them!’ This is not one such moment.

Across the years the professional youth workforce has tended to support Labour, seeing it as a progressive party committed to the central role of the state in providing public services. Indeed in 1997 many workers were seduced by Blair’s ‘Third Way’ with its championing of what has come to be called ‘identity politics’.  The price paid was a heavy one as New Labour abandoned class politics and solidarity, embracing both neoliberalism’s masturbatory self-centredness and its fetishistic belief in an iron law of the market.  The price paid has been austerity and widening inequality. The price paid has been the creation of the precarious society. The price paid has been the eruption of a Manichean world of good and evil, of our bombs and their bombs, none of which distinguish between the guilty or the innocent. Even as it forfeited power to the Conservatives, New Labour proved unable to think outside the neoliberal oblong. Thus there has seemed to be little choice in the party political arena – ‘you couldn’t put a Rizla between them’.

However, in the last turbulent months and volatile days, the scenario has changed dramatically. A Labour Party, perceived as in a terminal crisis, has risen from its bed, led by Jeremy Corbyn, an unlikely and much-maligned figurehead. To the dismay of much of its Parliamentary wing the Labour Party has been reminded of its social-democratic heritage. Its manifesto, whilst by no means the last word in radicalism, is being experienced as a breath of exhilarating air, by many more than just the faithful. It asserts the common good against private greed. It desires peace not war. Whilst it says very little about youth work – a promise to stop the cuts, NCS retained – it offers hope for young people, aspiring to free them from debt and zero-hour contracts. For now, our sectional interests are not the burning issues.

Where does this leave us? It seems pretty straightforward – Vote Labour on Thursday. And yet? Despite Labour’s remarkable recovery from being written off, it is very unlikely that it can achieve an overall majority, especially with Scotland in mind. And I’m convinced such a triumph would be deeply problematic. It would be pulled off with the support of a minority of the population, which would not stop Labour from declaring it had a mandate to impose its programme. At odds with the proposal that he’s about a new way of doing politics, Jeremy Corbyn is still tribal in his outlook. He yearns for the revival of the two-party contest, Labour versus Conservative. Thus he refuses to countenance supportive, working agreements with other political parties. The Greens are dismissed, even though Caroline Lucas might well be the first choice for a Deputy Prime Minister. He argues neither the Scottish National Party nor the Liberal Democrats are progressive, not to be touched with a fishing rod. Yet the majority of his own party’s MP’s suffer in stunned silence, unable to get their heads around the collapse of their pragmatic accommodation to the status quo.  Can you believe it, they are now being expected to believe in something other than their own careers?

For sure, it’s a mess of contradiction, but let me end with two proposals, for what they’re worth.

  1.  If at all possible, it is vital to prevent five further years of a growing Tory authoritarian populism.
  2. We need to celebrate the possible emergence of a Coalition of Chaos, which brings together in creative dialogue and practice political groupings, which in opposing the way things are, possess a vision of a fairer society.  In IDYW we urge a practice that is improvisatory and reflective, democratic and emancipatory, knowing that nothing is ever guaranteed.

On Thursday, vote defensively to stop the Tories and vote optimistically for a new way of doing politics. In this momentous clash our vote is but the beginning. Both within and without youth work our obligation is to carry on building from below. Our task is to hold politicians to account. Our commitment is to speak truth to power.

Thursday looks like being more enthralling than we ever thought. Whatever the outcome, the struggle continues.

 

 

‘Labour will fund youth clubs properly’ – NME exclusive?

NME

Back in the era of punk the Wigan Youth Service subscribed to the New Musical Express [NME]. As the Service’s training officer I urged youth workers to scour or, at least skim, its pages. I argued that knowing something about the Clash or Siouxie and the Banshees opened up the chance to chat with young people about all manner of things. Whilst the NME is no longer the cultural force it was in those days, Jeremy Corbyn shares perhaps some of my nostalgia. Hence he has given the paper a major interview, which will appear in the June 2nd edition.

Of immediate interest is the following response to a NME reader’s question about young people appearing to support Labour.

 “I think they’re engaged because our manifesto offers them hope. It offers them hope that their schools will be properly funded, that their youth clubs will be properly funded, that they’ll get maintenance grants, they’ll get an opportunity to go to university without incurring massive debts at the end of it.” [my emphasis]

Evidently NME is often given away for free on the streets. If you can grab a copy, it would be good to see the interview in full.

Thanks to Ray Kinsey for this NME distribution map showing where you can pick up a copy and read the full interview.

NME MAP

And thanks to RajYouthworker the full interview online.

http://www.nme.com/features/jeremy-corbyn-interview-2017-cover-feature-labour-2082433

The Election: The YMCA leads the way in making concrete demands

As news of the snap election broke we were critical of the bland call from leading voluntary youth organisations for the political parties to commit themselves to young people.  Indeed we considered drafting an IDYW Open Letter focused on specific demands, which would address the precarious nature of young people’s lives today. However events have overtaken us. All the party manifestos are out on the table. The pressing question is ‘for whom to vote?’ We will address this dilemma in a proposal for discussion next week. Suffice to say it will not advocate voting Conservative. After this obvious conclusion the choices become more complicated, even if the Labour Party’s manifesto is hailed as ‘radical and responsible’.

In the meantime it would be unfair not to recognise that a number of youth organisations have indeed sharpened their demands upon the politicians.

Perhaps the most impressive contribution is the YMCA General Election Manifesto 2017, which under the five headings, The security of a home; Ready to tackle the world; Positive mind and body; Activities that develop character; Empower and invest in the next generation, details the steps that need to be taken by government.

For example, under The security of a home, the following recommendations are made:

  • Look again at proposals to reform the
    supported housing sector to ensure that
    any new funding mechanism properly
    reflects the true cost of delivering
    supported housing
  • Abolish the regulations that remove
    automatic entitlement to housing
    support for 18 to 21-year-olds
  • Exempt all young people moving out
    of supported housing from the Shared
    Accommodation Rate
  • Promote and invest in the development
    and supply of alternative models of low-cost
    housing such as Y:Cube
  • Introduce a national Help to Rent
    scheme to support young people to pay
    for a rental deposit
  • Ban unreasonable letting agent fees in
    the private rented sector
  • Introduce a rental cap to limit the
    amount landlords can increase rents
    annually
  • Legislate to increase the length of
    tenancies in the private rented sector
  • Extend funding available to local
    authorities to enable them to deliver
    their homelessness duties

In terms of youth work the YMCA recommends – Reclassify youth services as a statutory service, requiring each local authority to have in a place a youth services strategy.

The YMCA document is well worth your attention and see also

Youth-led 99% Campaign Call to Action for forthcoming UK elections manifesto

National Youth Agency Manifesto

and to close here’s an example of putting local candidates under pressure.

polithustbrighton

 

Youth leaders urge election commitments for young people, but fall short of specific demands

election reform

Fifty-one UK youth organisations have signed an open letter to the main UK political parties asking them to make firm commitments to young people. Amongst the signatories are UK Youth chief executive, Anna Smee; British Youth Council chief executive, Jo Hobbs; Volunteering Matters chief executive, Oonagh Aitken; Young Minds chief executive, Sarah Brennan; and Girlguiding’s chief executive, Julie Bentley.

It would be interesting to know the full list of organisations signed up to the welcome plea and how they came to be involved. More importantly, the request seems to miss the opportunity to make concrete demands upon the political parties, all the more so as the letter claims that their collective research has unearthed the key issues faced by young people. My apologies if I’m missing something here and  that these have been identified in a supplement to the letter.

Off the top of my head, a less than an exhaustive list of demands could have included:

  • Lower the voting age to 16
  • Abolish tuition fees in HE and restore maintenance grants
  • Bring under-25 National Living Wage in line with 25-year-olds.
  • End zero-hour contracts.
  • Prioritise a serious and properly funded strategy to end child poverty.
  • Implement immediately a building programme to create affordable, quality housing.
  • Restore funding and render statutory youth work provision.
  • Maintain and expand opportunities to live, work and study abroad.
  • Introduce Proportional Representation.
  • Recognise that public services for the common good are essential to a vibrant and inclusive democracy.

The letter in full as best I know

Dear Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn, Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Caroline Lucas and Leanne Wood,

As Britain prepares for a snap general election, we call on you to make a firm commitment to young people across the country.

Since the referendum last year, our organisations have worked to engage young people from every part of the UK and from all backgrounds and political persuasions to present a clear plan for what they want from post-Brexit Britain.

Our national research and consultation has given us a strong and consistent picture of the top issues that matter to young people in post-Brexit Britain.

We can show you that younger generations are united on the big issues that will shape their future.

Now more than ever, their overwhelming demand to be part of the political process must be acted upon.

As the generation that will live longest with the outcome of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU, we ask you to recognise that young people can have a positive impact on the Brexit negotiations and give real legitimacy to the process.

This election offers a huge opportunity to reshape the nation’s priorities and restore young people’s confidence in our democracy.

As you put together your platform for the general election, we are calling on all party leaders to make an explicit commitment to represent young people’s demands in their upcoming manifestos.

As you all prepare for this election we will all be galvanising our networks to ensure young citizens are engaged and registered to vote. We are calling on you to give them something to vote for.

 

Vote, but voting is never enough……what about some social action?

Predictably Theresa May’s General Election call has led to an upsurge of interest in voting, democracy and politics. Our Facebook page is hosting an interesting thread, kicked off by a question about how to engage young people with the spectre of the looming election. My own long-standing concerns about youth work’s widespread fear of being political and the stunted nature of parliamentary democracy itself are best left to a separate post. Indeed it might be an appropriate moment to dig out a rant I inflicted on a Federation of Detached Youth Workers conference back in 2007. I don’t think it’s past its sell-by date.

However, whatever my reservations about equating voting every so often with being political, the coming election is a highly significant moment in a volatile global atmosphere. Thus here are a number of recommended resources to inform our conversations and activities with young people in the coming weeks.

The League of Young Voters

Bite the Ballot

cropped-BTB-logo-turquoise

Democracy Cookbook – The Recipes

Register to vote

 

And whilst we are exploring with young people the significance or otherwise of the vote, it might be an appropriate time to rescue the idea of social action from the suffocating ‘volunteering’ definition advanced by Step up to Serve. In the run up to the election what about exploring with young people taking direct, public action around issues that perhaps matter to them – a right to benefits, the issue of low pay and zero-hour contracts, the lack of appropriate housing, the precarious future they face and indeed the demand to vote at 16 – not to mention what’s happening to youth provision in their neck of the woods? If we are talking about politics, about power, there is a question haunting youth work. To what extent, with honourable exceptions, has it supported the growth of young people’s authentic social movements from below, giving the lie to Tim Laughton’s fatuous claim that NCS is the fastest growing social movement in Europe. Grassroots social movements don’t have marketing budgets. In this context the recent and ongoing young people’s campaign to save youth services in Brighton offers lessons and poses dilemmas. At this very moment these young people’s energies are turning to wider social and political issues than just youth work. I wonder out loud what is their take on the forthcoming General Election?

This has been said many times, in different ways, but the great advances in terms of freedom and justice have not been the outcome of ruly and bureaucratic procedures from on high, but the result of unruly and improvised action from below. Yes, vote, but don’t stop there.

Pre-General Election Activity

At the national conference we agreed to explore ways of utilising the pre-Election period to highlight our defence of democratic Youth Work. You will find below, for what it is worth, a possible letter to local candidates with copies to the press inviting them to a public meeting to debate the future of youth work. The LEIGH bit is just about where I was born – substitute as appropriate! Obviously you might want to revise, tear it up or whatever, but I think such an approach has some value, especially if it could be sent with the backing of the local union branches and voluntary organisations.
Better to act than just grumble [ apologies to William Morris]

We’ve set up a specific forum to encourage debate and action over the next couple of months. Have your say there.

THE IN DEFENCE OF YOUTH WORK CAMPAIGN THE  LEIGH PARLIAMENTARY CONSTITUENCY

An Open Invitation to all Parliamentary Candidates in the forthcoming General Election These are troubled times. Commentators from across the political spectrum talk endlessly about the economic and political crisis. Against this backcloth everyone worries about the present generation of young people. On the one hand they are seen positively as being ‘Our Future’. On the other they are demonised as an anti-social threat to the very fabric of our society. Continue reading