Tom Butler: Young people may be key to Corbyn win

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has galvanised much of the youth vote. (JPress).
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has galvanised much of the youth vote. (JPress).
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When Theresa May called the general election last summer, almost every commentator expected her party to win comfortably, with some predicting the Tories would gain a triple-figure majority.

Suffice to say this didn’t happen. Indeed, 2017 will be remembered in history as the year in which young people in Yorkshire and across the country decided they had simply had enough of the political status quo.

Last year, Labour gained four seats in our region; Colne Valley, Keighley, Leeds North West and Sheffield Hallam.

Nationally, Labour picked up a net gain of 30 seats - a result few had seen coming. So how did this happen? The answer is young people; specifically, young activism within the Labour movement. No one predicted how much of a punch students, alongside young people in general, would pack.

In Britain, Young Labour is now believed to have more members than the entire Conservative party. The Conservatives have not published membership numbers since 2013, but last month John Strafford, chairman of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, says he had heard claims that the party’s national membership was now down to 70,000. That came days after it was reported Young Labour membership, for people aged between 14 and 26, is now pushing the 100,000 mark. The wider Labour party has 550,000 members, with 150,000 joining in the last two years.

When looking at the demographic of the Tories, the answer as to why the Conservative party is losing members becomes a little clearer. The average Conservative party member tends to be white, male and is on average around 57 years of age. Over-65s currently make up round 44 per cent of the total membership, while 16 to 25s are estimated to make up around six per cent. While some in the Westminster bubble are bemused by the sudden drop in Conservative party membership, looking at the demographics I don’t find it surprising at all.

After all, what do the Conservatives have to offer young people like me and my friends in places like Rotherham?

Take the NHS for example. How is it right that in the fifth-richest country in the world, medical students who are yet to qualify are being asked to volunteer on A&E units and hospital wards because hospitals have been so short-staffed this winter they are struggling to cope with patient numbers?

The situation is compounded when you consider the Government abolished the NHS bursary scheme; something which resulted in a 23 per cent reduction in people applying for nursery and midwifery university courses last year as they were faced with the prospect of annual tuition fees of £9,000.

Young voters are sick and tired of austerity, and the cuts that it brings. We’re fed up of doom and gloom. We deserve institutions such as the NHS, because we have a right to quality healthcare, that is free for all, at the point of use. While the Conservatives spend £1bn on a DUP supply and demand deal, there has never been a heavier reliance on food banks to feed people living in poverty. This cannot be morally right. In contrast, I believe Labour’s vision of providing a more positive future for our country’s young is one that resonates with my generation. It is an offer of hope at a time when the bleak combination of rising university debts, uncertain job prospects and the seeming impossibility of ever owning a house due to spiralling prices haunts the young. But we need to continue to inspire more people, especially young activists.

I’ve been a member of the Labour party for nearly five years now. As a member, I’ve had the privilege to take part in some great campaigns - one that is especially close to my heart is the fight to get mental health services higher up the political agenda, as it is an issue that affects so many young people. However, two years ago, I began the process of starting up a Rotherham Young Labour group. To be completely honest, starting a Young Labour group from scratch, while very gratifying, is hard work. It requires time, dedication and the help of other brilliant young activists.

My time as chair comes to an end in March and I am running to be the next Yorkshire and Humber Representative for Young Labour’s National Committee. Come the next election, young people could be the key to bringing about a Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour government. If it happens, the Conservatives will only have themselves to blame.

Tom Butler is chair of Rotherham Young Labour