The Speaker
Sunday, 19 May 2024 – 18:33

Young political activist George Aylett talks Universal Basic Income and direct political action

Standing as an MP in 2015, George Aylett became one of Britain’s foremost young political campaigners. Gaining a 2% increase in the South West Wiltshire constituency that has been dominated by the Conservatives, George led a Labour fightback that saw an even greater swing in 2017.

Since his run for Parliament, George has campaigned tirelessly on countless issues, such as Universal Basic Income, investment in science and has even supported calls for a general strike.

George told us about his experiences in politics, his motivations and the policy goals that he believes will develop Britain in the future.

Why did you join the Labour Party?

‘I did not care about politics for years and years. However, once I realised that the power to change people’s lives came from political institutions that is when I started to take notice. I witnessed the direct impact of policies implemented by the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and saw austerity destroying communities and people’s livelihoods. I decided to join the Labour Party because I wanted to oust the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats from power. The more I involved in the Labour Party the stronger my political convictions became. I learned more about socialism and socialist figures like Tony Benn, Barbara Castle, Clement Attlee and currently serving left-wing MPs.

I hold the belief that the Labour Party is the greatest vehicle for social change that has ever existed in the United Kingdom. Labour governments introduced the NHS, created the welfare state, abolished the death penalty, rolled out devolution, scrapped section 28, led to the creation of the first climate change act, to name a few. They’ve delivered countless progressive policies in the past and they will do so again in the future. This is why I am a particularly keen supporter of Jeremy Corbyn. I believe he will be a Prime Minister who will lay out the stepping stones to deliver policies to help most people in the country and help build socialism in my lifetime. The 2017 manifesto wasn’t socialism, but it would’ve made the working and middle classes across Britain significantly better off. His platform would tackle poverty, end homelessness, address the climate emergency, bring essential services under public ownership, scrap tuition fees and save our NHS. I supported him when he was a 200/1 outsider and I hope, one day, he becomes Prime Minister.

At the end of the day, I believe a Labour government, a broad church of the left, is the best way to improve living standards and deliver radical change from the broken status quo. The majority of people have historically been better off under Labour governments and they will be better off under future Labour governments too.’


Why did you stand to be an MP at such a young age?

‘Young people were significantly impacted under the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. One key policy which was noticed by the wider public was when tuition fees were raised to £9,000 per year. I was of the opinion that if young people were better represented in politics then these policies would not happen and I wanted to see young people use their power in elections. I believe all people, from all backgrounds, should be represented in our political institutions, however, the representation of young people in the House of Commons was essentially non-existent. If young people are not represented or do not see representatives who stand up for them, then why would they engage in a system which does not look out for them. So one reason why I stood was to say that young people can get involved in politics and can represent the electorate in public office. I stood because I wanted to promote the Labour Party, represent the party that I love and show that young people can have their voice heard in the political system.’


On the issue of how parties can gain more support from young people, George said:

‘Parties can win over young people by offering policies to help young people. Plain and simple.

It is predicted that, for the first time ever, the next generation will be worse off than the last. How can you sell capitalism in its current form when most people can’t accumulate capital? Young people are looking for an alternative and Labour offered that alternative in 2017.

The reason why I believe that the Labour Party did so well amongst 18-24-year-olds in the 2017 general election is because I believe Labour did not sneer at young people but, instead, wanted to help young people. I think Jeremy Corbyn genuinely cares about the views of young people and offered a platform which stood up for us. For years we have had a government saying that the people needed to make cutbacks for the mistake by the banks in the global financial crisis of 2008. But then a politician stood up and basically said ‘things don’t have to be this way: I will abolish tuition fees, build affordable houses, raise taxes on the richest, improve your wages and invest in young people’. People are crying out for change and if political parties offer it then many people will vote for it. That’s what Labour offered and that’s why so many 18-24-year-olds backed the party in 2017.

I also believe there needs to be more young people involved in politics and political parties should be encouraging young people to get involved in their party and run for public office. If young people see other young people in politics then they are more likely to be involved and engaged.’


Regarding Universal Basic Income (UBI), you have led the debate on this in many respects, what form would you wish for UBI to take and why do you think it will be beneficial for young people in particular. Do you think Labour have a monopoly on this issue or should it cross the party divide?

‘The big reason why I believe Universal Basic Income will become a necessity in the future is because of the rise of automation and the fourth industrial revolution. Many people have said ‘technology has always been deemed a threat and people have consistently predicted robots would take our jobs, but this hasn’t happened yet’. Historically, this is true. The first, second and third industrial revolutions helped human labour, however, the next wave, the fourth industrial revolution, will replace human labour instead. We are already seeing this with self-driving cars and, in all likelihood, you have probably read an article published by AI already. A PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PwC) report claims that 1/3 of British jobs are under threat by 2030 because of automation and this, of course, will impact young people.

The welfare state, as it currently is, would not be cope with the fourth industrial revolution and this is why we need to modernise and improve our welfare system. A Universal Basic Income means giving all citizens a guaranteed income to cover the cost of essentials in life. The idea of universal services isn’t new. We can see universalism work with healthcare so why can’t it work with welfare as well? A Universal Basic Income could eliminate poverty, give protection to people starting up small businesses, top up wages and save billions of pounds in savings from reducing bureaucracy in the welfare system.

I set up ‘Labour Basic Income’ to get a debate going in the Labour Party about Universal Basic Income and I was delighted to hear that Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, announced on May 12th that a Labour government would implement trials of the Basic Income if they were elected. I’m glad Labour are leading the way on this, but no party has a monopoly of ideas. It’s not often that the Adam Smith Institute and John McDonnell will agree on policy, however, they both agree that Universal Basic Income could work, this shows that the policy is supported across the political spectrum. If the trials prove to be successful then the policy should be adopted and promoted by all political wings.’


You have written in the past about support for a general strike. Do you believe there will be a general strike in our lifetime?

‘I believe that millions of people withdrawing their labour would make the government act and change direction. Direct action can work, and strike action can make a huge difference, therefore a nationwide general strike of millions of people would, no doubt, deliver real change. Strike action is always a last resort and other mechanisms should always be prioritised, however, if everything else fails then withdrawing labour is a powerful tool.

The most urgent issue facing humanity right now is climate change. Parliament has led the way by declaring a climate emergency, however, it is clear that substantial and significant action is needed immediately to tackle this issue. When your house is burning you don’t just stand there and do nothing, you take all measures to put out the fire and minimise the damage. Right now our government and governments across the world are doing very little to address the climate emergency. Climate change will impact all of us so action is needed right now.

Earth Strike UK have said that if our government does not take action to tackle the climate emergency then they will demand and organise a general strike for climate on September 27th this year.

The first trade union in Britain to support this action was UCU, the largest post-school union in the world, when their congress passed a motion in favour of the September 27th general strike for climate on May 25th.

The Earth Strike has also been supported by Extinction Rebellion, Greta Thunberg and countless climate organisations. Earth Strike UK are reaching out to organisations, trade unions and influential figures to make this a reality. This general strike for climate on September 27th hasn’t just been planned in Britain but all across the world: a global general strike for climate.

We will wait to see if this becomes a reality, however, if the government doesn’t stand up and take action then there could be no other option but for millions of people to peacefully withdraw their labour to send a message that this climate emergency must be tackled to help save our planet.’

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