I was invited to speak at a University College London event this week. The timing was a bit unfortunate, clashing with the England vs Wales World Cup match. I was pleasantly surprised that dozens of history, politics and law students still turned up – and that we finished in time to catch the second-half goals scored by Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden.
Politics rarely trumps football, but it was encouraging that so many young people wanted to talk about the challenges facing our democracy. They believe mainstream politicians are neglecting them and their concerns for the future, demanding a politics built on opportunity rather than cronyism, honesty not obfuscation, and compassion not consumerism.
A repeated comment was that our body politic does not care about them. This is understandable. Your generation is burdened with debt and priced out of the housing market. Many of you will enter the workforce in the midst of the digital and technology revolution at a time when the UK has never been more isolated and so pitied on the world stage.
Providing hope and practical solutions so that politics can be regenerated are reasons why I decided to launch the True & Fair Party this year. Our core ambitions are to clean up politics, modernise democracy and fight corruption. This detailed platform includes points of principle, such as establishing a ‘Truth Law’ that includes putting the Ministerial Code on a legal footing. Then there are practical reforms, such as banning all paid lobbying by sitting MPs and removing Whips from the floor of the House.
We believe these are the type of changes that voters young, old and somewhere in between want to see. Constitutional change to restore trust and ensure politicians work for the people is no longer a theoretical debate but requires urgent introduction. We recognise the importance to your generation of making these changes. . Studies show that younger people are socially and politically driven. The Charities Aid Foundation, for example, found that the most likely demographic to sign a petition are 16-24-year-olds.
My party’s mission is to give you a political voice. We have policies specifically designed to help, so the acute inter-generational unfairness you face can be mitigated.
Proportional representation is another core principle for True & Fair. We want to make sure that every vote counts. We also seek to widen the franchise, which is why we are calling for a citizens’ assembly to investigate lowering the age of voting to 16. At this age, you could be working full-time, have responsibility as a caregiver, or join the army, yet you are not allowed the basic right of participating in your democracy. That is clearly wrong.
Your generation is braced for serious climate change challenges. Unless we start with the truth of the supply and demand side changes needed to achieve the 2050 net zero goals, the damage to our planet will be largely irreversible. This means we need policies to reduce as much climate-damaging carbon emissions as possible that come from our actions as individuals, organisations, industry, agriculture, business and leisure. Many university graduates are condemned to years of struggle because of the burden of university fees. It is ludicrous that this Conservative Government ordered a review of post-18 education only to ignore its findings. Phil Augur recommended, for example, reducing university fees from a cap of £9,250 to £7,500 and we agree.
Repayments should be made easier and more predictable by linking student debt interest to the rate of 10-year Government borrowing, not the Retail Price Index that measures inflation. If you work for a public service organisation for five years, any student debt should be written off. These may appear modest steps but they are transitional and can be taken immediately.
In addition, we must think carefully about the work of the future. Politicians talk vaguely about becoming an advanced green economy as part of the drive to net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but this will require incredibly sophisticated new infrastructure, investment and skills
We are doing little to make sure you are equipped with the skills needed to meet this ambition. The demand for occupations such as technology specialists, green engineering, and health professionals could rise nearly 20% by 2030, with the demand for administrative and manual roles steeply declining, yet your education is stuck in a historic rut.
At the next General Election, I will be standing in Epsom & Ewell, which is home to the University of Creative Arts. I see this as an enormous opportunity to celebrate the UK’s leading position in this sector, with the potential to develop a country-leading mega-hub for creativity in the constituency.
I hope that will mean Epsom & Ewell retains becomes an ideas factory for incredible imaginations.
A major challenge facing you is the cost of housing, which is typically £625,000 in Epsom & Ewell, some 50% higher than the already exorbitant national average. Many Conservatives seem determined to limit the supply of new housing, such as by scrapping mandatory local building targets, which will only increase prices further. Chris Grayling, my opponent in Epsom & Ewell, is one such Tory trying to damage the planning system.
The Conservatives were once obsessed with the country becoming a beacon for home ownership, a position Labour has recently been trying to call its own. Yet, under the watch of administrations led by both parties, we have seen the prospect of home ownership disappear in front of young people’s eyes.
Unaffordable deposits and increasing mortgage rates mean far too many are destined for lifetimes of high rent. That is a dreadful legacy and we need much more sophisticated thinking to address this ever-growing problem. For example, we want to see a swathe of new co-operative villages that are best positioned to plan affordable housing for young people. These villages would also provide help for the elderly who want to stay in the community for longer.
Fundamentally, our politics has, for too long, been defined by right and left. It is time to think about what is right and wrong, promoting the former and calling out the latter. Your generation, in particular, deserves better.