Hello, good morning and thank you to the Youth Committee for the opportunity to talk to you today on the occasion of the Youth Conference.
I very much enjoy the opportunity to get out and about and talk to the equality conferences and the youth conference as well.
This conference really is one of my favourites because the energy and the ideas and the clarity of view that our young activists have really is refreshing, encouraging and at times inspiring.
So I want to start by saying a big thank you to all of you who have made the effort to be here today.
I can see a number of familiar faces from the National Youth Education Event in Edinburgh last Autumn and that is really encouraging.
I am told that a number of branches who sent people to Edinburgh are not here today.
We have started the process of finding exactly why there has been that mismatch. Today’s turnout is good and quantity is not necessarily an indicator of quality.
But it remains the fact that I am concerned that there are not enough young people being encouraged to get involved in the CWU.
I am delighted to see so many people here from Kent Invicta and I think this shows just what can be done when the right attitude and amount of effect is put in to youth engagement – so well done to Dave and to Shelly and to Becca Hufton for their work on this.
I want to spend this morning talking about two inter-related things in particular, both of which I think are key areas of concern for young members in the CWU.
I will come onto UKIP and why I think this is even more of a problem than I think all of us in the this room would say it is later on. But first I want to talk about the General Election.
And the most important about the General Election, of course, is to defeat one of the most reactionary, aggressive, pernicious, sectional and unkind governments in living memory.
No, that’s not right or fair. It is not one of the worst governments in the living history; I would say it is THE worst government.
But although dislodging the Conservative-led government would be a huge step forward and benefit to people in Britain, we must also try and ensure that we have a progressive government in its place.
But whatever your particular politics, the key to achieving a change of government is for enough people to vote for that alternative.
And the key number here, and it is terrifying because it is so large, is 4 million – in fact to be precise 4,260,000.
That’s the number of missing votes from young people in the 2010 election.
I am not going to go into a lot of detail about the maths, but briefly it is this. In the 2010 election 33% of 18-34 years voted.
64% of those aged 35 and older voted.
The number of missing votes from young people needed to match the voting rate for those over 35 is 4,260,000.
That is a staggering number. That means the average number of missing votes per constituency is more than 11,000. Yet the average majority in each constituency in 2010 was 8,000.
The message is simple.
If young people vote in the same numbers as their older counterparts, it will have a dramatic effect.
People are already saying it is the most open election for years and years. Despite how unpopular the Conservative-led government is, Labour has not got a commanding poll lead.
You could argue that we are no longer in a three party system, although maybe the LibDems have just been replaced by the UKIP, or in Scotland, the SNP.
But the inescapable fact is that if young people vote in significant numbers they will make a decisive impact in a decisive election.
But there are two problems with all this. Neither of these falls into the rocket science category.
The first problem is about why young people don’t vote. Why didn’t they vote in 2010? And why are they equally likely not to vote in 2015?
When we have done work on this internally, it has become clear that some people don’t vote because they genuinely and sincerely don’t believe in the current system of determining our government.
That is, of course, everyone’s right, but on the basis of our work there are very few people in that category.
The much larger category overwhelmingly I believe are disenchanted with the political system and disenchanted with voting.
Crudely speaking – they do not believe that any of the parties on offer speak for them or if elected would do anything for them. Worse still, there is a view that those who are elected will not even stick to their manifesto commitments.
Of course, the Liberal Democrats are excellent examples of people who didn’t stick to some very clear pledges and I am sure will pay a heavy electoral price for that in May.
However, I think it is a vicious circle.
If you do not vote you do not have a voice. If you do not have a voice then you cannot be heard.
If we were in a situation where there was an incipient likelihood of change in the way in which we elect the people or the range of representatives we have to choose from, then this would not be such a problem.
However, we are not in that position. With the exception of UKIP which I think is a wholly different type of phenomena, voter turnout for non-mainstream parties remains stubbornly low – rarely venturing above the 5% threshold.
The second problem is that since 2010 it has become harder for people to be able to vote.
I say this because you now need to register as an individual in order to vote. The process is quite straightforward and very simple, but it is still something you have to do.
Now, of course, one will feed off the other. If you don’t feel that politics offers anything for you then why would you bother to register to vote? It becomes a vicious cycle.
I do not think this is a coincidence, I think it suits Conservative forces in society very well to have large numbers of people opting out of wanting to vote.
It is because it is an abdication of their ability to influence the political process that leaves power evermore concentrated in the hands who do work the system.
What can be done about all of this?
Well even without the particular threat of UKIP and the far right politics that they allow, there is a wonderful campaign that I recommend very strongly that has been set up between the TUC and an organisation called Bite the Ballot.
There is Bite the Ballot material on every seat in this room today. This sets out the reasons why it is important to vote and talks about the practical steps of how you can register to vote.
It also sets out a collection of ideas which challenge the myth that voting doesn’t change anything or that you can exert no control over elected representatives.
We need a politically engaged, registered, vibrant society. Otherwise, we are letting other people speak for us.
As Bite the Ballot says, not registering to vote is not being in anyway rebellious, still less, revolutionary. It is simply doing what the system expects.
So please register to vote. I am sure no one in this room, however unintentionally, wants to be part of reason that David Cameron or Theresa May or Boris Johnson or heaven forbid – Nigel Farage get into positions of influence.
And like it or not, politics inevitably affects us. Look at some of the statistics.
We say that there should be a living wage, but the government says there should be a national minimum wage. The national minimum wage does not provide a level of income that people can live at.
To raise wages and improve terms and conditions people traditionally look to unions. It’s true that union members tend to be paid higher – 15% higher – than non-union members.
But the government is absolutely hostile to trade union recruitment and organising campaigns and is seeking to undermine us in every way they can. That’s the government that is doing that and that is why we need a change.
Younger people tend to live in private rented accommodation rather than have a mortgage.
There is no tenancy security; there is no regulation of private sector rents. Landlords have made more money in the last five years than virtually any other group apart from the self-selecting, self-serving 1% of multi-millionaires.
Private landowners hoard land which pushes up the prices of houses and the notion of affordable housing has become a joke because it is linked to property values rather than income. All these are political issues that we need to address.
Young workers are the most likely group to be on insecure contracts and have been hit hard by unemployment. 37% of people on zero-hour contracts are aged between 16 and 24.
Youth unemployment has only very recently fallen below the 1 million mark and is still scandalously high. These are political issues.
But one of the biggest and most important reasons to register to vote and to vote itself is linked to a wider campaign in society and that is as antidote to the toxic influence of the UK Independence Party.
Over the past 12 months, we have seen the success of the antifascist movement in ensuring that Nick Griffin and Andrew Brons lost their MEP seats.
Well done Unite Against Fascism, and all the organisations and individuals who contributed to this victory.
There are still remnants of the EDL, which requires serious attention when they pop up. But it appears that this wave of fascism has been beaten back.
Unfortunately, the same European elections saw UKIP become the largest party. They pose a different problem – they are not fascists, but they are very dangerous.
UKIP are the 21st Century embodiment of Enoch Powell’s legacy.
They are anti-migrant and anti-EU. They are as racist as Powell, but they cannot use the same language.
Decades of anti-racist struggles mean there are some real restraints. So they are coded in their terms. But you don’t need a Ph.D. to understand their targets.
When Nigel Farage told UKIP Conference that our cities and towns have become “unrecognisable” he was finessing hatred of migrants and black people.
When he claimed that “In many parts of England, you don’t hear English spoken anymore” he’s stirring up fear of the foreigner.
UKIP’s scapegoating tactics are making progress because so many people are experiencing real economic distress. Politicians who promote austerity policies are responsible for UKIP’s surge.
Too many of these politicians then feel forced to concede ground, by accommodating to UKIP’s racism towards migrants.
UKIP are poisoning community relations and politics in this country. Just take Farage’s response to the killings at Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
He says this is the result of “multiculturalism”. In so doing he tars millions of people with the brush of terrorism.
This is reinforced when he talks of a “fifth column”. Such language is every bit as provocative as a Powell’s notorious “Rivers of blood”.
We must stand up to UKIP, and insist that the Labour leadership gives no ground to their reactionary agenda.
Some say the UKIP isn’t really like this. It’s just some members, candidates and elected representatives who keep coming out with unauthorised racist, xenophobic, homophobic and misogynist statements.
Yet no matter how often they distance UKIP, these vile messages keep coming out. It reminds me of an old joke by Simon Fanshawe “I’m not gay; I just sleep with a lot of gay men”.
And remember, they are led by someone who feels uncomfortable with the idea of living next door to a Romanian, and at the sight of a woman breast-feeding.
So, we have to ensure that in our work leading up to the General Election, we take up every argument we hear in support of UKIP.
One additional thing you must do is get your branch committed to support the UN Anti-Racism Day on March 21st. We must stand up to racism, not stand aside.
People say unions are about what happens at the workplace, and that is true. But you can’t divorce what happens at the workplace from the society and community that that workplace is part of.
And things like voting, politics, standing firm against racism and xenophobia and challenging it wherever it emerges are part of all that.
It is all part of an ongoing campaign for a decent society. Thank you for your support for your union. It really matters. Together we are strong and together we will win.