Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Labour cannot abandon young people on Brexit

Brexit is reaching crunch time and there can be no more constructive ambiguity. Labour either stands up for young people, or it doesn’t, writes Isi Daley

It was one of the abiding images of the general election in 2017. In former Conservative strongholds, young people voted in their thousands to elect Labour members of parliament in Canterbury, Sheffield, Bristol North West and Plymouth.

The long queues outside of polling stations reflected a deep desire for radical change by the young people of the United Kingdom. In no small part, it was down to the vision of Labour’s manifesto, wanting to curb the excesses of a rightwing Conservative government and the support of young people for Jeremy Corbyn personally.

But the reasons why young people were drawn to support the Labour party are the very reasons which could stop Labour getting the support it needs to secure the keys to 10 Downing Street.

Young people like myself voted Labour in record numbers because of its radical vision to transform our country, because of the authenticity of its offer, because we felt that this time was different; that politicians were finally listening to us.

But there is nothing progressive or radical about Labour facilitating a Tory Brexit: neither in its politics nor its consequences for the young people of the UK. There is little authenticity in pretending that this government’s Brexit deal will not massively harm working-class people across the country.Authenticity is a ‘member-led’ Labour party listening to the 86 per cent of its members who want a public vote.

All roads lead to Brexit and for young people the road to forgiveness is a long one. Just ask the Liberal Democrats.

Nick Clegg and his party rode the wave of ‘Cleggmania’ in 2010, off the back of support from young people, and ended up in government for the first time in generations. They went to campuses and promised the abolition of tuition fees, and then voted to raise them when in coalition – they have not recovered since.

If Labour enable a Tory Brexit, I fear the same fate awaits us. Already, the cracks are starting to show.

Seven months ago, young people’s views on Corbyn’s handling of Brexit was a net positive 13 per cent. Last month that had plummeted by 27 percentage points, to a net negative 14 per cent. These are startling numbers and should be a major concern for anyone in the leader’s office.

Corbyn’s announcement that he will be sticking to Labour conference policy is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. It is now time for Labour MPs to listen to the will of party members and have the courage and moral clarity to boldly come out in favour of a public vote. The decision whether or not to facilitate a Tory Brexit now rests in the hands of the parliamentary Labour party.

It is not just votes that are at stake, it is campaigners and active supporters – which could be all the difference in dozens of key marginal seats.

I do not know when the next general election is going to be. No one does. But there is one thing I do know: if Labour facilitates Brexit, young people will not turn out in droves to vote or campaign and there will not be a Labour government.


Isi Daley is mobilisation coordinator at For our Future’s Sake


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Isi Daley

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