Monday, 30th October 2017

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Youth has its say against May

Guest column: Rohit K Dasgupta

  • Published 10.06.17
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The results of the UK’s general election are out, and I am feeling so happy with what the Labour Party has achieved.

Labour’s surge was nothing short of spectacular, and this shows that Theresa May’s gamble with the snap election backfired.

We have provided a clear alternative to the austerity politics espoused by May, and the public, especially the youth, have backed us in great numbers.

The voter turnout among the ages of 18 to 24 for this election has been estimated to be around 72 per cent. Britain’s young people, who responded so positively to the Labour manifesto, mobilised to give the Conservative Party a result far from what it was expecting.

The whole thrust of Labour policy has been youth-friendly — one of our promises was to fund a free national education service.

During the leadership election for Labour in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn had pledged to abolish university fees and had set out a £10 billion plan to fund university education.

The Tories and the Liberal Democrats together had exponentially increased tuition fees. 

After this, the number of state-educated students attending college and university plummeted by more than six per cent in the first year. Is it any wonder that young people were angry? Isn’t education supposed to be affordable?

That is why part of our goals this time, too, was to follow through with the plan of the free national education service, the idea of “free education from cradle to grave”. Students do not deserve to be in debt, and Labour recognised that, which is a reason why so many young people extended their support to us. 

We also promised to restore the Education Maintenance Allowance, which would give monetary support to more than a million youngsters from poor families to continue studying. 

Unsurprisingly, a few months ago, the Tories had scrapped maintenance grants for poor university students. If you do not invest in education, how will the nation move forward? The Tories did not seem to recognise that in order to win the allegiance of the young, they would have to show the young that they care about them.

The Tories had also, very quietly, axed housing benefits for people between the ages of 18 and 21 earlier this year. Labour opposed this move strongly, and part of our pledge was to ensure housing support to young people who would otherwise end up on the streets.

The truth is that the Tories this time underestimated the power of the youth to stand up for their rights and those of their fellow citizens. 

Young people have played a fundamental role in the favourable results we have received. 

Labour fielded some really young candidates — in Scotland, for the North Ayrshire and Arran seat, we had the 18-year-old Christopher Rimicans, who could have been the youngest parliamentarian in 350 years if he had been elected. 

In a majority student constituency like Sheffield Hallam, Labour’s Jared O’Mara, 35, defeated the former Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, by more than 2,000 votes. 

Labour won Canterbury for the first time in 600 years. In my own constituency, East Hampshire, I managed to almost double Labour’s vote share since 2015, and for the first time since the seat was formed in 1983, Labour has come second. 
East Hampshire is a Tory stronghold, and Labour was a distant fourth before this, behind the Tories, the UKIP and the Lib Dems.

So many youngsters came out in droves to register as voters and then actually voted. The monumental turnout ensured the hung Parliament. 

I was also elated to see the large numbers of young people who came out to canvass vigorously and go door-knocking for us and with us. 

On election day, a young boy named Josh Nicholson worked tirelessly outside a polling station, one day ahead of his A-Level examinations. With such young people who are determined to make a change, how could Theresa May’s vision win an overall majority?

Labour will continue to work and engage with young people. 

I do want to continue with active politics. The future is looking bright for Labour. As a party, we are united and Theresa May and her party are in disarray. As my train pulls into London, I see clear blue skies — an indication of what we might have in the next few years with a strong Labour opposition.

• Rohit Kumar Dasgupta, a 29-year-old alumnus of St. James’ School and Jadavpur University, contested the just concluded UK parliamentary elections on a Labour ticket from East Hampshire