Tom has always inspired me politically. His views on the world have always intrigued me and I knew when I started this blog that I had to get him for an interview. Tom is the Youth Officer for Mid Worcestershire Labour and I decided to quiz him on some of the more pressing issues facing us in the present day and also some more personal questions about Labour and getting involved with politics. Interviewing him made me think deeply about some of the decisions taken by parliament and also what I can do myself to get even more involved.
Photo Credits: @guysavag_photographic (instagram)
Q: You’ve been politically active for years now, can you remember how you got involved in politics and have your views changed much over the years?
A: I’ve always been interested in history, as you have, and I remember learning all the Kings and Queens of England and I suppose all the big historical figures have all been influential in the political world. I became really interested in the English Civil War, and Oliver Cromwell, and Parliament and the Enlightenment period and I suppose my political interest grew from my historical interest. I suppose my views have changed a little. In the 2010 election, which was the first election I really got involved in, I was a Clegg fan! I leafleted my village and I leafleted the North of Evesham for the Liberal Democrats and that’s when I became a sort of ‘political geek’. Since then I’ve been a member of the Labour Party for 7 years and I don’t think it’s my views that have shifted much, it’s more that the party lines have been redrawn and now, particularly under Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour party is viewed as mass movement much differently than before.
Q: We’ll start off talking about Brexit: There’s been a lot of questions about how the government has handled Brexit since Article 50 was triggered. How well do you feel the May government has dealt with Brexit and do you think a 2nd referendum is required?
A: Firstly on the second referendum, I think it’s important to remember that way before the European Union existed we had parliamentary sovereignty. Parliament had the final say on any legislation passed, any political decisions that are made in the UK and that seems to have been conveniently forgotten during the referendum period and afterwards. If the government is to accept decisions based on a first referendum then it would be difficult to oppose a second, but actually I would oppose, not the result of the first referendum but having it in the first place. It’s rather interesting that the whole Brexit argument is taking back control for the British parliament when the Brexit process is probably the biggest event in which Parliament has been bypassed. We’ve seen that a lot with Theresa May’s government and I think that links back to how Theresa May has handled Brexit. The process isn’t easy, it’s not going to be easy for any party, regardless of whether Jeremy Corbyn is on the other side of the dispatch box it’s not going to be an easy thing for his team to achieve either but I think there is a question of ethics and responsibility in how May has approached Brexit. She’s clearly given into the jingoistic, right-wing side of her party and has frankly excluded the huge minority, the 48% who wanted to remain in the European Union, and that’s just of the people who voted. I think two things, firstly Theresa May needs to accept that there are many people in this country who still want Britain to remain in the European Union and still want Britain to be very close partners with the European Union and I think that needs to come across in what Britain will offer at the negotiating table. Secondly on the attitude of the government, the British government is treating the European Union very badly. We’re the ones leaving the club and I struggle to sympathise with Theresa May when she goes marching into Brussels, making declarations and huge demands from the European Union which frankly, is taken up with other problems: the debt crisis, the migrant crisis and Russian interference in elections being just 3 of them. There’s sort of a self-centred approach to these negotiations which if you look back at successful ones such as: Ireland or to end apartheid in South Africa, these negotiations have been more open to concession and are more successful. Surely that’s what everyone would want out of this process.
Q: One of the most significant issues surrounding Brexit is of course trade. How do you think we should approach a trade deal and do you think we can have a ‘good deal’ by March 2019?
A: I think the first thing to accept is we will not get as good as deal as we currently have being a full member of the European Union. I think Theresa May, Liam Fox and David Davis should acknowledge that the best deal should be to remain in the European Union and not to expect from these negotiations anything that will level with it or be better. On how to get a trade deal, it sort of links back to my last answer that the way we approach the negotiations is going to have a massive effect on what Britain will achieve economically, socially and also for our immigration system. The whole issue of Ireland, as we’ve seen recently with the DUP, is going to really split the Conservative Party and split the whole of the British side of the negotiations, this may prevent us from getting a ‘good deal’ by 2019. I think that the issue with trade is that it all just seems to be a bit of a game at the moment, it’s all an issue of ‘what can we get out of the European Union’ and ‘what numbers will look better for Theresa May’ and very rarely do we find Theresa May showing any detailed plans. For example, recently these 50-60 ‘impact assessments’ that David Davis has been referring to have turned out not to exist. I think it’s this hollow, treading water approach of just saying a few nationalist phrases over and over again in the media to suit the appetite of the far right in the conservative party. That is not going to work. When it comes to trade negotiations we need detail and I feel the public deserve to know what that detail is. I think until we can have that detail, there’s no chance of having as good a deal by 2019.
Q: How do you think Brexit has impacted the global political scene and do you think it will restart debates over previous independence referendums such as Scotland’s?
A: I think on Scotland, as soon as the vote was called, Nicola Sturgeon was talking about reruns of the referendum. A few years ago the Scottish independence referendum was a referendum of a lifetime but now the Scottish parliament have now shown that there is an interest in holding a second independence referendum. Personally I’ve always been sceptical of holding referendums, I think there are too many issues to be phrased into one question, I think it undermines the role that parliament plays and it questions the importance of our parliamentary democracy. Being naturally sceptical of referendums, I think it will have an effect on Scottish independence and Welsh independence in the future and actually, although I don’t agree that holding the first referendum was viable, I think that if you’re going to have a first referendum and recognise it, you have to recognise the second referendums and independence referendums in devolved countries. I think there’s going to be a real issue over the next few years about how we respond to the growing cries for devolution of powers post-Brexit, from parties like Plaid Cymru and the SNP as well. On Brexit’s impact on the global political scene, it would be an underestimation to say it shook the world. I think the message of some leave voters who said ‘that will show the European Union’ didn’t truly come true. The leave campaign were saying it would be the start of a run of dominos, if Britain left we’d have the Greek Exit, France leaving under Marine Le Pen but since then we’ve had Macron being elected President of France and he is a Pro-EU liberal. Although we’ve had the rise of the AFD in Germany, there’s been a growing number of Germans who are in favour of further European integration. So, on Brexit’s international effect, it’s a lot of show. There’s not a lot of actual substance to change the way European politics works but I think we haven’t reached enough detail in the negotiations, we don’t quite know how it’s unfolding. I think it’s difficult to say the overall impact Brexit has had on the global political scene but I don’t think it’s been as effective as many leave voters wanted it to be.
Q: Regardless of the future, I think as a nation we need to unite for the best outcome. This could easily begin with the nation’s youth. What can young people do locally to assist the Brexit situation?
A: Locally, young people should contact their MPs. Contact their representatives, scrutinise votes in parliament, be up to date, keep on your guard! Politics is a multi-sided task and you can’t just leave it up to politicians to make decisions. Politics is a conversation, it’s something you do. I think particularly with Brexit, we need to be constantly questioning the decisions Parliament are making. Although Theresa May didn’t intend parliament to have a huge role, the lack of a majority Conservative government means our MPs do have very strong voices, look at the DUP, stalling the negotiations in the 11th hour. MPs in Parliament now have such an immense influence as individuals over the debate that actually contacting and scrutinising your MP will have such a huge effect on the outcome of the these negotiations. Doing these things is a great way of raising your concerns and using your voice in-between elections and referendums.
Q: Moving onto more personal questions, you’re the Youth Officer for Mid Worcestershire Labour which is an incredible achievement. Do you support the direction Corbyn is taking Labour in and is there much animosity between the party factions as a result of it?
A: I’ve been a member of the party for 7 years now and there’s certainly been ups and downs in the membership, but now I don’t think there’s any animosity between party factions, in fact I don’t think there are so many party factions, particularly post-election. In the news there’s no criticism of Corbyn’s leadership, there’s no question of his leadership and I think that’s a strength. I think for Corbyn’s direction of the party, within 2 years the whole nature of the party has changed. It’s gone from a party of 70,000 when I joined to a mass-movement of half a million, just the numbers themselves will change the very nature and purpose of the Labour party, now the biggest party in Europe. I think in terms of expanding politics and bringing politics to more people, I certainly support that with Jeremy Corbyn. That’s certainly been my experience as a delegate of conference this year, we hear on the news of previous conferences having delegates briefing against each other and just being generally nasty but this year the atmosphere was one of joy, excitement, optimism, hope and that’s not bigging it up or putting a political spin on it, that was my human experience of an event like that. I think in terms of making Labour a mass movement I certainly support the direction Corbyn is taking the party in.
Q: If you asked the countries youth about their political opinions, many of those interested in politics would identify as left wing and/or a Labour supporter. What do you think attracts young people about Labour and the left in general?
A: I think this is quite a recent thing and certainly it can be attributed to Corbyn’s leadership, Brexit and the 7 year austerity agenda. I think before then, young people weren’t necessarily taken in by the Labour party or convinced by our manifestos or campaigning platform. I think what attracts people to the Labour party now is it has a very different message to the conservatives, as a campaigner in the 2017 general election compared to the 2015 general election there was a lot more on the doorstep that I could have discussions about. I could talk to conservative voters and non-voters and labour voters etc and I could really make the point about why Labour is different and therefore why it is worth voting Labour. I think it’s that difference to the conservative party, it’s that difference to UKIP and it’s that difference to the Liberal Democrat that is really making Labour appeal to young people. I’d like to make a point on young people and the Labour party, after the election there was a lot of criticism from commentators that the only reason young people voted Labour is because they were ‘bought out’ by the promise of scrapping tuition fees. It seems there’s a double standard in the media between young people supporting the Labour party and, this is a bit of a broad brush but, pensioners and those in their 50s and 60s supporting the conservative party. The Labour parties promise to young people to scrap tuition fees is no much more of a buyout or a sell-out or a con than the conservatives promise on the triple lock on pensions. I think it’s really interesting to see in the media that young people are being targeted because before we’ve seen them disenfranchised, not turning out to vote, not being interested in politics and that was turned on its head last election. I think firstly that changes the whole game, it makes young people worth going out to campaign for from a political perspective and two I think it makes young people attracted to the labour party as opposed to the conservatives.
Q: You’ve of course been involved with political parties for years, unfortunately not all young people are as enthusiastic. What do you think the political scene must improve on to attract young people to participate and do you think Corbyn has made a large impact on this issue himself?
A: I think a very simple change would lowering the voting age to 16, we live in a society where we expect young people to participate in politics but we don’t give them the vote. I heard in the House of Commons the other day, an MP rose and made the point that: At 16 you can marry your MP, have a child with your MP, sign up to the army to potentially fight in a war for your MP but you cannot vote for who your MP is. I think that’s a neat summary of the situation we’re in where we’re asking young people ‘why aren’t you involved in politics?’ and ‘why aren’t you campaigning on local or national issues?’ and it’s very easy, young people aren’t given the vote. They’re not trusted, that’s a real opportunity missed. Giving young people the vote is a simple legislative change that would affect the whole country. I also think the political scene is too rough, whether it’s down to the media, whether it’s down to politicians during Prime Ministers Questions barking at each other, it’s too rough. I think there are a lot of people in politics who don’t want to be involved because of the foul language, because of the briefing against each other, because of the backstabbing, because of the nastiness. I think that’s particularly been intensified with social media and twitter and so on. The whole political scene is a nasty place to be in. It’s not healthy, it’s not healthy for a democracy and it’s not healthy for young people who want to be more involved and to have their voices heard in local politics and national politics.
Q: Personally I consider local MPs a key factor in increasing youth participation. What do you suggest local MPs do in their constituencies to attract young people to participate?
A: I think in the real world, MPs should make every effort to go into schools and talk to people, talk to students but not just to talk to them, to listen to them. To actually go into schools, sit there, and listen to what young people, people without a vote, would like you to do rather than to sell your message and promote your agenda. Although you may not be able to vote for your MP, your MP represents you just as much as your parents or your friends who can vote in your constituency. So in the real world I think MPs should try and make themselves more accessible in schools and colleges but I think online, MPs should and I think a lot do actually, use social media effectively. There’s got to be a balance as MPs have to have privacy as it’s part of, as I said earlier, making politics a healthier place to be, but MPs should be as open and accessible to as many people as possible. It may be that, and it may sound a bit cringey, the MP needs to have Instagram or twitter or snapchat or at least something young people might use and to be open to more people than just the average 45/50 year old voter. I think accessibility is the key to improve the relationship between MPs and their younger constituents.
Q: Your achievement in becoming the Youth Officer for Mid Worcestershire Labour is as I said before, very impressive. What advice would you give someone looking to get heavily involved with youth party politics?
A: I’d say, go along to a meeting or go along to a protest. You could even pick up your local paper and see what the issues are because there is something, I can promise you, an issue which you may not have known about but really does affect your life. We all care about our local community, we all care about how we live together, that’s sort of natural and I think if you want to get heavily involved you can. We are fortunate to live in pretty much a democracy, join a party! It costs about a pound to join a political party, go out and start a petition, go out and write to your MP and scrutinise what they do. A lot of it is a confidence issue and I totally get that but maybe you and a friend could start a petition or both follow up on an issue. That initial nervousness of going into a new group or meeting lots of new people, I get that it can be very frightening for some people as it’s out of their comfort zone, but really it’s the only way you can achieve change. If you want to see an improvement in your local community, if you want to see the values that you have put back into politics, you have to stand up and do something and whatever you think that action is, you have to get out and do it and you need to get out and do it as soon as you can.