Why did Tom Watson time his resignation to distract attention from Tory grief?

Richard House notes that – after over three decades as a (Ed: very sharp) operator in politics, Tom Watson ((below, taken on Thursday). knows all about copy deadlines for Tory newspapers – and asks:

“So why on earth did someone who claims to be “as committed to Labour as ever – spending this election fighting for brilliant Labour candidates” carefully time his resignation announcement such that it would be seized upon by the Tory press to distract attention from:

  • Rees-Mogg’s foot-in-mouth toff’s blundering into Grenfell sensibilities;
  • Tory MP Andrew Bridgen’s ham-fisted attempt to defend him;
  • the resignation of the Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns;
  • Tory propagandists caught doctoring a Keir Starmer Brexit interview;
  • Gower Tory candidate Francesca O’Brien’s disgraceful comment about “putting down” Benefits Street folk;
  • the shameless Tories being stopped from using the civil service to “cost” (for which, read “condemn”) Labour’s spending commitments;
  • and The Met Police’s mimicking of Johnson’s far-right contempt for the law in illegally banning Extinction Rebellion’s lawful demonstrations”.

‘The enemy within’

As he perused the “red-neck Tory-press headlines” in his local newsagent next morning, Richard thought “Well done, Tom” [not] – “Tory mission accomplished!” and reflected, in his letter today on Page 19 of the Morning Star:

“Who needs Dominic Cummings’ dead cat strategies” when Watson is around to do his and the Tories’ bidding for them? And with turncoat former Labour MP Ian Austin now publicly urging people to vote Tory to keep Jeremy out of 10 Downing Street, the Blairite rump in its terminal death throes is still clearly determined to do as much damage as they can to the possibility of a progressive government winning power”.

In a nutshell: Ken Loach, quoted in the Spectator, said: “The right, embodied by Tom Watson, aims to destroy the socialist programme. In the party there is the leadership and a core of socialists backing it. Then you have a huge membership which is very supportive of and excited by the socialist programme. And in the middle you have this layer of right-wing MPs doing all they can to frustrate it…

 

 

 

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NHS: Boris Johnson’s proposes to let Africa and India educate our medics, engineers, scientists and technicians – then poach them

Early this morning Radio 5 reported that Boris Johnson has promised to lure more medics educated in poorer countries by halving the cost of the ‘NHS visa’ and speeding up the application process. This followed an announcement of measures to attract specialists in science, engineering and technology.

Boris Johnson visited the North Manchester General Hospital in September

Boris Johnson proposes to intensify the harmful practice of importing doctors, nurses, workers in agriculture, service industries and IT experts from poorer countries. Rather than bearing the costs of educating our own, he advocates depriving developing countries of the able young enterprising citizens they desperately need.

In March, the Telegraph quoted figures from the General Medical Council showing that last year Britain imported more doctors than it trains. New figures show a steep rise in the numbers recruited from overseas. 53% of those joining the medical register came from overseas to do so – a rise from 39% in 2015.

This is the first time since 2006 that overseas doctors have outnumbered UK medics joining the register

NHS Providers, representing hospital, mental health, ambulance and community services, has written to Boris Johnson to demand action (FT 5.11.19). It made ominous references to ‘a complicated pension problem’ and advises recycling some unused employer pension contributions as salary.

Rule changes introduced in 2016 meant that rising numbers of consultants and other senior staff were facing unexpected tax bills linked to the value of their pensions. The FT article alleges that some high earners are left some facing effective marginal tax rates of more than 100% and in June the Guardian reported that some staff have had to remortgage their homes to cover their tax bills, while others were faced with the choice of cutting their hours.

Raise job satisfaction: as austerity continues, news of distressing delays and anecdotal accounts of neglect in NHS hospitals abound. A Labour government could:

  • heed Simon Stevens, head of the NHS: “We need to train more health professionals in this country and that includes doctors. We’ve got five new medical schools coming online as we speak which will be a 25% increase in undergraduate medical places – arguably, that needs to be more”;
  • reduce ratio of managers to medical staff;
  • train nurses on the wards for the first three years before they undertake part-time university or technical education and
  • as pledged by the Department of Health in 2007, bring back matrons who would once more be responsible for all the nursing and domestic staff, overseeing all patient care, and the efficient running of the hospital.

“We’re emptying Romania of doctors” a moral issue

Simon Stevens, speaking at the Spectator Health Summit in London, said the health service must stop “denuding low income countries of health professionals they need” amid warnings of a growing moral crisis. We need to do so in a way that is ethical so we are not, certainly, denuding low income countries of health professionals they clearly need,”

See https://thenewleam.com/2018/01/crisis-public-health-system-india/ There were many excellent photographs of long queues to see doctors in rural India but Alamy demanded a high price for them.

In March. the Telegraph reported that cancer surgeon Professor J Meirion Thomas told the conference: “We’re emptying Romania of doctors … they’re coming from eastern Europe, they’re coming from Pakistan, India, Egypt and they’re coming from Nigeria . . .

“I think there is a moral issue here. We are poaching doctors from abroad and have done for decades. They are coming from countries where they have been trained at public expense and where they are sorely needed.”

 

 

 

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Jeremy Corbyn’s politically unique offer: truth, compassion, justice, peace and a sufficiency for all

Many years ago, around the time when Jeremy Corbyn challenged Margaret Thatcher about the plight of people living in London’s ‘cardboard city(see video), I sat next to him at some peace-related gathering in London.

We were supposed to discuss one of the issues on the agenda, but after one glance at his rather surly, sulky face I decided to cross the room and there had the good fortune to meet the genial Professor John Roberts, an exceptionally caring and thoughtful historian who was a World Federalist.

Over the years however I did note and credit JC’s consistent stand for peace, justice and the less fortunate and his much maligned mediation with warring parties, hoping to bring about peace by diplomacy.

Many working for good can bear witness to his steadfast support

One of these is Richard Gifford, who for many years has freely given legal services on behalf of the Chagos Islanders, unjustly displaced from their homeland, now used as an American military base (above, centre). To their discredit, the USA and UK governments, despite an overwhelming vote in the UN assembly, have disobeyed the order of the International Court of Justice at the Hague in May to hand back the islands as soon as possible.

In Corbyn the Spirit of ’45 survives

That spirit led to the setting up of the welfare state and the national health service – dreamed about by the soldiers planning a better future in their trenches. After corresponding with leading writers, artists and politicians, they helped to form the Common Wealth Party, many later transferring to Labour, Green or regionalist parties as founder members died or retired.

Poster for the Spirit of 45, filmed by Ken Loach

That intense young man has now matured into a ‘statesmanlike party leader’, resembling Professor Roberts in appearance and mindset.

He is valued by many European ministers and heads of states; Politico’s headline was ‘Brussels rolls out a red carpet for Jeremy Corbyn‘ but the Daily Mail hastily withdrew its original paragraph, “Corbyn appeared to be the statesmanlike party leader holding all the cars. He was greeted by “all the European press” like a “Prime Minister in waiting”, one aide told me” (see video).

World Federalism, which once seemed rather ‘way out’, now seems to be a really sensible way of addressing the towering threats posed by climate related instability.

And Jeremy Corbyn is the only British leader credibly offering to address the plight of the 10% on low incomes with no secure housing or employment, to cease the harassment of the disabled and to save young lives – and huge sums of money – from being wasted in aiding and abetting unjust military interventions.

 

 

 

 

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“Don’t write off Labour”, warns Robert Shrimsley, Editorial Director of the FT

“Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump”

Above: Corbyn in Trafford, May 2019

Mr Shrimsley estimates that a vote share above 30% may be enough to prevent a Tory majority adding that, given likely losses in Remain strongholds, Mr Johnson needs 40-50 gains.

Other points made include those summarised below.

Having alienated the Democratic Unionists, the Conservatives have no natural coalition partners and face the ‘potentially wrecking impact’ of Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.

Several other parties might support Labour or at least tolerate an anti-Johnson administration. The early evidence is that Remainers may be reconciling themselves to voting Labour where necessary.

Labour has a coherent narrative. The last three years have been no advert for Tory efficiency and the last nine have not left most people feeling better off

It has a raft of policies with appeal to core groups. It has baubles for young and old, tenants and workers. It will not be outbid on public services.

Voters’ current experiences are of austerity and cuts. Labour can, for example, note that Mr Johnson’s promised 20,000 extra police will only restore numbers to their 2010 level.

Plans to nationalise water and rail companies will play well, as will promises to give workers more say and more pay.

Labour also has a radical agenda on the environment, perhaps the most salient issue for younger voters.

And the wild card? As Camilla Cavendish (former No10 adviser) points out: “Mr Corbyn comes to life on the stump; Mr Johnson doesn’t always seem to do his homework”

 

 

 

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Labour’s four-day-week policy: already working well for companies in New Zealand, Scotland, England and Ireland

John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, told the Labour conference in September that the party would reduce average full-time hours to 32 a week within a decade “with no loss of pay”. People should “work to live, not live to work”, he said.

Phantom research?

The Times cites research by the Centre for Policy Studies, ‘The most influential think tank among Conservative MPs’, which was not revealed on their website. It was said to allege that reducing the hours of public sector employees, including doctors, nurses, teachers, firefighters and police officers, would be costly because the workforce would have to expand.

That is not the experience of 4-day companies in New Zealand, Scotland England and Ireland

The ITV News website covers theory, adding statistics and recording at length the findings of Edinburgh restaurant Aizle, which has enjoyed its best financial year after moving to 4-day working. Its owner says the improvement in staff morale, which has helped to recruit and retain willing workers, has been the biggest positive.

It briefly refers to a New Zealand financial services company initiated the four-day-week and claimed it boosted productivity by 24%. Henley Business School research also mentions Perpetual Guardian, the New Zealand estate management firm, one of the first to go public with a research-backed assessment of its trial, before adopting the policy in November 2018, having found that productivity was unharmed by the shortened working week,

Another company Think Productive in Brighton and Hove switched seven years ago. It changed its five-day week into four extended weekdays and one Friday in four after a three-month trial, but staff are still given the option to work a traditional five-day week: “Most don’t, choosing to lose two commutes and gain the freedom of an extra day to pursue personal and professional interests beyond their primary income”.

Recruitment firm ICE Group this year became the first company in Ireland to adopt a four-day week for all its staff.

Henley Business School research: four-day week pays off for UK business

Henley’s ‘Four better or Four Worse?’ White Paper has gathered opinions from over 250 businesses who currently operate with a four-day working week.

  • Two thirds reported improvements in staff productivity.
  • The move has already saved implementing businesses an estimated £92 billion annually
  • Three quarters of Brits back a four-day working week
  • 67% of Gen Z say it would drive them to pick a place to work.
  • 64% of those businesses who have already adopted a four-day working week have reported improvements in staff productivity.
  • 78% of implementing businesses said staff were happier, 70% less stressed
  • 62% took fewer days off ill..
  • 63% of employers said that providing a four-day working week has helped them to attract and retain talent.
  • 40% of employees said they use the time to upskill or develop professional skills.
  • 25% said they use their fifth day to volunteer.
  • 34% of business leaders surveyed and 46% of those in larger businesses, say making the switch to a four-day working week will be important for future business success.

The study shows that UK workers are keen for this workplace shakeup, with nearly three quarters (72%) agreeing it’s an attractive proposition and would be a firm driver when picking an employer. This is particularly important for Gen Z – with two thirds (67%) saying it would influence their choice of employment.

The research also added that, despite the financial, environmental and wellbeing advantages, 73% of employers cite concerns around taking up the change, with client and customer servicing and the need to be available, noted as the main barrier for 82% of businesses.

The four-day week also demonstrates a positive impact on the environment, as employees estimate they would drive 557.8 million fewer miles per week on average, leading to fewer transport emissions.

Quartz magazine presents new evidence that working less is good for productivity. In August 2019, Microsoft Japan embarked on a four-day week trial. Every Friday it closed the office and gave roughly 2,300 full-time employees a paid holiday.

Trending

According to an article in Sora News 24, there was an enormous jump in productivity. Based on sales per employee, workers were almost 40% more productive than they were the same month a year earlier, while staff stress levels were dramatically improved.

Other productivity hacks (shortcuts, tricks or strategies) were encouraged, including limiting meetings to 30 minutes and suggesting that instead of calling meetings, employees could more fully utilize software available for online collaboration.

Cassie Werber commented yesterday: Microsoft Japan’s trial is significant because it’s the biggest yet in terms of staff numbers and the apparent effect on productivity. It’s caught the global imagination, perhaps, because Japan’s work culture is seen as particularly punishing. If a big Japanese tech company can change its ways and achieve startlingly better results, perhaps there’s hope for us all”.

 

 

 

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Labour has pledged to end deregulation of housing construction and ‘human warehousing’

 

Deregulation is posing problems in many sectors. Recently it was announced that the House of Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is to examine Thomas Cook’s ongoing corporate governance, accounting, auditing and regulatory failures, ‘while the gravy train for directors continued’ (Prem Sikka, September).

Advocates of deregulation – the reduction or elimination of government power (state rules) – say that it removes unnecessary bureaucracy and barriers to competition.

Prem Sikka (Professor of Accounting at University of Sheffield) now turns to the effect of deregulation on social housing. He focusses on the controversial ‘permitted development’ (PDR) system for the delivery of new homes which Labour has pledged to end – a decision commended by the Town and Country Planning Association. Reports last year highlighted the poor quality homes coming through the permitted development system and a get-out clause that exempts schemes from providing vital social and affordable housing.

Human warehousing

The permitted development system has led to the delivery of homes as small as 13 square metressmaller than the average living room. A BBC report about an office-to-residential permitted development conversion carried out by Caridon Property is quoted by Shelter. It has been used as temporary accommodation since 2018 and the homeless families with children crammed into tiny ‘studio flats’ have to ‘eat, drink and sleep in their beds’.

London Assembly study also noted that many PD homes are smaller than the minimum space standards and exacerbate the already huge issue of overcrowding – and by avoiding the planning system, developers are no longer obliged to contribute to the provision of affordable housing.

Newbury House in Ilford offers flats that apparently measure as little as 3.6 metres by 3.6 metres (12ft x 12ft), with residents packed in “like sardines”, a busy six-lane highway just yards away, broken glass and rubbish strewn all around outside.

The Developer, which informs and connects professionals working in urban development and design, adds more detail and is campaigning for these potentially dangerous conversions to be stopped.

A study by the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors which examined the quality of PD in parts of Camden, Croydon, Leeds, Leicester and Reading, concluded that PD has allowed extremely poor-quality housing to be developed and PD residential quality was significantly worse than schemes which required planning permission – particularly in office-to-residential conversions. Of 568 buildings studied, another report found an inconsistency in the quality of developments, with only 30% of units delivered through permitted development meeting national space standards.

And Conservative MP for Harlow Robert Halfon (left) agrees with Sikka’s October verdict: ‘Government deregulation of housing construction is delivering social cleansing and the slums of the future’.

In 2013 – following pressure from ‘profit hungry’ property developers – the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government deregulated and disempowered local councils, passing legislation enabling developers to convert office blocks, agricultural buildings and warehouses into residential properties without full planning permission.

Richer councils are sending people to poorer areas already facing acute economic problems as part of a social cleansing process. Families with children, senior citizens, low-paid, the unemployed, people with special needs and others, faced with the choice of long waiting lists for housing, temporary accommodation, dilapidated housing and high rents by private landlords, have been persuaded to relocate to another area.

As part of a recent research project, Sikka met council leaders from many of these poorer areas, struggling to cope with the problems caused by deregulation and the loss of central government funding to local councils since 2010 cut by 26% in real terms. He writes:

“The class nature of permitted developments (PD) is evident as there are more PDs in Harrow and Hounslow compared to wealthy Kensington and Chelsea. They have been a boon for housing developers. The chief executives of this country’s ten biggest developers received a combined £63.6m last year for building slums, called by some, ‘human warehousing’ “.

Poorer areas already struggling to cope with acute economic problems have to find new jobs, schools, transport, family doctors and hospitals, without prior planning or resources, while richer areas with lower numbers of people on benefits, lower unemployment rates and less pressure on local schools, hospitals and social infrastructure, embark on the process of gentrification.

  

Professor Sikka’s article may be read here.

 

 

 

 

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Conservative co-chair revelation: Jetset to spend even more time abroad under a Labour government

The Telegraph reports that MP James Cleverly, who is in charge of the Tory election campaign, says that he is aware of individuals, including entrepreneurs and other business figures, some Jewish, who plan to leave the country if Labour were to win the election.

Would that be noticed? Many – like the Telegraph’s owners – already spend much of their time away from Britain.

Surely they could survive relatively unscathed, despite paying taxes in full and ‘coming to an arrangement’ with the currently short-staffed inland revenue service, paying their workers a living wage and bearing the costs of any pollution emitted by their businesses?

Mr Cleveley shows compassion for those whom he says are planning to leave, but appears to lack sympathy for the less fortunate. The Independent reported that, according to Parliament’s register of interests, Cleverly was one of 72 Conservative MPs voting against the amendment who personally derived an income from renting out property. He opposed – and therefore delayed – legislation which would have required private landlords to make their homes “fit for human habitation”.

https://libraenergy.co.uk/homes-fit-human-habitation/

When working with mayor Boris Johnson as Chair of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, he was responsible for the closure of ten fire stations in London, after which an elderly man jumped from a burning building in Camden, following delays in the arrival of fire crews. The Fire Brigades Union had repeatedly warned that a tragic death of this kind would occur after severe cuts to funding of the fire service in London. 

Outnumbered

Under a government led by Jeremy Corbyn, as corporate tax evasion and avoidance on a large scale is addressed releasing funds for education, health and other important services, the 99% on lower incomes will welcome a living wage, a well-staffed fire and health service, homes fit for human habitation, appropriate care for the elderly and disabled and better employment opportunities as manufacturing and services are increasingly in-sourced. 

And these millions have one asset: their vote.

 

 

 

 

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The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?

On 14 September 2017 The Grenfell Tower Inquiry began to investigate the causes of the fire and other related issues. The chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, issued the phase one report on Wednesday 30 October 2019. In it, he concluded that the tower’s cladding failed to comply with building regulations; the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior.

In the dock?

  • Past and present governments erosion of safety standards through programmes of deregulation, privatisation, outsourcing/subcontracting, localism and austerity: “Regulations were relaxed and eliminated, warnings were ignored and costs were cut, while profits and council reserves.
  • David Cameron, as prime minister, promised and delivered a “bonfire of regulations” in the construction industry.
  • Boris Johnson, as mayor of London, closed 10 London fire stations, took 30 fi re engines out of service and slashed over 500firefighter jobs to “save money” (charges made by Yvette Williams)
  • The Conservative members of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) who covered the homes of working-class people with flammable tiles rather than fire-resistant tiles because they were cheap, prepared the way for the Grenfell Tower fire (Sasha Simic).
  • “The true culprits of the fire are those who wrapped the building in flammable cladding, who gutted the UK’s fire safety regime, who ignored the warnings from previous fires, and who did not hear the pleas of a community worried for their safety”, Fire Brigades Union (FBU). Below left, see a brief video of firefighters during the fire

Statement: there was “no concern from residents about cladding”

* In the 2012 Grenfell Tower Regeneration Project’s public consultation, which may be read here, residents were asked about the cladding’s colour and finish, but the issue of fire resistance was never raised.

The planning application’s engagement statement records that the choice of cladding – zinc or particle board was investigated and the final choice was Reynobond PE with a plastic filling – a cheaper option, saving nearly £300,000 – placed around flammable foam insulation.

The establishment – elite networks who close ranks to protect their own interests – spared the government & cladding company and scapegoated the Grenfell firefighters

Despite the Grenfell Inquiry’s finding that the principal reason the fire spread was the use of aluminium composite cladding filled with plastic on the building’s exterior, mainstream media chose to highlight criticism of the fire-fighters’.

The FT, though focussing closely on the performance of firefighters, did at least give details of the other companies involved, prudently noting that the report does not assign blame to any individual companies.

Hotpoint, a division of Whirlpool, made the fridge-freezer in which the fire began. Celotex, a division of the French multinational Saint Gobain, made the foam insulation used on the tower; Rydon, the design and build contractor on the refurbishment subcontracted the cladding installation; Harley Facade, and CEP Architectural Facades manufactured the cladding into “cassettes” for use on the tower.

The BBC (warned off after publishing this outspoken article about the cladding?), the Guardian and the Independent opted to focus on the fire service, the Metro achieving some balance by publishing a fiery article by Yvette Williams and one focussing on the fire service in the same issue.

grenfell fireYvette summarised the feelings of many: “the real ‘villains of the piece’ should be in the media headlines, rather than the firefighters who risked their own lives to save people in a building that no-one should have been living in, with a fire that was unprecedented”.

Since the Grenfell disaster, Arconic has withdrawn Reynobond PE from the market for all building uses. The company is now being forced to disclose evidence to investigations by the police and the Grenfell Tower public inquiry and a second phase to investigate the broader causes will begin in 2020.

But, as the FBU concluded, “We cannot wait for years for the Inquiry to conclude. Change is needed now.” The Grenfell question: will Britain elect a government that puts people before profit?

* As with some other ‘sensitive’ documents, this link will not open. To read the report, the link has to be copied and pasted: https://www.rbkc.gov.uk/idoxWAM/doc/Other-960662.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=960662&location=VOLUME2&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

 

 

 

 

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Leaks reveal Corbyn’s campaign themes and Johnson’s post Brexit intentions

A provisional Labour election “grid” which was leaked to the Sunday Times is said to reveal that while Mr Johnson is framing this as “a Brexit election” Jeremy Corbyn will continue with two main themes.

Mr Corbyn will first focus on the National Health Service, described by the FT’s George Parker and Laura Hughes as “traditionally Labour’s strongest suit”.

He sees Brexit leading to a “toxic Trump trade deal”, opening up the health service to rapacious US corporations and will challenge PM Boris Johnson about the claims in a recent Channel 4 Dispatches programme, alleging that the Tory government was secretly discussing NHS drug pricing in the context of a possible post Brexit US trade deal.

The FT journalists say that the risk that voting might take place against the backdrop of one of the NHS’s periodic winter crises, “keeps Tory strategists awake at night”.

The second campaigning focus will be on evidence that post-Brexit workers’ rights and regulations will be changed for the worse

The BBC and Financial Times have seen a leaked internal government document marked “Official Sensitive”. This “Update to EPSG (Economic Partnership Steering Group) on level playing field negotiations” was drafted by DExEU, the government department for exiting the EU.

The document suggests that Mr Johnson – a persistent critic of what he sees as unnecessary regulation from Brussels – wants to diverge ‘significantly’ from the EU on regulation and workers’ rights after Brexit, despite a pledge to maintain a “level playing field”.

The FT reports that it was told by one senior adviser to Mr Johnson, “We’re not confident at all. Of course this is a gamble. But it’s the least worst option.” Mr Corbyn’s supporters expressed confidence in his campaigning ability, first shown in the 2017 election, when he captured 40% of the vote.

 

 

 

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Will the rising tide of youthful voters sweep away selfish politics?

A surge in number of young people registering to vote has been reported as more than 300,000 applications were submitted in two days. There was a big spike on the day the election was announced. 

        • A third were from people under 25.
        • Nearly two-thirds of applications were from people aged 34 and under
        • and 4% came from those aged 65 and over.

Dr James Sloam is co-director of Centre for European Politics at Royal Holloway University, currently leading a project for the Greater London Assembly investigating the key policy issues for young people and questions of civic and political engagement and their relevance to the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Dr Sloam argues that there has been a step-change in youth political participation, as young people have been attracted in large numbers to Jeremy Corbyn’s message. In the 2017 general election, turnout amongst 18-24 year olds rose from 43% in 2015 to 54% and polling data showed that most of them voted Labour.

BBC journalist Laura Lea points out that this is the generation that has borne the brunt of the financial crisis with uncertainty, unemployment and wage freezes being a staple of their adult life. Young people have experienced the tightest pay squeeze in the wake of the financial crisis – with real pay falling by 13%, according to the Resolution Foundation.

And – we add – they will have to face the increasing hazards of climate change.

 

 

 

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