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Only a proper alternative will defeat the “nice guys”

Last Thursday I attended a charity gig run by students from my school. It was a great event: young bands from the local area showcased their talent and the audience was largely made up of fellow pupils – many of whom had recently reached, or were close to reaching voting age. It came as no surprise that amongst the crowd was my Liberal Democrat MP – Greg Mulholland.

It wasn’t his attendance that bothered me. MPs should show their faces at important local events. What did concern me, however, was how by simply being present, Mulholland seemed to be securing votes for 2015. This wasn’t hard-sell campaigning; just mingling and chatting with the young folk of north-west Leeds. Yet, on several occasions throughout the night, I heard proud boasts of how my peers were “definitely going to vote for Greg”. Anyone would think they still had EMA and low tuition fees.

In fairness to Mulholland, he voted against £9000 tuition fees – but hardly surprising as his constituency is dominated by the student area of Headingley. It’s therefore much easier for him to secure a young Lib Dem vote than in most parts of the country. But the fact that there might be such a thing as a young Lib Dem vote in 2015 is a great concern. Once upon a time, Labour would have been the natural choice of many of these young people, yet a bit of socializing is enough to swing them to vote for the Liberal Democrats.

So, why don’t they instinctively turn to Labour? Are they worried that it’s full of unapproachable zealots? Indeed, are they scared off by the plague of “digital Bennites” that Progress are so worried about? Or perhaps, they are just not bothered about politics?

While I have never heard any young people use one of the above reasons for not voting Labour, I do hear another pretty often: “they’re all the same”.

Young people see a clear agenda from this government: the austerity that is inflicting misery on millions of households from the scrapping of EMA to the bedroom tax. George Osborne says “there is no alternative” and yet Labour refuses to prove him wrong: all they hear is “too far too fast”.

It would be wrong for me to paint a completely bleak picture. With the largest political youth section in the country, Labour is doing relatively well. But we could do so much better. Like many in Young Labour, if not all, I know plenty of my peers that are desperate for an alternative to the Tories and Tory-lites, but still can’t trust Labour.

A clearer distinction from the Tories and their Lib Dem allies is critical to Young Labour’s success as a mass movement. Surely there is enough scope to be more radical: mass social housing projects to create jobs and homes for young people, higher taxes on the rich to offset education fees; the list could go on. Young Labour voted for a radical agenda at its policy conference last year, so let’s offer a different sort of campaign and strategy that will project distinct ideals, and do so outside the norm of panel discussions in the Westminster village.

We need to be more than just the lesser of three evils if we’re to beat “that nice Lib Dem chap” – and chants of “Tony! Tony! Tony!”, as I’ve now heard from seasoned Labour Students hacks at several conferences, will certainly not help.

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