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  • Raphael Hammond

Keir Starmer may not need the youth vote – but his government will sink without us

By Raphael Hammond

If someone said to me today “Keir Starmer attracts the youth vote with radical progressive policies”, I would ask them whether they happen to own a DeLorean which allows them to switch timelines. Rather, Labour have the significant advantage of not being the Tories and are perceived to do a better job at governing the country. However, the party’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, tuition fees & student loans, the abandonment of the 28 billion green investment pledge, anti-trans rhetoric by Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting and MP Rosie Duffield among other issues hardly set young voters’ hearts aflutter. But young voters are not Labour’s focus: with their obvious Labour lean but comparatively lower turnout (Savanta polling indicated that 35% of 18-34 year olds do not intend to vote, compared to 12% of people aged 55+). Youth are not the voters Labour needs to gain a majority of seats in parliament. Whether Labour loses or wins will be down to swing voters in multiple seats, many of which are in older age ranges with higher turnouts. His policy stall is therefore set out further towards the centre, and the proto manifesto ‘first steps for change’ is better suited to these swing voters (notably on border security command and antisocial behaviour).

I note that the first step on the list is economic stability. Keir Starmer has made growth and economic performance a key plank of his proposals to set the country on the right track. Labour’s refusal to implement a wealth tax, capital gains tax, inheritance tax, or the top rate of income tax means that economic growth will be needed to fund public service improvements from an incoming Labour government. Public service reform may help but throwing a coin into the “magic technology wishing well” and expecting this to pay junior doctors’ salaries is unrealistic. The health of the economy is therefore vital to an incoming Labour government’s success.

"Youth are not the voters Labour needs to gain a majority of seats in parliament. Whether Labour loses or wins will be down to swing voters in multiple seats"

So far, so straightforward. Grow the economy, grow tax receipts, improve public services. This will not be an easy task; nor is it necessarily a desirable one, given the impact of economic growth on our suffering planet – but this is the Labour plan. The issue is with the mechanics of growing the economy. Predictions from the Institute for Fiscal Studies are grim, regardless of who is in government after the election. The current trends, and the overall financial situation of the British government is astonishingly poor, significantly worse than in 1997. Britain’s economy is still suffering from embedded inflation, the aftereffects of the Truss-shock, and the trading-bloc-withdrawal-which-shall-not-be-named. Labour, while suggesting closer relationships with the EU, is hesitant to mention Brexit, likely in fear that voters either don’t trust them on the issue, or will simply switch off. The party’s reticence towards closer ties is shown by its immediate rejection of the Youth Mobility Scheme proposed by the EU. Labour is determined, seemingly, not to take the ‘easy’ path for improving the economy.

As the population ages, the part that today’s young people, who will be entering the economy under a Labour government. Research by the Centre for Policy Studies indicates that by the end of 2026, the UK will have more people aged 65+ than under 18 for the first time in its history. Furthermore, to keep pace with the cost of the welfare state, the same research estimates that the economy will need to grow by 2.9% annually, consistently over the next 50 years – a nigh-on impossible target. The Institute for Fiscal Studies indicates that by 2067-8, spending on pensions and health will rise to 20.7% of GDP, compared to only 12.2% in 2018-19. Starmer’s reticence to pursue pro-youth policies may come to shoot his government in the foot in the long term here. The health of the economy depends on the current cohort being placed in the best position possible to take on a growing role within it.

So what does this look like? A Labour government will need to intervene and solve problems upstream for the economy to improve. Housing availability and affordability will need to be improved, including better conditions for renters. The skyrocketing cost of having children will need to be tackled. Mental health support will need to be increased to allow for productivity to rise once more. The burden of student loan repayments will need to be lessened. Education and (re)training to grow young people’s skills and fill shortages in the economy will require investment. Economic decisions should be made to support millennials and young people’s ambitions. The generation joining the workforce will need all the help they can get to compensate for the older generations’ reduced tax contributions – and that means that a Labour government must assist them if it wants to see economic growth. This will be costly, in places; but equally, many solutions can be created by enacting legislation which gets its priorities right. The alternative is unacceptable: not delivering on their main promise and seeing the decade of national renewal flicker out before it has even begun.

Image: Flickr



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