Is Maurice Glasman more radical than the nation’s youth?

Vincenzo Rampulla asks how did Young Fabians allow themselves to become less radical than Maurice Glasman?

Vincenzo Rampulla reports on the “Squeezed Youth: how does Labour reconnect?” Young Fabians session at Saturday’s Fabian Society Next Left conference, which featured Rushanara Ali MP (Labour, Bethnal Green and Bow); Dr Maurice Glasman (community organising expert and soon-to-be Labour peer); Adrian Prandle (chair, Young Fabians); Richard Serunjogi (Head of Policy for the (Spirit of London Awards Foundation); and Jessica Studdert (co-author, The New Generation and Facing Out)

God knows if the House of Lords is ready for Dr Maurice Glasman. The newly-ennobled community organiser/academic/guru left the Fabian Conference on Saturday entertained by his brilliance and agitated by his bluntness in equal measure. None more so than the Young Fabians who had invited him to be part of the lunchtime panel discussion looking at the “Squeezed Youth”.

The clunkiness of the term mirrors the fact that 11 million-plus 15-30 year olds in the UK don’t fit into any neat political box. So whilst the left’s political narrative focuses on the vague, yet compelling idea of the “squeezed middle”, it is the ‘lost generation’ being squeezed the hardest and left with the long-term bill for the future.

Take youth unemployment. According to the Centre of Economic and Social Inclusion, long-term youth unemployment grew by 22,000 last month and now stands 4.5 per cent. That is more than the adult figure.

Yet the Future Jobs Fund has been cut with no substitute being proposed. In housing, too, the Government will cut housing benefit for single young people under 35 by an extra £215 million each year, entitling them to only shared accommodation – because young people are expected to live in shared accommodation.

The idea was simple: ask young people to what they they feel ‘squeezed’ about and let them use their own voice. Lo-fi video-editing aside, the voices in the video were honest and real:

Jobs, housing, transport, workplace representation – the video responses show young people care deeply about more things than they get credit for. Young people like 19-year-old Richard Serunjogi are not interested in just being limited to talking about ‘youth issues’. On Saturday, his emphasis was that young people have a stake in all the decisions being taken to shape Britain’s future, since that future is the one young people will eventually be responsible for.

So the lunchtime session at the conference was billed as exploring how Labour can reconnect with the young people behind these voices.

That was until Dr Glasman turned up. The largest round of applause during the session followed Glasman’s appeal against the “dispiriting, meaningless, interminable atmosphere” that follows many Labour party meetings, like the one he was currently sitting in. He remarked that the panel discussion managed to invoke old memories of a young Maurice-the-academic attending a conference in the Soviet Union. Brutally this was exactly the kind of meeting that community organising tells you not to have.

The worst thing: Maurice has a point.

As Jessica Studdert, who wrote a chapter on Labour party reform in last year’s Young Fabian pamphlet ‘The New Generation’, acknowledged engagement in Labour was often “in spite of, not because of” the way many local Labour parties involve young people. Yet new MPs, like Rushanara Ali, already know the importance of a more open engagement with young people. She emphasised that Labour MPs and the party as a whole needs to change the way it tries to interact with young people.

So young people leaving that session were left pondering: how did we allow ourselves to become less radical than Maurice?

Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.