If Labour is to win in 2015, it will need to win over 25 to 44 year olds.
Will Martindale is Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Battersea
I was proud to be selected as Battersea’s parliamentary candidate last month at a meeting attended by a wide array of party members. Security guard, historian, headteacher, barrister, refugee, millionaire and even the actress Prunella Scales.
The only group missing was the one we need most. Battersea has more 25 to 44 year olds than anywhere else in the country. We can’t win Battersea without them and I think the Labour Party only has a future if it learns how to connect with them.
This group were born or brought up in Margaret Thatcher’s Britain and live with the consequences. They rent from buy-to-let landlords and have often ‘got on their bikes’ from other parts of the UK for work.
What were they doing during the selection meeting? Perhaps they were navigating London underground maps as engineering works mess up lunch with a friend. A few probably wondered why doctors don’t open on the weekends, irritated they have to wait until Monday morning at 8am on the dot and spend 20 minutes on hold to get an appointment at all.
Some were queuing up outside the Post Office on Lavender Hill, frustrated that its weekday close-time is long before they log off. Others may have paused outside estate agent windows on the way to the gym, window shopping for flats they will never afford.
More than 40,000 properties in the borough are now rented, a figure than has risen by 50 per cent in the past decade. Private rents went up 14 per cent last year and the average income of a local homebuyer topped £100,000. This is why I have made housing the key issue in my campaign to take back Battersea for Labour.
I moved back to Battersea after university – my grandmother moved here in the 1950s, my dad grew up here. I rented some great flats and some terrible flats. I borrowed money for the first month’s rent, nagged our landlord to fix the shower and fought with estate agents to return my deposit. I know that for many Battersea residents there is no hope of getting a council flat and no chance of buying a home.
That’s why Labour should make affordable housing the first call on public land – the prize is the billions we waste each year on housing benefit. We should more tightly regulate lettings agents and introduce a not-for-profit lettings agency to cut the fees renters pay for background checks and contract renewals. All private developments should include starter homes made available to first-time buyers who live in the area for five years or more.
Housing is my main focus but it is not the only issue Battersea Labour Party campaigns on. We still fight the cuts with all our strength, with some success. We were proud of the campaigns we ran to stop Wandsworth Tory council from charging children £2.50 to use a playground and to save the library that serves Battersea’s most deprived estate.
However renters in their 20s and 30s weren’t that impressed.
They do care about social issues, but living standards are their main issue. They find it difficult to accept that they will have a lower standard of living than the last generation. Colour-saturated photographs from the seventies show their parents starting a family, buying a car and owning a home while in their twenties.
More than half of the population of Battersea is educated to degree level or higher – the best educated constituency in the country – yet they feel they will never match the holidays, job security and pensions their parents enjoyed.
Battersea renters are typically in good jobs, but they don’t feel rich – they are just a pay cheque away from having to move out. Indeed, it is worth remembering that many of them are the only people from their schools who got the opportunity to come to London. They share many of Labour’s values and we can earn their support if we tackle their priorities in language they understand.
They’re socially liberal, celebrating London’s diversity and free museums, support the smoking ban and love late licenses. Yet their economic values are conservative, working hard in a system they don’t quite trust. They hate waste and bureaucracy and may have little contact with the welfare state.
Appealing to these voters is difficult. They throw away leaflets, don’t like canvassers and hate political rhetoric. I am rarely contacted by this group except for things such as bins or Barclays Bikes. They don’t want politicians to solve the problems in their lives – they don’t believe they can. That’s Labour’s challenge.
New politics requires new practices: Battersea councillor Simon Hogg goes door to door each weekend with just an iPhone. Housing issues are snapped and sent straight to the council; people’s stories and concerns are tweeted; incidents of anti-social behaviour are emailed to the local police sergeant.
During a recent Town Hall debate on housing, the Labour speeches were published live on Simon’s blog. The public gallery was empty but dozens of people were interacting online before the end of the meeting. Politicians can be relevant and Labour must be determined to prove it.
Battersea has a strong radical tradition – first of the left, now of the right. 100 years ago Labour Battersea gave Britain its first black mayor, John Archer, and its first working-class cabinet member, John Burns.
But the borough that built some of Britain’s first council estates at the start of the 20th century also pioneered the right to buy them in the 1970s. My grandmother’s home was built by Britain’s first council-employed builders. Now the same council obsessively outsources every service it can.
Battersea has long led the way in social trends. If generation rent is here to stay, Labour will need to earn their trust.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.