Politics

'We're in a planetary code red – we need hope': How Labour's manifesto has gone down with young voters

It looks inevitable that Keir Starmer will become prime minister. But is his offer of ‘change’ enough?

Keir Starmer in front of Labour's campaign bus with the 'change' slogan written on the side

Keir Starmer is promising change – but is that enough? Image: Keir Starmer/Flickr

Labour looks to be coasting to victory at the general election by promising “change”. But young people have told the Big Issue they don’t just want change, they want hope.

Reacting to the party’s manifesto, first-time voters told us they were “terrified” at the lack of attention given to the climate crisis, and said they wanted to see more ambitious policies to improve peoples’ lives.

Fraser McGuire, 20, will be voting for Labour, but thinks the party will soon be faced with tough decisions after an uninspiring manifesto.

“I’d say it’s a nice start – it would be quite a good draft manifesto, but for what will probably be a majority party in three weeks time it doesn’t go far enough,” he told the Big Issue.

“The biggest thing is it doesn’t go anywhere near far enough on climate policies. It actually terrified me that we could have a new government coming in not talking about what will be the biggest issue of our lifetimes, for people of my generation.”

McGuire, who lives in the Midlands, says he wanted to see more commitments to green investment, and more details on Labour’s pledges around transitioning to clean power by 2030. But he was pleased with the commitments to strengthen workers’ rights and end zero-hours contracts and fire and rehire practices. 

He also welcomed the party’s stance on recognising a Palestinian state, alongside calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, adding: “Palestine has been such a big issue for young people and Labour has been slow to catch up with that, but it’s good to see it’s in the manifesto.”

On housing, he added: “Building more houses is very nice but to sort out the housing crisis we need social housing and local authorities should have the power to bring in rent controls and demand a higher percentage of social housing. I wanted to see more housing issues devolved to local authorities and the party should have said at least 500,000 of the 1.5 million homes will be social housing.

“Once Labour gets into government it will be faced with these crises,” he added. “It’s going to have to do transformative policies or they won’t be able to deal with them. You can’t deal with the housing crisis or the climate crisis in half measures. And if it does, the more people will get despondent. And the far right thrives on people who feel left behind.

“We’ve seen in Europe governments doing sensible neoliberal policies for five years and then the far right becomes emboldened.” 

Ahead of the 2019 general election, Labour produced a youth manifesto. This time there’s no such thing.

Upon seeing the pledges, Niamh Iliff, also 20 and also voting for Labour, felt similarly to McGuire. She said though the manifesto was an improvement on what the Tories have to offer, with pledges around the NHS, education and workers’ rights that would help people, her overriding feeling was that it was “generally underwhelming”. She also took issue with the composition of the document itself.

“It frontloaded border security and had pictures of the military and Dover – it felt quite conservative in its messaging and in its policies,” she said. “It’s really scary for an incoming Labour government that will have a lot of political freedom to be doing that. The stuff about the NHS and teachers was all at the bottom of the document.”

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At the manifesto launch, Keir Starmer was heckled by a young activist from climate campaigners Green New Deal Rising who held up a banner saying “youth deserve better”.

Fatima Ibrahim, co-director of the group, told The Big Issue: “The Labour Party’s slogan is ‘change’, yet this manifesto offers very little hope of change for our generation. Labour’s refusal to invest properly means they simply won’t be able to take the kind of action required to tackle the multiple crises facing our country.

“As young people who have seen their childhood and early adulthood snatched away by Conservative cuts and blunders, what we desperately need is a government who is willing to invest in our future. 

“From summer wildfires to winter flooding – we’re in a planetary code red. Science tells us we’re in the final years to take meaningful action against the climate crisis.

“But when it comes to tackling this crisis, and improving the quality of life for everyone in this country, Labour’s plans simply don’t touch the sides.”

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