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A lesson in campaign mindset from young Labour students

Posted on 31 January 2010 | 1:01pm

I stayed up in Burnley after our latest heroic defeat last night to do a fundraiser for the town’s new Labour candidate Julie Cooper.

It was the perfect venue for a speaking event – looking out over the hallowed turf of Turf Moor.

But may I assure those political obsessives who complain when I do a Burnley blog here that this is not one of them; and assure those who share my Burnleymania that my weekly Aol Football Fanhouse column will be posted later today. Fair to say it was John Terry’s day.

I made the point during my remarks to the dinner that with so much cynicism about politics, and so little trust in the media, old-fashioned door to door, face to face campaigning in the community is going to be more important than ever in the forthcoming election. When people talk about who they trust, the truth is most at least trust family and friends, and will listen to neighbours and workmates. So political activists are going to matter as never before. One lesson from Barack Obama’s campaign is that the more you have of them, and the younger and more energetic they are, the greater your chances of success.

People make a great deal of how Obama used the web to raise money. More important in my view was the way he used it to turn sympathisers into supporters and supporters into activists who would then take his message out to people in their own circles.

At too many Labour events I do, the average age is too high, so it was great to see a good proportion of young people last night, including one who bought a copy of my new novel Maya – did I mention I had a novel out this week? – and asked me to dedicate it to to her twittername, gracefh. I see she tweeted this morning that she finds the book ‘very exciting’ and is already up to page 150. Excellent news gracefh. 

Last night’s younger element included a group of Labour students from Manchester and Manchester Metropolitan Universities, who had exactly the kind of energy and commitment the party is going to need in bulk if we are going to stave off the threat from the Tories.

They campaign all over the North West, and had recently been up as far as Barrow to help my old  colleague John Woodcock. 

As my son and I were driving to Manchester at the end of the evening, we gave three of them a lift back. It was a pleasure to listen to young people who had a real passion for politics and whose passion was driven by their knowledge of the difference it made to people’s lives.

So thanks to philosophy student Ben Furber, English student Talia and politics student Lauren for cheering me up after the Chelsea defeat, reminding me what politics is all about, and showing me that Labour politics still has the capacity to inspire a new generation no matter how much cynicism surrounds them.

Talia said I had been right to emphasise the importance of activists persuading family and friends. ‘A lot of my family and friends aren’t political at all,’ she said ‘but most will vote Labour simply because every time I see them I give them a reason why they should.’ Now THAT is what you call a campaigning mindset. MPs take note.

  • Louise Ward

    brilliant; reading this took me back to the ’97 election when political argument, campaigning and passion for politics were a big part of my life. Older and probably more cynical I may be now, but having read this,feel that ‘frisson’ again………….where’s my badge?!

  • Wyrdtimes

    Did they mention tuition fees? Are they even aware that students from Scotland get their fees paid for by the state (well by the English taxpayer really via the unjust Barnett Formula). Doesn’t it matter to them that English students are leaving uni with £10,000 more debt than Scottish students?

    Why any English student would vote Labour is beyond me.

  • Hilary Steadman

    First, bad luck about Terry’s goal. Second, thanks for another positive portrayal of young people. I am a teacher in a State comprehensive and although obviously some young people can be a nightmare, the majority are good decent people who think more than you would guess from their media portrayal. I lament the disrespect shown for politics and politicians which, even if they must accept some of the responsibility, is in general a distortion. Like you I am pleased that through it all young people can still find inspiration leading to passion which can in turn inspire someone like you who has been around the block a few times

  • olli issakainen

    I finally managed to catch a glimpse of you on TV at Turf Moor v. Chelsea. I did also spot Jimmy McIlroy! Leon Cort impressed me. We still need to sign two new players to make sure we will stay up.

  • Kevin Garnett

    My local party had a very high average age. Two years ago a couple of students and a sixthformer got involved. They have transformed things. The shame is they met resistance at first, not least by bringing in people who were not totally signed up members, just people curious to see. Local parties can be very unwelcoming. Lesser people than our young members would have given up. They are now pretty much in charge and at last our activists are active

  • Lou Rossati

    Wyrdtimes: why should a student from England vote Labour? Because life is about more than just student loans. Labour has made so many positive changes to the country that one shouldn’t focus on the one thing they got wrong!

  • Alan Quinn

    AC, as they’re at MMU send them up to Bury South if they want to help out, it’s only 5 miles away or 15 mins on the tram. We have a good Young Labour group they can meet and they can stop Cameron getting his hands on the key marginal he wants most.

  • Rose Harvey

    I don’t think it is an issue solely with political parties but is a much wider issue for society as a whole. When you look at community groups – they tend to exist of people who are retired. When I first attended my local party as someone who wanted to get involved – it certainly wasn’t made welcoming and it made me realise quite quickly why the local party was regarded by some members as a closed shop. One famous quote about holding a recruitment campaign at the university by the then chair was “they will only cause trouble”!.This perception has to change throughout society – not just for political parties.

  • Mike Price

    Why would English students not vote for labour?

    Most of them think about wider issues than just their pocket! They consider the increase in availability of places at University for people of all social classes which has happened as a result of labour policies. Do you believe that any incoming Government will reverse these charges?

    Maybe they consider the improvements in NHS waiting times or the advances in school exams pass rates or the fact that there is more opportunity to get a job after university because the Labour Governments since 1997 have prioritised those areas. Or they look at child poverty, equality of opportunity, access to work training for the less qualified! All successes of Labour policies!

    Not all students are so single minded. I suspect you will be not voting for anyone because no-one is going to promise to go down the Scottish route regarding tuition fees. The value of a University education is far higher than the fairly nominal ammount charged right now. Ask an American student how much a college education costs!

  • Lauren Cooper

    Thank you very much for the lift! It was great to meet you and I’m glad we cheered you up. I owe you for the book. 🙂