Tom Watson

Tom's answers to your questions

1.     How do you plan to get young members more involved in the Labour Party? 

I moved the resolution at the Labour conference that created Young Labour. I’ve been a party youth officer and the national Chair of Labour Students. Despite it being a long time ago, I still remember how frustrating it was to be young and in the Labour Party. That’s why I think at the core of what we do, young members should have the right to self organise. Through Young Labour and the Labour Students conference, young members should decide their own policy and campaigning priorities. One thing I’m certain of - the future can’t just be about branch meetings and GCs, important though they are. I want to lead a digital revolution in the Labour Party. I’d like to see digital branches, and more online policy consultations for example. I can’t see any reason why you shouldn’t be able to join meetings remotely. Young voters will be an important component of our fightback in 2020. It’s our young members who will be responsible for winning them over to our cause. And as they lead the campaign to engage first time voters, I hope our young members can have some fun along the way. I’ve spent many hours standing in muddy fields to raise money for Labour’s cause. Nirvana at Reading in the early nineties was a low point or perhaps it was Glastonbury in 1985, despite seeing Echo and the Bunnymen at their peak. It’s time for the next generation to share in the joy of political and cultural change. 

2.    What is your strategy to press the Government to allow 16 and 17- year-olds to vote in the European Referendum? 

Let’s be honest, Cameron has no intention of giving young people the vote. He’s frightened of what they might do with the power. I believe in a Europe that protects human rights and makes a difference to our lives and I’ll be campaigning for a yes vote in the referendum. I’ll also be making the case for fair copyright laws across the EU and for us to work for directives that protect our privacy and give safeguards against unnecessary mass state surveillance. That’s also why I will continue to argue in Parliament and in the media for 16 and 17 year olds to have the vote. I’ve signed a petition calling on David Cameron to allow young people to vote in the EU referendum. You can do the same here: https://www.change.org/p/david-cameron-mp-allow-16-and-17-year-olds-to-vote-in-the-eu-referendum-3. But even if he resists our calls, I shall work with our young members to campaign for a yes vote in the referendum. 

 3.    How can Labour get more women and young people, as well as BAME, disabled and LGBT members to stand for selection as candidates? 

Labour’s representation in Parliament should reflect the diversity of our country and it doesn’t right now. I’m in favour of all women shortlists but we need to work harder to encourage LGBT and BAME members to stand for selection. One of the saddest moments from my time as a Labour student was when my friend Liam said to me that he could never be an MP because “people like me and Stephen will never be voted in as MPs”. Liam was gay. The Stephen he referred to was Stephen Twigg who five years later went on to be one of our most famous MPs. Stephen’s election was quite a moment to behold. I don’t want any member of this party to hold back their ambitions because they happen to be gay or a woman, or from an ethnic minority. It’s not just wrong it’s a waste of talent. I’m proud of our Future Candidates Programme but we need to train our people better and we need to cast our net far wider. We need to live our values of inclusivity and fairness by allowing people from every community to influence policy and Party reform. I also believe too many people are being priced out of politics. I want to look at establishing a bursary scheme for Parliamentary candidates who don’t have the financial means to run for office. When Parliament doesn’t look like Britain it is no wonder there is a crisis of trust in politics and politicians.  

4.    Do you support an equal minimum wage for young people? 

The short answer is ‘yes’, but only when we can afford it. There is no reason someone who is 17 should get paid less than a 30 year old doing the same job. 

5.    How can Labour get more young people involved in politics and increase electoral turnout amongst young people? 

We need to convince them Labour will make a difference to their lives. That’s partly about our policies, of course, but it’s also about communicating our ideas more effectively and demonstrating that we are doing that on a daily basis in communities around the country. There are systemic problems too. The Labour Party is an early 20th century institution trying to solve 21st century problems. Our rule book is 115 years old. It is rigid and restrictive. It literally belongs in another age. It was written at a time when most people were constrained by geography, living and working in the same place they were born. In that world, life in the Labour Party revolved around branch meetings and organised on constituency lines because it had to be. That structure doesn’t necessarily work today. Too often new members who joined up because they are desperate to see the back of the Tories find their first experience of the Labour Party is watching the minutes from the last meeting being read out at GC. There are better ways to engage young people but the centre of our philosophy should be the empowerment of young members to organise themselves. I want young members to enjoy their time in the Party. I want them to have access to the best campaign training and political education. I’d like them to have the tools to digitally engage their own networks. I want to help them help Labour make Britain a kinder and fairer country. 

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