We won’t win over young women voters in 2015 unless we employ the skills of our talented young women activists. Developing young women within the Labour party is vital to mobilising young women more widely.
Speaking at the Winning with Women conference last weekend, I chose to focus on what we need to do to win over young women ahead of the next general election.
There’s no doubt that policies have a huge role to play, and I could happily list a number of policies that I think are essential to improving young women’s lives, but when young women aren’t engaged in politics our message isn’t going to reach them.
If we really want to reach out to young women, we need to look within our party to the best resource we have: young women activists.
Our young women are our ambassadors among a group that’s often hard to reach. They are uniquely placed to engage and mobilise their peers.
As Harriet Harman said on Saturday, women activists are still pioneers. She said that it was our sisterly duty to break through as women in politics and break down barriers for other women.
And the young Labour women in our schools, colleges, universities and workplaces are pioneers. As young women bucking the trend by being involved in politics, we have a duty to be engaging and mobilising our peers.
But, as young women leading the way, the Labour party has a duty to us: to give us the opportunities to develop; to encourage us; to equip us with the skills we need to get the Labour party’s message out to our peers.
Word of mouth can be a powerful thing. An endorsement from someone you know, trust and empathise with is a strong one. We shouldn’t underestimate the power of word of mouth, especially among young people who aren’t engaged in politics and don’t happen to watch Newsnight every night.
I found that during the 2010 general election, when I was doing my A levels, friends who had not shown an interest in politics before saw that I was involved and started asking questions and taking an interest. Even outside of election time, young women activists in their schools, colleges and workplaces have the ability to engage and mobilise those around them. From setting up feminist societies to debating clubs and mock elections. From unionising workplaces to leading students’ unions. From chats on the school field to debates down the pub.
Young Labour and Labour Students have a huge role to play and are already doing a fantastic job of engaging young people in the run-up to the general election – we’ve already seen impressive voter registration campaigns, youth homelessness campaigns, ‘+1 parties’ and stalls at freshers’ fairs.
And there’s more to come. I could not be prouder that, alongside this outreach activity, we are now doing more in Young Labour to support women activists. During my NEC election, I pledged to secure a conference specifically for young women, and we’ll be holding our first ever Young Labour women’s conference this October, complete with training, policy workshops and inspiring speakers.
But the onus is on all of us, from Ed Miliband and Iain McNicol, to the constituency Labour party chair and campaign organiser, to do more to ensure we’re encouraging young women within our party and breaking down barriers.
I want to see us electing young women to chair our CLPs, represent us on our councils and drive policy forward on our National Policy Forum.
If we want to win with young women in 2015, we need to champion the young women we already have among our ranks. These women are pioneers and their power to engage others should never be underestimated.