Why Fatima’s next job should be in the arts, for all our sakes

Toni Ledda

The average person now changes career 5-7 times in their life. For Fatima, the ballet dancer, who will have probably trained for over a decade, for an average of 6 to 7 hours a day, her next career change could be just around the corner, in cyber! How exciting! 

It is very unsurprising that a group of people whose job changes constantly, from domestic affairs, to transport, to making decisions about the economy of 60 million people based on a PPE or classics degree and approximately 0 hours of experience in the various departments  they are in charge of, would chronically undervalue the skills required to have a job in the arts. When I filled in the survey on gov.uk to find out what kind of job they recommended for me, I was given a list that ranged from chef to acrobat and classical musician. For artists and musicians working around the country in secure jobs and the gig economy, this just adds insult to injury. Rishi Sunak failed to provide adequate support for the self-employed which included a huge proportion of people in this sector. While retraining to have an office job may be the best thing for the economy, it would be a tragedy for society. When we lose someone with practical creative skills it takes 10,000 hours for someone to retrain someone new to fill their space. 

This undervaluation of the arts also has impacts that reverberate in education and cultural associations. When we don’t place an emphasis on music and see these kinds of jobs hailed as aspirational, it’s easier for councils and governments to underfund arts programs, denying children from lower-income backgrounds the opportunity of accessing the arts. I first became involved in music when my school advertised subsidised music lessons, a few years below me this started to be phased out. Youth groups began to be sized down, cut out completely, or had to rely on parental support and fund raising to keep going. The effects of this continue into higher education. Some Conservatoires have a private school intake higher than that of Oxbridge, not exactly a low bench mark. At the Royal College of Music and the Royal Academy of Music, the proportion of privately educated undergraduates in 2017-2018 was 68.9% and 61.2% respectively. The privilege needed to even reach this level is daunting. Auditions can cost up to £80 and the level of competition means that many people try to get into the same conservatoire in consecutive years or apply to various institutions in the same year. The National Youth Orchestra, which used to be predominantly made up of state school children, is now mostly private school. Instead of increasing opportunity and social mobility, trends since the 80s have led to increasing inequality, this is just one manifestation of it.   

The effect of this is creating a cultural class divide, expectations of what children who are exposed to this kind of opportunity, and those who are excluded from it, are increasingly diverging. To try and address this imbalance, NYO targeted deprived areas in London to try and encourage enthusiasm from kids to get involved in classical music. They found that once children were shown classical music and given the opportunity to get involved,  there was no difference in interest, just lack of funding. The cultural class divide never really existed in the interests of children, it was engineered and perpetuated and has had the consequence of denying working-class children the same opportunities as those from richer backgrounds. 

Even if Fatima came from a wealthy background, it would have taken her years of dedication, passion and failure to reach the level where she can be financially stable as a performing ballet dancer. If she came from an economically disadvantaged background, the obstacles for her to reach that level would be even greater. Now the state of the economy means she may be forced to give it up to retrain. 

When we engineer class divides, we deny kids a chance to be a part of something amazing and we deny ourselves the kind of talent they have. Fatima’s next job could be in cyber, I just hope for all of us that it isn’t.  

What Labour can learn from Jacinda Ardern

Daniel Harrison

For the UK Labour Party Jacinda Ardern’s success is instructive. Beneath the ease and empathy, a hard-nosed political strategist lurks. Ardern may be younger and less serious than Starmer, but the challenges she overcame bear a striking resemblance to the obstacles facing Keir Starmer. Ardern did not lead her party to their best result since 1946 just because of her charm or even her highly effective leadership during the pandemic. Both were critical, but look harder. In 2017 Ardern inherited a party that wasn’t trusted on the economy; that was viewed as compassionate but incompetent and faced the age-old problem – how can the left win socially liberal, metropolitan voters along with the traditional working-class. This could be an apt description of the challenges Keir Starmer faces. 

When Jacinda Ardern became leader of her party, she immediately injected a sense of optimism into politics. At her first press conference she repeatedly talked about the ‘future’ and how she wanted to build one “to look forward to.” Her slogan epitomised her can-do attitude: “Let’s do this.” Here lies the first lesson for the British Labour Party. The party must seize and own the future: now more than ever. Voters are exhausted by the pandemic and want a future to dream of, to believe in. The Labour Party has often been too preoccupied by its past to tell a story about the future. Jacinda Ardern did not make that mistake. In the 2017 general election she articulated a galvanising vision of a more just New Zealand. She pledged to lift 100,000 children out of poverty by 2020 and to implement the gradual rollout of three years of free tertiary education. Her policy agenda was radical and rooted in the core values of fairness and equality. These values belong to the Labour Party too. The party should not just express policy in technical terms, but in terms of the irreducible principles that underpin those policies. It is not only about how we wish to build a better society, but why we seek to do it. 

The New Zealand Labour Party had a radical policy agenda, but in some ways, it was a reassuring one. Remember, this party was not trusted on the economy. In the UK, a ruthless narrative has been construed that when last in office, Labour bankrupted the country. Post 2010, the party did not have a compelling response and still today the narrative of Labour overspending festers behind every raised eyebrow whenever the party announces its spending commitments. Ardern dealt with her problem pragmatically. In 2017 she didn’t abandon her commitment to reducing poverty, but she accepted the need for prudence. Therefore, she promised to maintain government spending at around 30% of GDP. Keir Starmer must present a bold vision to tackle soaring unemployment and deprivation, because the cost of inaction is too great. 

But the answer is not an unceasing, unending shopping list. That was tried in 2019. Those policies, when viewed individually, were often credible – a £10 minimum wage, but they did not make a coherent whole. At the 2024 general election the party must build a programme for the next five years, not the next fifty. Hence, Labour must concentrate additional expenditure on certain key areas, because otherwise its policies, however noble, will be scoffed at. Jacinda Ardern also confronted her party’s other weakness – immigration. Many voters did not trust the party to sensibly control it. Ardern recognised the additional pressures on infrastructure a high level of immigration can bring, so she pledged to reduce immigration alongside a commitment to increase the nation’s intake of refugees. Her focus in 2017 was to reassure and remind voters that her party could be trusted on the economy and immigration. These issues matter a lot to Red Wall voters. Starmer must not abandon the party’s social liberalism, but he should, as part of his ‘new leadership,’ focus, as Ardern did, on rebuilding trust in the party to manage these issues.  

 Ardern sought to regain voters’ trust on the economy and immigration, but she has also constructed an agenda for the twenty-first century. In May 2019 her government delivered the world’s first ever Wellbeing budget. New Zealand is ending its fixation on the much-flawed measure of GDP and Ardern has recognised that many people have not been benefitting from a growing economy. On climate change, New Zealand has committed to achieving 100% renewable electricity generation by 2030. Keir Starmer, although restricted by the pandemic, must offer a vision based on tomorrow’s challenges. That means a manifesto with a relentless focus on the green economy; social care; AI and automation. Ardern claimed the future and so must Starmer. Labour will only ever win when it represents the future.  

Susanna Pressel: Oxford County Council Candidate Profile

Hi. My name is Susanna Pressel and I’m standing for re-election as a Labour candidate for both the City Council and the County Council for West & Central Oxford in May. I’ve been a City Councillor here in Oxford since 1996. That may sound like a long time, but I can assure you it has flown by. Before that I was a teacher, having been a student at Somerville College.

I originally became a councillor by accident – I reluctantly agreed to put my name on the ballot paper in an unwinnable ward and that caused me to find out how brilliant and rewarding it is, even if you don’t win first time. Every day is different and every day you feel you are making a difference to someone’s life. Often this is in small ways, like sending them some information or making sure their bins are emptied – but they are often really appreciative and– it’s rewarding work. I would strongly encourage you to consider standing for election to a council yourself sometime – I’m sure you won’t regret it.

It is not always recognised but Local Government can make a massive difference to lives locally. We have vital powers surrounding planning, housing, the environment,
transport and community facilities, and we can support the most vulnerableWe want to build a City that works for everyone – regardless of income or background.

Labour is the main opposition party on the County Council and we could take power next year. The City Council meanwhile has been run by Labour for most of the last 30 years and it has won national acclaim for the way it has dealt with such vital issues as rough-sleeping, child poverty, air quality, congestion and protecting our green-spaces. We were the first city in the UK to run a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis. We need to continue to make progress on such issues, in spite of the pandemic. If only the Conservative County Council could share in providing such leadership on the big issues facing our City…

That’s where you come in! By voting Labour in May’s local elections, and getting your friends to do the same, you will help ensure we have both a City and County Council that will provide pioneering leadership in tackling the climate crisis, supporting vulnerable people and building a greener, healthier City for the 21st Century. Make sure you are registered to vote both at home and in Oxford, and arrange for a postal vote, preferably in both places: https://postalvote.labour.org.uk/. Voting early by mail not only means you can vote more safely, but you get two weeks to vote rather than a single day – meaning your schedule can’t stop you from having your vote heard.

The County Division I represent and for which I’m standing again covers the southern and western part of the city centre. It includes Worcester College, Nuffield, St Peter’s, Pembroke, St John’s, Regent’s Park, St Benet’s Hall, St Cross, Blackfriars, and various annexes, like Cohen Quad, Frewin Hall and the ones in and around St Aldate’s. For some of the annexes, you may be registered at the address of the college rather than the annex. But wherever you are registered, please do contact me if I’m your councillor and tell me what you’d like me to do on your behalf. And if you can, please vote for me in May!

Andy Burnham: King in the North

Ciara Garcha

“Canaries in a coalmine” was the phrase Andy Burnham used in criticising the government’s plans to put Greater Manchester into Tier 3 of the COVID-19 restriction system, without additional financial aid. The Liverpool-born Mayor for Greater Manchester snatched national headlines, as he took the fight to the government, demanding more financial support for areas facing these heightened COVID-19 restrictions.

The sight of a northern leader, discussing northern issues, focused on a northern context, was refreshing for a polity which is often validly accused of being London-centric. Despite plans to move the House of Lords to York and the efforts of the media and broadcasters to build a presence in the north, British politics still seems to revolve around events in London, viewing national issues through this narrow-focused lens.

Burnham dominating the news: his speeches and press conferences being live-broadcasted to millions, and the national conversation he has sparked, have flown in the face of the political norm. Manchester and local northern political issues have made the mainstream news, dominating front pages and headlines for days on end. It seems that Andy Burnham and his passionate, blunt rhetoric have finally given the north the voice in national politics that it desperately needs.

In the past few months, particularly since the 2019 general election in particular, conversation around the north has revolved around the so-called ‘red wall’, which ‘crumbled’ as Labour lost its traditional northern heartlands. National coverage and commentary reduced ‘the north’ to a homogenous, post-industrial, insular area, creating a simplistic image of the varied and diverse constituencies that Labour suffered alarming defeats in back in December. Burnham has, however, brought attention to the depth and richness of politics in the north of England.

In a speech that has rapidly become iconic, Burnham, standing outside Manchester’s famous Central Library, blasted the government for asking the region “to gamble our residents, jobs, home and businesses and a large chunk of the economy.” Burnham cleverly discussed Greater Manchester in relation to the national political landscape, centering the risks to the region’s economy, should no further economic assistance be provided, in the picture of the national economy. Greater Manchester and its buzzing,mixed economy make the region one of the most economically influential and significant in the UK, as well as one of the fastest developing cities in Europe. Burnham has refused to let Manchester’s national significance drop from the overall agenda.

Tier 3 mandates the closure of pubs and bars, a ban on the mixing of households – indoor and outdoors – and residents are also advised to avoid all non-essential travel inside and outside of the area, all of which could significantly hit the region’s economy. Burnham described himself as angered by the government’s insistence to risk the regional economy by implementing these measures, given that the government’s “own experts” have advised that the strategy “might not work”. The now-famous “canaries in a coalmine” metaphor was used to criticise the government’s plans for “an experimental regional lockdown strategy”.

Not only would the region’s commercial and profitable nighttime economy be severely hit by the imposition of Tier 3 restrictions with no further assistance, but the economic downturn across the whole area would also hit the most disadvantaged. Whilst also being home to a growing, bright economy, Manchester and the surrounding boroughs comprising Greater Manchester, have one of the highest rates of child poverty. A report by Manchester City Council noted that a disturbing 35.5% of children under the age of 16 live in poverty in Manchester, underlining the desperate situation that Greater Manchester is already in- one that will likely have worsened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and will deteriorate as further restrictions are imposed on the region with no additional financial aid. As Burnham said: “it is wrong for the government to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support”, showing his commitment to speak up for all parts of Greater Manchester society and his genuine concerns with the government’s new measures.

Over the course of several days, Burnham locked horns with central government, in attempt to secure more financial assistance for the north. The former health-secretary and two-time candidate for Labour leader faced off with representatives of Number Ten, earning himself the nick-name the ‘King of the North’ and spawning hundreds of Game of Thrones-inspired memes. Greater Manchester only entered into Tier 3 restrictions after being forced into them by central government, the negotiations resulting in no settlement. Local leaders failed to meet a deadline, as set by London, to agree a support package, resulting in the region entering Tier 3 against a backdrop of dismay and protest by local leaders, with Burnham at the forefront.

The appeal of Burnham lies in his willingness and boldness in standing up to the chaotic Conservative government in London. He has been well received across the country, with praise for him drifting across all regions of England and the UK. His message that the Greater Manchester region would not be overlooked and manipulated by the government gave voice to areas across the country that are also in a difficult position, their economic landscape worsening as the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 takes hold.

Burnham’s message has a pointed local significance though, given that he is mayor for several areas that shed their generations-old Labour support for Conservative blue at the 2019 election, Burnham. His attacks have highlighted how insincere the promises to “level up” from a few months ago are, as thousands of families face insecurity and difficulties. Though admittedly on the more right wing of the party, his commitment to working families within his constituency is clear.

The manner by which Burnham has conducted his opposition to the government has added to his popularity and strength. The public press conferences and damning live statements reveal the strength and potential of local government, in providing coherent and organised opposition to Number ten. Declaring that the new restrictions were “flawed and unfair”, he provided a refined alternative to Boris Johnson’s regular incoherent mumbling; an alternative that even arguably overshadows Keir Starmer, who’s media coverage often seems limited at best. Through clever management of the issue (his control of the situation only slipping when the government announced the midday deadline to agree a deal) and effective use of the media – local and national Burnham managed to embarrass the government in a way Starmer has seemed unable to.

Interestingly, Burnham ‘loss’ to the Tories, with Greater Manchester being forced into Tier 3, did not play as a ‘loss’, but rather as an act of Tory tyranny. This is doubtless because of the clever use of messaging Burnham had built up in the days before; his opposition was clear and unwavering, so that even when Greater Manchester had to concede and was forced into Tier 3, the situation did not play badly for him but for the out-of-touch central government who forced the situation.

Some cynics have drawn attention to the mayoral elections due in 2021, after being postponed due to the pandemic. The boost he has experienced in popularity will likely shore up his control over the office, which he won in 2017 with 63% of the vote. Others have drawn attention to the possibility that this is a platform from which he can launch his return to national politics. Indeed in telling Andrew Marr, “this was not just Greater Manchester’s fight”, Burnham has been able to widen his advocacy up to areas across the UK, positioning himself as a strong national leader, speaking up for those beyond the Greater Manchester region. Both of these motives are likely, but Burnham still deserves praise for speaking up for an often-overlooked region and winning support from across the Labour Party for his strong, unwavering opposition, something, which has undoubtedly been lacking of late.

Though Burnham still remains an ideologically divisive and unpalatable figure to many Labour members, his has given voice to one of the UK’s most vibrant and diverse regions. In opposing not the idea of a lockdown, but a lockdown imposed from “200 miles away” with no extra support, Burnham has captured and highlighted to the highly localised nature of this difficult national issue. The government’s simplistic approach will not work; Andy Burnham has shown that a detailed local understanding and empathy is needed, which cannot be forged from miles away in London.

Brad Baines: Oxford County Council Candidate Profile

Hi! My name is Brad and I’m standing to be your next Labour County Councillor for Isis Division next May. The Isis County Division gets its name from an alternative name for the Thames and stretches from New Hinksey and Iffley Village in the south to the City Centre south of the High Street in the north. It covers colleges between the High Street and St. Aldates including Christ Church, Corpus, Merton, Oriel and Univ.

Like many of you reading, I am a member of the Austerity Generation. A Generation shaped by over a decade of savage cuts to education, children’s services, and local government, and inaction on the big issues facing our communities and planet.

Like those that grew up under the Thatcher and Major Governments of the 80s and 90s, I could not just sit by while the investments and services hard won by previous Labour Governments were slashed and more and more people were pushed into poverty. That is why I joined the Labour Party six years ago. That is why I became a community and political activist – to demand better.

Whilst a student, I campaigned vigorously against Brexit and for a better deal for staff and students on and off campus. After that, I went on to help organise across the county to protect UK Aid and supporting the most vulnerable around the world. Then during lockdown, I volunteered with Oxford Together helping those in need of support. Now I intend to bring this same passion for a fairer society, where all regardless of background can live a fulfilled life, to the County Council.

If elected, my main priorities will be championing youth and family services as well as tackling the climate crisis head on. The current Conservative County Council has done little but slash support and opportunities for young people and families – rejecting Labour proposals for a reinvigorated Oxfordshire Youth Service, hollowing out support for those with Special Educational Needs and now threatening to ship children in care out of the County. Their record on the environment is not much better – scrapped funding for cycling and walking plans, delayed action on their Climate Action Plan and a screeching U-turn on tackling congestion in our City Centre.

I continue to contrast this failure with the pioneering work being done by our elected Labour Councillors, such as Oxford’s pioneering Citizens Assembly on Climate Change and Zero-Emissions Zone, Cllr John Sanders’ push for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to clean up our streets and the Labour City Council’s investment in supporting homeless people off the streets and into long-term housing.

It is clear we need new leadership for our County and Labour is ready to provide it.

I am proud to be one of several young Labour candidates standing for the County Council in May. Councils across the UK, including our County Council in Oxfordshire, simply do not reflect the populations they serve. This needs to change and I am proud that Labour is leading the way.

The average age of a councillor in the UK is 59 years, with almost half (43%) aged over the age of 65%. Similarly, just 26% of councillors are in full or part-time work. Those aged 18-29 make up 17% of Oxfordshire’s population and a whopping 32% of Oxford’s population, yet only one County Councillor is currently aged 30 or under.

One of my most prominent early political memories is watching the 2010 Election debates with my parents and like far too many being taken in by deceptive Cleggmania. Looking back, it just goes to remind us that after a decade of austerity at the behest of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, elections really do have consequences.

This can be seen no clearer than in local Government, where Councils have seen their budgets slashed by as much as 60% since 2010. What has this meant: closed youth centres, nurseries shut and reduced mental health support. Notice a pattern?

Of course, you do – children and young people’s services have been disproportionately hit hard by local cuts. This has been a conscious choice of previous Conservative County Council administrations over the last decade. Rather than protecting the most vulnerable and investing in future generations – they slashed vital frontline services and the basic building blocks of our communities.

Choices have consequences and so does the choice not to vote.

Tens of races across the County, including those here in Oxford will be decided by mere handfuls of votes come election time. Every vote will matter.

Next May we have a once in a generation opportunity to unseat this disastrous Conservative-controlled County Council, that has been asleep at the wheel for far too long, but that means students and young people turning out and voting Labour. The road to a Labour-led County Council runs through seats like Isis and neighbouring University Parks.

Our generation has amongst the most to lose from more years of Tory rule in Oxfordshire. That is why it is so important we as young people make our voices heard – the best way of doing so is voting early by post.

Labour in May will be offering new leadership for our County. Putting young people and the most vulnerable first. Tackling the climate crisis locally and investing in frontline services.

I hope we can count on your support to make the change we all need happen.

Brad