I want to start by thanking Finn, Grace and Brad for inviting me to join you today.
It’s always a pleasure to be with Labour Students,
And it’s a pleasure to be here in Wales.
As I was travelling down this morning, it reminded me of when I was a student here in Wales myself.
I studied up the road at Aberystwyth.
Aber was a great place to be at University but on occasion, I did make the trip to see the bright lights of Cardiff:
An opportunity for a quiet night out with friends, perhaps even for one or two dry sherries to be consumed as well…
Now I know I’m the final act in what has been a long weekend for you.
You’ve been debating, campaigning, and I’m sure you all had an early night last night…
So before you all depart I want to talk a little bit about the General Election campaign and the political debate in the months ahead.
And there’s nowhere better to be talking about that than here with Labour Students.
I look round the room and I see rows of seriously impressive, bright and dynamic young people.
And if there’s anyone out there who’s pessimistic about our party’s future – let them come here and see the fantastic work you are doing.
You understand that the most important role we can play in politics is not as spectators, but as participants.
As change makers.
Fighting for the type of society we want to live in – in our communities, on our campuses, and on doorsteps across the country.
I well remember the difference that Labour Students made when I fought my by-election in 2011.
Students came from far and wide.
And I swear by the end of that campaign there was barely a single street in Barnsley that hadn’t seen Labour Students running up and down it.
You know, there are few certainties in politics.
Fewer still in political campaigns.
But if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s that on the darkest and rainiest night, when there’s a by-election far from home, when there’s only minutes left till close of poll, and everyone else has gone home, you can be certain that there’ll still be a Labour Student running to every doorstep.
You’re one of the reasons why we should be confident going into next May.
Because our ground game is stronger than the other parties.
And we have the best and most committed activists in the country.
So before I say anything else today, it’s my job, on behalf of the Labour team in Parliament, to say:
Thank you for everything you are doing.
Thank you for being such an indispensable part of Team Labour.
Now let’s get down to business.
Because we are just 150 days away from the General Election.
That’s only 21 Sunday afternoons.
This is going to be the tightest and toughest political fight of our lifetimes.
We’re all here today because there’s something within each of us that’s made us want to be a part of this campaign.
And something in our lives that made us join it on the side of the progressives, not the conservatives.
Let me share mine with you.
Because I remember the moment when I first began to think seriously that I could potentially make a difference through politics.
It was during the 2005 General Election campaign.
I was listening to the results coming in over the radio in Afghanistan, on a bunk bed in the UK’s military headquarters in Kabul.
Now just a few days ago, I was doing an interview and a journalist asked me how a major in The Parachute Regiment could possibly be a Labour supporter.
The answer is that my service didn’t conflict with my Labour values. It reinforced them.
I grew up in a home where both my parents went out to work every day to serve the public.
It was that belief in the value of public service that took me into the Armed Forces and kept me there during some tough times.
It took me to Kosovo, Sierra Leone, Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan.
It put me in difficult situations.
And it taught me two things.
First, that we can all overcome incredible odds, and achieve exceptional things, when we have the right training, mentoring and support to help us fulfil our potential.
And second, the value of the team.
Because the important thing to understand about the army is how close-knit a community it is.
Your regiment or battalion brings people together from all beliefs and backgrounds.
You stick together. You do your bit, knowing that others will do theirs.
You trust one another. Look out for one another.
That’s something we all need when we have tough times in our lives.
Or when we’re having to make difficult decisions.
Because the truth is – and this is something I don’t tend to talk about – I’ve been tested.
Both professionally and personally.
How did I come through it?
By accepting that life doesn’t always run smoothly,
By sticking to what you know to be right,
And by having that team to fall back on.
That’s why I have always believed in that basic principle on our party membership cards – that we achieve more through shared endeavour than we can alone.
And that we should work together to get difficult things done.
That’s something we’ve all got to remember in the months ahead as Team Labour.
Because I wasn’t joking before – you are all on the frontline of the next General Election.
We’ve seen that just this week in the analysis published by Higher Education Policy Institute.
The road to Downing Street next May runs through a series of constituencies where young people hold the balance of power.
Lancaster & Fleetwood.
And many more.
Even Ministers like Nicky Morgan, Ed Davey and Simon Hughes are under threat.
So it could very well be young people who decide who’s Prime Minister on the 8th May 2015.
And it’s up to us to listen to them, to tell them how their lives will be better under a Labour government, and make sure their voices are heard.
That starts with making sure that students have a vote in the next election at all.
We all know the government’s changes to voter registration have made that all the more challenging.
Stephen Twigg and other Labour colleagues have been warning for years about the dangers of rushing individual registration through.
Now we are seeing the consequences.
Figures released in the last few days show just how many people have fallen off the electoral register in the past year.
20,000 in Liverpool alone.
The picture is even worse here in Cardiff.
25,000 people from this city have disappeared from the electoral roll and won’t have a say in choosing who represents them.
And if this pattern is repeated across the country, it could mean over 2 million people without a vote next May.
That’s roughly the same as disenfranchising everyone living in Manchester, Liverpool, Bristol and Bradford combined.
And we know who the two biggest groups falling off the register are.
And people who have just turned 18.
And that’s before we remember that not all young people were registered to vote in the first place.
Nick Clegg and David Cameron aren’t going to be losing any sleep at night about students being denied from voting at the next election.
So we’re the ones who’ve got to go out and get students back on the register.
Running registration drives, working with universities to get more students signed up.
I know Labour Clubs across the country are already on this, and Leicester Labour Students have brought a motion to your Council this weekend on precisely this issue.
So get on it, keep at it, and know we in Parliament will be ready to support you every step of the way.
And while I’m on voting, let me say this.
Because there were a lot of lessons for our politics from the Scottish referendum.
But let’s not forget this one.
Votes at 16 works.
And we’ve got to make our commitment to give a greater voice to your generation a big part of our argument for a Labour Government.
Because who wins next May isn’t just about the next five years.
It’s about equipping our country for the next fifty years, and the kind of society my kids will grow up in, and that you will live and work in.
I grew up in Thatcher’s Britain.
I was a student during the dog days of the last Tory government.
Seeing what they were doing to the country was part of what inspired me to join the Labour movement.
It took a generation to repair the damage they did – 13 years of Labour government in fact –
And even then there were things we didn’t have time to turn around.
Now we’ve got a government that’s eroding that progress.
It feels like we’re a country that’s drifting – not pushing on to tackle the big challenges we face.
That’s why I decided to write a book last summer.
It’s called Why Vote Labour.
It’s about the type of future we want for our country.
About how we build an economy for the many, a more inclusive society and a better democracy.
One of the decisions I made right at the outset was that I wanted there to be a specific chapter for your generation.
So I asked Bex Bailey – who many of you will know, and who does such a great job representing young people on the National Executive –
I asked her to write about what a Labour government would offer for young people.
If you haven’t had a chance to look at it, I heartily recommend it.
Because this is your generation’s election.
And I say that for two reasons.
The first will be no stranger to any of you – we’ve all experienced what this government has inflicted on young people.
Child poverty. Rising.
Tuition fees. Trebled.
Future Jobs Fund. Abolished.
Youth unemployment. Still too high.
Housing ladder. Out of reach.
Mental health services for young people. Devastated.
Apprenticeships. Not enough of them.
We’ve got to hold them to account for that.
But there’s a second reason, a bigger reason.
And it’s about the future.
There are big changes going on in our country – changes more rapid than we have ever known.
Changes that offer immense promise and potential, but they present new dangers and difficulties too.
We now live in a world where our livelihoods can be thrown into crisis by property speculators on the other side of the globe.
Where new technologies are replacing jobs and eroding our wages.
Globalisation is changing our communities.
And when people turn on the news, they see new threats to our security – many of them very close to home.
In my view, it’s all part of what’s undermining trust in our politics today.
It’s not as clear and blatant as Nick Clegg ripping up his pledge on tuition fees.
Put simply, people think our problems have outgrown our politics.
They have doubts about whether any of our politicians are up to the task.
And they’ve lost trust in the idea politics of any colour can make a difference to their lives.
We’ve seen in recent months how Nigel Farage is doing his best to take advantage of that.
He and his party are indulging in the cheapest form of political rhetoric –
Going round saying ‘yes, we feel your pain, we remember easier times, let us put things back the way they were.’
But we know that’s not the answer.
And I think the public are savvy enough to see through that too.
In politics, you cannot fight against the future.
We won’t build a better Britain through parties pining for the past or longing for yesteryear.
We’ve got to celebrate the progress we’ve made –
Progress for women.
Rights for gay and lesbian people.
And everything we’ve achieved by working with other countries rather than flouncing off on our own.
And where there are still challenges, we’ve got to win the argument about how we overcome them.
And that’s not just against UKIP.
We’ve got show the Greens aren’t the answer either.
I’ve been to Brighton recently.
I’ve spoken to the people with rubbish piling up outside their front door because the Green Council couldn’t organise to have the bins collected.
And I’ve also sat in the House of Commons too –
Watching Labour MPs make the case for tackling climate change, protecting the environment, and defending human rights.
I’ve seen us make and win the argument – then the division bell goes, the Tory and Lib Dem MPs rush down from their offices and vote us down.
So make no mistake – and you can say this to any student flirting with voting Green in five months’ time –
There is nothing progressive about voting Green and letting David Cameron back into Downing Street by the back door.
We all know that.
Now we’ve got to get out there, and get our message out to the people we want to be helping in just a few months’ time.
And that’s what I’m going to be doing.
I’ll be talking more about this in the next couple of weeks.
But I want you to be the first to know that my New Years’ resolution is going to be to get away from Westminster and get out on the road. –
Talking to people, hearing their views, listening to their concerns, and making the case for why Labour is best placed to support them in the future.
I know you’ve been doing the same this weekend – campaigning for Mari Williams and Jo Stevens here in Cardiff.
They’re both going to make fabulous Labour MPs next year.
And we’ve got lots of brilliant candidates like them across the country.
So when you’re on a doorstep making the case for our party in the months ahead, do so with confidence.
When that door opens, and you’re asked why someone should trust us with their future, tell them what we stand for.
Tell them how we’ll create a brighter future for all our young people.
A guaranteed job for every young person unemployed.
Qualified teachers in our classrooms.
Giving them a foot on the housing ladder by building more homes – 200,000 a year by 2020.
An end to rip off rents and short term tenancies.
Gold standard technical and vocational education.
And then tell them how we’ll build a better Britain.
Making work pay.
Protecting the NHS, so it’s there when you need it.
Stopping zero hour exploitation.
A smart, fair and progressive approach to immigration.
Freezing energy prices.
More free childcare.
And abolishing the Bedroom Tax.
Let me end with this thought.
It’s a quotation I came across whilst I was editing my book this summer.
And it’s this.
‘Values are changing and the impact of the change is always felt most of all by the young.’
That is taken from the report of Labour Party’s youth commission….
Only it’s a report that was published over half a century ago in 1959.
It reminds me that as well as all the phenomenal opportunities there are for young people today, this is also a tough time to be growing up.
That’s why we need a Labour Government that’s ambitious for Britain and ready for the future.
We’re all here today because we know the type of future we want for our country.
And we know it’s worth fighting for.
This is your generation’s election.
So this is my final message to take away.
Have a good Christmas.
Have a good celebration on New Years’ eve.
And then come back, in 2015, ready to campaign and ready to win.
And I promise you that everyone in our party will be backing you and everyone here at Labour Students all the way.
Thank you very much.