by Lotte Boumelha
So there I was, a 17-year-old political rookie, on the phone trying to counter the arguments of a stranger three times my age and with twenty times my political know-how. But I had something to say, and I was damn well going to say it.
By the time I arrived at my first phone bank, I felt pretty certain I knew the arguments. I’d been following the leadership campaign over many weeks and made an effort to get to grips with the details. But I wasn’t prepared for the buzz of intellect that hit me when I stepped into the room. Ah – Oxford students, and all of them involved in discussions worthy of the Oxford Union. I was clearly out-gunned. I chose my spot in the dimly-lit room, and neatly arranged my scribbles of polls and quotes around me as a protective buffer.
I took a deep breath and called my first number – no response, what a relief. A further string of voicemails boosted my confidence. This was easy! When someone finally picked up, I wasn’t quite prepared: ‘I’m from Corbyn’s Leaber lador campaign.’ Looking desperately at my notes, I tried to fix the situation, but instead launched into a long string of blather, blurting out all of my points in one go. I was conscious that my voice sounded not so much Oxford Union as a cross between Tracy Beaker and the self checkout machine. The man on the other end gave me a sympathetic pat on the head, ‘You made some good points’.
After a few more dispiriting starts, I began to find my feet, and now I genuinely look forward to phone banking sessions. Of course I’m still bricking it each time I hit the dial, but my competitive streak has started to kick in and I find myself genuinely having fun. I’ve had bags of inspiring conversations with people of many ages and political standpoints, and just having the chance to chat to people you otherwise wouldn’t have is a great experience and is surely how politics should be.
Young Corbyn volunteers at Unite HQ, London (The Independent)
Certainly, I face a number of prickly characters. Some are downright ‘anyone but Corbyn’: I respect this, and thank them for their time if they haven’t already hung up. Others are what fellow phone banker Tessa calls the ‘Heads and Hearts’. These are the many who share Corbyn’s views and policies, but deem actually supporting them an irresponsible indulgence which will only bring about Labour’s demise. Here I need to stand my ground. And standing your ground is not helped when people try to dismiss you with cheap put-downs like ‘What do you know, you’re just an emotional child?’ Yes, many of us Corbyn supporters are young, and yes, we are responding with emotion, but that doesn’t mean we’re stupid.
Of course they have a point when they say, ‘You’ve no experience of what it’s like to live in the adult world,’ or ‘You don’t know what it’s like to have a proper job.’ But with the youth unemployment rate currently ‘the worst for 20 years’ it looks like I won’t be getting one any time soon, nor will I be getting a house, or even out of debt, before I’m 100 years old – assuming we still have an NHS to help keep me going that long.
The surge of young people engaging in politics is not an emotional spasm by a bunch of overexcited, pant-pissing Attlee fangirls; it’s not even a two-fingered salute to the adults who voted us into all this mess, it is the only rational response to seeing our futures sacrificed by the fat cats to pay off the deficit that they created. Labour should welcome our energy and our involvement, and happily, in my short experience, the great majority of members do. But to those who continue to push us away from the conversation, I’d ask: what hope has Labour got without us?
Lotte Boumelha is a Sixth Form student at Cheney School in East Oxford.
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