As a university student, I – somewhat predictably – dabbled in student politics. I was as you can guess a member of Labour Students and held elected office on my Students’ Union as well. I was an odd mix of campaigns man and policy bod all rolled into one.
Now this was many moons ago now (before I started getting grey hair and a belly, both of which must be banished in the next 12 months), but to my recollection the campaigns we ran were either highly local (save the college bar!!!), highly egocentric (elect me ruler of the universe because I’m so damned good and clever and full of idealistic nonsense!!!) or highly selfish (do more stuff for students, for we are the future and we know what’s to be done!!!).
Even the national campaigns during my time were, to a large extent, self-centred ones. We spent a lot of energy talking about tuition fees and not having them imposed upon us. Don’t get me wrong, Dear Reader. We made some excellent arguments about accessibility to education, a number of which have been borne out by the passage of time. But, nonetheless, the campaigns we ran were all about ‘us’. Which, with hindsight, saddens me a little despite the fact Labour Students is obviously a body that is going to campaign for students to some extent.
However, the current crop is different. This year, they’ve voted to run a campaign on the Living Wage. Given that the majority of them are going to go on to graduate and take on jobs of £25k or so, there’s almost nothing selfish about this campaign.
Very few students are likely to benefit from the introduction of Living Wage legislation beyond the three or four years they spend studying. This campaign is much more about improving the lives of those who mostly aren’t likely to have had the opportunity to gain a degree or further education qualifications. This is about the very poorest in society being allowed to earn an income that allows them some dignity and hope for the future instead of a hand-to-mouth existence. This Labour Student campaign is much more for ‘them’ than it is for ‘us’.
Which I like a lot. It’s what the Labour movement should be about. It’s about believing that by the strength of our common endeavour, we achieve more together than we do alone. It’s about social justice and equality of opportunity for all. It’s about improving life for the many and not the few.