One of the great privileges of serving as an MP is to get the opportunity to be a part of days like today, and to hear from young people such as yourselves.
It is your generation that will shape the future of our country – through the difference you make in your working lives, and in the communities where you live.
So I’m going to talk about why those of us in public service have an absolute responsibility to do right by young people today.
And I want to share my belief, that your generation has an unparalleled opportunity to shape the world around you.
We gather here towards the end of what has been a tumultuous year in politics.
I understand why optimism can feel more distant, as we now witness the fallout from political forces that have been felt in Britain, across Europe, and over the Atlantic.
But I hope I can convince you, that far from being the time to give up – this is the time to step up.
My outlook has been shaped by my life before I entered politics.
Serving in the British Army took me to some of the world’s most challenging, dangerous and difficult places.
The professional and personal challenges I faced, taught me something about how we can all achieve exceptional things when we have the right training and support to fulfil our potential.
People are sometimes surprised to learn that someone with my background could ever be a Labour MP.
They shouldn’t be.
Because although there may be differences, there are also similarities.
Not least the basic belief that collectively, you achieve more together than ever you could alone.
My politics are rooted in a belief in the huge potential in front of our country, and an understanding of the shared sacrifice it will take to realise it.
That requires my generation to deliver on a simple promise that each generation should have the opportunity to do better than their parents.
We know that all too often, opportunity is being denied to too many people growing up today.
It hasn’t always been that way. The pressures you face are far greater than when I was your age.
My peers mostly followed a well-trodden path.
Today, you will begin a career in a tougher economic climate, moving from job to job with the possibility of changing career many times.
I believe our politics must now prove equal to the quickening pace of change, driven by global forces and technologies that are shaping the future.
Too often that has not been the case.
It is young people that pay the greatest price for that failure.
Because it is when we look at the world through the eyes of your generation, that we see some of the most important challenges we need to overcome.
Nowhere is this more the case than with Brexit, because how we leave the European Union will profoundly shape our country’s future.
The choices made will shape so much of your lives. You, therefore have a crucial role to play to ensure that the voice of your generation is heard.
The upcoming negotiations with the European Union will determine the jobs market you will enter.
It could determine whether you have the opportunity to study, or work in Europe.
So for your generation, and those that follow, we have a responsibility to ensure that Brexit means more than just Brexit.
The positive news is that you all share an advantage in holding politicians to account and in shaping political decisions.
New forms of communication have flattened the old barriers to participating in the worlds of business, politics and the media.
The technology you hold in the palm of your hand means that you can demand and achieve, change.
That is a powerful tool – and you should use it.
I hope it can empower many of you to go on to be entrepreneurs:
- founding businesses we haven't yet imagined;
- finding innovative responses to old social problems;
- and helping bring people together and transform communities.
That comes with a certain responsibility to do right by others.
We should remember that change only happens because people work together to make it a reality.
It means choosing to reject pessimism and cynicism in the knowledge that progress is possible, even when it seems distant at times.
That’s how we’ll build a better politics; that more closely reflects our society; with a real voice for your generation.
The challenges we must overcome in the next decades are as great, as any since the Second World War.
None more so than;
- How do we restore trust in politics?
- How can our schools, colleges and universities better prepare you for jobs that are yet to be created, without leaving you burdened by debt?
- And how do we mobilise a response to climate change, which matches the scientific reality.
These are big, complex questions.
I hope we can discuss them shortly, because ultimately you will play a part in finding the answers.
So before I take your questions, let me close by sharing with you the importance of making a contribution.
Firstly, don’t let anyone ever tell you that voting doesn’t matter.
My party knows this better than most, because the results of the last general election would look very different if young people had been as likely to enter the polling booth as their parents or grandparents.
By the next General Election in 2020, 2 in every 5 voters will be over the age of 50.
That’s why it is so important that young people get out and vote.
Our political system should make this easier, not harder.
So we should consider reforms like voting over the weekend, and online, so that it fits with people’s lives.
Secondly, while new technology creates opportunities, it also presents challenges.
When many of us now get our news from Facebook and Twitter, it is so important that we seek out and listen to competing viewpoints.
When you leave here today, I hope you will have been inspired by the speakers, to talk about the challenges we face as a country.
In doing so, I hope you discuss and debate with people who hold a different view to your own, and have a different perspective on life.
Because to build a coalition for change we cannot talk only to ourselves.
If I could offer you this bit of advice:
It will always serve you well to be open to new experiences and to seek to expand your networks.
A broader group of people to call on for advice and support will benefit you in whatever you do.
It is useful precisely because change can be achieved through healthy debate and compromise, and that by doing so we don’t compromise on our values
It is your generation that will ultimately determine whether our future will bring progress and opportunity.
I want to finish with an example about how we can achieve that brighter future.
It’s the story of Malala Yousafzai, a young women only a few years older than you, who lives in Birmingham.
At 15, she was shot in the head on her way home from school, in rural Pakistan.
Her crime, as judged by the Taliban, was speaking up for girls to be educated in a country where many are denied that opportunity.
Today Malala is a passionate advocate for education around the world, and for women’s rights.
At great personal cost, she bravely spoke out for others, and we can all learn from that.
Malala describes how she:
“Speaks not for herself, but for those without a voice...
for their right to live in peace
their right to be treated with dignity
their right to equality of opportunity
and for their right to be educated.”
I hope that all of you here today will, like Malala, also play your part in building a better world.
This speech was delivered to the A Level Politics Annual Student Conference on 5 December 2016.