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The left's fresh start; KATE PROCTOR on the young people defying the stereotypes and following in a proud tradition.


HEADLINES tell tale after tale of the country's enduring youth crisis. Apathy, a poor education, bad parenting were all blamed for last summer's teen-based riots.

Images of young 'hoodies' looting smashed-up shops startled the nation and came to define the new cohort of disenfranchised youth.

Yet defying the stereotype is a group of hardworking and politically minded 20-somethings who want to make a positive change to their North East communities. At the first ever meeting of the Young Fabians held in Sunderland, young men and women met to debate the state of the region's economy, education and the impact potential Scottish independence will have on the North East.

The meeting is a far cry from the pastiche that TV programmes The Inbetweeners, The Only Way is Essex and Geordie Shore paint of the country's next generation.

Filing into Sunderland City Council's dramatic civic centre - a late 1960s triumph of wood panelling, minimalism and angles - 20 of the region's next political mavericks take their seats with a curious mix of timid intelligence.

Politicians on one side are separated by a smartly dressed 18-year-old Kallum MacIntyre, who is chairing his first ever political meeting and shows only tiny signs of nerves.

Above them hang decorative banners stitched with images of ship-building and mining. These stark reminders of the region's industrial past seem like relics when compared to the committee's average birth date of 1990.

The youth arm of the influential think tank, the Fabian Society, which was established in 1884, has long been home to the leading lights of the left.

With Emmeline Pankhurst, Oscar Wilde and every Labour prime minister from Ramsay MacDonald to Gordon Brown as society members, Sunderland's Young Fabians find themselves rooted in an impressive political pedigree.

The topic for debate - What Next for the North East? - is tackled with gusto with impressive critiques of the devo-max fiscal model for Scotland, the need for a reinstated regional assembly and the grow-ing North-South economic divide. Kallum MacIntyre believes the Young Fabians give him a chance to meet like-minded young people and his foray into the left was inspired by watching Gordon Brown leave Downing Street with his wife Sarah and two children. "I just got a lump in my throat. I had always been supportive of the Labour Party, having grown up in the North East and I joined up to make sure that what happened at the 2010 general election didn't happen again," said the 18-year-old from Sunderland.

London-based barrister Sara Ibrahim, chair of the Young Fabian Society, said the meeting in Sunderland was more important than ever considering unemployment among young people is higher in the North East than the national average. "The current economic situation has left the next generation to face a crisis with negative growth, rising unemployment and a lack of affordable housing," she said. "Figures from the Office for National Statistics for June 2012, show the percentage of people claiming unemployment benefits in the constituency of Sunderland Central was 6.2% compared to an average of 5.4% in the North East and 2.5% in the South East.

The Young Fabians believe it is important that young people have a positive role in shaping their future. "Without young people's voices, we will not be able to meet the challenges we face. We want to provide a platform not only to express discontent but to create policies that can lead to a brighter future under a Labour government." MP Chi Onwurah, Labour MP for Newcastle Central, who took part in the debate, said it was great to see young people holding local politicians to account. "We need more young people to be involved in such discussions if we are to get the right policies in place and give young people a bright economic future in the region," she said. Alex Hay, 21, from Gosforth. Studies computing at Northumbria University.

Ambition: to work in computing. Alex began to feel disheartened with local politics when he was 15 and joined the Labour Party despite coming from a family of strong Conservatives. "My education and school life really became the issue that turned me to politics. My first school seemed to fall to bits and when Labour came in, it became a lot better. The education system seemed to become a lot more personal," said Alex, who went to Gosforth High School. "Particularly when Section 28 was repealed that got me involved in politics too. I saw a real difference in lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transgender education we received at school. We were told that it was OK to be who you are and be proud."

Alex's strong political convictions have seen him stand in several internal party elections to sit on policy boards. "My goal was to increase young Labour representation and give young members a voice on national panels. We just don't have enough young members. "To me the most important thing is having a regional assembly. More local power and more local political decision making for local people is something I really care about." Alex Hay Jonathan Luke, 21, from Crook, County Durham. Studies politics at Sunderland University. Ambition: to become an MP "My dream job would be an MP," said Jonathan, who became interested in politics while a pupil at St Leonard's Catholic School.

"I'm not sure which party yet but I come to meetings like this to discuss issues and meet other people who are interested in the same things as me." Moving away from London and even Newcastle centrism is crucial for a better North East, according to Jonathan. "A lot of funding goes towards Newcastle and has created an amazingly beautiful city, but what about Durham and Sunderland? "We need to bring back the Regional Development Agency to ensure the North does develop economically and doesn't remain in a recession or stagnant. "A re-evaluation of industrial policy, with the North East as a central area for redevelopment, is important. We have the history and the talent at it," he added. Protecting the region's industrial and military capacity against potential Scottish independence is also top of his list in how life in the North East could be improved.

"Scotland has a lot of military manufacturing in the central belt and we should really try to get a share of that too." Janine Docherty, 29, Craghead, County Durham. IT worker for Durham County Council. Ambition: to work for the Department of Innovation and Skills under a Labour government. Janine joined the Labour Party at 15 and became a Young Fabian two years ago. Around the same time she also joined the Co-operative Party and believes joining these smaller groups has helped her gain a better political understanding. "I've been quite active at different times in my life, but by joining the Fabians I've been able to get a better understanding of the Labour movement away from the northern socialism I grew up with," said Janine, the daughter of Craghead Labour councillor Janice Docherty.

"Infrastructure in the North East is a massive building block to our economy. If we could get next generation broadband here, there would be potential for job creation but also in manufacturing things like computer games. "Improving trade in the North East is as much about building electronic infrastructure as it is roads, but I would also like to see the motorway extended into the North East too." Janine hopes to have a future career that marries her technology and business qualifications with politics. Katie Corrigan, 20, Durham. Studies sociology and politics at Sunderland University.

Ambition: to become the youngest ever councillor for Belmont in County Durham. Miner's daughter Katie Corrigan said her attachment to the Labour Party started as a young girl. Her father died when she was just a few years old, but knowing he was a strong Labour supporter has inspired her to follow her dream of becoming a councillor. "It's going to be a lot of hard work and a lot of campaigning, but I am really excited about it. I'm just going to have to get out there and do a lot of knocking on doors," said Katie, who joined the Labour Party and Young Fabians in 2009. She also has plans to train to be a teacher and will manage campaigning alongside her studies for the 2013 local elections where she will be the Labour candidate for Belmont.

She said: "My background makes me really want to do this, and represent people and try to help them. "I've just always known that I would like to try and make people's lives better and this seems to be the best way that I can do it. My Dad was a Labour supporter and so is my family. "But I'm the one that's decided to be a councillor. I'm the first person to do it."A tortoise that can still move decisively SINCE its foundation in 1884, the Fabian Society has been a home for some of the most important thinkers in left-wing politics. Every Labour Prime Minister, from Ramsay MacDonald to Gordon Brown, has been a member of the society and today, well over 200 parliamentarians are part of the movement. Society members favoured gradual change rather than the revolutionary move towards socialism seen elsewhere in Europe at the time.

Edwardian writers, economists and politicians and founding members Sidney and Beatrice Webb were pivotal in driving forward research projects into the social and economic conditions of people living in England. Many Fabians also participated in the formation of the Labour Party in 1900 and the group's constitution, written by Sidney Webb, borrowed heavily from the founding documents of the Fabian Society. After the Second World War the group was influential in social democratic and Labour Party circles, with members including Ramsay MacDonald, Clement Attlee, Tony Benn and Harold Wilson. Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister when the country gained independence in 1947 also took inspiration from Fabian ideas for India to have a state owned economy.

Since 1960 The Young Fabian group has become an important networking and discussion organisation for younger Labour Party activists and played a role in the 1994 election of Tony Blair as Labour leader. With the advent of a Labour Party government in 1997, the Fabian Society also became a forum for New Labour ideas. Fabian member Ed Balls' 1992 pamphlet, advocating the Bank of England independence, foreshadowed Labour's move to make that happen in 1997, thereby fashioning the modern Bank of England. In 2009 the Society's website stated that it had 6,286 members - the highest membership levels for 35 years. Today the Fabian Society incorporates the Young Fabians for those under 31, Fabian Women, Scottish Fabians, Welsh Fabians and 60 regional Fabian organisations.

The tortoise was traditionally the organisation's symbol, representing its goal of gradual expansion of socialism and their name comes from Roman general Fabius Maximus whose 'Fabian strategy' favoured military tactics of attrition over head-on battle. SOLID LINKS The Fabian Society and the Labour Party, seen here at a conference during Tony Blair's long hegemony Famous Fabians across the years ANNIE BESANT (1847-1933) Described by George Bernard Shaw as "the greatest orator in England" at the time she joined the Fabian Society in 1885, Annie Besant was a driving force behind the organisation.

She led the 1888 London Matchgirls Strike and the 1889 London Dock Strike. Besant left the Fabian Society in 1890 but her political activism continued in India in 1916 where she launched the Home Rule League. GEORGE BERNARD SHAW (1856-1950) Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw was a leading light in the Fabian Society from its foundation and contributed hugely to the early years of the society. He edited and contributed to the landmark 1889 publication Fabian Essays in Socialism. He also co-founded the London School of Economics with Sidney Webb BEATRICE WEBB (1853-1943) and SIDNEY WEBB (1859-1947)

These pioneers of British socialism argued in favour of Lords reform in 1914, called for a national minimum wage in 1918 and predicted a customs union for Europe in 1923 and argued in favour of equal pay between men and women. As co-founders of the society, they were also responsible for the Fabian Research Department which studied social and economic problems of their age. H G WELLS (1866-1946) Known as the 'father of science fiction', Wells was a prolific writer as well as a socialist. He was a member of the Fabian Society but broke with them due to political differences. He later twice ran as a Labour general election candidate. Author of The Invisible Man and The Time Machine.

EMMELINE PANKHURST (1858-1928) A British political activist and leader of the British suffragette movement which helped women win the right to vote. She was widely criticized for her militant tactics, but her work is recognised as a crucial element in achieving women's suffrage in Britain. She joined the Fabian Society in 1886 but left two years later over the organisation's refusal to oppose the Boer War. JAMES KEIR HARDIE (1856-1915) A Scottish socialist and labour leader, and was the first Independent Labour Member of Parliament elected to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Hardie is regarded as one of the primary founders of the Independent Labour Party as well as the Labour Party of which it later was a part. Jonathan Luke Janine Docherty Katie Corrigan


DEPARTURE Gordon Brown and his family leave Downing Street after the 2010 general election. For Kallum MacIntyre and others the defeat and the advent of the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition has provided a new focus and new reasons to campaign
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 26, 2012
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