A new political party is aiming to amplify and represent the voices of young and marginalised people. And it’s doing this by putting them at the heart of everything it does. Also, the new party could be an opportunity for young people to finally have proper political representation. Because the party wants its democracy to work from the bottom up.
The Breakthrough Party launched in January 2021. It was founded by Alex Mays. He grew up in Brighton but now lives in Manchester. Mays was previously a chef, but in 2015 he retrained as a journalist. He now works as head of creative at a social media company. It was his retraining which got him into politics; coinciding with the Labour leadership contest where Jeremy Corbyn swept to victory.
Breakthrough has three, very clear points as its “mission“. The party says it will:
- Unite and empower our communities to take on the establishment & challenge the political status quo.
- Make local and national politics more representative.
- Fight for an equal, fair, and just society.
But what is Mays’ and the party’s vision? Why did he form it? And what does Breakthrough hope to achieve? As part of our #MeetTheMovement series, The Canary caught up with Mays to discuss all this and more.
Mays told The Canary he started Breakthrough because of how he and other young people felt about politics:
I was angry, frustrated and disillusioned with the state of British politics and where we were heading. Along with millions of other young people, I just felt abandoned by the mainstream parties. Our generation is now set to inherit an economy in ruins and a planet on fire. Yet we have no political vehicle to attach ourselves too; one to give us a voice.
The generational divide that exists in this country is very real. Our parents could access affordable housing, secure well-paid jobs, use well-funded public services and free university education. But we could only dream of such luxuries.
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He then expanded on the notion that successive governments have left young people behind:
Young people are really taking the brunt of 40 years of neoliberalism. They have been the worst hit by joblessness during the pandemic (making up almost three-fifths of the unemployment rate) and many of those who are in work are in insecure gig economy or zero-hours contract jobs. Not only that, they’re saddled with thousands of pounds of student debt. And they have no hopes of ever owning a home. This isn’t a future I want for my kids or my grandkids.
So I thought (somewhat naively), why can’t I start a political party that addresses these issues? It started with me telling a few friends about the idea. They liked the sound of it; they told friends of friends and it was this snowball effect. Before long we had hundreds of subscribers to our party; thousands of Twitter followers and now we have real momentum building.
Moreover, even the job losses among young people during the pandemic haven’t been proportionate. Think tank the Resolution Foundation recently found that the unemployment rate before and after the pandemic for 16-24-year-olds was:
- 10% then 13% for people from a white background.
- 21% then 24% for those from an Asian background.
- 25% then 35% for people from a Black background.
In other words, the young Black community has been hardest hit by the pandemic employment crisis.
The good fight?
For Mays, the situation in the Labour Party was also an ‘enough is enough’ moment. He told The Canary:
I was still a Labour Party member when the dust settled in the months after the 2019 General Election. Like countless people around the country I was devastated by the result. It felt like a massive opportunity lost.
So I started putting more of my energy into getting involved in the Labour Party. In the leadership election I voted for Rebecca Long-Bailey & Richard Burgon, but Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner got in. I wanted to give Starmer a chance, I really did. His 10 pledges were, on the face of it, a watered-down continuation of the 2017 and 2019 manifesto. It wasn’t perfect but was something to at least fight for.
Enough is enough
Yet his optimism soon evaporated:
But the months rolled on by: constant attacks on the left of the party; the sacking of Long-Bailey; suspension of Jeremy Corbyn; abstaining on the Overseas Operations Bill and the Spycops Bill. So, it was becoming clear that Starmer was rowing-back on his 10 pledges. He was taking us back to bitter, Blairite politics.
While this was going on we had the Tories overseeing a pandemic response. It was one which was responsible for the unnecessary deaths of thousands of people; giving billions to their mates in dodgy contracts and wrecking our economy. Yet they still maintained a double digit poll lead.
The situation for Labour just got even worse. As The Canary recently reported, a YouGov poll put Labour 14 points behind the Tories. A former Labour MP said it was “scary” that Labour was 14 points behind ‘the most corrupt government of my lifetime’.
A broad mantra
Mays decided to take matters into his own hands. And Breakthrough was the result. He told The Canary that it has a fairly broad mantra:
We are a new home for those determined to disrupt the failed status quo and build an alternative. It’s a society that uses its considerable wealth to provide dignity, security and justice for all.
We see hope not in Westminster. We see it in the ordinary people fighting for a better future: in workplaces, in communities and on the streets.
Breakthrough is a democratic party, led by the younger generations set to inherit a world in crisis. We will work with trade unions, anti-racist organisations and social movements to build a powerful force for change.
Smashing power dynamics
Breakthrough is aiming to break the usual top-down “power dynamic” pushed by other parties. So, it’s structure will look somewhat different. Mays told The Canary:
Being a brand new party we don’t have the organisational constraints that traditional parties have. We can be a bit more agile and less bureaucratic. We are big believers in distributing power throughout the party. This is because we know how dangerous it can be when a General Secretary can pretty much control everything. So this top-down power dynamic doesn’t exist in our party.
We are a bottom up, member-led organisation. Our members are fully involved in the decision-making process, from policy development, to our strategy, even our Twitter account. Ultimately, they decide the direction our party goes in. We’ve had people who’ve been involved for a few weeks saying they’ve had more input with us than they had in decades of being in Labour.
Setting up a political party during a pandemic has brought its own set of unique challenges. But we’ve managed to build a real direct, digital democracy. That’s something we’re very proud of.
New and already blooming shoots
Breakthrough is not alone in launching/progressing a new political movement during the pandemic. The movement away from the main political parties seems to be growing. The Canary already spoke with several groups: the Young Socialists; Chris Williamson’s Resist movement; Harmony Party UK, and the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC). So, the UK is seeing a surge in small groups taking on the establishment parties. Mays agreed, telling The Canary:
Absolutely, without a doubt. The Labour Party has created a political vacuum on the left. So, it’s only natural that a variety of parties and movements will try to fill that gap. We’ve already seen with… the Northern Independence Party [NIP] that people are crying out for real, transformative change. They’re sick and tired of the status quo.
Starmer’s Labour are completely ignoring young people, minority communities and the most vulnerable in our society. But it’s those who’ve ultimately been the most affected by the fallout of the pandemic. It’s baffling why he and his team are abandoning these people; why they’re not tackling the real issues they face around workers rights, housing and debt. They are instead trying to out-Tory the Tories: plastic patriotism, unwavering support of the police state and marginalising minority communities. The dire polls show that voters are seeing right through this.
‘Hit Labour where it hurts’
It’s the job of progressive parties now to hit Labour where it hurts, in the upcoming elections. If Labour loses Hartlepool, Liverpool and a few councils, this will put the pressure on Starmer and his team to move further left. I mentioned NIP before and they are doing exactly that in the Hartlepool by-election. It would also be nice to see TUSC make an impact at May’s local elections. And of course, we want to too once we’re standing candidates.
If Labour continues going down this path it will be finished as a major political force in no time at all.
Of course, central to the progression of smaller groups is a grassroots, bottom-up approach to organising. May seems acutely aware of this. He told The Canary that Breakthrough’s first priority is:
Building: whether that’s our membership; our relationships with other like-minded organisations, movements and community groups or our manifesto. We need to put these pieces in place to become an effective political vehicle.
We value collectivism, cooperation and collaboration. The left has struggled for decades because it’s fragmented and people’s egos got in the way. This needs to be nipped in the bud if we ever want to see any electoral success. The priority needs to be how can we work together on a real united front to take down the Tories.
Change the system
But Mays is also conscious of the need to change the way democracy works in the UK. It’s clearly essential if smaller parties are to properly impact the political landscape:
Campaigning for a change to the voting system from First Past The Post [FPTP] to Proportional Representation [PR] is a must. But in the meantime we have to come together and be clever; be strategic. I hate having to use this is an example, but the right did this perfectly in the 2019 General Election. The Brexit Party stood down in hundreds of seats when it was clear the Tories would appease them and go further to the right. If they didn’t, it would have split their vote and could have led to a very different outcome. New, left-wing and progressive parties coming through will have to work together. It’s the only way to make the real, transformative change we talk about a reality.
Key to this is a membership drive. Breakthrough has just begun accepting members. It has standard membership rates as well as ones for low-income people. You can find out more here.
Watch this breakthrough space
Mays has a clear, if broad, plan for the rest of the year:
The next nine months are going to be all about raising our profile; getting embedded in communities up and down the country and building our movement.
We launched our membership system a couple of days ago. So we’re hoping to see our numbers grow over the coming weeks and months.
We plan to hold our founding conference and National Committee elections later this year. We’ll also be electing our leadership team and setting up regional branches.
Then, we’re also in discussions with a number of independent councillors about joining the party. And ultimately, we’re keen on standing in future by-elections too. So watch this space.
Breakthrough is a fresh, vibrant, and forward-looking addition to the political landscape. But moreover, it’s good to see a party focusing on young people. If it can get momentum going, then it could be a force to be reckoned with in coming years.
Featured image via Breakthrough Party
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