Finding one’s voice

Jermain Jackman: Finding one’s voice

This was first published in Progress magazine | Richard Angell and Ben Dilks The winner of The Voice on politics and pop ‘I’m still the same Jermain Jackman that you’ll see in McDonalds on a Friday afternoon getting my Big Mac meal,’ begins the winner of The Voice, before pausing to concede, ‘but it’s changed the life around me.’ The 18-year-old believes that winning the BBC’s singing competition in April ‘sent a message’ to other young people in his local community in Hackney, east London. ‘I’ve spoken to many young people, in Hackney especially, and they’ve turned their lives around because they saw how hard work has gotten me somewhere and it’s all become so real to them,’ he says. But there is nothing soft-headed about Jackman’s message. ‘Too often young people get given false hope,’ he says. ‘Politicians say, “Oh yeah, we’ll do this for young people” and then [the] EMA is scrapped, tuition fees trebled and we’re seeing youth clubs nationwide being shut down because of cuts.’ Jackman talked about his political activism from the outset of his time on The Voice. His interest was sparked by his local member of parliament, Diane Abbott. ‘She came into my primary school when I was about six years old. Nobody else was really paying attention because they were thinking: “Who’s this woman who’s come in talking in our lesson?” It struck a chord with me and I thought: “I want to change the world”.’ While he ‘definitely wouldn’t join the Tory party’, it was the unlikely duo of Jeremy Corbyn and Stella Creasy that got him to sign on the dotted line for Labour: ‘They suggested I join the party and I said: “OK, cool”.’ The ambitious teenager was soon elected youth coordinator for Hackney North CLP. ‘It just was an absolute joy,’ Jackman says. The opportunity to create programmes for young people and to put forward motions on issue affecting them to his local constituency ‘opened my mind up to [what was] achievable’. Jackman displays an appealing mix of youthful enthusiasm and tongue-in-cheek humour. When asked about speaking to the Labour leader occasionally, the young winner jumps in with ‘on the regs … Ed Miliband’s calling my phone now and texting me.’ He has also met David Cameron, had lunch with mayor of London Boris Johnson and recently posted a selfie of himself with George Osborne. ‘I told him to “Smile George, smile”. Obviously, [he is a] Tory and I’m Labour but I learned through the National Citizen Service how to separate politics from personality. George Osborne is a good guy, I just don’t agree with his politics.’ NCS was founded by the prime minister in July 2010 to tackle what he termed a ‘tragic waste of potential’ among young people in Britain. Two years later, Jackman joined the programme. As well as engaging in team-building exercises like rock-climbing and learning to build a raft, those on NCS spend a week in university halls in their home borough and engage in a community project. ‘I did homelessness and I built a home out of cardboard. It was fun … and it raised awareness of how homelessness is and how big a problem it is in London.’ But it was something bigger that inspired him. ‘[NCS] tell you “you can actually be a part of government and make a change” and that’s how you connect young people with politics.’ He is a passionate advocate for NCS and now acts as one of its ambassadors. The programme, he says, ‘gave me my voice. And it’s only right that I give it back. NCS was a piece of the puzzle to my big picture’. An independent assessment of NCS by Ipsos MORI suggested that its graduates, like Jackman, have a seven-point lead when asked if they are ‘likely to vote’ over their control group peers. ‘We need to encourage more young people to join NCS,’ he suggests. ‘You’ve got young people who may be from gangs or who are from Eton or wherever. They all come from different walks of life and you get to meet them and adapt and change and understand their way of thinking.’ In June, IPPR’s Condition of Britain report argued for significant increases in support for the scheme, which is already unpopular with many in the established youth work sector, envious of its comparatively generous funding and its more iconoclastic approach. Ask Jackman which two historical figures inspire him and his passion for politics and pop is apparent. ‘I’d want to meet Luther Vandross and for him to teach me how to sing; he had a technique like no other singer had. And I’d love to meet Martin Luther King. I’d want him to teach me about patience and how to continue in the low moments.’ He would also want to be the one to ‘let him know that we do have a black president’. Does Jackman think he can combine his two great loves? ‘Why can’t we have a singing prime minister? Chuka Umunna? He’s a DJ at night and he’s a politician. Arnold Schwarzenegger was the governor of California and he did acting. Wyclef, he ran for president of Haiti and he was a musician. We have all these examples of stars bringing politics into their daily lives … I don’t know why I can’t do the same.’

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