How we change Young Labour for the better

In his latest article, Oliver Simpkin takes a look at the recent controversy in Young Labour and asks how we can change things for the better.

If you’re reading this then like me you probably fall into Young Labour, that group of activists committed to making the world a better place and winning Labour the next election in 2020. If you don’t fall into Young Labour it’s essentially a three-way coalition of young members, students and young trade unionists. Recently Young Labour convened their national conference in Scarborough to elect its executive committee and to fill the Young Labour spot on the National Executive Committee. These elections however were not controversy free, most of the allegations have been published in the press over the week.

In this article I will present three major proposals about how I think we can change our movement for the better. I strongly believe we need an inquiry or a review into Young Labour by the General Secretary or the National Executive Committee in order to fix our fundamentally broken system because as the Scarborough Conference has made clear, Young Labour is in no fit state to do it themselves.

First things first, Young Labour’s elections need to be changed. Young people are supposed to embrace technology in the warm glow of phone, laptop and computer screens. Why then does Young Labour not conduct elections to senior positions on National and Regional Committees via the internet? We know that this system works, we used it in the last leadership elections and I didn’t hear many complaints. If the positions that were elected at conference are supposed to represent all Young Labour members, why did we allow these people to be elected via a broken delegates system dominated by bigger, more established Young Labour groups all who can elect their own members while leaving small and new groups, who need the visibility in the Party, to sit in the wings. This system is keeping people like me- by which I mean young members who either aren’t old enough to be in a big university or city based group, or people who are trying to help to establish new Young Labour groups and therefore lack the membership to support their campaign to be a delegate- out of politics.

Secondly, those who attended the Young Labour conference took part in a broken delegate system. With all due respect to Young Labour rules, the delegate system as it stands is perhaps the worst internal party procedure. The entire national conference was attended by 328 delegates of Young Labour, Labour Students and Young Trade Unionists. From all of these delegates there will be no prizes for guessing which groups stormed the polls and took most of the delegates. If you guessed that it was an equal distribution for all groups in the spirit of democracy then I’ve got some bad news for you. It was the bigger, more established groups who took all the delegates, abusing the size of their membership to muscle out smaller or newer groups. Why then are the de facto leaders of the Young Labour movement elected by the large groups? We need delegates to conference. I understand that. But delegates should be elected so that every constituency and university group submits 1 delegate to debate and vote on motions. The actual elections, however, should be done via a secret ballot on a system of One Member One Vote. I deserve to have my say on who should be my Chair, my secretary and my NEC rep. I’m not trying to be selfish, I’m being democratic, my voice- along with the voices of thousands of voices in Young Labour- needs to be heard.

This system of delegates being chosen from the large established groups used to work back in the early days of Young Labour back in 1993, but now there are roughly 300,000 members in Young Labour and every single one of our members should elect the committee and the National Executive Committee rep. Without this we might as well drop the word ‘democratic’ from most of our membership cards.

Thirdly, Young Labour needs to reflect on our own culture, on the apparent exclusion of various groups in Young Labour and the bullying of others. We need a serious investigation as to why the BAME caucus was held at the same time as other elections. Why did the organisers not look at the schedule and ask themselves, how can we justify holding any event that could compromise the turnout of the elections?

Bullying needs to be addressed as well, the apparent intimidation of delegates. If you tracked the twitterverse on the Saturday night of conference, then you’ll have seen the Unite delegate who left his hotel room late in the night because he felt that he would be unable to stay amongst his fellow Young Labour member and someone he had accused of intimidation in the hotel bathrooms. This feels like something from the 20th Party Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, not a youth conference. We need to fulfil the rhetoric of those who stood in these youth elections and review Young Labour to actually make it a more inclusive and friendly place for young politically minded people.

In conclusion Young Labour has three solutions that I can see being likely, first we use online elections to fully promote democracy and to avoid any accusation of possible electoral fraud. Second we need to reform our process for appointing delegates to conference. Finally, we need to reflect on the culture of Young Labour that has allowed the accusations of bullying and exclusion. Without these reforms I’m afraid Young Labour is going to see a sharp decline in the willingness of young members to get active in the party and that will ultimately hurt the party as a whole.

Oliver Simpkin
Oliver Simpkin

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