On Unity in the Red Rose County

In this article, Robert Wood talks about unity within the Labour Party, specifically Young Labour in Lancashire. Robert has been a member for 6 years was recently elected as Lancashire Rep to the North West Young Labour committee.

“Now is the time for unity.” I am sure this is a phrase we’ve all heard or seen recently by different people in the Labour Party. There’s a reason for that. It really is the time for unity. With the rise of the far right here, on mainland Europe and over the Atlantic, the only way the left can win is by being united. It is vitally important that the PLP do so, in order for us to be in the best position we can to win a general election, in 2020, if not before. However, it isn’t just there we need unity.

For too long, Young Labour groups in the greatest county of them all, Lancashire, have been left isolated. Greater Manchester and Merseyside groups do joint campaigns and socials which means they can regularly communicate on what each other are doing, in order to not only be coordinated, but to share best practice. This means that when a group is struggling, they can help each other out.

The large increase in membership in 2015, gave the opportunity for a YL group to start up in South Ribble. Setting up a young labour group is really hard work, especially if working alone. I know, I have been there. I didn’t succeed when it was just me. But back in 2011, when we first set up Blackpool & Fylde YL, I did have the support of 2 recently elected young councillors and a campaign organiser. When the group that had been built up left, either through age or leaving town, the group fell apart. Then earlier this year, we re-launched when fellow Labour-LYON writer David Collett, came on board.

With inexperienced members, the South Ribble group struggled and the rest of Lancashire couldn’t help. Why I hear you ask? The answer is we simply didn’t know. Lancashire didn’t have communication links in place to ensure that South Ribble had somewhere to ask for help. We must make sure this never happens again!

Recently representatives from Blackpool & Fylde, Chorley, Preston, South Ribble and West Lancs YL groups met to create a working group between the YL groups of Lancashire. This group, imaginatively named “Lancashire Young Labour”, will meet regularly to discuss improving Young Labour across the county. We want to use this opportunity of unity to ensure that the groups already involved strengthen with each other’s support but also to see new groups set up in order to have every part of the beautiful red rose county covered by a Young Labour group.

However, bringing members together doesn’t end at getting the group chairs sat round a table, especially when such large areas of the county don’t have a group. We can do more than that. Every 3 months, Lancashire Young Labour will have a “Big Day Out”. This will involve going to a marginal local ward, county division or constituency, starting with a campaign session, followed by an all young members meeting and concluded with a social event. The meeting will give an opportunity to the Lancashire Young Labour committee, including the Lancs Rep to the NWYL committee, to feedback to members on what they have been up to and to listen to members about what they want to see going forward.

Lancashire Young Labour’s first Big Day Out will be on Saturday 28 th January 2017. Check out our Facebook (search Lancashire Young Labour) and Twitter pages (@LancsYL) for more details.

robert-wood
Robert Wood

Inventing the Future

In this article, James Gill considers the possibility of conducting labour movement democracy online. James is a member of Unite, Labour and Momentum, and serves on the Central Council of the Socialist Health Association.

How do you combine the views of thousands of people? Momentum is trying to figure out its answer to this question in time for its conference in February – should the process be face-to-face, or online? Should it involve delegates, or all-member voting?

The traditional labour movement answer goes like this: form local groups, have meetings, write motions, and elect delegates. Send the delegates and the motions to a conference. The delegates make speeches and vote on the motions, and that’s your party line. Labour decision-making looks much the same in 2016 as it did in 1966 or 1916 – slow, opaque and boring, and only accessible to those with time and money to devote to the process.

But we aren’t the only people who have ever tried to solve this problem. Over the last twenty years, the cutting edge in consensus-building systems has been online, on websites like Wikipedia, Stack Exchange and Quora. Thousands of hours of engineering, design, and user experience expertise has gone into tailoring these systems for high-quality output. The labour movement has lessons to learn from the most successful examples.

It’s impossible to talk about online collaboration without mentioning Wikipedia – hero of many last-minute essay crises. Anyone with an internet connection can sign up to Wikipedia and start to edit a page. The vast majority of edits to Wikipedia are entirely uncontroversial, you can view the most recent changes here (click “diff” to see what changed). However, arguments do arise, especially on pages like Scientology, homeopathy, and cold fusion. So over the fifteen years the site has operated, the community has developed a sophisticated set of norms to resolve disagreements.

These rules are laid out in a network of guidelines and essays (a good place to start is Wikipedia:Five Pillars). These determine which subjects are worth an article; lay out standards for sourcing of facts; and determine procedures for resolving disputes. They also lay out expected behaviours, often in the form of a slogan: “Assume Good Faith”, and “Be Bold” – both good pieces of advice for everyone in the labour movement.

Adherence is policed by users with additional powers, called administrators, elected by the community (see WP:RFA for details). But what makes it all work is that the “anyone can edit” rule applies the the policies, just as much as to the rest of the site. This self-determination by the community is a very modern example of democracy.

So what are the lessons? There was no guarantee Wikipedia would work – similar sites like Everything2 and Citizendium were less successful. But the careful design of the software, the hard work given to the development of co-produced community norms, the trust placed in anonymous users, and the breathtaking ambition of the project make it a success.

As successful as Wikipedia is, successful wikis edited only by the members of organisations seem to be rare. Fortunately, there is a closely-related format that does seem to work in smaller-scale, more focussed applications: the format used by Stack Exchange.

Stack Exchange began as a question and answer site for computer programmers, but the format has rapidly evolved and is now used for dozens of topics. It is a particularly good fit for organisations because it typically produces very high-quality, focussed, accurate and complete results. Several companies now sell similar tools to companies for internal crowdsourcing, e.g. Clever Together.

It is easy to imagine how a labour organisation could use a platform like this to form policy and make decisions. Voting, on a one-member-one-vote basis is integral to the system, and it also includes opportunities to comment, network, and edit collaboratively, wiki-style.

Running a process like this is risky and expensive. It’s unreasonable to expect Momentum to take this approach in its first year, but the direction of travel, with an online vote of the whole membership, is promising. Online scales better than a physical conference; makes the most of members’ expertise; is very difficult for any small group to control; and removes participation barriers such as travel costs.

It would be a powerful statement about the way we listen, our attitude to technology and our optimism for the future. Momentum should show the way, not get bogged down in processes invented before the television, microwave, or fridge, so that Labour can follow safely in the years to come.

James Gill
James Gill

 

TEFinitely not!

In this article, Ellie Clarke fills us in on the fightback against the government’s Higher Education reforms. Ellie is a member of Young Labour originally from Charfield in Gloucestershire. She graduated from the University of Manchester in 2016 and now lives in Stockport, and works as a trainee teacher. She was very proud to contribute to the successful #KeepTheCaterers campaign run by Free Education MCR in conjunction with Unison. She is a member of the NUT,  the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, Unite Community, the Socialist Educational Association and Momentum.

Every sector of education, from early years to university, is currently under attack. Severe underfunding, ridiculous levels of testing and increasing segregation are all problems our students and educational establishments face on a daily basis.

In the higher education sector, the main threat is currently coming from the TEF or the “Teaching Excellence Framework”. It sounds innocuous enough, who wouldn’t want excellent teaching? However its aim is clear: the marketisation of higher education.

The way the TEF works is that each university is given a numerical score, based on metrics such as the National Student Survey (NSS) and research output. Not only do these tell you little about the experience a student has at the university, the NSS has been proven to be biased against female and BAME lecturers.  The TEF score then determines how much that university is able to charge in fees, with the maximum being set to rise to £12,000. Alongside this increase in fees, maintenance grants and NHS bursaries are being scrapped, meaning it will be more expensive than ever to attend university.

This government want the education sector to function like a market. The “better” universities will be able to charge more because of increased demand. Under-performing universities will be allowed to fail, won’t get any support from the government, and will close down. To hell with the students who go there. That’s just the way the market works.  They seem hellbent on pushing this marketisation without consideration that basic economics will tell us that, because no university wants to be seen as not being a ‘better’ university, prices are likely to stabilise at the same rate anyway. This rate will undoubtedly be much higher than the current rate of £9,000.

But regardless of the economics behind the government’s argument, it is worth saying again that Education should not be run like a business. The purpose of education should not be to make money. Our young people should not only have opportunities if they have the ability to pay.

So what should young Labour activists be doing about all this?

Firstly, we need to organise within our labour clubs and students’ unions. We can pass motions on things like boycotting the NSS. If you get enough people to not fill it out, a lack of useful data means the whole system falls apart. But we need to do this on a large scale if it is going to have any impact.

Secondly, we should get involved in the National Campaign against Fees and Cuts. They are a fantastic group of activists who fight for free education, offer excellent training and support, and facilitate practical actions against the TEF (such as trying to co-ordinate a national NSS boycott).

And finally, as many people as possible need to turn out for the “United for Education” demo in London on November the 19th. This has been organised in conjunction with the NUS, who are putting on coaches up and down the country. Together, we will show the government that we will not stand for this. They can’t ignore us forever.

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Ellie Clarke