By Julia Pearson, Chair of Warwick Labour Society
It’s the ultimate question. The answer to life, the universe, and everything. What does a Labour Chair actually do?
I know you’ve been obviously been losing sleep deliberating over this vital question, so I’m here to be your saviour and shed some light on the situation – as Chair of the University of Warwick Labour Society. The answer, I’m sad to say, is a little more complex than 42.
I can only speak from personal experience, but fortunately there’s a lot of it! As Chair I’m in charge of a shedload of things. I’m the figurehead of the society, our go-to person to represent our views whether it be in interviews, debates or recruitment drives. If The Boar wants a quote, they’ll ask me. The important distinction between a Chair and a President, however, is whilst I’m at the top of the hierarchy I’m also not in charge per se. We make decisions as a whole executive. I’m just there to facilitate and mediate discussion, and stay organised and aware of all going on. I’m also here as a final call in decision-making, if the exec can’t agree on something. Although I always try to find consensus when I can!
I’m here (I hope!) as someone of experience, who has been on previous Labour execs and who can guide and help newer exec members into their roles. I provide advice and knowledge to anyone who asks for it.
I have notebooks filled with lists and deadlines and plans of what we’re going to do and when. I try to stay updated on our plans for all the exec positions – campaigns on and off campus, talks, liberation issues, publicity and social media, scheduling, finances and socials. I delegate tasks to the appropriate position, or a keen volunteer if it doesn’t fall clearly into a role. Delegation is a life-saver, otherwise if I took on too much responsibility myself – as I did at points – it became difficult to cope.
The Chair in Chair (which, thinking about it, is the entire word, so I don’t know why I said that. Ah well, comedy) comes from the fact that I chair weekly meetings for the society! For Warwick Labour, I also sit on monthly meetings in the Warwick and Leamington CLP executive to represent the society, and boost external relations.
I am always keeping one eye open to stomp down factionalism and make the society as accessible as possible. If there are issues, I head up dealing with complaints. Sometimes I arrange to meet with members individually to resolve issues.
I proofread our minutes. I prod people to do things they were meant to (there is a lot of prodding involved). I deal with the paperwork, the SU, and am in charge of updating the constitution. Any elections, I have to direct the exec to run. I have access to our emails and answer any messages we get on Facebook, such as proposals for events – which I’ll bring to the exec and respond to. I try to keep on top of what’s going on with Labour Students and the wider Labour Party, and how we need to slot in.
In times of crisis, I am the first line of defence. It seems like half the time I’m in damage control mode, controlling any issues. When Theresa May called a snap general election, I had to drop everything and spend the entire day (and following weeks) writing up an action plan, contacting campaigners in local constituencies, drafting a statement, responding to dozens of quote requests, reassuring exec and general members, and generally sobbing over pots of Ben & Jerry’s.
It’s also my job as a main point of contact when it comes to liaising with other societies; knowing when to say yes and no to different events. I act as a non-drinking member at events, try my hardest to get to know everyone and attend relevant caucus meetings. I also often introduce events or speakers, and give a speech at our annual Red Tie Dinner! Being approachable and personable is really important, especially during freshers’ fair and other peak recruitment times like around the general election. I aim to go to all Warwick Labour events, although it’s okay to take time off at points if others are let known I won’t be there.
There’s also a human resources management aspect involved. I’m here to support executive members’ welfare and assist them if they are struggling in anything. I keep the Deputy Chair in the loop so they are prepared to take over if something were to happen to me (ah, that sweet martyrdom clause in our constitution). I leap to take over other responsibilities if there are gaps. For example, I’m currently running our Facebook page, and I apologise for the decline in content quality. I have poor meme game.
Ultimately though, this is just what I do, and how I have handled it. There are lots of different Chairs and ways to run societies. I’m a very organisation-focused, hands-on Chair, I like to think, and probably more Presidential than most. Regardless of your style, the important thing is that you hold a great passion and love for your society and are willing to throw yourself in at the deep end. Don’t worry – having an exec there to support you makes it all worthwhile.