A problem like Labour Students

Fraser Amos Co-Chair of Warwick Labour

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For 3 years Labour Students has promised to elect its committee via one member one vote. After years of obfuscation, this was the year it was to finally happen. Last summer the 2017-18 executive officers asked clubs to ensure our members verified their student status with the party so that this student member database could then be used to carry out these elections.

Just a few months later, however, the newly elected executive officers, without any mandate or consultation, chose to sever the membership of Labour Students from the party, in the process losing all party funding and turning the executive officers from full-time employed positions into unpaid ones. Under this system you don’t have to be a member of the labour party to join Labour Students, in fact, you could even be a member of the Tory party.

Paying for membership, however, was not enough to entitle you to a vote in the national committee elections. To receive a ballot members had to also be a member of a Labour club affiliated to Labour Students and provide evidence of this by forwarding a membership receipt email to the Labour Students Secretary. This excluded thousands of labour students without a Labour club or whose club had not overcome the bureaucratic hurdles to affiliating, including all labour students at FE institutions bar one.

The information on securing a ballot was barely publicised by Labour Students, effectively no effort was made to remind or communicate to Labour students at large the various hoops that had to be jumped through and deadlines met to secure a ballot. Worse than this, however, the executive officers spent their working time, as staff employed by the Labour Party, selectively messaging members and clubs they thought would be politically sympathetic to their chosen candidates to walk them through the process, whilst barely responding to other members’ requests for information.

There is no doubt that the electorate in the National Committee election was deliberately gerrymandered to exclude thousands of student members of the Labour Party and secure a particular result. Labour Students executive officers continue to refuse to release a breakdown of results showing just how many of the estimated 20,000 student labour members actually voted, with the only reported figure being around 125 people.

With 10s of clubs, 1000s of students denied representation and only 59 delegates to represent what is meant to be some 20,000 students, it was abundantly clear that Labour Students conference was nowhere near representative of student members of the party. The conference was held in Edinburgh on the rationale of improving access for Scottish Labour students, in the event however, most Scottish Labour clubs were unable to send delegations with many clubs & CLPs actually writing to the Scottish Executive Committee calling for action to be taken against Labour Students. While our motion on a Green New Deal passed, in case any clearer example was needed of the representativeness of this conference was needed, it voted down our motion on Free Education, something that is both party policy and has the support of the vast majority of students. Worse than all this, however, was conference voting down a motion on using one member one vote for all student members of the Labour Party in Labour Students elections, with the candidates on the right of the party voting against full OMOV, despite all their repeated public statements in support of it.

Running on a left platform in the national committee elections I and other Labour Students Left candidates secured the endorsements of the vast majority of affiliated clubs, clubs across the political breadth of the party, with Labour students on the right of the party endorsing us. Ordinary Labour Students of all stripes have lost faith in the organisation, it has lost legitimacy as the voice of students in the party, it is an embarrassment to the party and unsurprisingly clubs have begun to disaffiliate en masse. Disaffiliations so far include Cambridge, Royal Holloway, Kent, Nottingham Trent, Imperial,  Southampton, Queen Mary, and Oxford. This is on top of the 10s of clubs who couldn’t & chose not to affiliate in the first place. Strikingly Labour Students have done nothing to acknowledge this or address the concerns expressed.

Labour Students could serve as a radical student wing of the Labour Party, building a mass movement across campuses, providing political education, activist training, connecting student activism to trade union organising, bringing leftwing students into the labour movement. Unfortunately, as it stands its primary function is to build the careers of students from one narrow faction of the party so that they can be parachuted in as the next generation of MPs. Those in charge have demonstrated the lengths they will go to undermine democracy to maintain this, whatever the cost to the organisation.

Only with new elections in which all student members of the party were enfranchised would Labour Students have any hope of retaining this legitimacy. With the NEC organisation subcommittee recently making the 3 student reps on the Young Labour National Committee elected by all student members there now appears to be some alternative route to securing student representation and organisation in the Party.  

For these reasons, after many requests from members & after discussing it with the SU democracy team, the Warwick Labour executive committee has decided to hold an online vote as soon as possible on whether or not to disaffiliate from Labour Students.

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