After three hectic days in Scarborough (26-28 February), the dust is yet to settle from the events of the annual Labour Students and Young Labour conference.
The Momentum slate was initially a resounding success in every region, getting an enormous number of Corbyn-supporting delegates elected. However the left ran into early difficulties with finances, as there was no assistance available from Labour with the costs of transport or accommodation. There was a compulsory £30/40 registration fee, an the conference was held in a part of the country hard to get to for the majority of members.
Momentum candidate for chair of Labour Students Ollie Hill lost narrowly to Kate Dearden on day one. That represents a major step forward, however, as Ollie got the highest vote for a left-wing challenger in many years. Leftwinger Caroline Hill won a 60% majority in the election for Young Labour Chair, and the left took an overall majority on the National Committee of Young Labour. Momentum supporter James Elliott lost to Jasmin Beckett in the race for National Executive Committee Youth Rep by 49.41% to 49.55%. It was a tense race which saw an orchestrated smear campaign and documented instances of delegates disenfranchised, widespread bullying and harassment, and more: all evidence that the long-honed stitch-up skills of the Blairite Labour Students faction were deployed to the full, as they fought their rearguard action in Scarborough.
Unite has already called for an inquiry into the disputed NEC rep election.
The conference passed motions in support of free education and of staying in the EU, and for migrants’ rights. Scottish Labour Young Socialists evoked memories of conferences gone by in their public statement: “40 years ago the ‘Icepick Express’ left Scotland to scalp Militant control of the Labour Party’s youth wing. On board was Bill Speirs, a key figure in the founding of the Campaign for Socialism. This weekend, after SLYS delegates had swept the board in the Scottish ballot, the ‘Eric Heffer Express’ returned to Youth Conference. The left won a resounding victory — 27/33 places on the Young Labour executive committee, including the brilliant Caroline Hill — Chair of Young Labour. How the wheels of history turn. The result of the NEC election remains up in the air, surrounded by smear campaigns, union delegates breaking their democratic mandate, and the party’s refusal to carry out a manual recount. We await the NEC’s investigation.
“We unequivocally stand in solidarity with our comrades in Unite. Every attack on them is an attack on the entire labour movement.”
The election of Jeremy Corbyn has sent a left-wing surge through the youth structures of the Labour Party, and the wins for the left – in the face of bitter resistance and shameful tactics from the right – have consolidated the new, left-wing mood of the party. But in order to build a real youth movement that can be a “seedbed of the left” and make a lasting and major change in UK society, local, constituency and branch-level Labour youth groups need to be built, as organisations for activism, political education and debate, and cultural life.
Disorganisation at Labour Students conference
By Tim Jones
On the weekend of 26-28 February, I joined three other delegates from Goldsmiths for the Labour Students National Conference in Scarborough.
The conference ran late, and a lot of fluff in the timetable squeezed the time for motions debate. For example, there was a “consultation” about bringing in a One Member One Vote system with no democratic elements that easily could have been scrapped, but it was kept at the expense of motion debate.
General disorganisation was hugely evident throughout. There generally always seemed to be a lack of ballot papers. The communication before the conference on matters like motions and agendas was extremely poor. I had to do a lot of chasing to get information. This lack of planning was another contributed to running late, with elections taking longer than planned. In the end, we mustered less than half an hour to discuss very few motions.
A motion from Goldsmiths Labour was passed about cutting the cost of conference; and important motions on tackling Prevent and supporting a full-time Trans Officer in NUS were passed too. However, I think it is important that Labour Students discusses issues like education funding, cuts to student bursaries, cuts to nursing bursaries, and mental health on campuses as well as the direction we’d like to see the party go in.
I believe there aren’t good reasons for this level of disorganisation. The late running meant we could not ask for good reasons either. Labour Students has 3 full-time elected officers running it as well as access to party staff and other resources. This is not a volunteer effort.
University Labour Clubs up and down the country play a massive role in the party. We’re at the forefront at bringing in members, giving them a political education and getting them to campaign for Labour. Yet this weekend we were made to pay over £200 (including a £40 registration fee) for a poorly organised conference, with little discussion on the future of our country or our party. On a few positive notes, I am extremely proud that Goldsmiths Labour is playing a role on the national stage after being dormant for so long. All our delegates got stuck into the life of the conference in different ways and had an impact.
On Saturday and Sunday, we were also delegates to Young Labour National conference. That was better organised. Good policy around free education and the EU was passed, and good officers elected to its national committee. We also heard from Jeremy Corbyn, the first Labour leader to address the conference since 2008. He offered great support to young people and the youth wing of the party.