Labour youth and student conferences

Submitted by Matthew on 18 February, 2016 - 12:07 Author: Michael Elms

On the weekend of 26-28 February, the Annual General Meetings of Labour Students and Young Labour will be held in Scarborough.

Previously a bastion of the Blairite right, with a reputation for venal careerism, sinister banality (networking events!), and barely-legal bureaucratic skulduggery, Labour Students has been buffeted by the winds of change following Jeremy Corbyn's election. Across the UK, Labour Clubs have seen a surge of interest from leftwing young people from September.

This has, naturally, been met with horror from the outgoing leadership. Blairite chieftains issued instructions to Club chairs over the summer to not hold any meetings in the event of a Corbyn win, in the hope that left-leaning new members might not notice the existence of Labour Clubs, and leave them alone.

The results of this strategy have been disappointing. From Glasgow to Brighton, Labour Clubs have seen leftwingers sweep Club Committee elections and organise discussions about big issues like socialism, capitalism, Trident and war; and get stuck into campaigning on issues from free education to voter registration and nuclear disarmament. This influx of new life will be reflected at the Labour Students AGM, where leftwing delegates will bring motions on Free Education, Trident and rebuilding the NHS, as well as standing a slate of socialists calling for the renewal of the organisation as a socialist youth movement.

The rightwingers in charge of the political machine that brought you Jim Murphy and Jack Straw are unlikely to give up without a fight. Punishing transport and accommodation costs in addition to hefty ticket prices for the event form a first line of defence; and the Blairite faction in Labour Students has form for spirited hi-jinks such as cheerfully locking leftwingers in cupboards to keep them from the podium... but friends of Solidarity report that they are confident that this year will see big and overdue changes in Labour's student wing.

The remainder of the weekend will be taken up with the AGM of Young Labour, the organisation for all Labour members under the age of 27. The conference will elect a new leadership and debate policy — itself a concession wrung from years of leftwing agitation, as Young Labour has no constitution of its own and is regarded by some party officials with deep suspicion. Following a push by Corbyn supporters to get delegates elected, the make-up of the conference floor looks leftwing, and the prospects for a soft-left sweep of the committee are not bad. But the most important thing that Young Labour activists can decide to do at this year's conference is simple: build local groups!

Young Labour groups are few and far between at the constituency level. The many young people coming into the Labour Party need local organisations, with independent life, and connections to neighbourhoods and communities. Instead of city-wide or region-wide Young Labour groups that hold big-ticket events with MPs once in a blue moon, the Labour Party needs a youth wing that can be both an activist force and the seed-bed of a renewed socialist left.

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