In the winter of 2018, the left – backed by Momentum – took over London Young Labour from the right wing of the party. The largest lecture theatre at UCL, with a capacity of 400, was full, with members spilling out onto the floor.
This summer’s policy conference, on 24 August, had about 40 people. As if deliberately to minimise attendance, the conference had been called at three weeks’ notice, at the height of summer.
We were told off by a member of the committee for handing out leaflets unless we showed “politeness” by “asking the committee first, so we can check if it has offensive material”. The incendiary material in question was advertising an emergency motion against the government’s planned crackdown on immigration after Brexit.
Last year’s conference agreed to work with the Labour Campaign for Free Movement, but they refused us “permission” after we had asked.
Other victims of this righteous purge of A5 paper grenades included a conference building the case for a socialist Europe, and a leaflet advocating a repeal of the Thatcherite trade union laws with quotes from the President of the RMT and the General Secretary of the FBU.
Some of us submitted for debate a motion calling for LYL to oppose Brexit outright, and to challenge the Labour leadership to back Remain and the defence of free movement. The room prioritised the motion for debate. The organisers knew it would almost certainly have passed.
They had already made efforts to prevent motions (except those they had whipped for) being heard – like allowing only one and a half hours for all debate, and then letting preceding sessions to overrun. By the time the democratic session arrived, there were only 50 minutes left.
But the earlier motions were, though important, self-evidently uncontroversial. No one volunteered to speak against any of the first five motions.
So the Chairs organised to make sure that anyone could raise totally mundane “points of clarification” purely to keep the conversation lasting as long as possible.
Those included one giggly attendee asking “What is 8chan?”, to which another attendee responded by reading out a Wikipedia page.
Other tactics to waste time included reading out entire motions before they be voted on. The result was that no policy of controversy was voted on or even discussed.
The only upside of this is that so few people will be needed to turn this committee around next time that it might just be do-able.