In a damning and revelatory letter, Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC) has explained its reasons for disaffiliating from the national organisation.
NOLS, a distinct organisation from the party’s youth-wing Young Labour, was described during the Blair era as “the shock-troops of the leadership”. It has long been criticised for its lack of transparency and democracy, with its annual elections for sabbatical officer positions frequently being uncontested. In 2011 Oxford University’s Labour club disaffiliated, due to an “absence of contested elections” and “the dearth of opportunity to reform internal structures”.
In their lengthy letter, Martha Morey and Clare Walker Gore, club chair and vice-chair, write that uncontested elections are “undemocratic… with the committee effectively choosing the next committee as positions are so rarely contested.”
They also reveal a crack-down on attempts to make the organisation more democratic at this year’s conference. A motion to change to election of officers by an all-member ballot – the standard in democratic organisations – was “not given a name like all other motions and was instead given one which was purposefully ambiguous, as if to discourage delegates from choosing it as a priority motion because they would not realize what it was.”
The same motion was “butchered” by an “opportunistic” and “manipulating” amendment from the NOLS establishment, the letter says. Morey and Walker Gore say this was “not because of a concern for democracy or cost, but because of your desire to protect your [those of the NOLS executive] own interests.”
“As a direct result of the amendment,” they continue, “OMOV [one member one vote, or electing positions by an all-member ballot] has been buried in at least a year’s worth of committees, analysis and general avoidance—disguised as a Coalition-esque ‘listening exercise’ to check for OMOV’s democratic and cost implications.”
They further accuse the Labour Students leadership of petty double standards: “Our delegates were concerned to find that announcements were made discouraging cheering and tweets, but that some sort of exception to this rule seemed to be made for committee members.” The pair describe how delegates were instructed not to cheer any one candidate more loudly than any other, only for an outburst of whoops to erupt from the Labour Students executive committee when their preferred candidates took the platform.
CULC remains active in the the city’s two universities – the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University – and is affiliated to the Cambridge constituency Labour party, which Morey and Walker Gore believe is “far more helpful to us” in supporting the club in “campaigning and training”.
The decision to disaffiliate was taken by a vote at the club’s annual general meeting, after a motion put by a club delegate to NOLS conference was passed with a strong majority. Even speakers against the motion were highly critical of Labour Students nationally, but took the view that it was best to remain within to remain part of the campaign for greater democracy in the organisation.
Prior to CULC’s decision, the Oxford club had voted to re-affiliate to the national organisation.