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‘You can’t pass motions; that’s political’ – A Report for Labour Students National Committee meeting, 19/07/16

Inside Labour CorbynAt this year’s Labour Students National Conference in Scarborough, delegates were promised, to quote from the manifesto of our new Chair, ‘a radical change’. Indeed-and much needed it was. Poor organisation made for a chaotic conference, whilst, time and again, BAME members of our organisation told of how they felt ignored and marginalised to the point of invisibility. In the words of the BAME Officer, Huda Elmi, ‘it is like we do not exist to you’. There seemed to be a consensus that, in its current form, Labour’s student affiliate was unsustainable.

Such a year was capped off with a farcical conference last month in Manchester where, having been denied the opportunity to debate the biggest constitutional change in the organisation’s history for more than an hour, slightly fewer than half of delegates walked out, led by our comrades from the BAME caucus. It says something slightly disturbing about the culture of the organisation that this was branded, rather weakly (and ineptly), by the then National Secretary, Alec James, as ‘an access break’.

Those of us wanting to make a change to NOLS were feeling nervous but quietly optimistic then, before the first meeting of its National Committee this Tuesday. Whilst forgivable errors such as a late agenda occurred, it offered the first opportunity to debate the course of Labour’s students over the next year. Sophie Nazemi, Co-Chair of King’s College London Labour Society and the committee’s London Rep, had tabled a common sense motion seeking to condemn the £25 affiliate fee as pricing out students from our internal democratic processes. More concretely, it pointed out that Labour Students could make a positive change here-it could register as affiliates those of its members who perhaps joined in the autumn of last year but who did not join as full party members until after 12th January. Sounds reasonable, you might think.

But to no avail. Shortly before the meeting, we received an e-mail from the National Office stating that it was for ‘Council and Conference to receive motions and amendments and not National Committee’. Neither would Huda Elmi’s motion to affiliate NOLS to BAME Labour be tabled. Instead, both would become nebulous ‘discussion points’ on the agenda.

It is, of course, superfluous to state quite how ridiculous this is. The committee of the party’s youth wing, Young Labour, passes motions. (And the Labour Students full-timers sit on this committee, so they’re in a position to know.) More importantly, preventing motions from being discussed by the committee has absolutely no basis in the constitution. To try to do this only means day-to-day political decisions are passed from the committee to three full time Labour Party staff members sitting in an office in London.

In the meeting itself, however, the ridiculous turned to the absurd when Campaigns and Membership Officer Connor Rand declared that it wasn’t for the committee to make ‘political’ decisions. When challenged on what he meant by this, he defined this as anything that was ‘presented in the form of a motion’.

The committee was to have unstructured discussions, it seemed, before the pre-approved line was presented to us by the National Office. This was to be the case when we co-opted a rep from the South West region.  Whilst I’m sure the activist in question is hard-working and capable, it simply isn’t on not to run an open and advertised post for the filling of a committee role, especially since we were only informed of the sole candidate during the meeting.

Labour Students this year isn’t wholly lost, however. The new full time officer team seem dynamic and competent, and the committee is perhaps more plural politically than ever before. A draft statement on the Chakrabarti and Royall Reports was discussed and a further discussion on the issue with Huda Elmi was agreed unanimously.

Nonetheless, there remain significant challenges. At least one serious disciplinary matter from the Scarborough conference remains unattended to, more than five months after an initial complaint was made. Labour Students’ workings in the National Union of Students remain a shambles, to say the least. Delegates to that organisation’s Brighton conference this year were treated to the sick spectacle of Labour Students campaigners supporting a declared Tory over a number of their fellow members in the NUS NEC Block elections.

Nothing has convinced me as of yet, however, that Labour Students is an organisation beyond reform. What is equally clear is for that reform to come about, grassroots Labour Students of all political persuasions need to engage and make themselves heard within its democratic structures, such as they are.

Michael Muir is a member of CLPD and sits on the Labour Students National Committee for the South East.

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