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The case for OMOV in Labour Students

Next week Labour Students will be holding their National Conference – an event the organisation refers to as ‘democratic ’. Policy is discussed, motions are debated and officers are elected. But there is one flaw in the democratic process of National Conference: not everyone is allowed to vote.

Currently, the electorate for Labour Students officers (including 3 full time, paid positions), consists of delegates from each affiliated club. Delegates must travel to conference in order to vote, there is no proxy. There are problems with the current system of voting, and I have tried to outline these issues while explaining how a ‘One Member, One Vote’ (OMOV) system can address them. I have also tried to respond to some of the recent criticisms of OMOV.

Affiliation

Currently, each affiliated club can send delegates to National Conference with voting rights. But a club must have 10 members in order to affiliate, which means many institutions where only a few members are present – particularly FE colleges and non-Russell Group universities – are not represented at all. Labour Party membership age has this year been lowered to 14. A 14 year old member can vote in our leadership, NPF, NEC and Young Labour elections. But should they also choose to join Labour Students, they will find that the voting system most probably excludes them. Labour Students must adjust so that school and sixth form students have a say in the organisation supposedly representing them. A more inclusive electoral system would encourage our younger members to get involved in other campaigns and events. Last year, our EMA campaign was lacking – a horde of engaged FE Labour Students could have changed that.

Last year also saw Oxford University Labour Club dramatically disaffiliate from Labour Students. Some students cited OMOV as a condition for re-affiliating, others never wanted to dis-affiliate in the first place. Even now that Oxford is newly re-affiliated, they didn’t meet the deadline, thus none of the members at one of the country’s biggest Labour Clubs will be able to vote in this year’s election.

Delegate accountability

Another issue with the current system is that every club has its own policy on how they mandate their delegates. For instance, Club A may take a vote on who they want to back for Chair, and delegates will have to vote to represent their club, regardless of their personal views. although, since the ballot is secret, delegates can really vote how they like. Club B may let their delegates take a ‘free vote’, despite what the majority of the club members want. Here we get a skewed system of representation: some delegates are voting for themselves, others on behalf of their club.

In the case of Club B, 90% of the membership may be backing Candidate 1 for Chair, while 10% are backing Candidate 2. If the delegation is made up from the 10%, the views of the wider membership are not being represented at conference. (Apols for the Occupy-style lingo). Under OMOV, every club member will get to vote if they want to, and will not have to rely on delegates to do so on their behalf. This will eradicate the confused system of mandating which seems to change from club to club, whilst widening participation.

Lack of information

All members are told how they can apply to be a delegate: they must email their club Chair stating their interest. But not all clubs are well organised, with a Chair who will arrange for a delegate election, let alone forward on any other information given to them by the national office. If all members were sent a ballot to their inbox or home address, we wouldn’t have to rely on waiting for delegate information to trickle down from national office via Club Chairs.

‘OMOV costs too much’

It was suggested at a recent hustings that an online voting system could cost Labour Students in the region of £10,000. A more accurate fee, as quoted by Voting Place, puts the cost at around £2,600. This is not taking in to account the facilities that the Labour Party already has in place and can help with. Candidates and Labour Students officers have been quick to say that the money to fund an OMOV system is not available, without mentioning whether they have actually looked in to sources.

The amendment Leeds Labour Club have submitted means OMOV will only be mandatory once the funds to implement it have been raised – so Labour Students won’t be out of pocket. Colleagues I have spoken to in our affiliated trade unions have expressed interest in helping to pay for a more democratic voting system should it become policy. Hopefully this will now put the funding argument to one side.

‘OMOV would result in candidates running a national campaign’

Forcing candidates to appeal to Labour Students members across the country is undoubtedly a good thing, but some have questioned whether it limits people in difficult financial positions in attending hustings across the country. The problem with this argument is that the current voting system also has candidates running national campaigns and travelling around the country. I point you to this year’s set of hustings:

Yorkshire  – 24/01/2012 – 6-8pm
Scotland  – 27/01/2012 – 5pm
Wales – 29/01/2012 – 2.15pm
South East – 3/2/2012 – 7.45pm
Eastern – 4/2/2012 – 7.30pm
North West – 7/2/2012 – 7pm
London – 9/2/2012 – 6pm
Midlands – 13/02/2012 – 7pm

Labour Students member would have difficulty finding the funds to get to every one of those locations in the space of one month. It is my belief that, should the elections operate on a One Member One Vote basis, regional hustings will still take place but will bring in larger audiences. More members will be able to vote, thus more members will want to hear what’s on offer. This should be welcomed.

As candidates would no longer need to win the votes of just a few delegates but all members, use of social media would likely play a bigger role in campaigning. Email, twitter, facebook and youtube are all easy (and FREE!) ways of contacting the wider membership, and hustings could be available online. Labour Students candidates don’t currently tend to make much use of social media because their electorate is saturated, but a One Member One Vote system would force them to run as far-reaching a campaign as possible. This would take a lot focus off of hustings at larger clubs while not setting anyone back financially.

‘No one will vote in OMOV’

I have heard references to Conservative Future and National Policy Forum Youth Rep elections as a means of ‘proving’ OMOV systems produce low turn-out. However:

  1. Conservative Future and Labour’s National Policy Forum elections are balloted to all members of their respective parties (age rules applying), there is no ‘opt-in’. All members under a certain age are automatically eligible to vote in CF/NPF elections, not just those who are particularly interested or active within the youth structures. As Labour Students requires paying a separate subscription rate to the general Party membership, this distinguishes it from CF and NPF elections. I would think it more likely that members would want to elect the representatives within the organisation they pay a separate free for.
  2. Many members in the recent CF elections did not receive ballots. This was also the case with the 2010 NPF elections. But it strikes me as odd to hear candidates using this as a criticism of OMOV in Labour Students– surely if you were the Officer running the elections, you would make sure we got our ballot papers?
  3. The general election doesn’t get a 100% turn-out, but I don’t see anyone proposing a delegate system for electing our MPs.I urge all delegates attending Labour Students conference to vote in favour of Aberystwyth’s OMOV motion.

OMOV is gathering support. Pass the link to your Chair and whoever is representing your club as a delegate and tell them why One Member One Vote is important.Below are the names of students who support the OMOV motion. Please note that most of these people will not be able to vote for the motion since the delegate system of voting also applies to policy-making. If you would like to add your name below please email me.

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