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Labour Students: “inward-looking”, “exclusive” and “undemocratic”

An active university Labour club has accused the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) of being “inward-looking”, “exclusive” and “wilfully undemocratic”.

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.

5 Comments

  1. CULC can’t stay affiliated to the CLP if it has disaffiliated from NOLS, because Chapter 7 of the Labour Party rulebook states:

    “Organisations may affiliate to the Party at
    constituency level if they fall within the following
    categories:
    …. C. branches of those socialist societies affiliated to the Party nationally.”

    If it is not affiliated to NOLS it is not a branch of a socialist society affiliated nationally, so ineligible to affiliate to the CLP.

    In fact NOLS would be within their rights to set up an official affiliated Labour Club in Cambridge.

  2. Sean Bibby says:

    Paid my subs into Labour Students and was a member throughout my time in University, but was never allowed to elect the very officers who ran the organization and received payment from the subs I paid in!!! I supported the OMOV campaign only to find it was swept under the carpet by those who have a vested interest in shutting ordinary members out. NOLS a total Closed Shop (just like the farcical NUS) and an affront to the values of our Party, expect more Uni clubs to disaffiliate unless there is more transparency and democracy.

  3. Cllr George Owers says:

    Luke, that is a typical piece of anti-democratic, authoritarian nonsense. As a former CULC chair, I can say that CULC are crucial to Cambridge CLP in its campaigning to get Labour cllrs elected, and in fact several alumni have gone on to be local candidates and councillors. NOLS setting up an ‘official’ Labour students organisation would be absurd and unpopular. CULC is loyal to the Labour Party, just not the current hacks and careerists who run NOLS. I know Akehurst is incapable of understanding that dissent is different from disloyalty, but it’s ridiculous even by standards.

  4. Myers Johnson says:

    @Luke Akehurst

    CULC is affiliated to the Co-Operative Party though.

    “Organisations may affiliate to the Party at
    constituency level if they fall within the following
    categories:
    … B. co-operative societies, branches of the Cooperative Party and other co-operative organisations”

    And clause D could be used as well.

    “D. other organisations or branches thereof which in the opinion of the NEC are deemed eligible for affiliation.”

  5. Owen Edwards says:

    Luke, badly done. You don’t address the actual problem, you just make a passive aggressive point of order.

    As a former club chair, I would agree that NOLS is a byzantine, undemocratic organization, prone to being dominated by cliques. I don’t think the opposition of leadership to democratic changes is conscious self-preservation, though; I think it’s chiefly incompetence and inexperience.

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