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Let’s make Young Labour accountable

As elections for the national committee of Young Labour loom on the horizon, young members will be asking: what did they ever do for us?

You might think this unfair. It’s possible that the committee members work very hard (I know, in fact, of a number that do.) But with no accountability and no sense of what they’re up to, you can see the problem.

At the last Young Labour conference at which elections for top positions were held – in 2011 – delegates complained that there was no mechanism for holding the previous term’s national committee to account. Party officials attempted to stop the then-chair of Young Labour, Sam Tarry, from addressing the conference. There was time to hear Iain Gray, the ill-fated leader of Scottish Labour, ask “what makes young people tick?” but none to hear back from the people who had supposedly been representing us for the previous two years.

You’d think that after this the newly-elected committee would be conscious that they needed to be closer their constituents. There are really simple ways this can be done. It’s now common practice for CLP reps on the Labour party national executive (NEC) to report back to members at local meetings and in written reports. This was also a result of the grassroots wanting to be closer to the party’s governing processes. And so it was pioneered by the original four Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance members when they were first elected in 1998.

Nowadays, the likes of Ann Black, Christine Shawcroft and Johanna Baxter post their reports online. You’d think the national committee members would do the same. They only have four meetings a year – it’s not much to ask! But there’s no sign of reports back anywhere – not on the Young Labour website or anywhere else on the web that Google will take you.

For all we know, the Young Labour national committee could be doing a great job. It seems that they’re not in some respects – this speaks for itself. Some progress has been made – there were reports back from chair and NEC rep at this year’s mid-term Young Labour policy conference. Yet this was an event that most members couldn’t access, and that’s still only two members of the committee.

And why stop there? Reports back from committee members are valuable in providing the potential for fully detailed accounts, but there is much that can be done by the committee as a whole too. Young Labour members should have access to the official minutes of committee meetings, including the attendance and voting records of individual members.

These will only be small steps away from Young Labour being the most undemocratic youth wing of a Socialist party in  western Europe, but they will be steps nonetheless. Last time round, manifestos for Young Labour national committee were pretty vacuous in content. When they get their chance to set out their must declare whether they support measures like these, and dare I say it, maybe mention some policy positions too.

4 Comments

  1. Susan Nash says:

    Hi Conrad

    I am away with work in Bristol this week so looking at this on a mobile but wanted to address some of your points.

    We do publish reports as a committee and individual members of the committee have published them. I appreciate our current website is difficult to navigate so these will be in a more convenient place on new site being set live later this month. Bex has done them to her region, Simon has done two & me and him have done a
    conference report.

    Alot of your frustrations me and the committee share but we havent been able to get the website up and running because of capacity in the party. Equally emails have been challenging from time to time for similar reasons & because we’ve actually had so many events to promote we’ve prioritised communicating about those. We’ve made alot of improvements on the old committee. For a start we meet more than 4 times a year, we’ve had accountability sessions all the events we’ve held- which have been frequent throughout year and half I’ve been chair. One of the things I want to make sure is all the minutes are available on our new site as we have them & they should’ve been previously uploaded (we did ask). That way members can see who has been active & going above and beyond to help me and Callum change young labour

  2. Thanks Susan for taking the time to reply.

    I appreciate you’ve had difficulty with your instructions about the website not being followed through. I haven’t been able to find reports of meetings (in any normal sense of the term) on the website – there have been reports of various decisions that have been taken, but these are more like articles on specific issues.

    The point I was making was that the National Committee members could follow the lead of several NEC members in issuing written reports back from individual meetings. As far as I can establish, no member of the national committee does this. There are no reports on Bex’s blog that I can find. If this is my mistake then I’m happy to stand corrected, but I think I’ve gone through the articles on her blog twice now and I can’t find any. Simon’s website has two PDFs (that appear to have both been uploaded this month) and these are not specific to meetings.

    I also made the point that in publishing minutes, attendance records and individual voting records the National Committee can go beyond the NEC in terms of accountability. It’s great if you’ll be publishing minutes soon, but it’s just a shame that up until now there’s been no way at all for Young Labour members to find out what’s going on at committee meetings. I consider myself a pretty active member of Young Labour, and yet I’ve never so much as heard where the committee meets.

    I agree that things have got better with Young Labour over the past two years, but this seems like something that is easily done and hugely important.

  3. Susan Nash says:

    Agree this is very important just don’t let it also overshadow you questioning and holding people to account for action as well as reports on those actions- as I believe the first is more telling account of what representatives are doing for members.

    Also were these questions ever raised when Sam was chair as I don’t know if they made any progress on this or whether it’s been a longstanding thing. Did you do reports when you were on LYL? Not sure it’s needed in great detail at LYL level but could be good to have common accountability

  4. Max Shanly says:

    Susan, what happened to the new Young Labour website that was due to launch last week? The last time we spoke you said that once it launched we would all get to see a full copy of the materials for the Youth Homelessness campaign.

    That has yet to happen, and with it no proof that you haven’t, as many suspect, thrown out policies that were voted for at YL12 because you and others on the NC did not agree with them (this was in fact confirmed to me by a member of the NC as being the case).

    If you don’t agree with policies such as the abolishment of Right to Buy and the construction of a million council homes by the next Labour Government then that is fine, voice your opposition, but don’t leave them out of a campaign because you have the authority to do so.

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