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Young Labour committee votes to discuss policy no more than every two years

Young Labour on the March for the AlternativeAt October’s Young Labour national committee meeting, committee members, including chair Simon Darvill and NEC rep Bex Bailey, voted to reject two motions as agenda items: on the grounds that it was not the committee’s place to pass substantive motions, and that this should be left to the biennial policy conference.

This has a very worrying implication: that Young Labour will never again be able to take a substantive position on the majority of issues as they arise. The central argument for voting against hearing the motions was: Young Labour does not need to have motions in order to do stuff. We can simply organise meetings and campaigns, so long as we mention it at meetings. But to have no proper process for officially endorsing political positions and priorities between conference is surely unsafe.

The argument arose due to two motions that been submitted for the meeting’s consideration: one on supporting trade union rights and one on opposing the Royal Mail privatisation, and pledging to renationalise in line with Labour party policy. Neither were particularly about policy: both were about opening dialogue with comrades in the Labour movement, and committing to campaigning on certain issues.

I was particularly keen to support the motion on the privatisation of Royal Mail: I have written about the sell-off in the press, and campaigned against it as a member of the Communication Workers’ Union and a past Royal Mail employee. The sorting office in the town where I live, Cambridge, has faced repeated threats of closure, as have others across the East of England.

But as soon as we came to motions, which had been circulated well in advance of the meeting, Rachel Hodson, “ordinary rep” on the committee, came forward to speak. At the August meeting, she had made a bizarre intervention in which she complained that young members at a canvassing session with her the same day had voiced concern at the fact that the Young Labour committee discussed motions. This did not affect the meeting’s agenda at the time, and two motions were subsequently passed – one in support of the trade union link, in the light of attacks on it following the Falkirk debacle; and a contemporary motion to Labour party conference calling for an end to zero hour contracts and a new collective bargaining legislation.

The August motions were not public at the time when these concerns were allegedly raised with Rachel, although a committee member who had proposed one of the motions was subjected to abuse on Twitter after the meeting’s agenda was evidently leaked. I have always supported the agenda of Young Labour meetings being in the public domain, but there is obviously something wrong when most committee members abide by procedure and do not disclose the contents of meetings until after they are over, but at least one member leaks certain agenda items to provide attack material.

Now, at the October meeting, Rachel repeated this sentiment, saying she had been “called out” by the same unspecified Young Labour members, who did not think it was appropriate for the Young Labour national committee to discuss motions. It’s not the sort of concerns that young members in my region have raised with me, but we know the Labour party is a broad church with a variety of opinions within!

Other members of the committee then joined the debate, with a number from the right saying that this was the duty of the policy conference. They didn’t care to mention that as it stands, the Young Labour policy conference takes place only every two years.

Max Shanly argued that it was important to have a proper procedure for signing issues off as the official position of Young Labour, and that without such an approach committee members would not be able to act on the organisation’s behalf. Was it not rather dangerous, he asked, to depoliticise what is an avowedly-political body?

Young Labour chair Simon Darvill then snapped “why can’t people just do stuff rather than making us vote on motions all the bleeding time?” He continued, arguing that there was no need for a specific procedure, and that members simply mention issues at meetings and get them okayed by everyone in the room.

I mentioned my own concerns, as detailed above, alongside my belief that these issues were less about policy, and more about the priorities and direction of the committee.

Rida Vaquas, under-19s officer argued that it was important to have written motion so committee members could be held to account for action points and policy. From the chair, Simon Darvill retorted that it was not the place of committee members to hold each other to account, and that each committee member (and the wider committee) was accountable only to the wider membership.

The procedural motion was carried, with only the votes of me, Rida Vaquas, Max Shanly, Yorkshire and Humberside rep Michelle Collins, USDAW rep Sachin Patel and CWU rep Ben Abrams being registered against. Other left committee members, including several trade union and regional reps, were unfortunately unable to make the meeting due to other commitments.

But not to worry – maybe it’s better than ever, if we can have all the policy and swift action from the committee by just raising concerns at meetings. Not of the minutiae and malarkey of motions.

It had worked so well earlier in the same meeting when I tried to do exactly that. At the start of each meeting, each committee member is invited to give a report, and I had raised the attempts by Labour party staff to tell delegates whom to vote for in internal elections. I’d said that I felt that young, first-time delegates had been targeted due to their inexperience, and that I thought this was something Young Labour should take action on.

From the chair, Simon had thanked me for my contribution, and we’d moved on. Nice to know how things will work in the future, then!

The Young Labour national committee meeting took place on 29th October 2013. Conrad Landin, East of England rep on the committee, is happy for this article to be circulated as a personal account of events at the meeting. Please get in touch via email – landinc [at] mac.com if you would like Conrad to give a report in person at your Young Labour or CLP meeting in the East of England, or with any queries.

5 Comments

  1. John Reid says:

    We only have NEC elections every two years, and labour is keeping quiet about what’s going to be in manifesto, through fear the Tories smearing it, what’s the problem,

  2. Rod says:

    John Reid: “what’s the problem,”

    If the manifesto won’t stand up to examination and challenge then it’s not worth the paper it’s written.

    The only good reason for not having detailed policies is because circumstances may change between now and 2015.

    Of course, if there was democracy within the LP everyone would have an idea of how policies are shaping up because Labour Party members themselves would be involved.

    But there’s no danger of that happening. Instead policy detail will emerge ready-formed, like a rabbit from a hat. Too late then if Labour Party members disagree – they’ll just have to knuckle down and do the doorstepping/leafleting/money raising as usual.
    After all – a pro-corporate Labour government would be better than a pro-corporate Tory government, surely…

  3. John Reid says:

    We should have a manifesto every two years?

  4. swatantra says:

    Now that we have Fixed Term Parliaments we should have a General Election every 3 years.
    That way we wouldn’t get Parties refusing to reveal their hand and keeping their cards close to their chest until 6 months prior to an Election.
    It would also keep politicians on their toes and lead to a greater turnover of MPs.

  5. John Reid says:

    Interesting swantantra

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