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A feminist in support of OMOV for Labour Students elections

Young Labour Labour Students Next GenerationThis weekend, I was a first-time delegate to the national council of Labour Students, an organisation I have been a member of for two years. One of the main debates of the weekend was moving to a system of “one member one vote” (OMOV) for Labour Students elections. It is my intention to report the facts as far as possible, whilst not neglecting my firmly-held beliefs that moving to OMOV would be highly beneficial to the organisation.

My first concern surrounding the issue of OMOV in Labour Students arose through the survey that was released in advance of the national council meeting. While this survey was open to all members and completely anonymous (+ brownie points), I couldn’t help but be somewhat dismayed that the survey was only open for five days, giving people a very short time in which to respond, and thus limiting the total number of responses that could be gathered.

To say that some of the questions were loaded would be something of an understatement. As a student who has been interested in research, from both a politics and psychology background, I tend to get quite offended when survey questions are not impartial. Here are two of the worst offenders:

“3. Currently, there are caps on the number of delegates the biggest Labour Clubs can send to conference. Do you believe OMOV would increase the power of these clubs to the detriment of small clubs? Why?

And:

“5. Voting delegations at our events are currently gender balanced, however our wider membership is over 70% men. Do you believe that such a change in the electorate would have an adverse effect on our equalities agenda? Why?

A full list of the questions, along with the answers I submitted, can be found here. Even in my non-expert opinion, these questions are quite clearly designed to elicit a response rejecting OMOV.

At the event itself we were informed that 134 responses were received. From a total of around 6000 Labour Students members, therefore sampling just 2.23 per cent of the target population. Hardly a representative or reliable survey!

In the final report handed to attendees on arrival, 133 responses were considered as one response was ambiguous about support for OMOV. Qualitative responses were categorised as strongly for; for; against; and strongly against. These were then subdivided by gender, and summarised as 32 per cent in favour of OMOV, and 67 per cent against. Attendees were informed that most responses were concerned about low representation of women, which quite clearly signifies a bigger problem in the way Labour Students engages with women.

One of the two key arguments that came out of the OMOV debate was that introducing OMOV would undermine female members. As a feminist, I do not for one second disagree that it is essential to ensure women are equally as represented as men, as with all other minority groups but the suggestion being put forward by some members that Labour Students required a gender balanced electorate I found quite frankly baffling.

In an ideal world, everything would be exactly equal between everyone… but in reality, the electorate who elects our governments is not, and never will be, gender balanced. Furthermore, one of the fundamental ideas behind the concept of democracy is that it represents each individual (assuming a universal franchise of course) in proportion to how they are represented in the general population. Certainly, it is a shame that Labour Students figures show a 70/30 split in male/female membership, but should this mean that a section of the population counts for 50 per cent of the votes despite making up only 30 per cent of the population?

Personally, I disagree, and do not buy into the idea that feminism and democracy are incompatible. Ensuring Labour Students attracts more female members can only be achieved by proactively reaching out to those women and encouraging and supporting them as members.

The second main argument against introducing OMOV to Labour Students was cost. Attendees were told that OMOV would cost £12,496 a year and this figure includes elections to Scottish and Welsh Labour Students as well as liberation officers. We were also told that Labour Students only spends around £35,000 a year, and it was made very clear that the executive were not in favour of OMOV, with delegates being asked to ‘accept the recommendation of the executive’.

However, one delegate from Oxford Labour Students pointed out that OMOV could be achieved for a much lower cost than the one being quoted, based on his own experiences of conducting elections with his student association. This point was refuted by the fact that the costed figure came from the Labour Party’s recommended provider of online elections and Executive admitted they hadn’t looked to other providers for a cheaper option. This left myself and a number of other delegates with the feeling that the Labour Students office-bearers had no enthusiasm for OMOV and were determined to make it as difficult as possible for it to be voted through.

A vote was then held, with delegates from each club present (each club was entitled to send two delegates) allowed to vote. A majority voted to reject OMOV. I couldn’t help but thinking it was somewhat ironic that less than 50 people were deciding whether to allow all members of Labour Students to elect office bearers. But both myself and many others across the Labour Students spectrum will certainly not be giving up. We look forward to holding Labour Students to account on their new pledge: to revisit introducing OMOV after the general election in 2015.

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