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Young Labour and Gaza: first as farce, then as farce

GazaThe religion of socialism is for me not so much the language of priorities, as  the language of common sense, of right and wrong. So sitting on the Young Labour national committee has been a frustrating experience. At the August meeting, senior members of the committee – including chair Simon Darvill and national executive committee (NEC) rep Bex Bailey – voted a motion on the crisis in Gaza off the agenda. If you’ve read any of my previous reports back from meetings (see footnote for links), you might be forgiven for thinking this sort of behaviour is a Young Labour tradition.

The motion had been proposed by south-east rep Max Shanly to be submitted by Young Labour as its contemporary motion to Labour conference. This is not a secret process – every year, like constituency branches, Young Labour can submit either one topical motion or one rule change. At this time last year, the committee voted to submit a motion on zero-hour contracts. Despite the timetable being plainly evident, committee members moaned that they had not had the chance to consider alternatives, and therefore that the motion should not be heard.

Why? The initial excuse from chair Simon Darvill was that only a few Young Labour members were aware that the organisation could submit a contemporary motion, and that the process should be “opened up”. Although it’s committee members’ responsibility to know about major events in the party’s calendar, perhaps this wasn’t such a bad idea.

Then trade union rep Hazel Nolan asked how this would take place. She presumed, she said, that members would be able to submit motions for the committee’s consideration. But Darvill then clarified that he had never intended the process be opened up to the wider membership, just the committee members who were absent from the meeting or had not been aware of the upcoming deadline. “That’s never been a thing,” he told the meeting. When several of us proposed it should be a thing, we were fiercely shot down by right-wingers.

The mask had slipped – and it became apparent that there was no real will to extend democracy within Young Labour at all from the members who objected to Shanly’s motion. Were they simply concerned that they had not thought of an alternative motion in time, and that it would look wrong for them to vote against the motion and give up Young Labour’s right to take part in the process? Or were they simply afraid of discussing the crisis in Gaza, and having to air a viewpoint they believed Young Labour members would find objectionable? I couldn’t possibly comment.

Young Labour international officer Jack Storry was not present for the discussion. (He had telephoned in at the start of the meeting – members can take part in person or by conference call – but had rung off by the time the Gaza motion was discussed.)

It seemed the meeting was being asked to vote to excuse the laziness of committee members who had not thought in time of a way to thwart the left. At one point, a member of the committee said that there were other “contemporary” issues that Young Labour should consider submitting a motion on, such as “A-levels and GCSEs”. I’ve campaigned and written on education issues for longer than I’ve been in the Labour party, but I know a shutting down mechanism when I see one.

After it became apparent that extending the time frame merely to convenience right-wing committee members would not look good in reports back from the meeting (such as this one), a supposed compromise was offered. This was proposed by a paid member of party staff – not a member of the committee, they were present only to take minutes and advise on technicalities. The proposal was that an email should be sent out advising members they could lobby their representatives on the choice of motion. The staff member said it would be too much work to sift through “hundreds” of motions if the process was opened up to all members. Nolan suggested this was unlikely, pointing out that it had not happened when members were allowed to submit motions to the policy conference.

Hazel Nolan and I proposed that we should vote on whether to exclude ordinary members of Young Labour from submitting proposals for a contemporary motion.

This was accepted by Darvill, and after more protestations, we moved to vote on the options before us. Darvill proposed that we vote on the options of discussing the Gaza motion and the option for the committee to decide on a motion at a later date with lobbying from the membership if it so pleased.

Co-op party rep Liam Preston then suggested that we should also vote on the option of not allowing the members to be involved in the protest at all, but subsequently withdrew this suggestion, saying he had misunderstood the other options on the table.

I protested that the chair had not included the option that Hazel and I had said should be voted on – that members be allowed to submit motions. I also asked for clarification of how we would vote, as Darvill had said “three options, one vote”, whereas we had asked for separate votes. At this point Darvill snapped back at me, saying it had been clear all along that we would have separate votes.

Right-wing committee members voted down both discussion of Shanly’s motion and allowing ordinary Young Labour members to submit motions. They voted in favour of the supposed compromise option proposed by the party staffer. (The details of how all present committee members voted are below.) Max Shanly said the meeting had been a “farce”, and walked out of the meeting in protest before the concluding pleasantries.

Despite the promise of an email to members informing them of the process so they could accordingly lobby committee members, I received no such email: other Young Labour members tell me they did not receive one either.

In the event, we voted by email on two motions: Shanly’s Gaza submission and a motion on unqualified teachers that to my knowledge contained nothing that was not already party policy. Simon Darvill said in the meeting that “all our votes are recorded” but so far committee members have only received numbers: nine for Gaza and 12 for unqualified teachers.

Though I was planning to attend conference, in the event I could not after falling ill (which is also why my report back is later than usual). Scrounging off the NHS in my bed at Guy’s Hospital, it seemed easier to follow conference proceedings than it was the previous three years when I was there in person. Gaza beat unqualified teachers by a large margin in the priorities ballot, and came very close to being debated when a vote on “reference back” was narrowly lost. Every constituency is allowed to send a youth delegate, and if Gaza had been Young Labour’s submission it’s possible reference back might have been won if Young Labour’s delegates had asked delegates to support reference back from the rostrum. In the event, Young Labour was silenced.

The excellent Young Labour under-19s officer Rida Vaquas, who was not present at the meeting for personal reasons but supported Shanly’s motion and voted for it in the email vote, asked on these pages last month: “What’s the point in a political committee without any politics?” The fact there are some members who have stopped turning up altogether speaks volumes.

This week, the Young Labour committee will discuss – or not if members vote against hearing it – a motion to support the upcoming demonstration for free education. What excuses will they come up with this time?

Conrad Landin represents the east of England on the Young Labour national committee. A journalist by trade, he is a former associate editor of Left Futures. Some of his previous reports from Young Labour committee meetings are available here: June 2013; October 2013; December 2013; January 2014; February 2014 (Young Labour conference) and here; June 2014.

Votes at the August meeting (a number of committee members were absent):

Votes for discussing the motion on Gaza: Max Shanly, Hazel Nolan, Caroline Hill and Conrad Landin. Against: Simon Darvill, Bex Bailey, Jack Falkingham, Grace Skelton, Finn McGoldrick, Brad Marshall, Simon Evans, Liam Preston and Jeevan Jones.

Votes for the supposed compromise (extending the deadline, voting by email and disallowing ordinary members from submitting motions): Simon Darvill, Bex Bailey, Jack Falkingham, Grace Skelton, Finn McGoldrick, Brad Marshall, Simon Evans, Liam Preston and Jeevan Jones. Against: Max Shanly and Conrad Landin. Abstentions: Caroline Hill and Hazel Nolan.

Votes for allowing ordinary members to submit motions (as proposed by Hazel Nolan and Conrad Landin): Max Shanly, Hazel Nolan, Caroline Hill and Conrad Landin. Against: Simon Darvill, Bex Bailey, Jack Falkingham, Grace Skelton, Finn McGoldrick, Brad Marshall, Simon Evans, Liam Preston and Jeevan Jones.

One Comment

  1. Robert says:

    As you say Progress is now the power group within the party and it has filtered down to the Youth as well.

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