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Democracy with a price tag is a dangerous precedent

Young Labour Labour Students Next GenerationAs a youth worker for over 17 years some of my best political conversations have been with young people. However, sadly many of those young people do not engage with the democratic systems and political parties in our country.

So I was extremely proud to hear not one, but three [one as a delegate from their Labour students group] young Labour members from Tottenham had been elected as delegates to the National Young Labour Conference taking place this month. It gave me comfort that young Labour members in my area were so engaged that they not only joined the party but also got involved.

Tottenham is one of the most deprived areas of the UK, although this may not reflect the socio-economic status of the elected delegates who live in Tottenham, we can make some assumptions that during times of austerity we know young adults are one of the groups hardest hit, therefore financial barriers would probably exist for many young members, even if not from Tottenham, but being from Tottenham is likely to increase the risk of financial exclusion.

I do not wish to argue for young Labour members, recent articles by Conrad Landin and Jasmin Beckett show they are more than capable of doing that for themselves. However as a CLP Secretary I wanted to write this piece to let young members know that they belong to the wider party and a party issue that affects them, effects us all. Their age should not mean that they have to deal with this in isolation away from broader party membership structures.

In Tottenham, EC Officers were stunned to find out that the two young Labour members from Tottenham elected as delegates were expected to fund the entry and associated costs of this conference themselves – it is a financial penalty for daring to be more involved!

What if they couldn’t afford it? In fact so what if they could! They are delegates, which means they have been elected to represent and thus have voting rights and those rights should not have any pre-requisite associated to financial access attached to it.

So I approached them. I did so, because they should not feel they had to approach us. Paying for their democratic right to vote at a Labour conference as elected delegates is something we should have ensured was on offer at the outset. The ability to vote at conference as an elected delegate is the back bone of our party’s democracy.

Financing delegates to this conference was not something we budgeted for and we have financial pressures for our GLA and London Mayor campaign so it isn’t actually something we can afford. But EC Officers took an emergency decision by the following day to fund the full costs of the two young members from our CLP helped by a special personal donation from David Lammy MP.

This is not charity nor is it a bursary for those who cannot afford. It is ensuring we have universal access to party democracy for all of our members regardless financial status.

We are unaware of how many of our young members wanted to stand but were put off by the cost. We knew we could not turn back time, but the two elected are members of our CLP and now we were aware, we wanted to ensure we intervened to bring back some level of equality to the situation. We also wanted to send a clear message to our young members, that as a local party we valued them and viewed their dedicated democratic structures just as importantly and as equally as we do every other.

I hope young Labour members continue to put pressure on the Labour party to find a way to remove any financial barriers for young delegates to participate at a Young Labour conference in the future. There are many ways this could be achieved such as charging all CLPs an annual £50 levy or making sure a percentage of membership fees of young members goes to a central pot to cover such pivotal Young Labour activity.

However until this matter finds a national party solution, this week our CLP Executive Committee in Tottenham agreed my proposal to ensure all future annual CLP budgets include the cost of any young members from our CLP who are elected delegates to Young Labour conferences. And to ensure young members in our CLP are aware so they know that they should never be prevented from standing for such positions because they fear they will be unable to afford it.

Democracy with a price tag is totally against Labour values and sets a very dangerous message to young Labour members. Labour cannot afford to let this happen again and need to seek a solution soon or we’ll see a legacy in our next generation of public office representatives that will reek of elitism.

Seema Chandwani is Secretary of Tottenham CLP 


  1. Mervyn Hyde (@mjh0421) says:

    I think this article gets to heart of the democratic deficit, money inhibits people from taking part in all sorts activities, such as protests up and down the country, unless you live in the big cities where a demonstration takes place you will need to find money for transport etc.

    When we are offered places within the party to attend regional conferences there is always a hefty price to pay, not only does that prohibit young people but it makes others think twice before attending. Totally negating the principle of the conference in the first place.

    1. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

      I shall respond with a real life example of this works.

      It may not at first seem entirely relevant, but after a few moment’s reflection I’m sure you’ll realize that it is.

      Every year our small local housing association, (in conjunction with the associations mostly much larger, who own properties in the area,) sponsor a range of modest by much appreciated and even coveted gardening awards for their tenants gardens and allotments, which are keenly contested and which many people, often elderly and not necessarily that well off participate in out well; “love,” and, “enthusiasm,” would best describe it.

      A couple of years ago at one such event, a prize giving, a special award was given to nanny of one of their chief executives 12 year old daughter; simply as far as anyone there could work out, so that she could give a prize to her own daughter completely regardless of the fact that all work had been done by a paid member of her staff and that it went completely against the spirit of the entire event.

      I suspect that most of that young woman life will be like that, (barring accident,) and that like so many of her older peers she will continue to receive that kind of kudos and advancement without merit, (for I know,) regardless of any actual talent or accomplishment simply as part of a middle class professional management culture, (a set of shared values and beliefs, the most important of which is we look after our own first and to hell with the rest of you,) that is currently putting as much clear water between itself and the rest of society.

  2. David Ellis says:

    Bourgeois democracy is entirely formal. One person, one vote sure but when 62 individuals own more wealth than 3.5 billion it is meaningless like being equal before the law.

  3. John P Reid says:

    Tottenham is a funny Constituency,when the new labour candidate stood in 1987 he has a 10% swing gainst him, but labour nationally had a 1.6% swing towards us,people were saying how bad poverty was,but seeing as that candidate was responsible for losing labour votes, maybe Tottenham lo ,should look closer to home, who was responsible for the Tories winning,he as such, if they dint like the poverty, they should have got rid of a MP,who coat labour votes,

  4. J.P. Craig-Weston says:

    I found the entire article utterly depressing because many of these, “young people,” will not in fact be acting out of any political conviction or conscience; but will, post Blair, now see politics an easy and useful route into a lucrative position and influence, (the veterans of the NUS who progressed, (no pun intended,) straight from university into politics and who have never held real job are hardly an attractive bunch and have not distinguished themselves are barely even living on the same planet, (as say the 60% of the people of Oldham who didn’t even vote at all,) as the rest of us and yet remain completely oblivious to that fact.

    Typically Tom Watson and for example or the equally unpleasant Jim McMahon in Oldham, exemplify this perfectly, the former spent 2 years as an office boy in an advertising firm, (shades of David Cameron,) and the latter after doing a few weeks a checkout operator in Costco, (I think,) moved into local government as a careerist, (“nice work if you can get,” as they say,) not a calling and has since pretty much abolished the role of the councilors or other elected representatives in the borough, which is now being run by overpaid and increasingly uncountable people more or less just like him

    “As, “a youth worker,” for over 17 years some of my best political conversations have been with, “young people.”

    How patronizing and condescending is that ?

    Counselors and MP from my generation were men and often women of real personal accomplishment, principle and conviction, these days those roles have more or less been relegated to, “jobs for the boys and girls,” and even sinecures for the children of their too well heeled and to well parents, (take all these bloody spads for example.)

    Get these kids out into the real world, do some real work and deal with some real people and real issue, real poverty and DW&P as a reality not as a spread sheet or a focus group and then let them have a go at politics.

  5. Bazza says:

    CLPs should help fund delegates.
    They are representing them.

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