The Young Fabians are taking over LabourList today and tomorrow to mark the launch of our fiftieth year!
LabourList is partnering with us at our New Year Conference event this Saturday to kick off our celebrations, where Lord Mandelson will deliver a keynote speech on youth activism and the importance of youth movements in progressive politics.
Many LabourList readers may not know that the Young Fabians were formed in the Cole Room, the subterranean meeting room at 11 Dartmouth Street, the Fabian Society’s London office. The then assistant general secretary of the Fabian Society Dick Leonard presided over the meeting, and a vote was taken to establish a group within the Society called the Young Fabians. That was in May 1960, fifty years ago this year.
Since then the Young Fabians have seen many future political heavyweights pass through its ranks: Giles Radice, Conrad Russell, Peter Mandelson, Jack Straw, Gordon Marsden, Stephen Twigg, Ann Taylor, John Mann, Phil Woolas, Oona King, Lorna Fitzsimons, Paul Richards, Tom Watson, and Liam Byrne have all been Young Fabian Executive members. Newer and equally promising names such as Kevin Bonavia, Jessica Asato, Conor McGinn, Kate Groucutt and Mark Rusling have all served as Chairs of the Young Fabians in recent years as well.
As a youth organisation the Young Fabians have always held a special place in the centre-left family and within the Labour movement. Affiliated to the Labour Party but representing a group of young activists, campaigners and thinkers who are comfortable in the debating room as well as on the doorstep, the membership of the Young Fabians has often represented the most engaged young politicos who come together to share ideas and challenge conventional thought within the Labour Party on issues such as equality, fairness, and tackling poverty.
When the Party faced a debate about the future of our constitution and Clause IV, the Young Fabians were at the centre of that debate, arguing for progressive change and bringing the voice of young people to an important debate about Labour’s future direction. We have also been involved in leadership debates: backing the candidature of Tony Blair in 1994 and hosting the only leadership hustings between Gordon Brown, Michael Meacher, and John McDonnell during the transition in 2007.
Our recent work, including our campaign trip to Ohio to support Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign, shows how we are changing to meet the needs of our members who now look to engage in campaigns with global significance.
But the biggest challenge for any youth movement is to grow and develop with our members. As people move on in life their ideas are affected by experiences and events, so the Young Fabians is open to anyone under 31. Crucially, we provide a space for people who have struggled to find work when leaving full-time education; who are saving to buy their first home; who have had children or cared for a relative. We’ve seen the effect of a changing political terrain on the Labour movement and the place of the Fabian Society within it.
So as young people and activists, the question “what is your cause to fight for?” is a huge question about the priorities for our society and is informed by experiences that have shaped our politics and aspirations for our friends and families.
For me the cause to fight for is an open, free, vibrant and dynamic space for radical thinking and action to end inequality, poverty and disadvantage in our country – not in another fifty years, but within our generation and through our collective action and agitation for change.
The Fabian conference, Causes to Fight For, will be held tomorrow in London. To attend, please click here.