11 University Labour Clubs have written an open letter threatening to disaffiliate from Labour Students over the latter’s refusal to allow a debate at their national conference tomorrow on the use of OMOV. A motion had been submitted by three clubs (York, Salford and Hull) urging Labour Students to adopt OMOV for future elections, but these motions have been ruled out and will not be voted on tomorrow.
The letter is reproduced below:
Dear Labour Students National Committee Officers (the Committee),
We are writing to you to protest your unconstitutional and undemocratic decision to disallow the Labour Clubs of the Universities of York, Salford and Hull from submitting motions to this year’s Labour Students National Conference on the use of One Member One Vote (OMOV) and One Club One Vote in Labour Students elections. If these motions are not allowed time for debate and put to Conference for a democratic vote, we feel that, following Conference, we will have no choice but to consider disaffiliation from Labour Students.
The blocking of these motions is just the latest example of a wider and ongoing reluctance on behalf of the Committee to open up Labour Students and allow it to engage fully with the many young people in Further & Higher Education institutions which are not currently represented in the movement. Reaching these young people is vital if Labour Students is to be an effective campaigning force in winning our key seats and defeating the Tory-led Government in 2015.
The Committee’s stated reason for blocking York, Salford and Hull’s motions, communicated by National Chair Callum Munro to the clubs’ respective Chairs, was that it would be “wrong to go against what was voted for at our last democratic event”. Labour Students National Council voted for a report dismissing OMOV in December 2013.
But by preventing Conference from having its say in the matter, the Committee has denied ordinary Labour Students their right to decide on the future of their organisation.There is no justification for assigning more importance to the views of a past Council than to subsequent democratic events, particularly since Conference is by far the larger event. Indeed, Labour Students’ own constitution says in Section 5 that “The work of the organisation shall be under the discretion of National Conference and National Council”, so giving special status to the decisions of the latter would be entirely arbitrary.
Furthermore, the Committee does not actually have the power to disallow motions from being discussed. Labour Students’ Constitution states in Section 5, part H, that clubs can “submit up to three separate motions for National Council and National Conference”. Nowhere is there a provision for Committee to decide which motions can go forward and which cannot, and to do so is a flagrant violation of the constitution. This behaviour is all the more egregious because it comes at a time when Ed Miliband is reforming the wider Labour Party, pioneering a new politics and casting aside the ghosts of the past.
Some have argued that actually allowing the members of Labour Students to decide who runs Labour Students is a distraction from day-to-day campaigning. But can we inspire young people to fight alongside us for fairness when our own Committee can’t follow the rules? How can we grow our movement when most members in the Million+ Universities have never been introduced to another Labour Student? Far from being a distraction, OMOV or a similar system would allow every member a voice and a stake in Labour Students. And as Arnie Graf’s work has made clear, it is only through recognising and valuing our members on the ground who give up their time to pound the streets each week, that we can motivate a strong and sustainable campaigning team.
The report recommending against OMOV consulted 134 people, just 2% of the 6000-strong membership. It was voted through by approximately 30 people, or 0.5% of the membership. National Committee would like to use this as a justification for shutting down even discussion of the idea that there could be a better way of doing things. But it’s not just those at Conference who’ll suffer because of this decision. It’s the people who aren’t even in the room. It’s the Labour Students at the hundreds of FE and HE institutions who’d be happy to campaign in a marginal seat the other side of the country, but whose potential goes to waste because they have no stake and therefore no involvement in our movement.
Blocking York, Salford and Hull’s motions is arbitrary, it is unconstitutional, it is undemocratic, and it flies in the face of what Ed Miliband is attempting to achieve in his reforms to the Labour Party (which include OMOV), and in wider British politics. We have sought change within the structures of Labour Students but it seems clear that the Committee will not allow this to happen. For these reasons, if the Committee’s decision is not reversed, our clubs will reluctantly be forced to seriously consider disaffiliating from Labour Students after National Conference. We sincerely hope that the Committee will make the right choice, for our movement and for our party.
Caitlin O’Kelly – Chair, University of York Labour Club
Andrew Sproat – Acting Chair, University of Salford Labour Club
Frank Longdon – Chair, University of Hull Labour Club
Freya Govus – Chair, University of Leeds Labour Club
Caroline Hill – Chair, University College London Labour Club
Marc Geddes – Chair, University of Sheffield Labour Club
Daniel Turner & Henry Zeffman, Co-Chairs, University of Oxford Labour Club
Rob Anckorn – Chair, University of Warwick Labour Club
Oliver James-Flatt – Chair, University of the West of England Labour Club
Sam Marner – Chair, Sheffield Hallam University Labour Club
Lauren Gilmour – Chair, University of the West of Scotland Labour Club
Update: Labour Students have responded to this open letter – a Labour Students spokesperson said:
“Following an extensive consultation with members, a vote was held at Labour Students National Council in December which resolved that the voting system should not be changed to OMOV and that this matter would not be considered again until after the next General Election, a decision agreed by 75 per cent of delegates. Labour Students is a democratic organisation, and the Labour Students Steering Committee agreed to uphold the decision of National Council and ruled the submitted motion was not accepted.”