Young Labour – the single most undemocratic PSE youth organisation in Western Europe

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Labour Party structureBy Hazel Nolan

I’m one of the 50,000 new members to have joined the Labour Party since May. I was previously the International Officer for the youth wing of a sister party – my motivation for joining UK Labour since moving here is a strongly felt belief that Labour has the most progressive vision for a better society. One in which I could share. I believe the party has a dedication and commitment to improving the lives of all people living throughout the UK. That is something I wanted to be part of, and there are thousands like me.

Since I joined (about two months ago) I have already travelled hundreds of miles, side by side with countless others, to campaign and canvass doorsteps for Labour. Every week for the last few months hours have been spent either phone canvassing or campaigning; locally, regionally, and nationally.

I also attended the Youth Conference last weekend in Glasgow, travelling up from London to be there. During the two days I listened to senior Labour figures talk about how important young people are, how the Tory-led government is failing us and how we are the future.

This is all true. But we are not just the future, and it is not just our futures that these Tory-cuts are affecting. It is affecting us right now and right here. Likewise, we are not just the future of this party. We are also the present of this party.

I have no doubt about Labour’s commitment to improving the current and future lives of citizens in the UK. However, I believe there needs to be a greater reciprocal commitment to Labour members. I want to talk specifically about young members.

Steph Peacock hit the nail on the head when she wrote about the need for Labour to captivate the passion and anger of my generation, and convert it into activism. We need to empower young people. However, it seems to me that in order to achieve this we first must empower young members.

In order to do this, it also seems obvious when comparing our youth section to that of our sister parties that, Young Labour needs to be empowered.

In Steph’s article, she points out how the reform which has been carried out so far within Young Labour has made a huge impact on the effectiveness of the organisation, and on how this has enabled Young Labour to play a greater role in supporting the Labour Party. That is good. However, Young Labour unfortunately remains the single most undemocratic PSE youth organisations in the entire of Western Europe. I know – I’ve worked with all of them.

Members now elect their officers to the national Young Labour committee, yet they then have no power to hold those members to account, and the members have little power to do anything to be held accountable for.

The committee is unable to set the agenda for youth conference or have any decision in how and when it is run. Incredibly, Young Labour is not even permitted access to contact its own members in a way which allows them to reply, or a way which allows officers to organise them. How can we as a movement mobilise members in order to campaign with the Labour Party when we can’t even have a two-way conversation with them?

This is farcical but luckily completely avoidable.

Following on from the initiative of a 1p joining rate for young members, it is a great move to install a full time staff position for Young Labour. This though, is the bare minimum. It still does not elevate Young Labour above the position it is currently in, lagging far behind all other sister parties in PES when it comes to empowering members of our youth section, or getting them used to the way most political and civil society organisations work.

Where the UK party should be leading, we are falling far behind, on democracy, accountability and transparency.

Basic measures such as Young Labour having its own amendable constitution – or electing our own youth NPF reps, which for some reason (as much as we like them) older members can vote on for us – things as simple as a bank account, which would give the tools to fundraise, and policy making ability are essential to bring us in line with both our own members, but also other social democratic youth movements.

Decent outcomes tend to involve sensible structures. Imagine how much more effective Young Labour could be in supporting the Labour Party in this crucial fightback if it were better equipped to do so. Imagine if we took Young Labour from being the most undemocratic and difficult to organise PES youth organisations in Western Europe, and made it one of the most empowering. The reward for the Labour Party would be vast – having a vibrant and enthusiastic and driven youth section in partnership with the rest of the party. I don’t need to explain what that means to candidates who need a mobilised, trained and organised base of volunteers.

External conditions are leading to thousands of young people joining the Labour Party. But let’s reflect on what effect the internal conditions will have on these new members. There is a vital opportunity now for Labour to captivate the energy and passion out there among people my age. It is not enough to just have new members join the party. We need to channel the energy of our new members, not stagnate them behind a wall of tokenism – which the current youth structures represent.

What we need are feet on doorsteps and voices carrying and fighting for Labour’s message; not merely names on papers in head office. We need to show them that we actually value the commitment of young people, by showing commitment to them.

This needs to be done well in advance of the next general election, in order to ensure Young Labour has time to grow and build so that it can most effectively aid the Labour Party in the campaign to improve Britain. To do this we need to improve how our youth movement works. We need Young Labour to change and to channel this new energy so that Labours campaign can be more productive, and we need reform for Young Labour in order to do this.

The front page of the Labour Party website has a section displaying comments from new members on their motivations for joining. Words such as “pro-active”, “support”, “fight-back”, “values”, “defend”, “campaign”, “fairness” and “social-justice” flash up every few seconds.

There is a Labour Party message standing bold beside these comments. It reads “A new generation for change”.

This is something I, along with thousands of others, am firmly committed to.

‘A new generation for change’ is a great idea. Let’s start that with change for a new generation.

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