Lara McNeill: Why I’m standing again to be Labour’s NEC youth rep

As a junior doctor working in the coronavirus wards, I have witnessed socialism in action. Health workers of every grade have worked to exhaustion to save other people. The workers of the National Health Service, whether in crisis or in times of greater calm, were not motivated by profit or individual gain, but for the highest human principle – the fight for life.

This historic crisis has also exposed the dark side of our system. From Boris Johnson’s dishonesty to our health system’s reliance on grubby corporate profiteers to deliver life-saving equipment, it couldn’t be clearer that things should not go on like this. Our country has the second-highest coronavirus death toll in the world. That is a result of not only our government’s appalling decisions, but the neoliberal political system that has been the norm for all my life.

Working in the NHS, I have been desperate for Labour to expose the full extent of the crisis our health system is under – a systemic failure that has left my colleagues doing their best to save lives with decaying infrastructure and out-of-date PPE. Our party has been far too willing to go along with government policy, and not willing enough to present a courageous alternative.

Many young members are disappointed and angry. I have been persuading them with all my heart to stay in the Labour Party, but we have to prove that we’re worth sticking with. Tony Benn spoke of the two flames in every person: the flame of anger against injustice, and the flame of hope in a better world. I feel both of those flames burning in me, and this is why I am once again standing to represent young members on our party’s national executive committee (NEC).

In the midst of a global crisis, nobody should be too keen on discussing internal elections. But the two things are closely linked. Soon, we’ll be entering one of the greatest recessions in history. When that crisis will be handled by a hard-right Tory government propped up by billionaires and corporate conmen, we need a party that won’t accept their plans to reshape society in their interests but will resist with all its might. All too often, it feels like Sir Keir Starmer’s leadership is doing quite the opposite.

When asked by angry members about why they should stay, I remind them of the socialist heritage in our party. The left-wingers who ignored Labour’s leadership and confronted the Blackshirts during the struggles of the Thirties. The stalwarts like Bernie Grant and Diane Abbott, who fought racism and sexism when these issues were embarrassing to the party establishment. The Tribune group and union-sponsored MPs who resisted attempts to water down our commitment to workers’ rights when we were in power, and figures like Jeremy Corbyn and Dennis Skinner who spoke out against the War on Terror and the demonisation of Britain’s Muslim community.

This is the red thread of Labour I proudly identify with. And organising with the oppressed must remain at the heart of our path to victory. When a young, multiracial movement in Bristol tears down the statue of a slave trader, Young Labour should be on their side, proudly and loudly saying that Black Lives Matter. From the oppression of the Kashmiris and the annexation of the West Bank to the murderous counter-offensive against socialists and social democrats in Latin America, Young Labour must stand with them.

When trans people face horrific levels of discrimination for simply existing, Young Labour should stand in solidarity with them, whether that bigotry comes from street harassment or government legislation. When Boris Johnson tries to force teachers and carers to work in potentially lethal conditions during a pandemic, Young Labour must be unconditionally with those workers and their unions, not invested in petty parliamentary games.

This is the Young Labour I’ve helped to build over the past two years, and one we must keep on building. As our generation faces Tory rule, a resurgent far-right, living and working at the mercy of bosses and landlords, and a looming climate breakdown, we need an organised, fighting youth movement.

I am proud of the last two years. At Labour’s 2019 party conference, Young Labour wrote and passed a comprehensive housing crisis policy. It demanded rent controls, the end of Right to Buy on day one of a Labour government, and for legal powers regarding the public ownership of land, so that Britain can finally build genuinely affordable housing on a mass scale.

I organised a National Political School, which brought together young members with council leaders, trade union militants, Windrush justice campaigners, socialist economists and veterans of the underground struggle against apartheid in South Africa. Our conference Youth Days have also seen similarly fascinating discussions between young people from all over the world, coupled with inviting socials that strengthen the bonds and friendship of the whole movement.

And after the era of New Labour contempt for our unions, I’ve used my time as an NEC member to maximise the voice and role of organised workers. I lobbied successfully for all Labour Party employees to be paid at least a living wage of £10 an hour. After years of what seemed like a hopeless struggle, I was delighted to begin the process by which Young Labour members have the open, democratic student wing they deserve. All student members can now elect their representatives for the first time.

All these things – and more – met with organised resistance. Looking at the relationships we built with the Norwegian Labour Party, the Austrian Social Democrats, and the Workers Party of Lula – who we made our honorary president in a gesture of international defiance and solidarity – we saw that Young Labour lags far behind our sister organisations elsewhere. Unlike in other countries, young democratic socialists in Britain lack the institutional resources and autonomy to run mass campaigns that speak directly to young people’s concerns and hopes.

Under the previous leadership, even the democracy review proved to be a huge disappointment, despite Young Labour’s best efforts. Given the ugly internal culture of unaccountable power and prejudice unmasked by the leaked Labour report, greater transparency and democracy is still the watchword.

Labour frustrates us all sometimes. I campaign to make it better because I love this party and desperately want a Labour government. We cannot win with young people alone, but we cannot win without my generation either. From Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership to the Black Lives Matter protests, we certainly won’t win by delegitimising visions of a better world that galvanise the youth. They are movements, not moments, and our party can’t afford to ignore them.

We can’t forget that this Tory government went hard and won big on false promises of radical change to left-behind communities. There can’t be any real return to the false comfort of business-as-usual politics. We need a Labour Party that is serious about a socialist alternative that takes us from anger to hope and victory. I desperately want Keir Starmer to be the next Prime Minister, but we have to be honest – that won’t happen unless Labour goes into the next election staying true to the radical principles on which he was elected to lead our party.

These are my truths, and if you lend me your vote to send me back to the NEC, I will fight for them with determination. I will do all I can to build a Young Labour that leads the way. I don’t take no for an answer, and I don’t stop until we win.

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