Note: this is, to my best knowledge, an accurate account of the conference. It is nonetheless a political account, based on my own political views. I’d be interested to hear the views of other attendees!
London Young Labour (LYL) Conference this weekend marked a serious step forward for socialist politics in Young Labour. The conference atmosphere was cheerful and good-spirited, despite plenty of disagreement, and the outgoing committee deserve credit for that. Strong left-wing policy came out of the motions debates and, although we do not yet know the ‘Block’ result, the new committee looks to be very promising. We also hosted a successful fringe meeting about the Labour Campaign for Free Education.
Sadly, the conference was marred by poor organisation of the motions process and an outrageous attempt to stifle London Young Labour democracy.
Here are my thoughts on the conference: two good things and two areas for improvement.
Leftwing motions received conference support
The first to pass commits LYL to expressing solidarity with those in Mexico protesting the disappearance of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Teaching School. The second, which I seconded, adopts a pro-free education position for the organisation. The third calls for open borders and for the Labour leadership to stop flirting with anti-migrant politics. The one to be defeated would have changed the LYL committee to reserve 6 places for BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) people.
The three motions which passed all did so overwhelmingly. The motion which failed was almost evenly divided, with a small majority voting against (it would have required a 2/3 majority to pass anyway though).
The exact wording of the motions can be found here.
Labour Campaign for Free Education fringe went well
We hosted a successful fringe meeting about the Labour Campaign for Free Education on the Saturday evening. The meeting discussed the history of the campaign for free education and resolved to organise a conference for supportive Labour-members. Watch this space!
The motions process was not good enough
Nothing like enough time or energy was put into the motions.
- The process was not well-advertised, resulting in only four motions being submitted, compared to 10 in 2013.
- The motions were not published until the day of the conference, a week after the amendment deadline had passed, meaning that no amendments were submitted.
- No copies of the LYL standing orders were available – you would only have access to them if you had saved a copy from 2013.
Worst of all, two of the four motions – those which I had been involved in drafting, on free education and immigration – were ruled out of order and removed from the agenda. We were never informed of this and only found out through persistently asking why they had not been printed.
It turned out that Labour Party staff had refused to allow the motions to be discussed on the grounds that they do not relate to London and that they mandate people who we cannot mandate (i.e. anyone outside of the London Young Labour committee).
These claims were ridiculous:
- The two issues clearly do relate to Londoners, and certainly moreso than the motion on Mexico.
- The motions only mandate the LYL committee: ‘calling on’ the Labour Party to change position on immigration, or asking Parliamentary Candidates for their views, is not the same as a mandate.
- The LYL Constitution and Standing Orders (which can be found here) make no reference to these being requirements (it did say so in some ‘guidance’ issued, but that’s not the same)
- Nowhere in the Constitution are unelected officials given to right to decide which motions will be voted on.
Thankfully, we were able to over-rule this decision in the motions session. We printed and distributed the motions, and used a procedural motion to challenge the agenda. This challenge received almost universal support with no votes against and only one abstention.
Had we been unable to do this printing, or not had the confidence or knowledge of the rules to feel able to challenge the decision, these motions would not have been discussed. This is a serious problem for anyone who wants London Young Labour to be inclusive and accessible to new members. Getting democracy right is a big task that takes up a lot of time and energy, but it’s vital that it’s prioritised.
The agenda did not include enough time for political discussion amongst young people
In my view, too much of the agenda was devoted to keynote –style speeches from the stage. Almost 4 hours of the agenda was dedicated to this in addition to the ‘ambassador talks’ which ran parallel to the liberation caucuses. In contrast only 90 minutes were devoted to discussing motions. Young Labour should be capable of putting pressure on the Labour leadership. This requires greater opportunity for young people to discuss their political ideas, educate themselves, and democratically shape the direction of the organisation.
The keynote speakers were often fairly interesting, Mary Turner from GMB in particular had a lot to say, but the balance needs to be more in favour of political discussion amongst the conference attendees.
Conclusion – need for more democracy
The best bits of the conference by far were the democratic sections. These parts were stimulating and thought-provoking on a much greater scale than even the best speakers. More importantly however, they are vital ingredients for building a political and relevant youth organisation.