Keep Young Labour modern and forward-looking, not full of conflict and turmoil, demands Tori Rigby
When I joined the Labour party in 2011, I became involved in a youth movement that celebrated its member’s political differences, encouraged friendly debate, and campaigned tirelessly to get Young Labour candidates elected to local councils. Like many other Labour members, I spent most of my teenage years canvassing with Young Labour, at social events or meetings. Young Labour is not an undemocratic organisation – but that is what those on Labour’s left have implied in a problematic proposed rule change motion.
The Labour youth movement, then referred to as the Labour Party Young Socialists, was granted a considerable increase in its role and organisational powers after a recommendation by the Simpson committee in 1968. This decision was further widened by the National Executive Committee in allowing the LPYS to publish and edit its own newspaper. Unfortunately, these attempts to increase young people’s involvement in the party were hijacked by Militant Tendency in the 1970s and 1980s. Militant and its fellow travellers were able to successfully takeover the LPYS, taking advantage of the increase in powers to influence Labour’s youth against the party’s democratic structures and leadership. In attempting to create an autonomous youth movement, the then ‘powers that be’ inadvertently enabled a place where the revolutionary-left could hold sway, set the agenda and cause a whole generation of young Labour members to lose their voice. History seems intent on repeating itself.
The motion before this year’s Labour party conference calls for an autonomous and separate Young Labour constitution. The authors claim it would create an organisation ‘that can be really attractive to young people’. However, with the party swelled to over half a million members as of June 2017 – many of these young people inspired to vote for Jeremy Corbyn at the last general election – the Labour party already is ‘really attractive’ to young people. The motion also claims that Young Labour is controlled by Labour party staff without providing supporting evidence. It further states that all Young Labour’s important decisions are made by ‘distant bodies’. A new constitution would not change there being a national committee, nor the vast majority of its positions being held by Momentum-backed office-holders. More events not new rules are needed. If the youth movement needs more resources, an increased budget could be gifted by the Corbyn-dominated NEC or Momentum-friendly trade unions. The real intention of this motion is clear: to create mistrust between the party’s leadership, democratic structures and its young members. The motivations behind this motion should be called into question, in the face of the baseless issues this proposed rule change claims to fix.
This motion seems to be an attempt to create a power vacuum at the heart of Young Labour, ripe and ready for a takeover. Momentum claims to be a ‘new kind of politics’, although one look at the history books and the similarity with old Militant modus operandi is remarkable. Out of the close gaze of the wider party, small cliques would try to widen the youth age range – in reality, forcing out younger members in need of a voice; use rules and arcane structures to exclude those not in hard-left factions; and, even, as has been done by autonomous young structures across Europe, threaten to back parties other than Labour if a more centre-ground leadership were to be voted back in charge of the party-at-large.
This motion would drag a modern, forward-looking Young Labour back into the conflict and turmoil the LPYS witnessed. Our generation of young members must not have their voices drowned out by hard-left radicals again. This motion should be voted down.
Tori Rigby is a former member of Young Labour national committee
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