Labour’s ‘moderate’ student wing is set to be effectively abolished and replaced by a more left-leaning body under plans drafted by allies of Jeremy Corbyn, HuffPost UK can reveal.
Momentum founder Jon Lansman has tabled a motion for the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday, which calls for the party’s general secretary to “urgently” devise a new student organisation.
The move is seen by some MPs as the final act of revenge for the left more than forty years after Labour’s students first saw bitter battles between Trotskyists and their opponents.
Many student Labour clubs are dominated by moderates and the organisation is one of the last bastions of ‘centrist’ activists, with its conference events noted for songs in praise of Tony Blair.
But many on the left of the party argue that its internal elections fail to represent the bulk of ordinary students. Many outside the remit of its Labour clubs are more likely to be supporters of Corbyn, they argue.
Lansman’s motion seeks to challenge the formal affiliation of Labour Students on the grounds that it has allegedly not paid its affiliation fees and failed to meet other party rules.
Oxford University Labour Club is one of several to have disaffiliated from it in recent years.
“The NEC therefore asks General Secretary to urgently devise a plan to establish a Labour Students organisation which does meet its obligations,” the motion states.
One party source backing the move said: “The current Labour Students organisation is completely unfit for purpose - it is a rotten borough, a small Blairite rump to which most University and College Labour Clubs do not affiliate - many have disaffiliated recently.
“Its recent internal election had only 507 participants voting when there are 30,000 people who pay the Labour Party student membership rate. Of the 14 people elected, 6 had 21 votes or fewer.”
But Labour MP Wes Streeting, himself a former National Union of Students president, said: “We’re potentially weeks away from a general election and we’ve surely got bigger things to worry about than Jon Lansman’s factional gripes with Labour Students.
“Labour Students have been instrumental to so many election campaigns and are already doing valuable work on student voter registration. I hope the NEC get their priorities right so we can pull together and crack on with making sure we’re ready for a general election whenever it comes.”
In a statement, Labour Students said the claims were false, and stressed that it had paid its affiliation fees.
“This motion is being brought forward as we approach a general election, with no alternative proposals for how the Labour party organises and engages with students”.
Labour Students is a ‘socialist society’, an independent organisation that is affiliated to the party and entitled to vote in leadership elections. It organises elections within the National Union of Students.
Ever since the 1970s, following the battles with radical group Militant, it and its predecessor National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) provided the political debuts for a string of future MPs and peers.
Tom Watson, Peter Mandelson, Charles Clarke, Mike Gapes, Sally Morgan, John Mann, Ellie Reeves, John Woodcock and others all cut their teeth in the organisation.
In one infamous incident in 1976, moderate students travelled on a coach dubbed ‘the Icepick Express’ - named after the ice pick that killed Leon Trotsky - to a conference and seized control of the organisation from Militant students.
Earlier this year, former Labour Students national secretary Luke Akehurst said: “Momentum wants to destroy moderate control of Labour Students to cut off the training, political education and development of future moderate MPs and councillors.”
However critics have repeatedly called for its representatives to be elected by one member, one vote, based on a list of party members supplied by the party centrally.
Labour Students has no rep on the ruling NEC, unlike the party’s separate youth wing Young Labour, but its influence is still seen as significant given its profile and influence in the National Union of Students.
In recent months, soft left group Open Labour joined with other left organisations to argue for change.
One source told HuffPost: “We need a proper, functioning organisation of all our Labour Students to be campaigning for the party on campuses urgently - and our rules require the NEC to ensure that such an organisation does exist. That is why the issue is being raised.”
But in its statement Labour Students hit back:
Here’s the Lansman motion in full:
The NEC notes that the organisation which currently describes itself as “Labour Students” claims to be an organisation affiliated to the Labour Party and appears to claim both the rights and the autonomy associated with that status in spite of the following:
1) The NEC appears never to have made its final and binding decision to approve that affiliation in respect of “Labour Students” as presently constituted as required under the rule Chapter 1.II.3.
2) “Labour Students” appears not to have submitted its political rules to the NEC as required under Rule 1.II.4.
3) “Labour Students” appears not to have paid affiliation fees required under Rule 1.II.6.b.i in recent years.
4)The organisation calling itself “Labour Students” therefore is neither an affiliate, nor meets the requirements of Rule 1.II.2.G which requires that (all) student members of the Labour Party (whether or not they are members of Labour Clubs, affiliated to “Labour Students” or not) are organised nationally as “Labour Students”.
The NEC therefore asks General Secretary to urgently devise a plan to establish a Labour Students organisation which does meet its obligations under rule 1.II.2.G.