Left wing social media has taken a brief break from Brexit to spend most of today arguing about Labour Students. Unlike many of those commenting, I am a current Labour Student and I support the decision of the party National Executive Committee (NEC), which simply says that if Labour Students wants to be an affiliate to the Labour Party, it needs to actually meet the criteria to be one.
Tuesday’s decision was not spontaneous. Instead, it was the result of a continuous effort over a number of years to bring democracy and accountability to the student wing of the Labour Party – a student wing which has existed with a murky status for decades, at once being an affiliate to the Party but it’s elected officers being employed by the Party. Now more than ever, with an influx of passionate new members ready to take our party’s message to campuses across the country, we need a strong, vibrant and participative youth movement.
Unfortunately, for as long as I have been a member, we have been faced with an out-of-touch clique running a bureaucratic organisation that shuts members out rather than welcoming them in.
In February, we attempted to bring democracy and accountability to Labour Students. We proposed a voting system that would’ve enfranchised around 28,000 student members of the Labour Party. It would’ve transformed Labour Students in to a mass-membership organisation worthy of being the student wing of the Labour Party.
The motion was voted down by 30 people in a room. The result was that rather than tens of thousands participating in Labour Students’ elections, only 500 were able to vote. This after motions being carried mandating Labour Students to run fair and open elections being ignored. Over the last six months, around half of all University Labour Clubs have disaffiliated from Labour Students - that’s damning and shows that the current organisation has no mandate to claim to be the voice of student members of the Labour Party.
In short, we’ve tried to reform it, but the existing structure is beyond reform and resistant to change. The organisation has not paid its affiliation fee or submitted its political rules to the party, so of course the National Executive Committee had to intervene.
We need a student organisation that’s fit for purpose. Students face a wide array of problems that only the labour movement can solve. We have rising tuition fees, an unaffordable housing market and the rise of precarious work, with many students resorting to gig economy jobs to make ends meet. A functioning student wing of the Labour Party can, in cooperation with the trade union movement, fight to tackle the above mentioned problems.
Student members of the Labour Party deserve to have an organisation that is open and inclusive rather than inaccessible and out of touch. That is what we hope to build in the near future, alongside strong structures to organise young workers, apprentices and those unable to work.
Tuesday’s decision was not about settling old scores or purging the party, no matter how convenient that narrative may be for some. It was about ensuring student members have a democratic voice in our party so we can spread Labour values to campuses around the country and mobilise to deliver a Labour government.
Jawad Khan is a member of the Young Labour national committee