The newly-elected youth rep on Labour’s ruling executive committee says she does not want to become an MP.
Lara McNeill, the Momentum-backed candidate who won the position last month, has already played a key role in choosing the party’s new general secretary and wants to press ahead with reforms to its youth wing.
The current vice-chair of Labour Students, McNeill has only been a member of the party since early 2015 and said she only became active after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.
Speaking to HuffPost UK after her first three weeks in the job, the 21-year-old said: “It’s been really good, but quite intense. I was really glad to have the opportunity to interview the new general secretary candidates and ask them for their views on increasing funding for Young Labour, which Jennie Formby in particular was supportive of.
“I really want to see more regional and local structures put in place to encourage and support young people to get involved in the movement and have a proper stake in it.”
McNeill, who is a third-year medical student at King’s College in London, was urged to put herself forward by activists in Momentum, the pro-Corbyn grassroots group.
She was later endorsed by most of Labour’s affiliated unions, including Unite and UNISON, which prompted protestations over block votes creating an “unfair system”.
It followed controversial changes made late last year to the way the position is elected, with 50% of the votes given over to a one-member-one-vote ballot of young party members and 50% to young trade unionists or ‘affiliates’ - effectively removing Labour Students from the electoral college.
“I was actually reluctant to put myself forward, as historically Young Labour elections have not been very nice and as a young woman, I was worried about opening myself up to abuse,” she said.
“But it’s actually been much better than I expected. I haven’t received much personal criticism, I think because I try and be good and open to everyone regardless of their position in the party.
“I have never been horrible to anyone because they are not in my faction, so to speak.
“When I started on the NEC, everyone came up to me, Iain McNicol and Jeremy Corbyn both said hello and spoke to me and welcomed me.”
Deep divides have emerged in the party internally this week after a row erupted over Jeremy Corbyn’s alleged failures to deal with anti-Semitism complaints adequately, but McNeill says she is confident the leadership has a handle on things.
“I can’t speak as a Jewish member personally but I appreciate how hurtful even small pockets of anti-Semitism are and I think it’s something we always need to be vigilant about,” she added.
“The big myth is that the party hasn’t been doing anything.
“It has redoubled its efforts since incidents were brought to light recently and we have been setting up a sub-committee to fasttrack complaint cases.
“If serious allegations are made against members, then they are suspended. We do not just have anti-Semites lurking around at our meetings.”
McNeill wants to use her two-year NEC team to fight for more young members to attend key party events and better “democratisation” of Labour’s youth movement in general.
“Labour has always been like a family and it really doesn’t feel like there is a left/right divide in the [committee] room. I think there is space to have opinions outside that binary divide.
“I don’t feel like I fit into a specific label and nor should I - I’m there to represent all young members on the NEC and that’s what I have a mandate to do.”
But she doesn’t want to progress her own political career yet.
“At the moment, I don’t feel I am connected to one area enough. I am from Hastings but studying at King’s Medical School, so I am working in hospitals in London,” she said.
“I don’t really like the idea of people being parachuted into seats. So if I did ever become a politician it would have to be to represent somewhere I really had a connection with.
“Plus I wouldn’t want to waste five years of my medical degree and not end up a doctor when I finish it.
“I think people who have been out and had other careers, whether that’s in the NHS or public services or whatever, make better MPs because they understand the way things work better.
“If you’ve worked in a mental health ward, you’re not going to vote for cuts to mental health spending. So I would like to get some life experience before I’d consider ever doing that.”
McNeill’s election was the first time all young Labour members were able to cast votes directly for the candidates, rather than through an electoral college.