Young Labour Conference 2016: Musings of a Newcomer

This weekend at the Young Labour Conference in Scarborough, I felt rather like the Ukrainians must have felt when they became a political football in both the NATO-country press corps and the Russian media.

This weekend at the Young Labour Conference in Scarborough, I felt rather like the Ukrainians must have felt when they became a political football in both the NATO-country press corps and the Russian media.

There is proxy war going on between the Labour right and the Labour left and this weekend it pitched up in sleepy Scarborough. At stake were two spots on the influential NEC of the Labour party - an organisation that is currently marginally Pro-Corbyn. In the end it was a draw with one seat going to each faction.

It was my first time at a Labour Conference, I gave a speech, and met lots of intellectually curious and genuinely nice young Labourites.

But what I found fascinating about the whole thing was the disjuncture between reality and what was reported and tweeted. A false narrative was forged by different sides to serve political ends and if one just relied on the news and social media one would have thought that all hell was breaking loose in the North East.

Accusations of bullying, hurt, intrigue, tears, nepotism, and bribery abounded, and self-conscious posturing was the flavour of the day on Twitter. Anti-Semitism claims were made by some, kindled carefully by others, and then ignited by the Daily Mail.

The reality was a bit more ordinary.

A bunch of different young people got together to discuss politics and elect people to positions of little political influence (barring the two main positions). There were the usual suspects: geeky politics students, smarmy career politicians, and the angry anti-something campaigners. Bad stilted speeches were delivered in the manner of the bad stilted speeches of the grown-up MPs these young politicians were aping, some good speeches were delivered too, and calculated pre-negotiated questions were posed to candidates.

Faux outrage, hurt, and disenchantment were carefully played cards on both sides to further political ends by dry-eyed warriors on their smartphones. This outrage was subsequently taken up in an equally manufactured way by the usual suspects in Westminster (on both sides) and Jess Phillips MP threatened to "kick off momma style" - something, incidentally, I would pay money to see. There's a woman who I reckon could give Anthony Joshua a run for his money through sheer volume.

There were clearly two large caucuses at work - the left and the right - and one got the impression that even if it was a contest between a right wing chimpanzee, a left wing rhinoceros, and a neutral human being, the rhino and the chimp would be the real contenders.

Not that I blame them, or disagree with caucusing generally. It is the most effective way of getting your voice heard. Still, it would have been nice to get a bit more substantive engagement with the issues on the day rather than having everything wrapped up beforehand.

And let me be clear, while there was a lot of fakeness: real examples of disrespect and bullying did take place, whether intentional or not, especially in the case of BAME candidates when their caucus was forgotten and election proceedings started; it seems a bit odd that recounts were denied when an election was decided by one vote. And the anti-Semitism smear campaigns were also really not cool.

What happened at the YL16 is an extension of what is happening in Constituency Labour Parties and Labour Clubs up and down this country. There has been a massive influx of Pro-Corbyn supporters, especially the younger voters, and they have come into an organisation run by people elected the previous year - people whose politics is often at-odds with Corbyn's. The incumbents have reacted to the inevitable criticism by banding together, sulking, and lashing out.

But as they are outnumbered, it will only take a year or two, and internal elections, to realign the views of the local leaders and their members, and get a more balanced leadership - something incidentally I think we broadly got at the YL16.

The situation reminds me of the famous poem of Roger McGough:

I wanna be the leader

I wanna be the leader

Can I be the leader?

Can I? I can?

Promise? Promise?

Yippee I'm the leader

I'm the leader

OK what shall we do?

The hope is that we will return to that final question and think substantively about it shortly.

And it's incredibly important that we do.

Young Labour is a potential election-winner in 2020 if its potential is harnessed correctly. We, Young Labour members, are best placed to attract younger voters - through cool, funny events, social media, and great camaraderie.

But that will require one important step: For people on both sides of the fence to lower their defensive walls, step across the divide, and just talk with people. They may come to find that their differences are not so great after all.

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