THE DUST HAS NOW SETTLED ON YOUNG LABOUR and Labour Students Conference, but the events in Scarborough are unlikely to be forgotten for some time. Serious allegations regarding the conduct of the NEC Youth Rep election made the national press; the election remains contested and is under investigation. Despite this controversy, significant gains were made by the left at conference, but the experience has highlighted the failings of the Young Labour left to organize effectively.
Above: Scottish delegates fighting the class struggle in Scarborough.
Unsurprisingly, Labour Students conference proved difficult for left wing candidates. Left candidate for Chair Ollie Hill lost by 78 votes to 98 – not a huge margin, given that Labour Students is traditionally dominated by the right. Similarly, the left candidate for Vice Chair (VC) of Campaigns and Membership Zarah Sultana won in the first round but due to the proportional voting system was defeated by just a single vote in the second. A right wing candidate took a further VC post but the fourth post was won by Rohi Malik, a left candidate, and the left also had successes in four of the regional co-ordinator elections.
The left is in a minority on the Labour Students National Committee, but these successes are significant in an organisation where the left has been very much confined to the fringes. Left delegates had the sense that Ollie’s campaign had built a foundation for the future. The vast majority of delegates - if not all - knew which candidates they were voting for long before they entered the conference hall. The challenge for the left is not to win over undecided delegates, but to prevent potential delegates and votes from slipping away through poor organisation. For future conferences it is vital that the left members of Labour Students co-ordinate effectively within their Labour Clubs to ensure that as many left delegates as possible are elected. This year’s Labour Students elections have shown it is possible to have left candidates filling the top positions on the National Committee. At future conferences we cannot afford to lose votes through avoidable mistakes and disorganisation.
Young Labour conference was a considerable success. Left candidate Caroline Hill was elected chair of Young Labour with 60% of the vote, and the left won a number of other positions, with a final result of 28 National Committee positions won by left candidates of a total of 33.
Achieving a majority on the Young Labour National Committee is highly significant for the Labour left but our organisation leaves much to be desired. In Scotland, a concerted campaign to publicise the left slate by phone and social media enabled the left to take all 13 delegates, but in many other regions fewer left delegates were elected than there should have been. In future left wing members must ensure they are sufficiently organised within their regions to agree a delegate slate rather than stand as individuals. The left achieved overall success in the Young Labour National Committee elections but, under the current system for electing the NEC youth rep, regional delegates form one electoral college and as such their votes are crucial. With better organisation it is possible the left could have achieved a decisive outright victory in the Youth Rep election. Conference highlighted further organizational issues which the left must resolve. Nationally, the Young Labour left is not a sufficiently coherent group and lacks a system and strategy for deciding who to endorse as candidates for internal elections. As a result we back any left candidate who chooses to stand. We must also give more thought to the way in which the Young Labour left decides which motions to vote for in the priority ballot. It is not ideal to have a fairly small group of delegates decide this matter in a rushed meeting which is held on short notice during Conference itself. More careful planning is required to ensure left delegates from all regions are included in, and able to contribute to, decision making processes. Limited time will be allocated to motions and the Young Labour left must put in place a process which allows us to push left wing motions to the top of the priority ballot and have them passed as policy by conference.
The success of the left at Young Labour Conference deserves to be celebrated as part of the gradual change in culture in the Party since the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader. However, we should not allow ourselves to become complacent. Our future success will be determined by our ability to organize in areas where our organization has been weak, lacking or non-existent. Young left wing members in all regions must come together nationally to discuss the future of the left in Young Labour and decide how we will build on the foundations laid at the 2016 conference.