This weekend Labour Students from across the country gathered in London for National Council. Held annually, this event features policy debates, general debates, policy forums, cabinet ministers and extreme drunkenness. This year we had a fantastic speech from Steve Pound MP, as well as appearances from Ed Miliband and James Purnell. It was wonderful to meet fellow students from across the country (we had a fun if disturbing evening playing “I have never” into the small hours) and we all left London a fair few Facebook friends heavier. These are the good memories I will take from this weekend.
I will also take from the weekend a feeling of immense frustration. It was a huge shame we didn’t get round to discussing a motion on reforming the process by which people are voted onto positions on Labour Students National Committee. The motion was entirely uncontroversial, calling for elections to be advertised to all members and for manifestos to be made available in advance- things which any ordinary democratic organisation would do anyway. Whether these measures are in Labour Students constitution already is something of a mystery, as copies of the document prove immensely difficult to get hold of, but motions don’t get proposed without someone feeling a serious need for them. Sadly it came low down in the priority ballot, and we ran out of time before it was able to be discussed.
Why did time run out? Let me describe the motion that came before it on the order paper. This motion called for the National Office to provide training and resources to help clubs to engage with local CLPs effectively. It was, incidentally, the only motion debated which called for anything more than a letter to be written congratulating the government on doing something well, or for action more specific than a vague “campaign”. The motion was taken to pieces- the parts asking for information to be made available and feedback to be provided were rejected. What passed was a small, stripped down version of it calling for a one-off training session. The main argument against the parts that were removed? That the National Office would not have timeto implement them.
Not have time? With three sabbattical officers each serving a year term, with one specifically for campaigns (the only thing the other mandates referred to) and one specifically to deal with administrative issues, with three years worth of human-power between them there was not time to complete the one administrative mandate? Forgive my cynicism but if the campaigns officer can cope with the eight campaign related motions that passed than I do not accept that the secretary and chair between them cannot cope with the sole adminisrtative one.
The process of rejecting the majority of this motion took such a huge amount of time that we were unable to debate the one I was originally describing- the one that would have brought about internal electoral reform. We spent so long debating motions, none of which I disagree with (except of course no-platform policy, see previous blogs) but few of which will make a jot of difference. Standing up against Robert Mugabe as other new policy mandates us to do is a very noble and commendable thing, but let’s face it, had either of these two motions passed as well it would not have made the slightest difference to the people of Zimbabwe, yet a hugely positive and immediate difference to every member of Labour Students.
This is my frustration. Labour Students had a chance to pass policy which would have made it more relevant, open and useful to all of its members, and it ignored it and campaigned actively against it for the standard reason is that the National Officers would be too busy. As those who travelled to Glasgow for Annual Conference this spring will know, this is not the first time it has happened. Why does it keep happening? Why does good, progressive, and thoroughly un-radical policy keep getting shot down? Why do rational, sensible, intelligent students vote agaionst democracy?
To return title of this rather long entry, at the end of the weekend there was a chance for questions to be asked of the full time officers, and the last question asked whether they knew all the lines to the Red Flag. Lots of people ended up singing it. Quite a few of us were feeling disheartened about the above by this time, and didn’t join in. Remembering those reports from party conferences where the TV presenter analyses who is singing and who isn’t, I glanced around the room… it was a thoroughly surreal moment.