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What happened to Young Labour’s ‘radical zeal’?

This article appeared on Left Futures on October 8th 2012

This year’s Young Labour conference marked a turning point. Not only was the party’s youth wing able to form its own policy for the first time, but the policy thought up was refreshing and radical.

The conference made a crusade against youth homelessness its ‘priority campaign’. A workshop within the conference discussed the issue at length, and then voted on what the campaign would include. The whole of conference then voted for this campaign to be prioritised, thus endorsing the policy is the most explicit way possible.

Shortly after the conference, Kent Young Labour member Rory Weal wrote:

The homelessness campaign encapsulated the radical zeal of the conference, with proposals for 1 million new council homes and opposition to right to buy.

The conference also voted to include specifically campaigning for housing provision for minorities – including provision of sites for travellers’ communities.

While the party leadership supports the building of more ‘affordable’ homes, they are still afraid to talk about building council housing, ending right-to-buy and travellers. Young Labour has the perfect opportunity to get these bold policies, which are at the heart of Labour values, onto the agenda.

So I was bewildered when there was no mention of these policies at the Young Labour fringe event at party conference last Wednesday.

The event was chaired by Bex Bailey, a member of the national committee of Young Labour, who have been charged with taking the policy forward since the conference.

Yet at and since the conference, the policy development process has been unclear and opaque. Immediately after the policy workshop voted on the detail of the proposal, a handful of delegates were taken behind closed doors to ‘composite’ the proposal. Delegates have talked of being pressurised here to remove radical policy points before it was presented to conference.

The national committee is also shrouded in a veil of secrecy: the Young Labour website carries no mention of when and where they meet, let alone minutes of their meetings. While NEC reps report back to members as a matter of course (this was originally pioneered by the Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance after they were first elected to the NEC), nothing of the kind is seen in Young Labour.
The national committee have nonetheless produced a series of documents with which to lead the campaign. The initial briefing identifies ‘Priority need categories’, but oddly enough, despite the vote in favour of it at youth conference, travellers are not included as such a group, according to the document.

Similarly, the briefing only refers to building a ‘significant’ number of houses. No mention of these being council houses, or building a million of them, despite this being spelled out quite explicitly at the conference.

And right-to-buy? Now that would be asking too much. We needn’t bother.

Young Labour members were promised that their policy conference could make policy. That’s not a nonsensical notion – and we didn’t sit in a room voting on individual elements of the youth homelessness campaign for nothing. Yet our boldest policies are undemocratically brushed aside – and the lack of transparency means we can’t even see where this happens.

The Young Labour national committee must open up, and explain how the most significant parts of its campaign were jettisoned. But more importantly, they must recognise that if they ignore ordinary members in the policy making process, they will swiftly alienate them. dd

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