This article appeared on Left Futures on 23rd October 2012
As elections for the national committee of Young Labour loom on the horizon, young members will be asking: what did they ever do for us?
You might think this unfair. It’s possible that the committee members work very hard (I know, in fact, of a number that do.) But with no accountability and no sense of what they’re up to, you can see the problem.
At the last Young Labour conference at which elections for top positions were held – in 2011 – delegates complained that there was no mechanism for holding the previous term’s national committee to account. Party officials attempted to stop the then-chair of Young Labour, Sam Tarry, from addressing the conference. There was time to hear Iain Gray, the ill-fated leader of Scottish Labour, ask “what makes young people tick?” but none to hear back from the people who had supposedly been representing us for the previous two years.
You’d think that after this the newly-elected committee would be conscious that they needed to be closer their constituents. There are really simple ways this can be done. It’s now common practice for CLP reps on the Labour party national executive (NEC) to report back to members at local meetings and in written reports. This was also a result of the grassroots wanting to be closer to the party’s governing processes. And so it was pioneered by the original four Centre-Left Grassroots Alliance members when they were first elected in 1998.
Nowadays, the likes of Ann Black, Christine Shawcroft and Johanna Baxter post their reports online. You’d think the national committee members would do the same. They only have four meetings a year – it’s not much to ask! But there’s no sign of reports back anywhere – not on the Young Labour website or anywhere else on the web that Google will take you.
For all we know, the Young Labour national committee could be doing a great job. It seems that they’re not in some respects – thisspeaks for itself. Some progress has been made – there were reports back from chair and NEC rep at this year’s mid-term Young Labour policy conference. Yet this was an event that most members couldn’t access, and that’s still only two members of the committee.
And why stop there? Reports back from committee members are valuable in providing the potential for fully detailed accounts, but there is much that can be done by the committee as a whole too. Young Labour members should have access to the official minutes of committee meetings, including the attendance and voting records of individual members.
These will only be small steps away from Young Labour being the most undemocratic youth wing of a Socialist party in western Europe, but they will be steps nonetheless. Last time round, manifestos for Young Labour national committee were pretty vacuous in content. When they get their chance to set out their must declare whether they support measures like these, and dare I say it, maybe mention some policy positions too.