In today’s article, Joe Clough casts a critical eye over the proposals to reform Labour Students. Joe is a student from Manchester having emigrated from Yorkshire to go to University and has recently been elected by Manchetser Labour Students to go as a delegate to the Emergency National Conference. Joe also really really likes cats.
Next week, hundreds of delegates from across the country will descend on Manchester to take part in the Labour Students Extraordinary National Conference. The original purpose of this conference was to alter the way that the National Committee members of Labour Students are elected. For several years, there has been growing pressure to change from the system of only allowing delegates to choose the committee to enabling all members to vote in an online ballot. This system is named One Member One Vote, or OMOV for short, and is claimed by its proponents to be more democratic. In a recent survey of Labour Students members 83% said that they thought OMOV was the best system, with only 8% saying that they disagreed.
Having looked at the proposed new constitution, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the Labour Students Extraordinary National Conference is not about One Member One Vote. It is about adopting an entirely new constitution which introduces sweeping changes – only one of which is online OMOV (and then, for only some positions). Let’s have a look at some of these changes:
Who isn’t elected by OMOV?
The four liberation officers will be elected by OMOV under the proposed constitution, but at a face-to- face election rather than online. Delegates at National Conference shall elect five members of the policy committee and four members of the elections committee. Voting for this constitution isn’t voting for OMOV, it’s voting for partial OMOV.
Even more factionalism
Often in elections I’m presented with the false binary choice of the ‘left’ candidate and the ‘right’ candidate. As well as stifling political discourse, it makes it more difficult for new and unconfident people (read: people who are oppressed by society such as women and BME) to get involved. Currently for people to stand, they just have to nominate themselves. Under this new constitution, they have to get a number of nominations from member clubs (and that’s the whole club and not just individual members). The Labour Students Chair, Secretary and campaigns & membership officer will have to get 10 nominations, and the other 5 positions elected by OMOV will have to get 5 nominations. This is a ginormous barrier to standing. It will shut out a huge swathe of people from being able to stand, or even considering standing. It will mean practically that only a candidate backed by a faction will be able to get onto the ballot paper. For the positions that need 10 clubs, it’s easy to imagine circumstances where even the ‘left’ candidate or the ‘right’ candidate fails to make it on to the ballot and the OMOV voters will be presented with Hobson’s choice. For candidates to be even on the OMOV ballot paper, they therefore need to get over the high hurdle of getting the backing of clubs, sometimes with club committees acting as the gatekeeper.
All out of proportion
Currently, clubs get a number of delegates in proportion to their size. The proposed constitution would cut my club’s number of delegates down from 12 to 4 – to be on a level with every other club. Places of education come in all shapes and sizes, as do labour clubs, and this change to the constitution would mute the voice of students who happen to be at large clubs.
Additionally, this move would further entrench binary factionalism on the club level. Manchester had 15 candidates running for 12 places. In the end, a broad church of people was elected with a wide variety of political views. Under the new constitution, however, I would be encouraged to tightly organise a faction of four candidates who agree with my politics much more closely. The club would then be presented with a false, exaggerated, binary dichotomy of political slates to choose between. Also it would be logical for the people on the slates to be confident and experienced, to ensure they have a broader appeal, which would result in fewer new, younger, and inexperienced people to get involved.
RIP national Council
National Council currently happens every December, and can democratically set policy. Our labour club last December took a motion to support the Junior Doctors and it passed. Under the proposed constitution, this wouldn’t happen. It’s important we discuss politics regularly and it’s useful to have the flexibility and agility of having two annual member-directed democratic policy setting conferences. National council is at the ideal time of year to endorse candidates for NUS conferences – where and how will Labour Students select candidates for NUS elections when it is scrapped? Taking away national council also means that changing the constitution is a much more cumbersome affair, as changes to the constitution require votes at two national meetings.
Overall, is the proposed new constitution better than the current one? I, regrettably, do not think that it is on balance. I think that it is less democratic, and would entrench binary factionalism within Labour Students even further. I believe that it will make it harder for different and new voices to be heard which is crucial now more than ever.