Josie Runswick is standing, with Michael Walker, for co-chair of LGBT Labour at its AGM on 18 February, as part of a United Left slate. She spoke to Kate Harris.
Why did you decide to run?
I’m running because I think we can do a lot better. I’ve been the committee’s treasurer for a year, and the committee is not working well together. Communication within the committee and between us and the wider membership could be a lot better. This year’s co-chairs have taken a lot on themselves – the rest of the committee could be more mobilised and involved with decision-making and taking the lead on things themselves.
What do you want to achieve as co-chair and within LGBT Labour?
I think we should have campaign days on LGBT issues, in consultation with members. We should be more involved in Labour Party campaigning days. Also we should continue to look at change within the Labour Party and trade unions, building a platform within the Labour Party and trade unions. CLPs across the country should have more LGBT officers – there are only about thirty in total. And we should engage with these LGBT officers, we can offer them training, ideas and model motions. We became more visible in the summer as an affiliate organisation due to LGBT Labour members having a vote in the leadership election and a lot of people joined. We need to prove out purpose to members. Also, there are probably 50 or 60,000 LGBT people in the Labour Party, compared to the 1500 people in LGBT Labour – we need to target them to get involved.
What are your thoughts on LGBT Labour as an organisation?
It’s got a lot of potential, it is the group with the biggest membership of LGBT people within the Labour Party. Over the last two years, we have been supporting candidates within the Party and in elections for MPs, but we have largely left behind our campaigning. When the Labour Party is in opposition, there’s not as much we can do with policy, as even if we push it within the Party, the Party can’t then act on it. We can work on more local campaigns and organisation.
What do you think we should be campaigning on?
Trans healthcare is an ongoing issue. Older people in care or sheltered accommodation are sometimes forced to go back into the closet. Issues around housing, benefits – especially under-25s not being eligible for most benefits now – and in general austerity and cuts affect LGBT people disproportionately.
You’re running as part of the United Left slate?
I was already planning on standing for co-chair. I was put in touch with others thinking of standing. Some people running became inactive a few years ago and some are members who joined more recently, including people who have a record of campaigning on sex work and issues in their local areas. I was asked to support or join the slate, went to a few meetings with them and agreed as I thought it was a good idea.
As a slate, we want LGBT Labour to become a campaigning organisation at both a local level and nationally, with less internal politics. For example, if a hospital is closing down, the local Party and our members could help stop that happening. We also want to see the return of regional structures – even though I’m running for co-chair, I want to have less power as we engage local activists.
What would you count as a successful outcome of the AGM?
Firstly, it would be good if our slate won, or at least won some of the positions we’re running for. There are a small numbers of lefties involved in the committee at the moment and we hope to build on it. We want to move towards the organisation we want to see. Most of the motions submitted are worthy. There is a big constitutional review coming up – this happens every few years, as we look at the fitness of our structures for purpose. For example, we need a disciplinary policy so if someone does something really bad we have a way to exclude them. There is an amendment coming up as well saying that in the future people will have needed to be members for 40 days in order to vote, or 90 days before standing for election. I will be opposing that amendment because we should be encouraging people to get involved, rather than worrying about lefties wanting to come in!
What do you think about the Party’s stance on LGBT rights?
I think it is mostly good, and in fact they are ahead of LGBT Labour in their inclusion of intersex people in statements that have been made. In general the Party is supportive, and while there are limitations to them, it was life changing for LGBT people that when in government it introduced the Equality Act and Gender Recognition Act. CLPs will vary in representation and attitudes, but I believe in the leadership, John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn pushed to get the Gender Recognition Act as good as they could and to get others to support it, for example. In terms of the fuss over Corbyn’s comments on people ‘choosing’ to be lesbian or gay, it was clear that he meant people who are out. There’s a difference between being gay and acting on it and being out.
What should the Labour left be doing?
We should be targeting organisations like LGBT Labour, not only to have more influence but also to mobilise people and create a movement. We should be involved in Party structures as well. Socialist societies like LGBT Labour have a member on the NEC. People need to hear our ideas. I’m worried that people who joined Momentum as they were fed up with the Labour Party may now be leaving Momentum as they can’t see what they can do within it. We should be engaging with people.
• For more information see LGBT+ United Left’s Facebook page.