Labour Students: an opportunity for the left?

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By Andrew Peak, Oxford University Labour Club

The 2018 Political Weekend of Labour Students, one of the last solid Blairite holdouts in the party, took place on 10-11 November in Liverpool.

The mass influx of left-wing members into the party has not translated into any real gains or changes of terrain for the left in many areas, and this is very much the case in Labour Students. The leadership of Labour Students had repeatedly rebuffed attempts to institute One Member One Vote (OMOV) for the election of committees despite multiple conferences voting for it, and have only recently begun to implement a fudged version of OMOV.

Some highlights of the weekend included an appeal to the internationalism of Clement Attlee for his role in creating NATO, talks on the importance of campaigns against the planet-destroying scourge of plastic straws on our university campuses, and one panellist spoke of the ‘need to get involved in Syria’. The keynote speaker was Yvette Cooper, who seemed oblivious to the situation of ‘centre-left’ social democrats in Britain and across Europe who have ceased to be a relevant political force.

Particularly worthy of spectacle was the stomach-turning patriotism, with the front registration desk pushing poppies, outrage at those not wearing poppies, and a dedicated break from proceedings to observe the two-minute silence. The cenotaph was due to be screened in full, but this was scuppered by technical problems.

Activists involved in the soon to be launched Student Left Network produced a ‘National Student Left’ bulletin for the conference, called a left caucus, and made interventions in defence of migrants’ rights and calling on Labour members to mobilise to oppose the anti-trade union laws. This was the only organised left intervention.

A minor furor was caused by the bulletin, where aspirant politicians found themselves utterly scandalised by an article criticising the nationalism of Remembrance Sunday and the poppy, which even deigned to call for an ‘end to capitalism’. Activists were told to stop distributing the material at the conference, and when they refused the Labour Students officers made an appeal to the owners of the building to police the content of material being giving out, which failed to materialise.

With the impending threat of a conference conducted by One Member One Vote, the mood at the weekend was somewhat of a ‘last hurrah’, and many people in attendance fully expected themselves to be swept away by Momentum at the next conference.

Whilst a left takeover of Labour Students would be welcomed, OMOV is not necessarily the perfect fix that some on the left seem to think it will be, and in some key ways will lessen the democratic content of Labour Students, rather than solely break the grip of the right.

It is clear what we need: for the young activists enthused by struggles from rent to lecturer strikes on their campus to turn this energy towards the Labour Party and NUS, to transform and radicalise these institutions, turning them into organisations which have the power and will to take on capital!

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