Political bullying in Labour’s youth movement

Those who know me know that I’ve been on an 8 to 9 year quest with various others to democratise a lot of the youth movement of the Labour Party bit by bit. I’m a boring man.

I believe in this in principle, but for the most part it has been to guarantee that leaders are a bit more careful to build a culture both of respect and of open political debate.

There have been successes and failures, but I’ve never really explained to anyone the history of it, or my own emotional motivations.

I guess that’s a really long story and should probably be spread over a couple of other posts some time in the future. I’m now 27, out of the youth movement, though I am still to my own knowledge one of the oldest people from the party left with a day to day interest in it. I’ll write some longer nonsense about it when I can be bothered.

I think there are remaining structural problems, and really deep, difficult issues of rotten political culture in the youth movement – which is sad, because we’re meant to be forward thinking people who believe in open and fair politics. Unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way (so neither does the fight for it). It was experiencing these initial problems which started me off.

There is a politics of exclusion against those orientated left of Blairism – this even effects many young people who are broadly from the centre of Labour politics. I’m not saying that Blairites are all like this, please note. But, I guess when a given ideology has a serious intellectual side and an insubstantial side which simply smiles and denigrates, followers are left with big choices as to how they behave towards others.

This culture still often manifests itself directly as a bullying culture, and worryingly is often even tolerated by young politicos who make their own names representing people from ‘liberation caucuses’, i.e. under-represented or traditionally marginalised groups. That kind of experience with inclusion and empathy issues sadly doesn’t usually seem to make all that much difference.

Worst of all, this bullying political culture has often been “endorsed n’ enforced” from the top of youth movement organisations as a kind of cultural political tactic, especially in Labour Students, which I was a campaigning member of myself for some years. To be fair to Labour Students, this can vary widely with who occupies the sabbatical positions, and it has pluralised a bit since I first came into contact with it.

Young Labour seems a good deal more internally healthy. This is partly due to our own determination on the centre and left to seriously contest elections against establishment candidates, and maintain multiple poles of influence, which helps maintain independence and plurality in YL – but it’s also subject to periodic raids from the largely top-down student organisation.

It’s easy and correct to say that it’s different to bully someone because they are disabled than to do so because they hold certain views.

But does it mean bullying culture (and in particular its promotion) is ever acceptable? And even if it is acceptable – which it is not – is it politically desirable for a social democratic and youth focused organisation? Would this be accepted in a workplace, or a local council group?

Not really – sorry.

At best, it makes the experience of many young people in politics like a shit episode of The Office. At worst, it can be pretty detrimental in ways which are too obvious to explain. In short though, what I’m saying is that it’s sometimes difficult to understand whether we’re talking about a culture of mob stupidity, or one of outright nastiness. That sucks, because actually this should be a place that makes people feel inspired and encouraged.

Basically it’s this simple – go out of your way people feel like crap, and they will probably end up having a problem with you.

Kind of makes me wonder why people like this bother in the first place, got to say.

Anyway, on explaining though, I ramble a bit.

I met someone called Daniel Warham at an Ecosy festival, and he’s written something on facebook which pretty much encapsulated how I have often felt about stuff. It’s better than what I could write, and taps into the natural emotional reaction in a better way than I am any good at articulating – so I hope he doesn’t mind me ripping him off… read on.

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To all the people who want to slag off other people in the Labour Party for being ‘left wing’ – this is an open rant!

FIRSTLY – Stop using the word ‘trot’. Those in the party who are supporters of Trotsky aren’t offended by it (although admittedly, where even are these people), those who hold the same view and are outside of the party don’t give two shits what you say – they have their own beliefs. For all the rest of the people in the party it is terribly annoying and offensive when you mis-represent the views of them and Trotsky in this way. AND YOU JUST LOOK LIKE A FUCKING UNINFORMED IDIOT !!!

Secondly, you talk about uniting the party. About solidarity. About accepting we are a broad church. And that the left just want a factional fight. Well maybe it’s time to take your own fucking advice and stop alienating people.

Thirdly, remember that you have jumped on a band wagon that has been going for less time than you have been alive. You can’t brush 82 years of party history under the carpet because it doesn’t fit your agenda. Like it or not the ideas still held by most of those on the left of the party are fairly close to those the party was founded on. You might not like that. You might not think that is best for our future, but it is our past, stop trying to deny it.

Fourthly, stop trying to suggest anyone in the party who has a traditional left wing view is in a minority. Stop saying we are behind the time, or regressive. Above all stop assuming that your position is the only one supported by logic and reason. Without what you brand broadly as ‘the left wing’ there would never have been a Labour Party !!!!

Fifthly , get your fucking membership card out and let DEMOCRATIC !SOCIALISM! slap you round the face a few times. This is the bedrock of our party. It is what makes me proud to be a Labour Party member. Get rid if that over my dead fucking body.

Pragmatism is not a belief. It is not a plan. It is not a direction. You might want a Labour Party that does things. But so do I. Please stop trying to say you don’t want us to have ideology – of course you do, you just want it to be yours! Stop hiding this fact under the guise of ‘pragmatism’.

Your opinion is not the be all and end all of the party. It’s not your way or the high way. And stop fucking looking down on people if they disagree. It’s rude and obnoxious.

99% of the people who have joined the party on the left are not fucking entryists. Stop saying they are. You look like a paranoid idiot.

Stop being so dogmatic. The strand of political thought you subscribe to is just that, your own subscription. I don’t agree. I don’t want to be told why I should agree. Or that I am an idiot for not agreeing. Stop forcing your politics on me. I don’t want your shit rammed down my neck at every meeting.

I appreciate the left are also guilty of a fair few of these, and no doubt some people will say this post is hypocritical to the point I am trying to make. But there is an unchallenged assumption currently that you can be rude and offensive and exclusionary if your ideas are the ones in favour. It’s wrong. It needs to stop. Only then can we move forward as a united party, working towards our common goal of equality.

About those genitals – the NEC, Young Labour

Interesting post by Ian Silvera on Labour Uncut, with regard to the Young Labour election rules. I don’t agree with some of where Ian is coming from, but I think he has some points, and have offered a couple of solutions, laid out below.

Unlike Ian I have fought bitterly on a number of fronts for All Women Shortlists and gender quotas within a number of organisations. As gender rules tend to disadvantage non-dominant factions in parties all over the world, this has often been to the detriment of the left and centre-left of Labour in the UK, those parts with which I am most commonly associated, if we have to see it in such terms.

Fundamentally, I would rather make sure we got the base right in terms of gender than secure a free run for people I agree with on policy. But like so much else in Young Labour, the changes which the NEC has recently imposed on our organisation are a mess.

A commitment to gender fairness does not excuse botched, unworkable or plainly defective solutions to that problem. This is what we now have. Even though the old system worked.

It also does not give any moral weight to solutions imposed undemocratically, or without consultation. This, once again, is what we have got.

Anyway, this is how I responded to Ian (with a bit of cleaning up). It seems to me that we desperately need a return to the previous system, which did work.

Dear Ian,

A couple of responses to you points (I am currently the SE rep on the national committee and as such, unfortunately, am not allowed to re-stand, as I am male).

Firstly, I want to make clear that I support gender quotas as long as there is sexism in the Labour Party. It is important to reverse prejudice where it takes place. If we on the left are not willing to make that case, what case exactly are we prepared to make?

Second point, but this letter was not actually from Young Labour, but from the Labour Party. Young Labour had no knowledge of the changes until we received the letter ourselves.

I am appalled by the fact that the NEC did *not* consult the current executive or Chair. This is very worrying.

Secondly, I am also alarmed that the election rules are not covered as part of our constitution, but am not surprised as our constitution is completely dysfunctional and unfit for purpose.

Finally, there was no point in changing the previous system, and I would definitely advocate returning to it.

It was complicated, but it basically involved removing the winning men who did worst in the regional elections and replacing them with the women who did best, until the executive was gender balanced.

This system had two big advantages over the current one in that:

1) It reflected merit as well as seeking to redress discrimination in term of votes and/or candidatures where it may exist – it was a meritorious quota rather than an arbitrary one

2) It would have allowed regional reps such as myself to re-run and get on if we had done a good enough job. This is important, as Reps could do with the incentive of re-election once they are initially elected.

3) It would allow fresh young males with something to offer to also get involved, whilst still providing a gender balanced executive.

The NEC has called this one very badly, and I hope to see a return to the old system – along with a whole other bunch of constitutional reform.

To find out a bit about those other problems and possible cures, I suggest you read Christine Quigley’s manifesto at http://www.christinequigley.org

In itself, it seems silly to me that the NEC makes decisions over our election process full stop.

Young Labour should be part of the Labour Party run by young members.

Christine herself does not have a declared policy on this specific issue, and nor do NEC candidates.

But it seems clear to me that at the very least we should be setting the rules democratically ourselves, perhaps with something like a Control Commission or some collected YL veterans.

In so many ways Young Labour is essentially a broken organisation. This should be much more unacceptable to the wider party than it is currently seen, especially if we are to drive on youth recruitment.

Until it is reviewed in full (this is one of Christine’s policies), it will never properly represent thousands of its own members, and never have any measure of independence.

Stop bossing us about, and going behind our backs.

We might be young, but we are also adults. We deserve a bit more respect.

I would be very interested to hear what Chair and NEC candidates have to say.