By Joshua Dean
"We’re at a fork in the road: either we can allow Young Labour to become an increasingly unsafe space for young activists or we can set about tackling this issue once and for all."
After a long campaign, voting for the Young Labour National Committee election closed at midday on Thursday 12th November, with the final results released the following evening. I want to offer a huge congratulations to all the successful candidates, and commiserations to those that didn’t make it this time. Seeing so many young members put themselves forward and run such dedicated campaigns, especially in such difficult circumstances in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, should remind us how vibrant and talented our movement is.
But these elections must mark a turning point for Young Labour. The toxic culture of bullying and intimidation that’s taken root in the Labour Party’s youth wing became normalised throughout the campaign, putting the mental health and wellbeing of our members at risk. Now that this year’s elections are over, we’re at a fork in the road: either we can allow Young Labour to become an increasingly unsafe space for young activists or we can set about tackling this issue once and for all.
The level of vitriol directed at some of the candidates in these elections, particularly young women, people of colour and transgender members was frankly abhorrent. No one in our movement should be bullied out of an election or, worse, made to fear for their own safety - it’s completely unrepresentative of what Young Labour is meant to be.
I was really concerned by the apparent lack of support offered by the Labour Party to candidates and young members facing abuse throughout these elections and by the willingness of well-known adults with large online followings in our movement to initiate dog piles on young candidates. I sincerely hope that this will be addressed by the Labour Party going forward because it’s not a safe or sustainable situation.
"No one in our movement should be bullied out of an election or, worse, made to fear for their own safety - it’s completely unrepresentative of what Young Labour is meant to be."
Something we desperately need to recognise in our movement is that it’s entirely possible to question candidates and hold them to account without resorting to abuse, even if you don’t agree with them. Fabricating rumours, searching through years of someone’s social media history for a “gotcha” moment, setting traps or starting dog piles isn’t healthy and it doesn’t represent a “tough campaign.” It’s just wrong.
I don’t agree with those that have tried to write off this kind of behaviour by telling us that internal elections are always “brutal.” In a party determined to change politics and peoples lives for the better, the last thing we should be doing is putting factional goals above the wellbeing of our fellow members. We should be doing better, every time.
I was glad to see a number of campaigns set up throughout the campaign to promote safeguarding and gather responses from candidates contesting the Young Labour elections, and it was good to see so many positive responses. However, it’s concerning that there’s a need for such campaigns in a political party with such a large youth membership.
Safeguarding must be the number one priority of the incoming National Committee. Addressing the structural weaknesses that allowed this kind of toxicity to spread through our youth wing and take hold in these elections is absolutely vital, as is ensuring that the National Executive Committee (NEC), General Secretary and the leadership are prepared to take positive action to help find a resolution.
It’s a tall order. This isn’t a problem that appeared overnight, nor one that can be fixed in a day, but the future of our party demands that it’s solved. This is an issue that transcends factional lines. It will require the new National Committee to pull together and unite our youth membership, working closely with those in positions of power throughout the Labour Party.
"This isn’t a problem that appeared overnight, nor one that can be fixed in a day, but the future of our party demands that it’s solved."
On this and a number of other issues, the new National Committee will have to hit the ground running because young people are facing a bleak winter as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The mistreatment of students by their universities, unscrupulous bosses taking advantage of young employees and insecure housing threatens to precipitate a further mental health crisis and risks rises in unemployment and homelessness.
The situation calls for a united Labour Party and a strong Young Labour, outfitted as a campaigning organisation, ready to rise to the challenges presented by the pandemic. In the face of an incompetent and uncaring Tory government, with students fenced into their own accommodation or corralled by police, young people need a powerful voice now more than ever.
We need to support our young members and young people across the country who are facing hardship by helping to equip them with skills and apparatus that allows them to organise and make changes. This pandemic has politicised so many young people and Young Labour can help them recognise their potential, challenge the unjust and fight back.
By supporting university Labour societies and students across the country, we can help to tackle the exorbitant cost of accommodation and challenge the way universities are treating their pupils. Through increased political education, we can renew education on workers rights within the party, develop programmes focussed specifically on young workers and continue to help them unionise. It would be a real positive to see more education around internships and apprenticeships, especially at a time when some employers are seeking to take advantage of young people as “cheap labour.” And by offering support to renters unions and demonstrations we can give voice to the many young people trapped in insecure accommodation, struggling with uncaring landlords.
'The situation calls for a united Labour Party and a strong Young Labour movement.'
There will be many young members, on all wings of the party, who were disappointed by one result or another on Friday night, but this isn’t the time to start talking about cutting up membership cards and cancelling direct debits.
To begin to tackle the issues within Young Labour, extend support to young people outside of the party and take the fight to the Tories, those elected to the National Committee deserve our backing as they make good on their election promises. Equally, we shouldn’t be despondent just because our preferred candidate may have lost out this time. It’s our role to hold those that represent us to account as we go forward and ensure that all members of our youth wing are treated appropriately and given a voice.
Joshua Dean is the Vice-Chair of Hertford & Stortford Constituency Labour Party and an active member of the Labour Party. He is also the former co-founder of the non-profit Teen Voice UK, a campaigner on issues relevant to young people and passionate about fighting for climate justice and making young peoples voices heard.
Disclaimer: All views expressed in this piece belong solely to the author and do not reflect the views of Demographica as a company.