This week, on Tuesday 17th September, Labour’s National Executive Committee voted to get rid of Labour Students, with an overwhelming two-thirds majority.
The motion, put forward by Jon Lansman, the founder and unelected of head Momentum, put into question the continued affiliation of the student organisation to the Labour Party, citing issues over affiliation fees and other party rules. The motion calls for Labour’s general secretary to “urgently” devise a new student organisation.
The move has been welcomed by many lefts in the party - particularly young people - who feel like Labour Students was nothing but an outdated clique of careerists, clinging on to the legacy of the Blair years. One source, backing the motion, said that the organisation was “completely unfit for purpose – a small Blairite rump to which most University and College Labour clubs do not affiliate”.
Indeed, Labour Students (or “NOLS”, as it is sometimes known) has a questionable track record, to say the least. The most recent debacle was the most recent internal election, which exposed the organisation’s complete lack of internal democracy.
While a one-member-one-vote system was agreed upon in 2016, the bureaucrats who organised the last election rigged the system so that many Labour clubs were excluded from the vote, leaving only 507 participants out of a student membership of over 30,000! Some Labour clubs reported that they didn’t even receive their ballots, despite jumping through all of the hurdles to qualify for the election.
The result of this manipulation was that the right-wing slate won every position in the election except one, despite receiving only five nominations - compared with the left slate which received 30!
Is it any surprise that they then refused to publish key information about the elections, such as voter turnout and the margins of victory? It is clear that this cabal of Blairites were terrified of a ‘takeover’ from Corbyn-supporters, who would more closely reflect the views of the majority of students.
What’s more, the organisation infamously did nothing to oppose the imposition of tuition fees, nor did it effectively campaign to oppose the ignominious increase to over £9,000 under the Tory-Liberal coalition. In a true display of how out-of-touch this clique is to the wider student movement, many of the leading members of Labour Students actually came out in support of tuition fees!
Unsurprisingly, this blatant disregard for democracy, transparency and the demands of students led to almost half of the 90 affiliated Labour clubs to disaffiliate recently, with notable examples being Oxford, Cambridge, LSE and Sheffield. Already on its deathbed, the latest move from the NEC was merely the final nail in the coffin for Labour Students.
20,000 students should have been able to vote in Labour Students’ most recent election. Just 500 people got to. We had to climb over at least 5 technocratic hurdles to get a vote. It is not controversial or radical to say that is absurd & it is right our student wing is reformed.— Jade Azim (@JadeFrancesAzim) September 17, 2019
Scorn from the right
The move has provoked some on the right of the Labour Party, including the arch-careerist Wes Streeting, who scalded Lansman for focussing on “factional gripes”. The Blairite MP asserted that the Momentum boss should instead be worrying about the near prospect of a general election.
One can’t help but doubt the sincerity of Streeting’s concerns, given that he has done everything in his power to undermine Corbyn’s leadership right from day one. Streeting (who incidentally cites Blair as one of his heroes), supported Owen Smith in the attempted coup against Corbyn in 2016; said that he was “ashamed to be a Labour MP” in light of the recent trumped-up allegations of ‘anti-semitism’ in the Labour Party; and a few months ago said that Corbyn’s leadership was “a hollow prospect that is destined to lose a general election”. So much for caring about Labour’s chances of winning a general election!
Similarly, Luke Akehurst, the national secretary of Labour First, a vocal Blairite faction, decried the move, saying that the left simply “want to destroy moderate control of Labour Students to cut off the training, education and further development of future moderate MPs and councillors”.
Luke is right to point out that Labour Students has churned out many a successful career politician. However, if we take a look at the calibre of MPs to whom Luke is referring – Tom Watson, Peter Mandelson, Mike Gapes, Ellie Reeves, John Mann etc. – I’m sure we’d be forgiven for not mourning such a loss.
The abolition of Labour Students leaves us with the question of what will follow it. What we need is a genuinely democratic, student-led organisation - one that fights for the socialist demands that students are calling out for.
With a general election around the corner, we must prepare for a mass mobilisation of students and young people in support of a Corbyn-led, socialist Labour government.
As can be seen, the importance of the student vote cannot be understated. Student activists transformed the 2017 general election, with constituencies like Canterbury turning to Labour after 100 years of voting Tory. We need to build on these successes in the next general election if we are to have any hope of defeating Boris and his reactionary gang.
What the death of Labour Students demonstrates is that the bland, Blairite politics of a bygone era do not resonate with students. Labour Students consigned itself to irrelevance because it refused to take up the actual demands of students, who are made to bear the brunt of capitalist decline and austerity.
Students for Corbyn!
What we need to mobilise students is a radical, fighting organisation that campaigns along class lines. That means we need to focus on issues like ending tuition fees, dealing with the housing crisis, ending precarious work, and ensuring that every student can afford to live comfortably at university with a non-repayable maintenance grant.
Demands such as these can only be achieved if we are prepared to organise and fight for them.
The recently launched ‘Students for Corbyn’ campaign can be the basis for a reconstituted radical socialist Labour student organisation. Marxist students on campuses up and down the country are reaching out to Labour clubs and joining forces to fight for a Corbyn government with a socialist programme.
We don’t need any tepid bureaucrats or careerists to tell us how to campaign – these ladies and gentlemen live in a Westminster bubble, and have no clue about the issues that actually matter to students. Campus Labour societies and Young Labour groups must break with this Blairite past and mobilise students around a bold vision to transform society along socialist lines.
So make sure you get involved straight away. There’s no time to lose. Get involved at your nearest Marxist Society now to join the Students for Corbyn campaign and fight for a socialist future!