The Labour Party is in a dire state. Ever since the victory of Sir Keir Starmer in the leadership contest last April and his launching of a one-sided civil war against the left of the Party, any enthusiasm many young people had for the party has quickly fizzled out.
Starmer’s Labour continually fails to tap into the increasingly radical sentiments of young people and students who came out in droves for BLM last summer, forced U-Turns on A-Level grades and have now participated in the biggest nationwide rent strike movement in UK history.
The best the new leadership can muster in response to such seismic events is a patronising tone (infamously calling BLM a “moment”), outright dismissal, or complete silence.
The new leader has turned his back on the ten pledges that he made in the leadership competition where he promised to ‘Put the Green New Deal at the heart of everything we do’, ‘promote peace and human rights’, and ‘strengthen workers’ rights and trade unions’: all have been jettisoned in favour of abstention after abstention including on outrageous pieces of legislation such as the Spy Cops bill!
Starmer has failed to stand up for anyone including teachers, renters, young people, and BAME people, instead choosing to place himself firmly on the side of billionaires. For example, he recently argued against raising corporation tax! His pledge to offer ‘forensic, effective opposition to the Tories’ has yet to materialise. But while the leadership and majority of the parliamentary Labour Party have abandoned any semblance of socialist policies and socialism, young people have not.
Meanwhile, the student wing of the Labour Party has been largely forgotten about ever since the long overdue scrapping of the Blairite bastion of NOLS (National Organisation of Labour Students) in September 2019. This move followed sham elections which saw systematic disenfranchisement — out of a total of 28,000 student Labour members only 507 votes were counted! This led to half of affiliated Labour clubs disaffiliating in disgust and disillusionment with such antics at the top of the organisation.
Since September 2019, no formal structure for student members and university Labour clubs has emerged. In fact, for most involved in the student labour movement there has been little to no communication between them and the formal Labour Party. That is unless something radical the leadership do not agree with is said — then they are contacted very quickly as Sheffield Labour Students found when we tweeted criticism of South Yorkshire Police.
However, not all hope is lost. Young Labour’s student representatives who were elected last summer are currently in the process of consulting with young members and Labour clubs about what this new body should look like. They suggest that the new Labour students should be an organisation for political education and an effective means of linking student societies to the wider Labour and trade union movement
We agree Labour students should become an organisation of students connected with the wider labour movement and armed with the political ideas to fundamentally change society. This would be a welcome change from what it was under NOLS: an inward-looking incubator for the ambitions of middle-class careerists. It is therefore vitally important that any new official student wing of the Labour Party does not repeat the same mistakes that NOLS made. It must be committed to being fully democratic with democratic and transparent structures. It must be unashamedly and boldly socialist and based on class politics. A new Labour students should represent its members and speak out on issues that affect students and young people including insecure housing, tuition fees, precarious work and the climate crisis. It should seek to bring more members into its ranks and be a genuine point of reference for socialist ideas not only on campus but in wider society.
The crisis of capitalism has forced the working class and young people to bear the brunt of constant austerity. Many are now deciding enough is enough and taking to the streets and joining trade unions to do something about it. A new Labour students wing must be at the forefront of this struggle offering a socialist solution to the crisis of capitalism and fight for a real future for young people if it is to have any relevance in the coming period.
Esta Norton – Co Chair of Sheffield Labour Students