As some of you may or may not know, I like to have a moan about the Labour Party on a regular basis. I’m a member, and I don’t plan on leaving any time soon but I feel that all too often the party is too cliquey and not inclusive enough. It can be difficult to get your voice heard if you aren’t friends with the right people.We also have some major issues with working class representation, that is for another post or several but I will be coming back to it. I’ve often left events feeling patronised and disillusioned with the party so I attended this conference with more than some trepidation.
Fortunately it seemed that the conference organisers had recognised that sometimes the traditional ways of debating policy at conference can intimidate those new to the process and had decided on a different way of doing things. For example, the priority campaign was decided by the delegates attending a policy workshop where everyone had the chance to stand up and contribute to a pitch that would then be presented to the rest of conference. I attended the Youth Unemployment workshop and felt like a diverse range of views were entered into our pitch and although there was a minority who insisted on trying to quash any concept that they didn’t agree with and hiding behind accusations of ‘poor process’ our Chair did a good job of creating a safe space. I don’t know how it worked in other workshops but we voted on who we wanted to feed back to conference and it was all very democratic.
On the Sunday it was time to debate and vote on policies that had been first submitted online by young members and then chosen to be taken to the conference floor in another set of policy workshops. Once again there were some who tried to filibuster by taking the stand and arguing over process, but on the whole there was some great discussion on everything from votes at 16 to making a commitment creating 1 million green jobs. There were a lot of our younger members who spoke and members I hadn’t heard from before and it was most definitely the process that fostered this. Some delegates made accusations that conference was somehow inherently undemocratic and it struck me as hypocritical that these were the same delegates who were trying to shout down dissenting opinions in the workshops.
Although I am not of the view that conference was undemocratic, as I’ve said I found it to be very open and inclusive, I do have some ideas on how Young Labour ’13 can be better.
- Amendments: There should have been room for delegates to add amendments to the policies brought to the floor. This was strikingly obvious in the case of the prisoner votes. The statement we voted on was ‘Prisoner’s should be given the right to vote’ which turned out to be an overly simplistic representation of what was actually discussed in the workshop. I think had there been room to make this statement more nuanced with suggested amendments, some delegates who abstained or even voted against this policy would have been more likely to vote for it.
- Preparation Time: When we arrived at conference we were given a booklet with all of the policy ideas young members had submitted that we would be discussing in the workshop. If this had been given out a week or so before conference people could have had more time to prepare their arguments for or against individual policies. This would have made it easier for those of us less confident to speak out spontaneously.
- Accessibility: Although I felt the conference was inclusive once we were all there, the only members views who were represented were those who could afford to be there and who felt comfortable going along to a conference. This is an important point given that there was such a heavy focus on deciding policy. I understand practicality but I would like to have seen a cheaper ticket price, or perhaps at least some free places. I know that some people did get help from their CLP but that doesn’t help new members or members who have never been involved before who might not have been active in their CLP yet. I think a lot more has to be done to encourage a more diverse range of delegates to conference next year.
All in all I really enjoyed conference, asides from some silliness there were some really great debates and discussions and I left feeling inspired. Also more brownies next year please!