The move to silence students is part of a proposal to overhaul the system used to elect the NEC’s youth representative. Under existing rules, they are chosen by an electoral college of young trade unionists, young members and young students. Each group has equal weighting. But it is believed that Unite the Union is pushing for a rule change that would remove students from the Electoral College system. Under the plan, only young trade union members and young Labour party members would be given a vote. Students would be excluded.
The idea is likely to provoke a backlash from Labour students, who played a vital role in the party’s better-then-expected election performance in June. They helped to galvanise the student vote, which proved a decisive factor in Labour’s remarkable surge in the opinion polls during the campaign. More significantly, the student vote delivered a number of safe Tory seats – including Canterbury and Lincoln – into Jeremy Corbyn’s hands and deprived the Tories of an overall majority.
An alternative plan has also been put forward by Unite, which would see the Electoral College used to select Young Labour’s NEC representative scrapped completely and replaced by a one-member one-vote system. That would dilute the power of Unite’s own members, however, and would be implemented only if another NEC place is created – to be elected solely by young trade union members. In both scenarios, Labour students face losing their voice at the party’s top table, a prospect that has infuriated student leaders.
The proposal is likely to be presented to Labour’s NEC at its next meeting later this month and is certain to lead to a bust-up between rival party factions. Labour students have consistently, if narrowly, voted for moderate candidates to sit on the NEC. The move to deprive them of a voice will be seen my many NEC members as a clumsy attempt to strengthen the position of Jeremy Corbyn, despite the fact the Labour leader is currently in complete control of Labour’s ruling body.
Corbyn began a wide-ranging consultation on party reform earlier this year. The first part of that review will look at how Young Labour, BAME Labour and Women’s conference are organised. It is due to be completed in January.
That fact that Young Labour members have not been consulted about the plan ahead of an NEC vote later this month has further angered many of its members. They point out that the review into party reform was meant to consult members in a spirit of transparency and openness. Instead, they argue, a crucial decision about Young Labour’s NEC representative will be taken behind closed doors and without consultation in just three weeks time.