Whilst disagreement and clashing opinions were rife at Young Labour Conference 2012, there is one thing that the 200 strong Conference can probably unanimously agree on: it certainly wasn’t dull.
This Conference was the first of its kind; the first annual Young Labour Conference, the first time members got a direct say on policy, and the first time cows on the train line have prevented the keynote speaker from arriving on time (#cowgate on twitter). Tom Watson did eventually arrive to deliver a speech which reminded delegates of the path the youth wing has taken since its inception in 1993, when he put forward a motion at the national Labour Party Conference.
Under Refounding Labour, the youth wing of the party was given policy powers for the first time in its history, and young members certainly didn’t miss this opportunity to have their say. Any doubts that the Labour Party is still a ‘broad church’ were kicked aside at this conference, with just about every opinion, view and policy idea put forward at some point.
But most importantly, this event set a new path for Young Labour. It proved that the youth wing is no longer a mere puppet of the national party, and the radical and bold stance that conference took last weekend shows that finally young members in the party have some teeth. Where delegates agreed with the central party, they said so, but where they felt the leadership weren’t doing enough to oppose cuts, to offer a new alternative, or to challenge the status quo they had no qualms in making those points clear. This was the weekend that Young Labour became a unique and distinct part of the wider Labour movement.
However, whilst the conference was in full-flow, delegates were given a reminder of what they were fighting against. That weekend David Cameron announced plans to strip all under 25s of their housing benefit. So it was perhaps apt that on the very same weekend as this Tory-led government launched yet another assault on Britain’s young people, Young Labour conference voted to make tackling youth homelessness their priority campaign for the upcoming year. Whilst the Tory party unveiled policy which will throw young people onto the street, the youth wing of the labour movement that weekend stood toe-to-toe with their Tory counterparts and made clear that Labour is on the side of Britain’s young people. Nowhere is the choice between Britain’s two major parties better demonstrated than here: Young Labour sent a clear message that weekend about the kind of people it stands up for.
The homelessness campaign encapsulated the radical zeal of the conference, with proposals for 1 million new council homes and opposition to right to buy. Conference went further and faster on a whole host of policies which challenged the vested interests and ‘rip-off’ culture that plague our economy. It voted in favour of policy to cap and regulate the rental sector, to take on rip-off rail operators by scaling back fares, to extend the voting franchise to sixteen year olds. Broadly, conference was united in these ambitions and aims, but squabbled over the detail. Passions sometimes spilled over into confrontation. Legitimate questions were posed, but really once the structure of the event had been announced, it was no good rehashing the detail. The Young Labour National Committee (who did a fantastic job in organising the event) have said they’ll totally take on board criticism for next year’s conference, and there’s no reason to suggest that won’t be the case.
Young Labour conference also made something else clear: the next generation of the Labour Party aren’t happy with the way things are, and are determined to change our party and our country for the better. The bold policy stances delegates took made absolutely clear that Labour’s next generation will not stand by whilst the richest in our society exploit those at the bottom. The old way of doing politics, and the old factions of Blair and Brown, are dead. As guest speaker Jonathan Reynolds (Vice Chair Youth of the Party) put it: ‘remember the past, but more importantly, look to the future’.
Ed Miliband was right to draw a line in Labour’s recent history, and the attitude of those at Young Labour conference last weekend was much in line with that thinking. Young Labour has set a real challenge to the national party, a challenge for it to be bolder, braver, and more radical in its proposals to tackle the monumental injustices in our country by changing the consensus of the last 30 years.
Young Labour Conference 2012 proved the doubters wrong. Those who say the youth wing should be controlled and suppressed and that young people are either reckless, dangerous, or boringly apathetic. None of those traits were shown to be the case last weekend. Young Labour Conference 2012 turned over a new page for the youth wing of our national party, and the future looks bright for young people on the left.