Labour’s right wing must stop helping the Tories in the student movement

Earlier this month I joined several hundred student delegates at NUS National Conference where we decide the next steps for the student movement for the coming year.

It was the third National Conference I had attended and we had three days of intense debate and discussions.

Since 2010 students have come under intense attack from the coalition government. Many of us were already struggling to make ends meet, but our standards of living have been slashed as well as the provision of education. Tuition fees have been trebled, Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) abolished, courses cut and the rights of international students have been under assault. And the Tory-led government plans to cut further.

That is why the Tories are deeply unpopular amongst students. Most of us want to see them removed from office as soon as possible. We need a Labour government that values education and is intent on improving society – not a coalition that makes us all poorer.

For many years our annual NUS conference has confined the Tories to the wilderness. I am proud to say we kept the NUS leadership a Tory-free zone.

But that changed at this year’s conference, when those on the right wing of Labour helped re-establish the Tories on the NUS National Executive Committee (NEC), and with a huge vote.

The union’s most high profile Labour Party member, the current NUS President Liam Burns, nominated the Tory candidate for the NUS NEC and leading Labour right students acted like cheer leaders to help get the Tory candidate elected.

Without the Labour right’s support no Tory would have been elected, as they just do not have the votes at our conference.

As elsewhere in the Labour Party, there is a thorough discussion amongst student Labour members about the policies necessary for a Labour government. Some of us believe Labour will need to undo the damage done to the education system by abolition of the EMA. Others, on the Labour right, do not want to bring back EMA. But helping Tories get elected should not be up for discussion – they should be thrown out of every elected post they hold at the earliest opportunity.

Allowing Tory students this new foothold inside NUS is a mistake. Whatever differences Labour-supporting students have over policy – the one thing we must unite around is defeating the Tories and the return of Labour to government. That will be much aided when Labour’s right stops helping the Tories in the student movement.

• Aaron Kiely is NUS Black Students’ Officer and a Labour councillor

After Bradford West: a five point plan for Labour

For anyone trying to gather why George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election so convincingly, they need to look no further than much of the Labour reaction. For a worryingly high section of the party, including some who would consider themselves on the left, there was an attitude of either blaming voters for daring to look elsewhere or Galloway for standing and acting as some kind Pied Piper figure, leading the poor simpletons of Bradford West astray. If the party is to make progress, it can take the following from the result:

  1. Don’t take support for granted. The Bradford West result must be melted down, made into a nail and hammered into the coffin of triangulation. Working class communities need a reason to come out and vote Labour – the alternative is our core vote sitting on their hands and letting the Tories sneak in (alas, if Labour repeats the mistakes of Bradford West in other seats come the next election, they are highly likely to shift right). As Diane Abbott acknowledged, Galloway understood the importance of taking his campaign to the community, and was rewarded handsomely.
  2. We have to realise that the wars still matter- and join the movement against more. The lack of importance some in the party place on the neo-con foreign policy agenda of the last decade is quite astonishing. ‘Iraq was ten years ago, and we won the seat in 2005, so clearly Iraq was irrelevant’ snapped the denial brigade. As well as the fact that, yes, even after 10 years, the butchering of a country does linger in the memory of quite a lot of people, the idea that the continuing presence of British troops in Afghanistan affects perceptions of the party seems alien to far too many. With this in mind, the importance of taking an active stance against aggression towards Iran (and indeed Syria, or any other country) cannot be overstated. Support for the disastrous NATO war on Libya doesn’t bear well, but apologising for Iraq and calling for an end to settlements in Palestine is a start on the long road towards creating a party of peace.
  3. Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with. Key to Galloway’s success were the high level of young people who had been through the experiences of the anti-war and austerity movements. Students hitting the streets in winter 2010 were the first to turn the tide on the coalition, and creating a presence amongst these young people is vital. In order to do this we will need give them something to come out for – Ken Livingstone’s pledge to reinstate EMA for FE students in London is an excellent start, but this needs to be used as a prototype for national policies. Over half of young black men in Britain are currently unemployed. We should be shouting that from the rooftops. And yes – we need to talk about free education again.
  4. Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities. One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid. As well as wars waged on Muslim countries abroad, all too often Labour politicians have seen scapegoating Muslims as fair game- Liam Byrne’s vile campaign in Birmingham comes to mind particularly. This has extended to how people within the party are treated – see the expulsion of Lutfur Rahman, Gilligan smears being used against Ken Livingstone etc. However, MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn have managed to develop strong links with local Muslim groups by speaking out against Islamophobia and the war-mongering of the coalition and the Labour leadership before them. These are the kinds of alliances that must be built.
  5. Austerity needs a fighting response – and a radical alternative. In a week with clear national anger at a ConDem budget so blatantly by and for the rich, Labour has gained its greatest momentum by coming out against it – Ed Miliband’s interrogation of the frontbench was been perhaps his most impressive PMQs performance so far. However, Labour needs to extend its opposition to the budget to the wider austerity agenda. Galloway’s election literature calling for the abolition of tuition fees and a strong anti-cuts message resonates with those being hit by the cuts far more than ‘too far, too fast’. The argument for a different direction of political travel can be won- but we need to make it first.

The key factor with all of these is that the people of Bradford West trusted Galloway to fight their corner over Labour. What the party has to do if it is to stop Britain going through an irreversible destruction of its greatest achievements is to take the fight to the coalition. If it starts to do this, then maybe we can start to talk about being the party of working people once again.

 

By Ben Hayes