This weekend’s National Council in Cardiff is the biggest in our history, both in terms of the number of delegates and the number of motions. That is incredible.
We are the largest student political organisation in the country by a comfortable margin which is an incredible achievement, but with that distinction comes a new set of challenges.
We’ve come a long way from the 30-40 delegates discussing policy in the back room of a student union. We’re now a truly national organisation with a membership in the thousands spread across more institutions than ever before. We may have moved on but our structures haven’t and they’re in desperate need of reform.
The way we debate and the way we hold our democratic events is stuck in a bygone era where white middle class men tried to replicate the chamber of the House of Commons in their student union. That’s not why most people joined Labour Students, and it’s not something we should be retaining.
Our membership today is beyond comparison to the one we had in the 1970’s when the rules that govern us were first dreamt up. Students come from all walks of life to university and come to Labour Students because they’re curious about politics and driven by a sense of social justice.
This weekend we’ll have lively debates, we’ll be invited to think about issues in an entirely new way, and we’ll share stories with people we never normally would have met. If you’re coming to National Council then I hope you’re excited, it promises to be a great event and I hope you’ll say hello. Even if you’re not coming to National Council this weekend don’t worry, you’re still a part of the change that Labour Students is making.
I didn’t run to be Chair to just organise campaign days, introduce guest speakers, or chair debates. I ran, and I joined, to create a culture and a climate in Labour Students that fostered that same political curiosity that drove us all to sign up in the first place. That’s something we’re still working on. In such turbulent political times that must be our first priority as an organisation, to provide a place for people to learn and develop their politics free from populism and prejudice.
With such a huge membership, with all the changes the Labour Party is making under Jeremy Corbyn, and with the way we’ve seen politics transform this year its clear Labour Students cannot stay stuck in the past. We cannot cling to outdated structures that were made for a different time.
This weekend we will have a chance to vote for a new constitution, one that addresses some of the issues I’ve spoken about here. It creates new structures that allow us to engage the thousands of members who have been excluded by a Labour Students built in the past.
That constitution isn’t the silver bullet, and I don’t have all the answers to these challenges; but I do know how we’ll find those answers.
We will work together to tackle these testing times together. To build an organisation fit for the future, not stuck in the seventies. One that supports a movement that’s on the march, not dominated by cliques. A Labour Students where all our members can realise their potential, meet their ambitions, and play their part in the life changing project we call the Labour Party.
Kate Dearden is the National Chair of Labour Students