Oxford University Labour Club have defiantly renounced their affiliation from ‘Labour Students’ following a vote last Wednesday.
Labour Students is the national umbrella organisation for all student Labour clubs and is responsible for their co-ordination and for building bridges between them and the central Labour party. It holds annual conferences, arranges social events and campaigns and sets policy stances.
OULC voted 19 votes to six to end their association with the organisation. The decision was taken with co-chairs Kat Shields and Jack Evans abstaining, believing that the decision should rest with the club membership.
In an open letter to the organisation, OULC said, “This was not a course of action we were happy to take, or one we took lightly.”
The transparency of the Labour Students’ internal democracy appears to have been an important factor in determining the vote. The letter, which appears on OULC’s web-
site, stated, “we could no longer remain within an institution whose democratic failings we feel increasingly threaten to undermine its positive work”.
OULC noted that every position on the Labour Students Exec had been elected unopposed in this year’s elections. One student was also supposedly told not to oppose a particular candidate, as the lines of succession had already been pre-determined.
The letter also questioned the lack of availability of Labour Students’ constitution to members, asking, “How can individual clubs be expected to argue for change if they can’t even consult the constitution?”
OULC also stated that during the recent election, the official campaigning materials OULC received from Labour Students were insufficient, forcing OULC to create and finance their own.
The disaffiliation has, however, provoked hostile reactions. Wes Streeting, Ex-President of the NUS who stood as the Labour Student’s candidate, tweeted the following day that he hoped “no Labour MPs will now speak at the club”.
Criticism has also surfaced in Oxford. A letter signed by three former OULC chairpersons claims that the disaffiliation has left OULC “cast adrift” and states that while Labour Students may not be a perfect organisation, the work that they do and the resources that it presents to OULC are invaluable.
Kat Shields, current co-chair of OULC, has responded to the criticism by stating that the vote was not taken out of spite and that previous efforts to alter the dynamic of Labour Students from within had simply met too much opposition.
Hoping to re-join as soon as significant changes had been made, Shields stated that the vote was not simply a protest vote but one designed “to inspire a discussion and bring about reform”..
It has also been questioned why Tony Blair, who distanced himself from student politics while at Oxford, was recently made an honorary member of the OULC. The co-chairs of OULC stated that the honorary membership was largely out of recognition for his career in national politics.