Politics is not just anyone’s game. Typically, if you want to play, you have to be a certain type of person. You only have to glance at parliament to see that straight, white, able-bodied men are disproportionately overrepresented.
That’s why, as the leaders of the Labour party’s youth movement, running our annual Equalities Academy has been one of our proudest achievements. The academy, which we’ve been running for the past three years, is essential in allowing liberation groups, minority groups, and crucially those oppressed and underrepresented in politics to self-organise.
As with the academy, our equalities conference is open to those who self-define in any of the following categories: women, disabled, BAME and LGBT+. You could define yourself as one or all. In theory, the only people “excluded” are the most overrepresented in politics; anyone who is straight, white, male and able-bodied. Luckily for them, they are not oppressed in politics. They do not need to attend a conference about liberation and under-representation. We do not believe this to be a controversial statement.
However, some clearly believe it to be so, as our entrance criteria have been covered by several news organisations, with some Tory MPs claiming to be outraged at this act of “discrimination” against straight, white men. (Some Tories have also complained about the fact we are limiting a Young Labour conference to Labour members aged under 27, if you can believe it.)
For the confused, let us explain. At our conference, we elect our four Young Labour liberation officers. Through these liberation officers, those who are underrepresented in politics can have their voices amplified. The officers, as well as the equalities conference, are two of our most vital tools for creating a more equal parliament and society. Studies show that if you are from one of those four groups, you are less likely to even stand for election, never mind be elected. That’s why we wanted to invite members from these groups to our conference; we want to energise, empower and give important organising training to help them to get there.
If the last election taught us anything, it’s that young people are a new force in politics and that they are fed up with the status quo. Labour is the only party committed to making parliament more than just a debating club for old white men. It’s time parliament looked more like our streets.
We want to ensure that young people from groups that are regularly excluded from our system are involved in the decisions that affect them. We want them to be empowered to advance their representation in local and national politics. It isn’t new or revolutionary, but it remains incredibly necessary. Many of the Tories creating faux outrage online oppose the idea that we need more BAME, women, LGBT and disabled people in parliament. We strongly disagree.
Last week, we celebrated 100 years of some women getting the vote in the UK. The heroic women who fought for this right were told they were asking for too much, but they won and the white men of parliament conceded. Women’s suffrage wasn’t won by men, and equal representation won’t be either. Women need a space to organise in our political parties. Labour is the closest to equal representation (45% of our MPs are women), but we are not there yet.
Measures such as all-women shortlists have taken us a step closer to real equality, but now we want to ensure that all groups are equally able to get involved in politics. Only 7.8% of MPs are from a black and minority ethnic background, whereas approximately 14% of the country is of BAME origin. We will unashamedly campaign to correct this imbalance, and BAME members will be at the front of the campaign.
If the Tories think that whipping up a culture war between marginalised young people and everyone else is the battle they want, they have picked the wrong fight. Since the general election in 2017, Young Labour has grown to have about as many members as the Liberal Democrat party.
The press can parrot the Tories’ director of communication’s lines, or it can start to think for itself. Our choice to allow young people to pick their own representatives has been called a “row” by the press. In Young Labour, there is no row. We are 100% committed to making sure that only people who belong to certain groups vote for the officer who will represent them. Just as members from London won’t vote for the Scotland rep, only LGBT+ members will vote for the LGBT+ officer.
Young LGBT members in Young Labour are going to attend our conference to elect their officer. So are young women. So are young BAME people. So are young disabled people – who may also be male, white and heterosexual, for what it’s worth. These young people are organising campaigns to make sure their voice is heard. They’re going to be organising for a Labour victory at the next opportunity. We know we’re making the Tories nervous for their jobs.
We’re young, we’re diverse, we’re organised, and we’re coming for them.