Jack Corban argues that Labour's ditched policy of excluding straight, white men from some conferences risks alienating potential supporters and working-class members
It’s fantastic that Labour are holding events that specifically champion groups less represented in Parliament; there is a real move towards a fully representative government under the vision Labour is advocating. As you could guess, though, there is a but coming.
Recently there's been some questionable moves by Labour in terms of their attendance policy to certain conferences that's garnered a lot of controversy on social media. The first conference in question saw the BAME (Black Asian and Minority ethnic) wing of the Labour Party offer a discount to people from a non-white background, meaning anyone from a non-white ethnicity would pay £10 less of the original £40 ticket. The second conference held by Young Labour in March excluded anyone who fits into the category of white, able bodied, straight males.
So what's my problem with this? In the most recent case of Young Labour, the personal issue I take is I want to attend events like these, or at least have the opportunity to attend such events. I’ll be honest - I was unlikely to attend this conference in the first place due to location, but it sets a precedent for such events that may be held in a similar way in the future. I want to attend these events because I support the cause of equality and equal representation; I want to attend and meet people who are also engaged in these issues like myself.
The concept of discounted tickets isn’t something I reject entirely, but maybe its use could have been better thought out. Technically the BAME wing of the Labour Party issued the discount, not the Labour Party itself, however the Party would have approved it; this makes me wonder why they didn’t perhaps introduce a discount themselves to others who need it rather than using it as a way to increase representation. Surely a discounted ticket would be a more effective way of encouraging people from economically disadvantaged backgrounds to attend - a discounted ticket would go a long way for working-class members. Perhaps this could help Labour try to reclaim their reputation as the party for the "working class".
I admit I’m less qualified to talk about this next bit but in terms of the discount based on your ethnicity, but the motive for it is what particularly puzzles me (as does the fact that you have to pay to attend political conferences in the first place, but that's a whole other issue). Labour’s BAME wing claimed that the motive behind the discount was to try and increase the representation of ethnic minorities, though the idea of a discount being required for this almost suggests to me that Labour’s policies won’t cut it - surely a discount wouldn’t be necessary if Labour felt adequately that they were already focusing on policies that people from minority backgrounds would support?
In defence of the event, representatives of Young Labour wrote in The Guardian and stated that those excluded did not need to attend: “They do not need to attend a conference about liberation and under-representation,” they wrote. Essentially this suggests that people from the excluded backgrounds have no business in getting involved with the issues, even when it’s in support of it. This seems a little counter-intuitive to me; if you want to resolve an issue and gain support for it, telling those who support it that they are not welcome is the political equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.
I understand that this is pretty rich coming from a white man; there's been events throughout all of history that excluded women, ethnic minority groups, disabled people and people of a non-straight sexuality. But although it’s cliché, you don’t fight fire with fire. And just because some idiots in the past (or maybe even some idiots today) have held events that are almost exclusively all white and male, I’ve never attended one, nor have I had any intention to. I’d be willing to bet that most people from the excluded backgrounds have never even dreamed of going to or holding such an event either.
As for the discounted tickets, the issue lead to an inquiry which ultimately saw Labour ditch the policy, though the fact that it took an external action to change this doesn’t particularly help with the issue it creates. Labour at its core is a political party, and if you support it and want it to win the next election, alienating any potential supporter or future supporter seems foolish to me, and it might be a reason why Labour hasn’t been able to gain a substantial lead in the polls.
The main issues I take with it, though, is the alienation it creates. I feel like I’m on the verge of drifting off into the land of political limbo that many of us are falling into with the recent tribalism in politics. I don’t feel I’d change my vote to another party at this current time, but I am getting dangerously close to simply drawing something crude on my ballet paper and leaving it at that.