KCL Labour Society on Student Politics, Keir Starmer, and COVID-19

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KCL Labour Society on Student Politics, Keir Starmer, and COVID-19

Roar recently spoke with the newly elected KCL Labour Society Co-Chairs Alli McKelvey and Aleksandr George about the current state of student politics and their plans for the upcoming academic year.

The Labour Society and the Labour Party

While political societies are based on the ideals of their governmental counterparts, the recent KCLCA election has shown us that the views of both groups do not always align. When asked how the Labour Society’s overarching values relate to those of the broader political party, we were told that “I don’t think we differ that much from the Labour Party as a whole.

“I think obviously as students we will naturally have things that we’re maybe slightly more interested in than the general Party would be, but yeah, I think our membership, in general, is quite well reflective of the general feeling in the party.”

The chairs view the Society as an ideal jumping-off point for students looking to engage with politics. Aleks told us that “I’m obviously American, so there are certainly things that I don’t know and certainly things I am happy to learn with other members of our society as far as politics and certain stances and policies are concerned.

“We obviously are activists, young activists, and we did spend a lot of time last year campaigning for the general election, and this year I imagine we’ll be spending a good deal of time on Sadiq Khan’s reelection campaign because the election was moved.” Alli echoed his sentiment, saying that “we just would love for more people to become politically involved and politically aware.”

Keir Starmer and the Future of Labour

With the recent change in Labour leadership following their defeat in the General Election, we wanted to see how the new leaders of the Labour Society felt on the matter. When asked if she felt the Labour Party is changing under Keir Starmer, Alli told us that “as a Society, we did vote to back Keir Starmer. This wasn’t a binding sort-of election or anything, it was just – we just put a social media post out, and that was it. Nobody was compelled to campaign for anything they didn’t want to.

“I definitely think perhaps there has been some change within the party. I think people who were feeling disillusioned with Labour and perhaps feeling that Labour wasn’t representing their views or the Party for them anymore have reconsidered that, and see Keir Starmer as a more attractive option. He’s polling quite well at the moment, so I suppose that’s a good reflection of public mood.”

While the Labour Society co-chairs are content with their Party’s new leadership, they were less optimistic when discussing the Party’s ability to bring about change in the current political landscape. “The problem with the makeup of Parliament at the moment is you have over an 80-seat Tory majority,” said Alli. “I think, whatever the leader of the opposition does, they’re not in a brilliant position, whoever it is, to affect any real government change because of the massive majority that the Tories have.”

Aleks told Roar, “I would say that there’s just a lot going on as far as factual divides are concerned, and we will probably just have to wait and see whether or not a less radical leader will be better at unifying the party and better at getting everyone more on the same page as far as elections are concerned.”

Student Votes and the Corbyn Era

The Labour Society co-chairs were optimistic that the support Jeremy Corbyn fostered among students could be maintained by Keir Starmer. Alli said, “they might have had a lot of loyalty to him, but I think now that they’re more involved with Labour there is a lot of loyalty to the movement and to what Labour stands for in general, regardless of who the leader is.”

Aleks does not know “if we’re going to sing songs about him”, but said that “he does seem to be someone who’s willing to listen to young people and who cares about the things that we care about.

“I hate to keep saying “time will tell,” but it’s looking good, as far as I’m concerned”.

COVID-19 Response

Both criticised the government of “playing catch-up” in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic and presenting the public with “contradictory or confusing information” that they say has primarily impacted lower-class Britons.

“There’s a disproportionate effect in society…” said Alli. “You’re not going to be able to work from home if you’re doing a manual job, so there are going to be people who are much more affected by the measures that have been taken.”

Aleks argued that government advice in itself comes “from a place of privilege” in that “you’re not thinking about how ‘what I’d be able to do’ would translate to people who don’t have as much money or as much power – a high position, or a nice job where you can work from home or over Zoom call for.

“It seems to be one rule for some, and another rule for others depending on how much you’re earning and how valuable the Tory Party seems to view your life as.”

Rent Strikes

The co-chairs expressed their support of rent strikes and expressed criticism over the new Labour leader’s proposed policies “that help landlords more than renters”, saying that “the last thing you want to be worrying about [during the pandemic] is whether you’ll have a roof over your head.”

Aleks elaborated on the impacts of Starmer’s proposals if they were to be combined with mortgage freezes. “If you freeze mortgage payments and we still have to pay rent, then our landlord just gets free money.”

Unions

Regarding the Society’s unionist activities, the co-chairs said that “we were incredibly supportive of the UCU strikes. We had members out every day on the picket line, so we definitely are standing up for unions in that regard.” Aleks noted a former co-chair’s plan for “a Union Day to educate students on the history of unions, why they should join a union [and] the importance of unions” in 2020/21, prior to the pandemic.

When questioned on KCLSU’s motivation to stand up for students’ interests, they said “there haven’t been specific complaints within our society”, but that “there’s an argument there that there needs to be more transparency.

“If it’s a union, it should be running like a union.”

Plans for 2020/21

Alli expressed uncertainty over Labour Society’s plans for 2020/21, saying that “we have no idea what is actually happening with university next year.” Aleks noted that due to the pandemic, the society could no longer canvas for the Labour Party.

However, they hope to be able to plan more events targeted at freshers. “I think, there are lots of students at King’s who would class themselves as Labour supporters or, definitely, as Labour voters, but have not really considered what they could be doing for the party and what political activism could mean for them.”

Alli also hoped to plan more “Liberation events” headed by the Society’s Liberation Officers, positions aimed at “representing minority students and those who really don’t have their voices heard all the time at King’s.

“We want to make it so clear that KCL Labour is a place for everyone, no matter what your background is, even if you’ve not been politically involved or done any political activism before… we welcome everybody, not just the select few.”

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