The National Union of Students is an embarrassment to most students in the country - it’s time to take back control.
By Frank Davies
The National Union of Students (NUS) has spent several of their conferences in recent history calling for the price of alcohol to be raised and demanding a “minimum price” on alcohol. Good thing their views are in line with their members then.
Whilst this is a small and relatively frivolous example of NUS incompetence, it is nevertheless a salient one. The NUS show themselves not only to be out of touch on every day issues such as this, but also occupy themselves more generally with a hard-left crusade against certain enemies, “Zionism”, for example, rather than tuition fees or living costs. Whilst the NUS have been out out of touch with mainstream student opinion for years, this new leftwards drift, as well as increasing prejudice against Jews, is more concerning than ever. Whilst much has been made of last year’s president of the union, the cancer within it goes far deeper than one individual, as helpfully chronicled here.
Much has been made of the controversial outgoing president of the NUS, Malia Bouattia and her comments that Birmingham University is a “Zionist outpost”. Indeed, her comments attacking “mainstream Zionist-lead media outlets” are just as worrying, not to mention her labelling of terrorism as “resistance”, and her view of peace talks in Palestine as “strengthening the colonial project”. This clear anti-Semitism is only part of the problem with the NUS. As ever, these Peter Pan students (Bouattia herself is 30) care more about Marx than marks, and more about Palestine than Plymouth.
Indeed, these thoughts are clearly echoed by students at Lincoln, Hull, Loughborough and Newcastle universities, who all disaffiliated from the NUS when given a chance last year in referendums. For student politics to in any way serve students, universities must leave the NUS; an organisation that becomes more detached from the reality of student life every year.
All hope is not lost, however. This year, Tom Harwood ran to be the new president of the NUS. An actual student, still at an actual university, who promised to vote against any “self-aggrandising motion that does nothing to directly improve the lives of students”. He also promised to base his campaign around living costs, and attempt to re-energise the NUS as an actual weapon to campaign for all students, rather than simply as the student wing of the Labour Party.
Unfortunately for the NUS, Harwood did not win this year’s election. Nevertheless, Bouattia has thankfully been ousted in this year’s election by Shakira Martin; although not before listing the “top student priority” as a “free, free Palestine”. Billed as a centrist, pragmatic candidate, Martin certainly seems like a step in the right direction to regain some sense of purpose within the NUS and focus on student’s actual priorities rather than factional bickering.
Whilst Harwood- a leave voting, Conservative supporting student may be something of an big ask within the NUS, hopefully the organisation will slowly begin to re-orientate itself. When the incoming leadership talks about Jewish students, we can hope it is in the context of fighting anti-Semitism, rather than encouraging it.
Whilst it will take much more than one person at the top of the NUS to recognise its failings and turn the organisation around, it is nevertheless a start. Hopefully, the NUS could one day be a pressure group run for and by students, rather than a jumped up hard left club of perpetual students, happy to condemn UKIP and Israel, but reluctant to condemn ISIS. The NUS desperately needs a revolution if it to become relevant or useful again, rather than yet another year of frothing anti-Semitism as the current leadership drifts further out of touch with those it claims to represent. The choice is clear.