This hypocritical and unrepresentative organisation is little more than a poorly veiled wing of the Labour Party. It needs cultural and structural revolution.
The National Union of Students is fond of bold claims. Its website reads like the vision of a humanitarian charity or some wildly utopian dreamscape. They claim to ‘fight discrimination, isolation and injustice’, while promoting (buzzword alert) ‘equality of opportunity for everyone to participate fully in a society that celebrates diversity.’ These are noble aims, obviously, and there is nothing wrong with idealism. However, when it is costing thousands of pounds a year and profiting hugely from the student body, one should expect some substance to their rhetoric.
Sadly, this is hard to come by at the NUS. Beneath their catchwords of ‘diversity’, ‘change’ and ‘inclusivity’ it really is quite difficult to see how they have benefited the daily lives of students at all. Rather than focusing on issues that affect all of its members, such as increasing bursaries, contact hours and university standards, this organisation have shown an unwavering commitment to their own uniform agenda on party and international politics. Why on earth, to take one example, is the National Union of Students debating and passing policy on the Israel-Palestine conflict? This is not only laughable (I struggle to imagine Netanyahu calling a ceasefire because the NUS have wagged their finger at him) but it is an insult to the many students who are struggling to pay their way or are in dire need of more contact hours and better services; issues that the NUS should be taking direct responsibility for.
I will admit to laughing for longer than I should have at this headline from The Independent, which I think, quite beautifully, encapsulates this very problem: ‘NUS motion to condemn Isis fails amidst claims of islamophobia’. Let that sink in for a moment, and then help me decide which part is worse: the idea that the NUS felt it necessary to ‘condemn Isis’ (Oh really, you’re not a fan?) or the fact that some of its members felt that doing so would be discriminatory. This organisation has become a self-parody and has done more to damage the reputation of student politics than it has to benefit its seven million members. I would encourage its elected representatives to replace this narcissistic, self-indulgent, nonsense with pro-active education policy. Maybe then they will begin to appear less drastically out of touch.
The NUS’s insularity can be attributed to the fact that they are not very diverse at all. In fact, for an organisation that claims to ‘represent the interests of more than seven million students,’ it is evident that they only represent the interests of one political party. Every NUS President since communist David Aaronovitch (1980-82) has been a member of the Labour Party. This homogenous mass has produced numerous Labour MP’s (Jack Straw, Charles Clarke, Phil Woolas, Stephen Twigg and Jim Murphy to name a few) and one life peer. How can an organisation as insular as this have the gall to suggest it represents ‘7 million student voices’? The NUS is one voice, with one message, and it has been droning on for generations.
At present, then, they are little more than fertile ground for the Labour Party to sow its own seeds. For decades, they have harvested politicians of the future and promoted their own agenda under the guise of student representation. Take the recent ‘Liar Liar’ campaign as a case in point. This campaign, which saw £40,000 of NUS funding spent on billboards alone, sought to criticise the Liberal Democrats for a five-year old broken promise that everybody already knew about. It is surely clear to even the most casual cynic that this was a political-attack ad in the run up to the General Election. What other purpose did this campaign serve than to discourage students from voting Lib Dem?
This isn’t the only example of this supposedly representative union showing their political bias. Last year, they passed a motion to officially oppose Ukip which aimed to ‘make opposition to Ukip and the nationalist right a central part of our campaigning in the run up to the general election.’ With this in mind, I find it difficult to view the NUS as little more than a poorly veiled wing of the Labour Party. How can they simultaneously represent ‘seven-million student voices’ whilst campaigning against the Lib Dems and Ukip? Students who support these parties, or indeed any party other than Labour, will surely feel isolated by policies such as these, which is ironic considering their supposed commitment to ‘fighting discrimination (and) isolation’. They are only interested in fighting discrimination when it comes in a form that is appeaseable to their own blinkered agenda.
If the NUS are going to be taken seriously by the majority of students then it must put the self-righteous political posturing behind them and become a body dedicated to improving education. Ultimately, they need to be true to their word and not discriminate against students based on party-politics or ideology. This is the simple choice they face: to become a self-proclaimed Labour Party shill-set or do the job that they should have been doing all along. Represent the best interests of students, and campaign for improvements to education standards.