By Sam Wyatt, a 2nd year International Relations student at King’s College London.
Once emancipatory, now tyrannical. Once representative, now elitist. Once a union, now a joke. To all intents and purposes the National Union of Students (NUS) has lost touch with the students it is supposed to represent. Though their motives are often honourable, too often the National Executive Committee (NEC) and the many NUS delegates have shown a serious lack of judgement allowing personal beliefs to get in the way of their job. Indeed, by condemning UKIP without any qualms and yet hesitating to condemn the Islamic State* they have laid bare their moral bankruptcy. Do they honestly believe that a bunch of old Eurosceptic fruitcakes are more worthy of condemnation than a murderous death cult who savagely butcher innocent children? They must remember that they are supposed to represent us and if these are the views of my generation I would be fearful for the future. They claim on their official website to “represent the interests of more than seven million students” but would seven million students ever hesitate to condemn IS? I think not. The reply to this observations is that the motion to condemn IS may have unintentionally isolated Muslim students, but what of the Israeli or UKIP supporting students who are isolated by NUS condemnation? Are their views so abhorrent that they forego their right to representation? Are they not worthy of protection from their Union? The NUS strives to “fight discrimination, isolation and injustice” and yet often their actions perpetuate hierarchies that provides more protection for certain groups than for others. This is not to say these groups don’t deserve to be liberated, but that liberation should be for all and not for those the NUS politically agree with. Take the recent call to abolish gay men’s reps because “they don’t face oppression”. This represents a common flaw in NUS thinking, rather than focussing on real liberation, it becomes a game of oppression top-trumps where different minorities are scrambling to see who is most oppressed. Are gay men, a group who have been persecuted throughout history, suddenly emancipated? Of course not, they still face numerous obstacles to liberation and though the vast majority of the student population accept this, it seems the NUS don’t.
Herein lies the problem: the NUS does not actually represent the student body as turnout has always been shockingly low in elections for NUS delegates. Take Manchester Metropolitan University for example where 831 people voted out of a student population exceeding 32000 giving a whopping mandate of less than 2.5% of the student population. Alternatively, take my own university King’s College London whose alumnus, Ivison Macadam, was the founder and first president of the NUS. In our NUS delegate election in 2015, we were blessed enough to achieve a ‘phenomenal’ turnout of 3.8%**, an enthusiastic show of support for an institution we created. The NUS can hardly claim to represent the views of the student body when it struggles to garner support from more 5% of the student population.
Instead, the delegates represent the hyper-politicised, small minority of students whose insular bubble leaves them detached from the mainstream of student opinion. Attempts could be made to increase turnout and accountability, but in reality the NUS cares little for participation and democracy. Though they may protest, the rejection of an OMOV voting method is proof of this. Who wants to create a representative system when you can instead lobby the UNSC. Who knows the needs of a student more than that student themselves and yet these pseudo-politicians with their delusions of grandeur and self-importance do not want to give their members a say. Not only is it patronizing to deny a student a vote but it also highlights that the problematic democratic deficit within the union.
Furthermore, the student population would not elect somebody who has called for violent, armed resistance or anyone who wanted to abolish the police force and yet that is exactly what the union has done. The divisive nature of the NUS does not stop there with the incoming president declaring that because Birmingham University had the “largest JSoc in the country” it was a “Zionist Outpost”. I do not wish to make this too much about Malia, because I think it is true that she has faced more scrutiny than any other previous president and she may well be a lovely person. Nonetheless, these comments would have not been tolerated had it been aimed at any other minority group and the approval of these comments by the delegates, by voting for her, shows that the NUS is not the bastion of emancipation and equality that it claims to be.
Unfortunately it seems that the NUS is out of touch with the views of ordinary students and has failed to deliver on its promise of representation for all. As this is the point of a Union, unless there is drastic reform I no longer believe that King’s membership of the NUS can be justified and can see no other course of action but disaffiliation. Though I will miss the free McFlurrys and half price Spotify, I believe we cannot accept an institution that systematically demonizes aspects of the very community they supposedly represent.
*They have now condemned the actions of Islamic State
** This figure may even be less, because if memory serves correctly we were given three votes at the election