After a close call in the summer, the NUS needs to show students it is getting its act together.
Confession time. In the referendum on whether the University of Nottingham should disaffiliate from the National Union of Students, I voted leave; but no, I voted remain on June 23rd so you can all keep your metropolitan liberal elite hair beanies. To me the NUS looked like an absolute shambles, an organisation that took its members for granted and instead of working hard to come up with ways to make students’ lives easier, they were more interested in indulging in far-left platitudes and wild fantasies. I suppose this is symptomatic of any vaguely political movement with socialist tendencies at the moment (who back there said the Labour Party?!). But the point of the NUS is that it is not appealing to an electorate, it is for the students, always has been always will be. The question is now whether the NUS has actually taken that message on board and decided its time to grow up.
Whether they like it or not, perception is absolutely critical for the NUS and how they were perceived in the summer meant that they did not set the agenda, rather their critics did. Naturally, the referendums held at universities across the UK captured the undivided attention of the British Press and boy did they go after the NUS. Now, it doesn’t help if you have a large section of the media snapping at your heels but that also means under no circumstances do you provide fuel for the fire. Fuel such as the story of NUS President Malia Bouattia rejecting a motion to condemn Islamic State was absolute current affairs gold and it didn’t matter that, in all fairness, she was concerned about the wording – the situation spun out of control. For the NUS to be credible in terms of ideas, they need to be ahead of the game when it comes to these things and try not to end up looking ignorant and naive. And to be brutally honest, do we need our NUS to condemn IS on our behalf? I think a resounding no is in order – condemning IS is most peoples’ default position! I very much doubt the opposition of the NUS to IS has made any difference to the situation whatsoever. Put simply, to avoid those kind of gaffes the NUS has to stop being reactive to negative coverage and be proactive in making good coverage, only then can its reputation start to heal.
As with any movement, the figurehead is a vital cog and unfortunately for the NUS, the appointment of Malia Bouattia as President has been more of a hindrance than a help. Her awful ramblings about the University of Birmingham being a “Zionist outpost” and “Zionist-led media” gives the impression that she and Ken Livingstone have made a massive bet on who can insult Jewish people the most. Yes it is absolutely fantastic that the leader of a mass organisation is a strong minded black woman who has fled from an awful past to reach a level which is quite frankly pretty commendable. But what is not on is when you have to go on Newsnight trying to justify yourself for not only bringing yourself but the whole group into disrepute. Her obvious disdain for the ‘MSM’ (mainstream media to you and me as we don’t go round wearing tin foil hats) has made her something worse than an embarrassment, it has made her a joke. And for what? What has she actually achieved? Their collegiate voting system ensures a small cabal of like-minded people are the ones who actually get to decide what happens. Not us. Not the students. Not the ones who need that representation. Not the ones who pay.
If you are currently coughing up your soy latte in complete disgust at the viciousness of this attack I am very sorry but seriously, I am not writing this to make a big song and dance. What is the one issue affecting students up and down the country? It’s money, is it not? We are all up to our eyeballs in debt and instead of trying to ensure students can get value for money of the things they really desperately need, all the NUS seems to be doing is setting up task-force after task-force dealing with everything from badger culling to lactose free yoghurt. Their morbid fascination with the culture of no-platforming probably means no criticism will ever be heard and not much will change. Shame really.
Image: blinking idiot via Flickr.