By Harry Matthews
This week, I have been attending NUS’ National Conference in Sheffield, on Liberal Youth’s behalf. There is, as I’m sure you’ll be aware, a lot of bad blood between the Liberal Democrats and the NUS. After some MPs breaking that pledge, strangely enough the NUS weren’t too happy with us. It has, however, given people who need to get elected an easy target to hit. They had even invited Nick Clegg to speak; I can’t imagine the NUS really wanted him to speak – it was more advantageous to them for Nick to decline; but I believe Nick should have called their bluff and answered the obvious questions NUS have for him.
Of course, some delegates would have been a bit excited in the presence of the Deputy Prime Minister – and he did get booed at the mention of his name & we as a whole got called “out and out liars”, but in 2015 we have quite a few University seats to defend. We need to start our narrative for students now.
The Conference floor is an interesting place. I must admit I had a rather dim opinion of NUS – actually, for the most part, I still do – it’s unrepresentative of students, full of cliques & self-obsessed – but from what I did see there are a few glimmers of hope. Liam Burns is a genuinely lovely guy (when not seeking reelection) and he does understand that NUS needs to open more to other political parties. But back to the Conference floor: it does look and feel like a Labour conference – you hear praise for trade unions & speeches started with ‘Comrades’. I was half-expecting there to be a rendition of ‘the Red Flag’.
I spoke at two fringe events – one on NUS’ Come Clean campaign & at the launch of the Democrats & Reformists Network, which was focussed on Financial Education. I did fear I would be booed at the first event. However, the delegates there I think were receptive to our message – show us some respect, and we’ll show you more back. Liberal Youth and the NUS can and should work together – we do not agree on everything, but where we do, we can get a better deal for students.
The second event was far more informal; a good discussion on the implementation of Financial Education. Should it be compulsory? Where should it fit in? How should it be delivered? A whole host of ideas were discussed – it seemed the general consensus seemed to be about integrating it into secondary school PSHE lessons, straight from Year 7, as well as introducing a voucher system at Colleges and Universities for those who need financial assistance.
All in all, it has been an eye-opening experience. But if there is one thing I would change, it would be to have more Liberal Youth people there. That’s why I think we should actively encourage our branches to put people up to be NUS delegates.