The moment I decided to stand to become an NUS delegate for Sheffield Hallam was when I found out that Vicki Baars was standing to become President. You may or may not remember Vicki as the NUS Vice President forced to apologise after sending out a chant with lyrics such as “put the Lib Dems in the middle [of a bonfire] and burn the f***ing lot!”. I found out when my uni’s elections were and stood in them. At Hallam, it was quite a tight contest, with eight candidates standing for the four places up for election. Other universities and colleges have far less competition for places. After a fun campaign where I won by a handful of votes, I was welcomed into the quirky and exciting world of the NUS. The structure of the conference itself is very similar to Liberal Democrat conferences, if you’ve ever been to one. Policy motions are proposed, debated, amended and voted on by delegates.
My biggest surprise at the conference was how utterly reasonable and moderate most of the delegates were. Resolutions made at the conference that I think could have come straight from Liberal Youth included:
- Opposing universal free education on the basis that those without access to the education shouldn’t have to pay for those that can,
- Opposing campaigning for the reintroduction of EMA in favour of a lower-cost, more targeted alternative that would support the students that really need it,
- Supporting a campaign to get the voting age lowered to 16,
- Rejecting measures against private investment in students’ unions,
- Supporting non-marketised competition between universities such as through the NSS,
- Greater support for graduate-entry medicine courses,
- Opposing a London rally as having ‘fuzzy’ aims and no chance of success,
- More support for students against unfair landlords’ deals,
- Challenging discrimination in mental health,
- Opposing gender quotas in elections.
The only motion that passed that I felt strongly against was one basically committing the NUS to campaigning against our MPs in marginal constituencies that broke the pledge to vote against an increase in Tuition Fees. In this debate, Josh Dixon was brave enough to confront conference as a Lib Dem, arguing that the party’s heart is still in the right place and Labour were just as bad on education. He received a thunderous applause and no heckling. This contrasts with a Socialist Workers Party candidate who was booed, heckled and faced a huge walkout of hundreds of delegates in protest of his party’s defence of rape apologists. Presidential candidate Peter Smallwood also received a very supportive reception for his message of more political diversity within the NUS. I’m really not exaggerating when I say that this year, both Tories and Lib Dems got a warmer welcome than the SWP.
In the executive elections, none of the Left faction’s candidates won. Every position went to relative moderates, most of whom had the support of Labour students.
Having seen what kind of people are really working in the NUS, and having a really great time at the conference, I want to encourage any and all liberally-minded students, whether you’re at college or university, to consider running to be an NUS delegate. Find out how your institution selects its delegates and stand, and we can build a better, more liberal NUS together.
Rich Clare is a Second Year Biology Student at Sheffield Hallam University and President of Sheffield Hallam University Liberal Democrats. He tweets at @RichBJC