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NUS leadership: Blairites supported by establishment
Claire Laker-Mansfield, Socialist Students national organiser
Against the backdrop of an impending general election, the National Union of Students (NUS) met for its annual conference. Socialist Students argued for a fighting, democratic union and a strategy to escalate the struggle for free and accessible education for all.
Unfortunately, given the gravity of the situation faced by students and young people - increased fees and debt, housing crisis, internships and low pay, etc - the conference failed to measure up to the tasks.
Last year, the left took some substantial steps forward - including the election of Malia Bouattia, a more left-wing candidate, as president. This year the right, primarily based around the Blairite Labour Students organisation, had regrouped and were well organised to try and retake control.
They had drawn support based on many of the attacks and slurs that had been heaped on the NUS leadership over the last year, particularly in the right-wing media, but also from other sections of the establishment.
These attacks have been strongly linked to the onslaught on Jeremy Corbyn and the left more widely. In particular, they have focused on seeking to conflate legitimate criticism of Israeli state policies and support for the Palestinian national struggle with the serious charge of anti-Semitism.
This is sometimes made easier for them by the mistaken political position taken by some of the left on the national question in Israel-Palestine, as well as some ill-put or insensitive remarks that individuals have made.
In a striking illustration of the 'two parties in one' which currently exist in Labour under Corbyn - an anti-austerity party and a pro-cuts Blairite majority of MPs and councillors - the discussion on the election saw candidates aligned with Labour Students argue for an essentially non-political approach to the election.
When debating an emergency motion on the election, Shakira Martin, who went on to win the presidency on a right-wing platform, argued for a voter registration drive divorced from the political issues and 'strictly non-partisan'.
In many ways by far the most significant debate was one which took place as part of the 'annual general meeting' on NUS governance.
This included a raft of undemocratic measures which are designed to put the overwhelming majority of decisions in the hands of full-time NUS officers, and reduce even further the power of ordinary students.
These changes will now be taken to an extraordinary conference for approval - itself an undemocratic manoeuvre. Socialist Students will therefore be organising against this.
Mary Finch, from KCL Socialist Students, gave a fiery speech as part of her campaign for election to the national executive council of NUS. We await the result of the election.
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