The NUS is alienating the very people they claim to represent, and their Liar Liar campaign launched April 16th is just more evidence how.
The mission of the National Union of Students “is to promote, defend and extend the rights of students and to develop and champion strong students’ unions.” Their values are to be a “Student Focused” organisation, “Striving for Excellence” through “Collaborative” working.
Member Unions & Guilds of the NUS (called Constituent Members) typically hold charitable status thus “cannot be used as a vehicle for the expression of party political views”. Although the behemoth that is the NUS does have charity wing, the NUS is made up of 7 private companies. This entitles them to undertake party political behavior unlike the majority of their members.
A largely government funded #GenerationVote campaign was spearheaded by the NUS to raise awareness of new voter registration rules for the 2015 General Election. As students predominantly live away from home, postal information can be hard to track so Students’ Unions launched campaigns to inform their members and encourage voter registration. Loughborough Students’ Union alone registered over 5,000 students.
Another part of the #GenerationVote campaign is a campaign named Liar Liar kicked off by the NUS ahead of the 2015 General Election.
— NUS UK (@nusuk) April 16, 2015
The Liar Liar campaign is one in a whole series of campaigns promoted by the NUS that many students are apposed to. The £40,000 campaign directly attacks individual MPs, including the deputy PM Nick Clegg, who the NUS establishment believe betrayed students by pledging not to raise tuition fees before the 2010 election, and then were part of the government who reformed the entire tuition fee funding system, raising the tuition fees cap to £9,000. The inflammatory imagery and personal attacks are far from the excellence the NUS claims to be governed by.
The campaign came with a stark warning to Students’ Unions:
This campaign has clear party political overtones and involvement in it by students’ unions would put into question your charitable status.
NUS does not request or promote the involvement of students’ unions in Liar Liar.
NUS strongly advise that students’ unions should be mindful of this and elected officers, volunteers and staff should refrain from directly promoting Liar Liar from official students’ union channels. This includes SU social media accounts, websites, email lists or other channels.
How does this campaign fulfil the mission of the NUS? If member Unions cannot collaborate with the campaign for fear of legal issues, how dare the NUS promote such a campaign?
How is this fulfilling the mission of the NUS?
The vast majority of students I’ve spoken to wish the media would lay off the attacks on the tuition fees scandal, we get it. The Liberal Democrats were the junior party of a collation; they were never going to be able to fulfil their pledges in full. However, the NUS are pushing as fervently as ever with a large social media campaign and billboards across the MPs constituencies.
48% of students voted for the Liberal Democrats last time around and Liberal Youth still have strong support from many current students. Conservative Future likewise draws huge support from University students across the country. Alienating such large proportions of the student population removes much of accountability that NUS democracy requires to ensure representative mandate.
Misrepresented students will struggle to engage and definitely will not take time away from dissertation season to take part in a conference that reinforces the views of the few.
Imagine the NUS actually spent their money on making student's lives better and not on election billboards. Just imagine…
— Stace (@stackee) April 16, 2015
The campaign highlights a huge failing at the heart of the NUS: many of those within the NUS establishment are so far removed from the average student it’s untrue. Not only have they not been students for years, many win elections on promises focused no where near student issues: to save polar bears, support non-student trade unions, ensure world peace, raise the minimum wage and personally take down political parties.
NUS presidential candidate Leon French put this close to the heart of his manifesto. The Liar Liar campaign is one key reason behind his decision to withdraw, which Label’s exclusive statement explains, as his tweet from Saturday night alludes to:
— Leon French (@Leon_French01) April 18, 2015
Many use NUS campaigns driven by student and government money to pursue their own personal political agendas. Many of these are members of the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts and Labour Students movements, and see their time at the NUS as a CV building exercise before moving into national politics. Policy directly aimed at student issues go without any support, while campaigns alienating huge proportions of UK students get money, time, energy and airtime behind them.
Toni Pearce’s photograph with the campaign sign will make an incredible addition to her political CV.
Toni Pearce (NUS President) and other members of the NUS have trumped accessibility, accountability and inclusivity in the organization they are building. However, they have persistently pursued policy and campaigns that exclude politically engaged students who chose to stand by the Liberal Democrat party and those who believe a progressive fees system is to be championed.
Leon’s tweet in response to queries of his decision summarizes the issue rather succinctly:
@danleedham The NUS isn't worth it. I'd love to do it for the students disenfranchised by it all, but none of it's going to change.
— Leon French (@Leon_French01) April 18, 2015
Those in the NUS establishment are alienating huge sections of the student population on the whole, forcing those who try to engage and to feel so disenfranchised they cannot even attend conference, yet alone see through an election campaign.
Voting statistics from the student vote in the 2015 General Election will prove just how far the NUS are from the reality of most students.
It won’t be long before more Unions attempt to remove affiliation from such a selfish organization. Broken promises may leave a mark with a few MPs, but a broken and selfish NUS will leave a mark with a whole generation.