Tom Slater

The backlash against the NUS has begun

The backlash against the NUS has begun
Text settings

In a move that has left student union politicos across the country clinging to their therapy dogs, the University of Lincoln Students’ Union has voted to disaffiliate from the NUS. Springing from the new, anti-NUS sentiment that is brewing on campuses across the country, Lincoln students voted 881 to 804 to leave.

This was a big breakthrough, putting wind in the sails of disaffiliation campaigns currently being fought at York, Oxford, Exeter and Manchester. And though this was all sparked by the election of new NUS president Malia Bouattia – the overgrown student fond of waxing lyrical about the ‘zionist-led media’ – the gulf between NUS leadership and its members has been growing for years.

After Lincoln’s vote, outgoing NUS president Megan Dunn said she was ‘sorry this decision was made by such a small number of students’. Which was a bit rich, seeing as she was elected in 2015 by a whopping 413 NUS delegates, and turnout at campus NUS elections – which select those delegates – is notoriously low.

Lincoln’s vote is significant. Not least because so many felt so detached from the NUS they didn’t even turn out to vote. And, in an interesting twist, Lincoln SU’s own president appeared to approve of the move, telling the Independent that ‘for some time... the NUS has been far removed from the issues our students tell us are important’.

Clearly the national NUS backlash is driven by more than cabals of lairy, un-PC students or, as some have witheringly suggested, Islamophobia. After all, student politicos have always been a bit mental. What we’re seeing here is the realisation that the NUS is not only distant from its members concerns – it doesn’t really care about them at all.

From stipulating what fancy-dress costumes students can wear to rolling out national consent-class campaigns, NUS politicos are more interested in regulating students than fighting for their interests. The NUS-backed war on campus lad culture alone has led to innocent students across the country being suspended and re-educated just for carrying on in a fashion the NUS doesn’t like.

Time and again, the material concerns of students take a backseat while the NUS discipline anyone who strays outside its buttoned-up moral code. It has even forgotten the basics; in 2009, it signed up to minimum-pricing of alcohol. This is a student organisation that thinks beer is too cheap.

There’s nothing wrong with having a national students’ union. The desire of students to organise, fight for their own interests and play a role in changing the world around them doesn’t inevitably lead to groupthink and dimwittery. The NUS is simply so cut-off, so contemptuous of its own members, it is incapable of fostering a real student movement.

So, congratulations to the Lincoln Leave campaigners. You’ve liberated yourselves from an institution that holds you in contempt. Here’s hoping others students’ unions will follow suit. It’s time the NUS was consigned to student-political history so that something new can emerge.

Update: Newcastle University Students’ Union has also decided to disaffiliate from the NUS after a referendum on membership was held. 989 students voted to leave; 486 to remain.

Tom Slater is deputy editor of spiked and the editor of Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus.