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Gareth Knight argues against NUS involvement

Gareth_campaigning Gareth Knight is the head of Projecting Politics, the country's leading provider of political resources for schools and producer of the Untangled Web series of publications. He is a former Chairman of the University of York Conservative & Unionist Association, a former branch YC Chairman and Area YC Vice Chairman. Gareth stood in Finchley at the local elections in May, and worked for 5 years as a Conservative Party Agent.

Recent attempts to formally involve Conservative Future in NUS are utterly meaningless and a desperate attempt to give CF a purpose.

It is frequently stated that the party does not care about Conservative Future, that it is seen as at best irrelevant and at worst a destructive embarrassment to the party as whole. Formal involvement in NUS is a clear sign of this irrelevance.

Most of what CF now does is flogging a dead horse and that includes NUS more than anything. CF election candidates (almost unanimously) proudly state that they want more active participation in NUS as if its one of the few things left that a CF Exec member can have any influence over.

The arguments surrounding involvement in NUS seem to stem from three areas:

  • the need to reform NUS (by the time any reforms go thro ugh everyone has graduated and ceases to care)
  • the desire to give Conservative students a party platform at NUS conference (gives a CF Exec member the chance to act as ‘party leader’ and ‘chief whip’, other than that, pointless)
  • the desire to counter the much-quoted ‘leftie’ bias of NUS (Socialist Workers always have and always will be strong, get over it, you’d miss them if they were suddenly gone)

In reality, the main purpose seems to be the logic that Conservatives fight elections, the NUS executive is elected, therefore, the Conservatives need to stand.

The key difference here is that those who take an active interest in student politics are often very different to those who take an active interest in national party politics.

When I was at the University of York from 1997 to 2000, it would be fair to state that the vast majority of members of the Conservative Association had far more of an interest in the politics of the Student Union than the politics of the North Yorkshire area. This was not a bad thing. Students still helped out the local associations as much as possible, attended the party conference and had a very keen interest in national politics, but the focus was on the student union. We could stand on whatever platform we wanted, get elected (or not as the case usually was) and have a tangible say in how things were run.

The elections we had to send representatives to NUS conference would practically disgust those who support CF involvement in NUS as there was never any thought of a "party slate".

Elections were never based on party politics and any Conservatives who were elected would go along to the conference, have a good time with other like-minded delegates and delegates from our own university. They would jump at the chance of getting up on stage and tearing into the latest politically correct NUS campaign. With boos and heckles ringing in their ears, they would sit down proud of the fact they’d just made a speech that had them (99% of the time unjustifiably) labelled as racist, sexist, homophobic nut-jobs.

In the real world, all this fun and excitement meant nothing. Not one Conservative vote was won or lost, everyone had a good time and everyone graduated and looks back on his or her time at NUS conference with glee.

So, what was wrong with that from the party’s point of view?

Suddenly, the concept of CF slates, party line, and people running around with t-shirts and smiling faces like the people trying to get you to sign up to a direct debit to support a charity as you try to buy a pint of milk, comes in.

If you can’t say what you want, do what you want, stand for what you want when you’re a student, when can you do it?

As much as the party needs to keep a sense of discipline, stretching that to NUS politics is absurd. There’s nothing wrong with students doing whatever they want with regard to NUS, the sense of formulating policy and speaking their mind will actually help prepare them for real elections in years to come far more than whipping them into line.

Conservative Future’s involvement with NUS should be limited to a networking forum, sure, meet up for a few drinks at conference, hand out copies of the Daily Mail while standing next to the soiled hippy selling Militant, but no t-shirts, no slates, no party line means no trouble, no headaches and no problems for the party.

You have 60-odd years to spend being serious about politics, surely the graduates on the CF Exec should allow you 3 years to have a good time?

A case for NUS engagement will be published tomorrow together with a poll.
Please keep comments constructive!


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