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Tim Aker: The University Challenge

Tim_aker Tim Aker is former President of Nottingham University CF

When I ran for Education Officer in the Nottingham University Students Union elections a number of things came to me. Firstly, the dominance of left-leaning institutions and societies like the numerous equality and diversity organisations, the LGBT, the Peace society and groups for global justice (italicised to emphasise it is their concept of social justice, one bound to the state, within the state and of the state). However well meaning these groups are, their radical agendas spread beyond their remit to, now, campaign for ultimately anti-conservative ends.

Secondly these groups took action, won places on elected Students Union committees and run for National Union of Students elections, to which those delegates select the national leaders of the Students Movement. The previous NUS President was endorsed by the ‘Broad Student Left’; the current national president is a Labour Party member, although she ran as an independent. Thirdly, this explains why we keep losing.

So you can see the problems for Conservatives, although we have no right to complain unless we do something about it. We constantly send candidates to the slaughter at NUS conferences because we think that’s the way to get change. But clearly it’s not. With Labour/Liberal sympathising organisations controlling the University’s own Unions they therefore cut off the oxygen flow to any potential Conservative election victory in the NUS.

The proof, however, of a Conservative revival is that at the University level Conservatives can make a difference without compromising their principles. In the recent Union elections I took part in, my votes would have easily got me elected to a post at any other University, give or take a few. A colleague scored double what I got and we even got a member elected to the Union. These achievements only sprang from a strong conservative organisation within the university.

The key here is that it’s enough to know ourselves that candidates are Conservative members and sympathisers. The strategy is, either, having them run as independents, such as we did at Nottingham, or if necessary run a primary where students can pick their official conservative nominee. The key to victory, regardless, is to prepare in advance and have a strong candidate supported by the CF base, acting as a campaign team come election time. Strong branches make stronger candidates.

At Nottingham, this last year, we successfully doubled our membership and contacts, held regular meetings, socials AND we committed ourselves to openly seeking elected posts within those committees that control University policy. We have one member on the welfare committee, others on society’s council and many more. But it was only a start. As President I set down a long term strategy for having a full slate of candidates for Students elections, not just for the University Union but NUS too.

As I hand over as President, the branch has joint meetings planned with the LGBT, in an attempt to stop their seemingly institutional bias towards Labour and the Liberals. As president I oversaw the most diverse committee in the branch’s history, with links to international student societies and more women on the committee than ever before. And I didn’t need an A-List to make that happen. At Freshers Fayre I draped the Union Flag over our backdrop because I knew myself that it tells all members what we stand for, a country united, a society united, all to work for a Greater Britain and as a result we got the largest, strongest, most diverse conservative branch in the society’s history at Nottingham.

In my experience conservative solutions to the problems in academia go down well amongst students. We want an end to the divisive obsession with Israel and Palestine that dominates so many NUS conferences. As important as the issue is, take it to the Debate Society, not NUS. We want Universities to become bastions of academic excellence, not places where people go to avoid looking for work for 3 years. We want academic freedom, not a simmering institutional leftism seen in some departments (and those at Nottingham will know all too well about the Law and Socialists department). We now have to fight for it.

The Conservative revival within the students’ movement will not come overnight, or within a year. But it will - it has to come. Ensuring there are strong student branches that stick to traditional conservative principles is a must. From there, running for everything, every election for every committee, even a bus if it’ll help, is the next step. Appoint an elections officer to the branch and finally, with enough of a power base, with enough name recognition, put up full slates of candidates for everything, NUS, Students Union Elections, Hall JCR’s, SCR’s.

One lesson from America we can take is that democracy at the lowest level generates momentum, and an agenda. The conservative take-over of local school boards, for example, now enforces education policies to which there is national debate. Within the University arena, there is still work for Conservatives to do. It is not up to us to watch and be beaten, it is up to us to win again.


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