We know that they are highly averse to clapping and that many of their affiliate university students’ unions have been entirely conquered by the Cult of Identity Politics, but what is life really like at the NUS annual conference?
Jack Grove has been into the lion’s den (or should that be sheep’s pen?), and reports in the Times Higher Education:
On arrival at the registration desk at the Brighton Centre, I was able to choose from a range of stickers that would indicate to delegates if I’d prefer to be addressed along the lines of “he/him/his” or perhaps “they/them/theirs”. Later in the day, delegates elected a full-time sabbatical officer to deal with trans issues – a major financial commitment for a union that can’t afford a paid post dedicated to postgraduate issues.
When Ms Bouattia was elected as president – the union’s first female black Muslim leader – her supporters were chided by the panel chair for clapping and cheering as this may cause distress to other delegates and trigger a trauma episode.
Instead, delegates were asked by a sincere delegate not to whoop or holler, or clap at all, but use “jazz hands” to show appreciation (people were asked to wiggle their fingers) as the noise created was “ableist” and had indeed caused the delegate in question to have a panic attack on previous occasions.
While Spiked’s Tom Slater reports:
The National Union of Students conference is over. But we’ll still have the memories – the jazz hands, the whingeing and the casual anti-Semitism. For this was the year when this tyranny of crybabies, this politburo of plonkers, truly outdid itself. Not only did delegates call for social-media apps to be banned (people are saying nasty things on them) and for Holocaust Memorial Day to be scrapped (apparently it’s not ‘inclusive’) — they also elected as the new NUS president Malia Bouattia, someone who thinks condemning ISIS might ‘send the wrong message’ and is wont to wax lyrical about the ‘Zionist-led media’.
This year’s shitshow has led to students around the country calling for their unions to disaffiliate from the NUS. About time. The NUS is a censorious, anti-democratic husk, propped up by right-on middle-class cliques. Though it claims to fight for students’ rights, it doesn’t have much truck with their right to speak freely, their right to conduct their sexual lives as they see fit, or even their right to party. In 2013, the NUS signed up to minimum pricing: this is a students’ union that thinks beer is too cheap.
It’s time to smash the NUS and start anew. Students need a union that truly looks out for them, that allows them to make common cause on the issues that matter. But, above all, they need a union that treats them as morally autonomous adults, that takes them seriously, that believes students can change the world rather than just be triggered by it.
I cannot emphasise enough that this is no longer a niche phenomenon. This is not a few isolated incidents, or a few overenthusiastic students on a few of the more liberal university campuses. This is not only nationwide, but also transatlantic. And it is here to stay.
Here is a National Union of Students whose theoretical purpose is to represent the academic and pastoral interests of all students in the country, but which feels the need to lavish resources on a full-time Trans Issues officer at a time when they do not even have a paid officer to represent the different needs of postgraduate students. In other words, here is a union which has left behind any pretence of doing what a union should do, and instead devoted itself wholly to the furtherance of the identity politics agenda.
We would never witness this dereliction of duty in pursuit of secondary objectives in any other trade union, even (or especially) the most militant and prone to industrial action. The RMT union – and one has to hand it to them – seeks to grind out the best financial settlement possible for its members, and uses strikes or even just the threat of strikes to paralyse London, bring an elected Conservative mayor to his knees, and win key concessions for already well-paid tube drivers on the London Underground.
You would never see the RMT being half-hearted in its negotiations with Transport for London because its leadership was too distracted instituting a new Safe Space policy or agitating for mandatory social justice re-education courses for workers. They focus, with undeniable effectiveness, on fulfilling their primary duty to their members – namely, achieving the best possible employer settlements on wages and conditions.
And this is the key point. The National Union of Students not only no longer represents the majority of university students, it now pursues aims and objectives which are irrelevant to many of them and are even sometimes directly antagonistic toward them (particularly in the case of conservatives, small-L liberals or assorted others who simply value free speech). They no longer even claim to act for all students. They act primarily for those students bound up in the social justice movement.
It is now ten years since I graduated, and during my time at Cambridge and Warwick universities the NUS was never anything more than an annoyingly persistent leftist buzzing in my ear. Sure, it was stupid when the Warwick Students’ Union wasted time debating a motion to express their objection to George W. Bush making a state visit to Britain, but they did not actively go out of their way to interfere in my life. This is no longer the case. Now, the Warwick Students’ Union is rated Red in the annual Spiked university free speech rankings, and actively seeks to control what every student in campus is allowed to read, buy, think, hear or say.
In other words, a lot has changed in a decade. In just the last few years in particular, identity politics cultists and assorted Social Justice Warriors have made an unprecedented power play within students union, against university administrators and against any of their peers who do not subscribe to their own worldview. Those who graduated a decade or more ago and do not pay close attention to what is happening in our universities may well see this as alarmism at first glance – “surely things can’t be that ridiculous?” goes the common refrain.
But they are. And it is going to get worse. We are already at a point where holding conservative views on campus attracts outright ridicule and hostility. In a few more years, this opprobrium will spread to those who merely fail to sing from the social justice hymn sheet loudly and sincerely enough. And to date there has been almost zero fightback from the supposed adults in the room, the university faculties and administrators. Liberty-loving students have been left to face the onslaught alone.
Now, nobody can predict exactly what will be the consequence of a growing number of identity politics-infected young people graduating and joining the labour market and becoming involved in party political activism. Some will doubtless be jolted to their senses by their collision with reality, and come to look back in shame on their illiberal student ways. But many others will survive the impact, and when they regroup they will begin to look for ways to recreate their university Safe Space environment here among us. It has already begun.
So calling attention to the identity politics/social justice takeover of universities is not a fringe interest or a massive overreaction. This new focus by writers – including my blog’s own “Tales From The Safe Space” series – provides an unsettling preview of what life will be like in another decade, unless those who object to this therapeutic, victimhood culture begin to get organised and fight back.
But if you are happy for your future workplace to gradually turn into a never-ending NUS conference, then by all means continue burying your head in the sand.
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty