At this year’s NUS Annual Conference, the outgoing NUS President called the Conference the ‘world’s largest democratic student gathering.’ Given that she was elected by a few hundred delegates, who were in turn elected by a tiny proportion of their elected student bodies, this is rather a tenuous claim.
The NUS Annual Conference is about as democratic and open minded as the National Congress of the Communist Party of China. The NUS does not care about democracy or ensuring that every student’s voice is heard, they are only interested in furthering the warped ideology of its leaders.
The Conference also further demonstrated just how out of touch the NUS has become. This year the delegates called to ban social media apps because some people were using them to say hurtful things. More disturbingly were the calls from some delegates to scrap Holocaust Memorial Day, as it is not inclusive.
To top it all off, the delegates this year elected Malia Bouattia as their President – a woman who refused to condemn ISIS, but is more than happy to brand the University of Birmingham a ‘Zionist outpost.’
The fact that the NUS is now led by somebody who has expressed anti-Semitic views should come as no surprise. For the past few years, the NUS has been led by a coterie of out of touch, illiberal individuals who regard anyone who does not agree with them as a bigot. For example, in a bizarre move several months ago, the LGBT officer for the NUS, Fran Cowling, refused to attend a panel debate at Canterbury Christ Church University as Peter Tatchell was also going – a man whom she believes to be an enemy of the LGBT community.
So, what caused Fran Cowling to cast such aspersions upon Peter Tatchell’s character? It must surely have been unsparingly vile and bigoted to have deserved such odium from the LGBT officer of the NUS?
Actually, the reason why Miss Cowling launched such a defamatory attack on Peter Tatchell was because he signed a letter. Tatchell, along with 130 others, signed a letter warning about “a worrying pattern of intimidation and silencing of individuals whose views are deemed ‘transphobic’.”
As a result of the incident, Tatchell and one of his cosignatories – Cambridge Classics Professor, Mary Beard – were subjects of a vitriolic twitter attack. Supporters of Miss Cowling and others within the anti-free speech movement called Professor Beard ‘an unrepentant bigot’, and Tatchell a ‘parasite.’
Miss Cowling has refused to debate with Tatchell as she disagrees with some of his views, but to debate with somebody who agrees with you about absolutely everything is not really a debate – more like a smug, self-satisfied rant.
I suspect that Miss Cowling does not care for reasoned, grown up discussion; she is part of a powerful and petulant clique who crush free speech and brand anyone who does not agree with them a bigot. They are so disconnected from the real world that they genuinely believe anybody from outside their inward-looking bubble is dangerous and must be silenced.
Fran Cowling’s refusal to share a platform with Peter Tatchell perfectly illustrates the view of some student union leaders that if you support free speech on campus, and do not share the views of the NUS elite, then you must be a bigot.
Peter Tatchell is just the latest victim – feminist Germaine Greer was recently accused of being a misogynist and banned from attending an event at Cardiff University by student union leaders.
Tatchell and Greer – in many ways the parents (or possibly grandparents) – of the identity politics revolution on which the NUS base most of its actions, now find themselves the victims of it. Despite their contributions to the movement, Tatchell and Greer are now accused of betraying it and of standing in the way of progress, for simply questioning the actions of the student union leaders.
Welcome to the Kafkaesque nightmare that is the NUS. The organisation and student union leaders are supposed to represent the views of all the students on their campus and in the entire country; however, they are increasingly run by apparatchiks determined to promote their own views and squander their students’ money in order to further their own agenda.
We have seen student unions cancel debates on abortion and ban magazines and songs. They also adopt certain stances on various issues such as abortion or the conflict between Israel and Palestine. These are contentious issues, and student unions should recognise that their students have different views on such topics.
The most recent example of this was the attempt of the student union at Oxford to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes from Oriel College because some students found it to be offensive. Student leaders wasted the money of the students who they claimed to represent in an ill-conceived attempt to rewrite history. The students who spoke out, calling it an attempt to airbrush history by defacing an historic building, were accused of supporting colonialism.
Furthermore, in a disturbingly Orwellian move, there have been suggestions by the Student Union at the LSE that the Free Speech Society should be banned. Student union leaders operate in an environment with all the cultic fervour and diversity of thought of a Nuremberg Rally. They have stifled and crushed free speech and, rather than engage in reasoned debate, simply ban speakers with whom they disagree.
These student union leaders use the money that they receive from students to promote and enforce their own opinions. It’s time for students to leave the NUS and to establish a truly democratic organisation that actually represents the issues and concerns of its students, instead of a body that only represents the views of a tiny left-wing clique. The NUS is out of touch and irrelevant: it’s time to ditch it.
Ben has worked in investment banking and management consultancy and has an undergraduate and advanced degrees in law, economics, and history. Follow him on Twitter: @BenRamanauskas
The views expressed in this article are that of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Conservatives for Liberty