NUS Conference 2010 Report

April 17, 2010

in Reports

Well, NUS 2010 was fun. Manchester delegation all enjoyed themselves, I think, although we unsurprisingly differed on many issues and the delegation split off in our little factions reasonably early on. Commiserations to Siobhan Brown, who was ill, congratulations to me cos I got a single room as a result, and a raised eyebrow to John Gilcrist, who neither attended, offered apologies or stepped down as an NUS delegate.

FE Zone Controversy

There has been some controversy around the FE Zone motions. HE delegates have been denounced for not attending the FE caucus by the NEC, by FE delegates, the left, and numerous others. As someone who did not attend, I have three responses to this:

1. I was given to understand that as a HE delegate I was not allowed to vote on FE matters. As it turns out this was not the case and I had been misinformed.

2. Even had I realised this, I would have been extremely reluctant to contribute to decisions that affect only other students and not myself. I would not want non-LGBT students to determine the direction of NUS LGBT, I would not want NUS Scotland to be told what to do by NUS Wales (as NUS Scotland LGBT Officer Tom French made clear himself when he spoke against SSDP’s motion on the age limit on alcohol at NUS LGBT Conference 2008), so I am baffled that FE delegates has apparently been so vehement on the issue and expected me to attend and vote on issues that have nothing to do with me and everything to do with them.

3. I used the time for the FE Zone to check into my hotel and take a break. I got up at 5am to travel to Conference and would have been at the Sage until 11pm without a break had I not left. A small, but not insignificant part of the blame for the near-total absence of HE delegates has to be laid at the door of the DPC as well.

My voting record

See below my voting record. I have included commentary where my vote did not coincide with the majority of the room. The Constitution states that I may differ from union policy, stating, “Delegates who indicate their intention to differ from the above voting requirements in their manifesto may vote accordingly.” My manifesto stated I would be a dissenting voice to show where we were going wrong on a national level and on being elected I thus voted accordingly.

Higher Education

-301 (For) (Passed) Higher Education Funding
301a (For) (Passed) ELQs
301b (For) (Fell) Free Education
301c (For) (Passed) Anti-cuts
301d (Abs) (Passed) Transparency and Student Experience
301e (Agn) (Fell) Adding a sentence
-302 (For) (Passed) NSS
-303 (Don’t have a record) Complaints and Appeals
-304 (For) (Passed) Assessment and Feedback
304a Withdrawn
-305 (For) (Passed) Quality
-306 (For) (Passed) ICT and Technology
-307 (For) (Passed) Part-time students
-308 (For) (Passed) Hidden Course Cuts
-309 (Agn) (Passed) Higher Education Achievement Record
309a Deleted
309b (For) (Passed) Details
309c Withdrawn
309d (Agn) (Fell) Opposing HEAR
-310 (Agn) (Passed) Information, Advice, and Guidance into HE

The guillotine then fell.

I obviously voted for 301b Free Education, and it was disappointing that it both fell and that the main reason given for its opposition was that “we fought free education in 2004 with cheap slogans and we lost”. I would’ve suggested not running with cheap slogans instead of dumping free education altogether. I find it horrifying that the National Union of Students is advocating a tax which will actually result in students paying more for their education. Just because it’s hidden debt doesn’t mean it isn’t still debt.

I abstained on 301d Transparency and Student Experience because I felt it was wishy-washy rubbish. I voted against 309 Higher Education Achievement Record because I don’t think that students should be getting into activism or volunteering for any other reason than real passion for either. Creating a HEAR for each student will flood our unions and charitable arms with students who don’t really want to be there and just want a career and ultimately I don’t think that is a very good idea.

I voted against 310 Information, Advice, and Guidance into HE, but looking through it I’m not now sure why. I presume I heard quite a convincing speech against it.

Society and Citizenship

-401 (Agn) (Passed) Votes at 16
-402 (For) (Passed) Electoral Reform
-403 (For) (Passed) Influencing Parliament
-404 (For) (Passed) Neighbourhood
-405 (For) (Passed) Local Citizens
-406 (Agn) (Passed) Safe and Cohesive Communities
406a (Agn) (Fell) Reaffiliate to Stop the War
406b (Agn) (Passed) Promoting UAF

The guillotine then fell.

I voted against 401 Votes at 16 because I don’t think 16 year olds should have the vote. When I was 16, I didn’t believe my friends were mature to vote, even if I might have been (though I was a paid up Conservative at the time, so you may disagree…), and looking at 16 year olds now, I still think this is the case. People tell me if you can get married and die in Iraq at 16 you should be able to vote, but you can only do these things with your parents’ permission – shall we offer parents around the country their children’s votes as well?

I voted against 406 Safe and Cohesive Communities and all its amendments due to my opposition to No Platform, which has been well-documented elsewhere so I shan’t say more. I would say though that although I voted against 406a Reaffiliate to Stop the War on this basis, I do not consider Stop the War anti-semitic. Stop the War has questionable tactics, but so does Unite Against Fascism, and I find inconsistent that NUS should support one and not the other.

Union Development

-501 (For) (Passed) Campaigning and Activism
-502 (For) (Passed) Student Activities
502a (For) (Passed) Student Volunteering
502b (For) (Passed) National Partners in Volunteering
-503 (Don’t have a record) Participation and Engagement
503a (For) (Passed) Employability
503b (For) (Passed) Extra-curricular skills
503c (Abs) (Fell) Removing SUEI
503d Withdrawn
-508 (For) (Passed) Engaging Postgraduates
-509 (For) (Passed) FE Union Development
-515 (For) (Passed) Finance, Rag and Alumni Fundraising
-517 (For) (Passed) Supporting Council Chairs

The guillotine then fell.

I abstained on 503c Removing SUEI because I didn’t feel I had enough information to make a decision in the five minutes the motion was allotted.

Welfare

-601 (For) (Passed) Student Accommodation
601a (For) (Passed) Accommodation Provision
601b (For) (Passed) International/Home Student Integration
-602 (Forgot to vote) (Passed) Housing
-603 (For) (Passed) Neighbourhood and Community
-604 (For) (Passed) Crime – Not on Our Watch
604a (Dropped card) (Passed) Islamophobia
-605 (For) (Passed) Health Services and Costs
-606 (For) (Passed) Sexual Health
-607 (For) (Passed) Mental Health
-608 (For) (Passed) Pastoral Care
-609 (For) (Passed) Money and Finance
609a (For) (Passed) SLC
-610 (For) (Passed) Transport
-611 (For) (Passed) Students and Workers
611a (For) (Passed) Unpaid Internships
-612 (For) (Passed) Student Parents
-613 (Agn) (Passed) Faith and Safety
613a (For) (Passed) Hate Speech
613b (Abs) (Passed) Academic Freedom

The guillotine then fell.

I voted against 613 Faith and Safety because it affirmed No Platform, and abstained on 613b Academic Freedom because I always intended to vote against the main motion and there was no point taking a position on the amendment. Had it been a motion in its own right I would have voted for it.

AGM

-701 (See below) Defend the Diversity of National Conference
Parts were taken on the entirety of the text of Motion 701. I voted to keep them, but Conference voted to delete them. The motion was then passed by Conference, including myself, but consisted only of Amendments 701b and 701d.
701a Withdrawn
701b (For) (Passed) Part-time and Full-time Students Equality
701c Withdrawn
701d (Agn) (Passed) Yay Collaborations and NUSSL/AMSU Merger
701e (Deleted) Opposing the Collaborations Agenda
701f (Deleted) Opposing the NUSSL/AMSU Merger
-801 (Merged with 701) Challenge to the Estimates

The guillotine then fell.

701 Defend the Diversity of National Conference was a fabulously confused motion. I voted against 701d Yay Collaborations and NUSSL/AMSU Merger for the very simple reason I had never heard of either the collaborations agenda or the NUSSL/AMSU Merger before and wanted to hear the debate. After we had made it through all the amendments, we were left with the main body of the motion 701b and 701d. The owner of amendment 701b, realising from the discussion that the motion, and therefore his amendment, would fall, took parts on the entirety of the main motion text.

This therefore meant that we had to discuss this separately and either delete the text altogether or pass it into policy. However, most delegates on the conference floor believed they were voting on whether to delete the text or keep it in the main motion, and so voted to keep it so the discussion could continue. After the vote, DPC pointed out that the motion had passed into policy and hundreds of outraged delegates demanded a revote, which we then had, and the parts were deleted. I think this is unfortunate because I suspect that with another round of speeches we may well have won that argument but for the guy who just wanted to protect his amendment.

I personally voted for the motion where possible because I believe as many delegates as the budget should allow should be elected to decide the direction of our National Union. In any election, the well-organised slates and the sabbs are more than capable of running visible campaigns to win NUS delegate elections. If you have a large delegation then independents and first-time candidates stand a chance of getting in after the slates, but if you cut the delegation in half, only the partisan people whose minds and votes have already been determined will go. This makes NUS conference floor little more than a conveyor belt where debate is meaningless. Wes Streeting claimed that we’re not the National Union of Sabbaticals because only 44% of the delegations were sabbatical officers: I don’t know about other unions, but at Manchester, sabbs comprise 0.02% of our student body – 44% is a reasonable figure? I think not.

Policy Lapses

(For) (Passed) Part-time students
(Agn) (Passed) Anti-Racism

The guillotine then fell.

The “anti-racism” policy lapse, proposed by Wes Streeting, was actually a reaffirmation of the EU Working Definition on Anti-Semitism, a copy of which may be viewed here. The definition effectively states that criticism of Israel is anti-semitic, and combined with a No Platform policy, pretty much means that pro-Palestianism critics of Israel could be silenced or kept out of NUS altogether. If unions passed this definition into policy, as Manchester briefly did last year, groups such as Action Palestine could effectively be stopped from operating on campus.

I am on record as a staunch defender of Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, but I don’t think it can be denied that there are some pretty nasty things being done to Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. I’ve seen the photos and the videos and I’ve met people who’ve been there. People should be able to talk about it (and they should also, but rarely seem to, talk about the horrific abuses being visited on Palestinians by their own governments and militia groups – Hamas introduced a penalty of crucifixion for homosexuality a couple of years ago, but no-one ever mentions that. Instead Sir Gerald Kaufman, MP for Manchester Gorton, flew over to Gaza, met Hamas leaders, and declared his support for and solidarity with them only last semester). And although I very much wish people would talk about the human rights abuses that are also occurring in Sudan, China, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Iraq, and numerous other countries as much as they bang on about Palestine (and I do suspect the motives of many of the activists involved), criticism of Israel is not in itself anti-semitic and certainly not criticism of their actions regarding settlements and human rights abuse in the West Bank and Gaza.

I am also appalled that the people advocating the Working Definition, including Manchester’s own Alex Goodman, who gave the third proposing speech, failed to mention what it actually said about criticism of Israel, giving speeches that talked about anti-racism and protecting Jewish students, which is absolutely right but completely beside the point. Judaism and Zionism are overlapping Venn diagrams, not interlocking jigsaw pieces, and the two shouldn’t be conflated. However, I am further appalled by the speeches against, which spent most of their time ranting about Palestine as usual instead of pointing out what was actually wrong with the motion at hand. At no point in the whole debate was the text of the Working Definition actually mentioned or quoted, and I suspect that if anyone had read it out, the 40 votes that it came down to may well have been swayed. But we’re stuck with it for another three years now, so I hope that when it comes round again, opponents of the definition will actually be a bit sane about their opposition and run a decent awareness campaign against.

Elections

My ballot is secret, but I didn’t stop believing.

Censure motions

I was not present for the censure motions because they were not included or indicated in the agenda. I therefore got to the Sage long after the ballot. I will say that the mistake that I made is almost certainly the same mistake that many other delegates made and that is why the motion of censure for Bell Dabeira-Addy passed and Daf Adley’s fell. With delegates pouring in late to the conference centre, I can entirely believe that only those with a bone to pick with the Black Students’ Officer would have turned up at the beginning, and by the time Daf Adley was up enough disinterested delegates would have turned up to sway the vote. I really don’t believe that the difference in votes had anything to do with racism.

Fringes

The first fringe that I went to was on how certain sectors, especially media and politics, exploit people desperate for a career by forcing them to work in unpaid internships for long periods of time with only the hope of a job at the end of it. Because of the near-insistence now that you have to have years of work experience before getting into journalism, internships are now a necessity for many careers but are the preserve of the wealthy few who can support themselves without income while doing them. This is even before you consider the exploitation of some employers to just keep hiring new interns and never paying anyone at all. I’ve never done an internship, so it wasn’t something I had considered before, but was a very interesting issue and I will certainly be paying more attention to it in the future.

I did briefly attend the interfaith forum but it was amazingly boring, so I left early.

The Wednesday evening fringe I attended was a discussion on hate speech. I say “discussion on hate speech”, it was more the Chair of UJS and a Vice-President of FOSIS swapping accusations of anti-semitism and zionism. And it seemed there were about five people in the room who weren’t devout Muslims or Jews. For all that, however, it was incredibly interesting to consider the issues that they and the other two speakers were raising. The main debate ended up focusing on the lists of speakers FOSIS recommends to Islamic Societies, but which have scholars such as Azzam Tammimi, who supports suicide bombings in Israel. The FOSIS guy did try repeatedly to deny this until Wes Streeting said it was available on Youtube (and I have now indeed found a video) and then spent the rest of the evening claiming that FOSIS was justified in putting his name out there “because he’s sold thousands of books and like it or not, people want to hear him”.

Thousands of people also buy the books of holocaust denier David Irving and also want to hear Nick Griffin speak in our unions, yet I do not think that FOSIS supports a repeal of no platform, so this is a truly dreadful argument. I would also say there is a great difference between thousands of people wanting to hear a jihadist speak and him being recommended as a speaker by the national umbrella of student Islamic societies in this country, who have enormous influence on and responsibility for the spiritual direction of the societies which look to them for guidance. Rashid Ali, another speaker from the Quilliam foundation, made the very good point that it would be half-acceptable to offer Azzam Tamimi as a speaker, if you balance the debate by offering other Islamic scholars as speakers too, because Islam has many diverse schools of thought and young Muslims should be able to hear all of them.

All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed that fringe and got far more out of it than I thought I was going to. I also ended up spending another hour talking to Mo about it on the way back, so clearly it has given food for thought.

Conclusion

It has been a pretty exhausting three days. I also spent some time on the Students for Sensible Drug Policy foyer stall and we signed up something like 60 extra people and gained several new potential chapters, so the cost was well worth it, I think. Our job now is to follow them up. :)

I was elected on a platform of of free education and pro-liberation and duly voted for free education and for 2009 delegate entitlements, although ultimately both fell, but I hope those who elected me will consider my mandate fulfilled.

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