The NUS doesn’t want to help you, it wants to coddle you
‘I’m surprised more delegates didn’t spit out their vanilla lattes’
British students today are a walking joke. From cab offices to Fleet Street, people rip the piss out of them. And it’s down to one thing – the NUS.
Yes, it is that sandbox German Democratic Republic, that bureaucratic bore, which is dragging students’ name through the mud. By passing mad motions, banning clapping and airing dodgy views on behalf of students everywhere, NUS politicos are making the nation think all students are as mad and as illiberal as they are.
The vast majority of students are normal people, looking to get on, learn, work hard and knock back a few Skittle bombs while they’re at it. But the NUS has other ideas. It wants to refashion students into its stage army – its ‘democratic mandate’ – to further its own cliquish crusades.
The NUS conference in Brighton this week was hailed by outgoing president Megan Dunn as “the world’s largest democratic student gathering”. I’m surprised more delegates didn’t spit out their vanilla lattes.
Democratic? What a crock. Across the country, students are shunning NUS elections in their droves. Anything approaching 20 per cent turnout at a union election is considered a blinding result.
And NUS politicos don’t just put people off, they do their utmost to avoid them. At the conference this week, a reformist slate from Oxford proposed a ‘one member, one vote’ motion – which would allow all NUS members to vote in the presidential elections directly. It failed to pass.
The subsequent election of Malia Bouattia – the former NUS Black Officer fond of attacking the ‘Zionist-led media’ – has pushed students to breaking point. Oxford students are now calling for their union to disaffiliate, and more will follow.
This is a good thing. The NUS exists to thwart democracy, to hijack the student voice and use it to further its own petty agenda. But it’s also much worse than that. The NUS doesn’t just want to ignore you, it wants to coddle you, re-educate it and bring you into line.
You see this in its long-running war on free speech. Since the 1970s and the birth of the No Platform policy, the NUS has tried to wrap students in cotton wool. It has insisted students are either too thick or too easily rattled to tackle dodgy ideas. And, today, nothing is beyond the reach of the SU’s ‘problematic’ police.
Once they tried to protect you from fascists, now they want to protect you from feminists. Once they wanted to keep the barbarians from the gates, now they want to micromanage every aspect of student life – banning ‘racist’ fancy dress costumes and criminalising ‘microaggressions’ – to quell that barbarian they think is lurking inside all of you.
That’s the contempt they hold students in. And it doesn’t stop there. Students in the 60s and 70s agitated against ‘in loco parentis’ rules, which allowed campus bureaucrats to play parent – blocking out dissident ideas and regulating students’ sex lives. Now, the NUS wants to do the same.
NUS-promoted consent classes have been made compulsory for all first years at Cambridge. They’ve been pushed on misbehaving sports teams at Sussex, Oxford and LSE, as if being a rugby lad is a slippery slope to sex offending. They don’t trust you to fondle for yourselves, let alone think for yourselves.
The NUS tries to pose as progressive – as on the cutting edge of student radicalism. It isn’t. Because underpinning its speech-policing, its petty authoritarianism and its creepy interest in your sex lives is a belief that students are too soft to play a part in shaping and remaking our world.
That’s why creating Safe Spaces on campus, zones free of disagreement or upset, has become its clarion call. University life should be about intellectual, political and personal risk-taking. By putting yourself out there you become morally autonomous, an adult. And it’s through confronting all ideas that you work out what matters and what to fight for it.
The NUS doesn’t think you’re capable of that. That’s why it treats you like infants in need of constant guidance and regulation. It’s time to smash the NUS and turn universities into Unsafe Spaces. Only then can students reclaim the student movement from these barely elected pillocks and put it to good use.
Tom Slater is deputy editor at spiked and coordinator of the Free Speech University Rankings. His new book, Unsafe Space: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus, is out now.