When will the trouble end for the NUS?

Whilst politically fuelled feuds wage on in NUS, thousands of students are losing faith in their national union

For those that follow NUS politics, this last week has been an eventful one. Doha-based news outlet Al Jazeera, who report on current affairs in the Middle East, have released the first episode of a series of films that endeavour to expose the way in which Israel is ‘infiltrating’ UK politics. In an episode focusing on Britain’s youth, NUS Vice President for Union Development Richard Brooks has come under fire amid allegations that he has been ‘colluding’ with the Israeli Embassy to ‘oust’ NUS President Malia Bouattia.

Al Jazeera’s Documentary: The Lobby.

The footage filmed by an undercover reporter posing as a student shows Brooks offering to put him in contact with others who share his views on Bouattia. Despite widespread outrage at this, the existence of undeniable factions in NUS  makes clear that it is no secret that Brooks and Bouattia do not see eye to eye, and it is obvious to see that Richard would rather see alternative leadership than the current NUS president.

Following the documentary, social media instantly became awash with accusations being made against Brooks of Islamophobia and undermining democracy; there have even been calls for him to resign. Following all of this, Brooks has voluntarily referred himself to the NUS UK Board for an investigation under the Code of Conduct.

Richard Brooks’ statement on Twitter about the investigation.

Unfortunately, whilst the infighting rages on, for the majority of students this is just the latest in a long string of controversies that have tainted NUS in the last few years. Even for those politically engaged and SU-loving students, this controversy comes as another nail in the coffin for NUS and its members. What should act as a truly representative body for all students has sadly descended into a hub of tabloid-esque cat fighting and the faith that the wider student body have in their national union once again appears foolish.

With full time officers at its core, sabbatical officers around the edge, and those who are typically far left and politically engaged beyond them, NUS’ central web of influencers are running the risk of alienating the wider student body. When a controversy like this occurs, it only serves to make those in the centre of the union turn in on themselves, forgetting the thousands of students on the perimeter, who are facing their own array of issues affecting their student experience; extortionate levels of debt, uninhabitable living conditions and mental health battles. Whilst NUS does work to address these issues, the fixation on infighting in UK student politics means ordinary students have no way of getting the attention of those on the inner circles who are paid to represent them. Sadly, it is no wonder that a wave of disaffiliation hit UK universities last year.

Referenda in SUs across the country saw universities such as Loughborough and Newcastle disaffiliate.

As someone who is heavily involved in their Students’ Union, is passionate about students, and sees such potential in NUS as an organisation, it makes my heart sink to see it failing its members. I have seen countless others decide against running for SU positions, or FTO positions because of the infighting and political agendas that exist within the fabric of NUS’ culture. Not only does it seem impossible to get your voice heard amongst the politically fuelled ruckus, but the backlash that is received on either side when a disagreement occurs is enough to put anyone off getting more involved. To see comments such as ‘I’m so glad I’m not part of the student movement anymore’ should shake us to our core.

A picture from the #Nov19 NUS Demo.

Something is not right with NUS currently, and something needs to change. Fact. However, I fear that a resignation of Brooks, someone who has openly recognised that NUS isn’t perfect, has championed all students and inspired them to get involved and be part of the change, would be the final straw for many students whose faith in the union is dwindling. The students who all took a collective jaded sigh when this news story broke might be accused of being pro-Israel, or right wing, or anti-democratic; but the reality is that they probably just want effective support and representation to maximise their student experience that they’re paying £27k plus tuition fees for.

We have an extremely diverse membership, and those in positions of power in NUS would do well to remember that. We should be able to look to them for representation, inspiration and an example of how we can propel the student movement forward. It is integral, for the benefit of NUS’ members, that they exercise the ability to agreeably disagree with each other where necessary, but represent all student views and needs to the best of their ability always.

University of Bath