‘It’s appalling’: Newcastle students on NUSU president elect standing as Tory councillor

‘I would not have voted for him if I had known’

Following an intense period of rallying back in March, Shah Yaseen Ali was elected as Newcastle University Students’ Union President for the 2023/24 academic year.

Shah’s manifesto outlined his plan to tackle the cost of living crisis through cheaper prices in campus cafes and vending machines and providing more jobs on campus; as well as making a legal advisor available in order to aid students’ negotiations with landlords. He received a total of 1909 votes.

On Wednesday last week, Newcastle Conservatives announced Shah as the Conservative candidate for City Council for Heaton ward on its Facebook page. It said: “Heaton needs a local resident who lives and breathes its issues to use actions, not words, to deliver on local priorities – that’s why we have selected Shah Ali to stand for his community.”

Following this announcement, The Tab asked Newcastle students how they felt about Shah’s candidacy and received overwhelming responses, with one student branding the news as “a slap in the face to all students”.

Amelia Simm, a politics and international relations student at Newcastle University, said: “It’s absolutely shameful, he’s obviously not committed to the role of SU president. There’s already a vote of no confidence going around about him.”

Multiple students also claimed they would not have voted for Shah had they known about his candidacy. Emily a third year Newcastle Uni maths student said: “It’s almost as if he deliberately concealed it from voters. I would not have voted for him if I had known.”

Nick, a Newcastle Uni modern languages fresher

Another, a second year law student at Newcastle Uni who wished to remain anonymous, said: “If I’d have known he was a Tory I wouldn’t have voted for him.”

Numerous students also questioned Shah’s ability to commit himself fully to both roles. Nick, a first year modern languages student said: “How is he going to actually deliver for the students of our uni? It’s ridiculous. I’m just really skeptical about how he will be able to fully deliver for NUSU if his mind is elsewhere with political commitments regardless of his party choice.”

Mia, a final year psychology student, called Shah’s actions “appalling” and said “he shouldn’t be allowed to do both.” Biomedical sciences student, Natalia, echoed these concerns. She said: “It is very unprofessional as the president represents all students. They already have a job and it’s quite a demanding one already – why do they need another one?”

Another student, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “This should render the election results null and void. His party affiliation should have been clear.”

Mia, a third year Newcastle Uni student

Despite the negative reactions of some students, others praised Shah for his candidacy and felt positively about the news. Joshua, a third year politics student, said: “It’s great news, Shah cares about his area and is working his hardest to improve the town.”

He added: “I think it is a great thing that young people like Shah care about our city and are getting off their backsides to bring positive change. Too many people spend their time complaining about issues rather than getting their hands dirty to do something about it.

“He’s clearly getting stuck in with local issues in both Heaton and helping students in need at Newcastle Uni.”

Some students believe Shah could be the bridge between students and locals, a figure to negotiate the fragile relationship between the two groups who cohabit many of Newcastle’s suburbs, with one student saying “What’s the issue? He’s a nice guy” and another saying: “So what?”.

One anonymous student said: “46.3 per cent of the general population voted Tory last election, it’s hardly a big deal”, while another added: “Good for him, great work”.

A final year politics and international relations student at Newcastle University, who preferred to remain anonymous, questioned Mr Ali’s intent in omitting his upcoming candidacy in his manifesto and throughout his campaigning. They said: “I’m trying to understand if he was intentionally deceptive. Of course I disagree with him in every way but there’s a difference between disagreeing on opinion and deception.”

Despite there being four applicants running for the role of SU president, numerous students and societies called for re-opening of nominations (RON), expressing their discontent with the candidates’ manifestos and their capabilities as President.

Furthermore, a petition for a vote of no confidence in Shah has been created after his Conservative candidacy was not declared during his presidential campaign.

2022-23 NUSU President Mady Baugh told The Tab Newcastle: “We are aware that some students are considering submitting a motion of no confidence in the forthcoming 2023-24 NUSU president, Shah Yaseen Ali. If received, it will be managed in due process, in line with Newcastle University’s Students’ Union constitution. At this time, we are unable to make any further comment.”

The Tab Newcastle approached Shah Ali for comment. He said: “I am proud to have been democratically elected as the President of Newcastle University’s Student Union.

“Students across our great campus voted for me and my pledges including work to address the cost of living for students by advocating for cheaper prices in our eateries and vending machines, provision of free breakfast for students who need them (piloted at Northumbria Uni) as well as aiming for a targeted reduction of five per cent for international tuition fees.

“These are my priorities, they are also the priorities of the many students who exercised their democratic right to elect me into this position to deliver for them and that is exactly what I have been doing since my election in early March of this year and will continue to do so.

“I believe democracy is a good thing, which is why I have also chosen to stand for the place that I call home, Heaton.

“Students can continue to rely on me to remain laser focussed on their priorities as their President with the added bonus that I may strike lucky and achieve electoral success twice in May, allowing me to deliver, deliver, deliver for the students of Newcastle Uni as well as for the people of Heaton.”

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Featured image via Instagram.