I don’t know why, but it seems to me that whenever the NUS appears in the press, it always seems to be for something cringeworthy, at best. However, somehow the referendum on disaffiliation we voted in last year was nullified and never repeated, and thus the NUS still officially represents us. I realise that as a commentator, I’m meant to comment on things. However, on this occasion, I don’t think I need to do that: I’ll just present the facts and let you draw your own conclusions.
The NUS Executive, without consulting university representatives, decided to spend roughly £40,000 on a campaign about tuition fees. However, they thought that issue-based campaigns were far too boring, so they decided to make it party specific by adding the Liberal Democrats’ logo on all the posters and billboards. Because of this, they became non-party campaigners,
as defined by law, and as the sum spent exceeds £20,000, they were meant to register with the Electoral Commission; at the time of writing the NUS are yet to do so.
Just imagine the size and quantity of these billboards, if they’re worth £40,000! As you read this, the NUS activists behind the campaign are driving them around Labour-Lib Dem marginal constituencies, trying to convince former Lib Dem voters to vote Labour.
Having done my research, I think this is the first time the NUS is officially and openly spending our money on a party specific election campaign. They are not campaigning against tuition fees – they are campaigning for the Labour Party. Conveniently of course, the fact that Labour introduced tuition fees in the first place in 1998 and then tripled them in 2004 somehow managed to escape the attention of the NUS Executive Committee.
I daresay no one can accuse me of being a Liberal Democrat sympathiser: but what this campaign is doing is unnecessarily negative and antagonising. I’m delighted the NUS cares about the way I vote. However, I have a request: can those of you in NUS positions please not spend our money on a campaign which is explicitly telling us who to vote for?
Those Lib Dem MPs did indeed break their promise. However, I suggest it’s time that we start being mature about things and realise that if we don’t have a majority government, parties have to enter coalitions and compromise?
If the public wants a multi-party system, they need to accept no party will ever be able to translate its manifesto into policy in its entirety. I don’t think many of us expect the NUS to actually represent us and make our lives better anymore. But frankly, I think spending our money on a party-political campaign whilst most likely simultaneously breaking the law (an investigation is ongoing) is simply beyond the pale.
Can we please have another referendum on disaffiliating? Ideally one the result of which will actually count this time. In the meantime, I’d suggest that we all think about ways in which £40,000 could have been spent to actually make a positive difference to the lives of UK students.