By now, having read the title most people reading this will have sought to close the tab, and move into something else to read; rolling their eyes in exasperation ‘Not another student politics article!’. However, hear me out. I was a student engaged in the odd movement of the student political scene for four years, attending the meetings (and being ejected from a fair few), whilst being a proud member of the three-person strong University Conservative Association.
Suffice it to say, over my time engaged in the ‘dog-eat-dog’ world of student politics, I had the opportunity to speak a lot – but was permitted to say very little. Censorship at Universities, something that dominated the news earlier this year, was indeed highly prevalent, with policies at my Union existing to lock down debated if they ‘made a student feel uncomfortable’. Hardly the best way to promote healthy discourse, I am sure we can agree.
Our readers of course, are already aware of this, and it is not my intention to dull your day penning a long winded rant about how unfair student movements can be. Rather, I wish to explore the reasons behind why SU’s operate in such a manner, and what the effects of this new and reckless approach to fostering the next political generation could be.
Noticeably the trendiest and one of the most radical things that student political groups enjoy doing is challenging the views extolled by what they perceive to be ‘the establishment’ – indeed this is something that students have been doing for decades. However, one of the most common manifestations of this whilst I was at University took form in the ‘anti-Israeli movement’, whose influence ran so deep that the NUS President has fallen under fire from the media for her somewhat obscure views on our Israeli allies.
Fondly I remember being called a varying amount of offensively inaccurate names by embargo supporting students for my defense of the middle eastern state. Arguing that, as one of the very few states in the region that allows women to drive, same sex couples to marry and for people to wear what they chose and worship whatever they opt for, we as free thinking (and often categorized as ‘Liberal’) students should support, not condemn them.
To this day, the reasoning for this anti-Israeli sentiment escapes me, for the reasons stated above, I firmly believe that the nation does a great deal for democracy and civil liberties in the area (a belief apparently not shared by the NUS). However, what concerned me when I was a student, and still does now I enter post-graduate life, is how such a narrow minded approach to dealing with the issue will manifest itself in future.
Already we see members of the Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn being accused an anti-semetism, something that in my view only serves to deepen the divide between the various supporters of different parties. Already we see an increasingly hostile and intolerant approach to dealing with political rivals, or simply to dealing with people who share an opposing view to one’s own. As the current NUS leaders place their gazes firmly on their ambitions for their incoming term, the question must be asked – with the likes of Jack Straw hailing from the NUS what part will the new Executive head down?
Will we one day be looking at a Labour Party, a Green Party or a Liberal Democrat Party (if they ever have sufficient MPs in the future that uis) that is lead by the former intolerance fueled NUS elite? Personally, I hope not – but the evidence is there, the foreshadowing clear. Jeremy Corbyn, who secured his nomination and victory off the votes from disaffected part-time members angry with the political climate (many of whom students) has already proven that it is possible to reshape a political party thanks to the support of students and young people angry with the status quo.
Likewise, as we head over to the States, an increasingly disenfranchised youth vote weeks solace on the camps of Trump (and formally Sanders) by means of showing their anger toward and establishment they view as having left them behind. It is this concept, this idea that the ‘Political Elite’ simply do not care about certain groups of the public that the NUS and other student groups should be working to halt, not to propagate – and thus foster yet more distrust and resentment, I can tell you now that if five-thousand students asked to join Conservative Futures next Thursday, there would be no complaints on our end!
Yet it is becoming increasingly harder at University to have those debates, it becomes and uphill struggle to engage in practical political discussions about what effects students in our academic lives, and going forward into our employment prospects. Broader discussions about how to rectify an issue, such as student depression rates, drug use and alcoholism, are swept aside in favor of ‘bandwagon politics’ (all in the name of ‘Safe Space’).
Bandwagon Politics has become the name of the game in Universities, and woe betide anyone if you are not on-board. I used to get shouted down when I suggested that out student leaders took their daily inspiration from Twitters ‘Trending Hashtags’ sidebar, but, it honestly seemed to be the case. One student I had spoken to, actually decided what their policy would be based on this side bar – they then proceeded to write a Buzzfeed post about it, and genuinely used it as proof as to why their issue mattered.
It is worrying to say the very least, that the future politicians of this country are onlt focusing on ideas rather than issues. A prime example of this was during the Brexit debates, with the biggest focus from pro-remain students being that to vote leave was to ‘Vote for Hatred and Intolerance’. This concept that if we leave we will somehow be showing just how much we despise the rest of the world, was not only false, but had no basis in actual evidence. Indeed, the only ‘evidence’ the Students For Europe produced was a paltry collection of Tweets in which a small number of people had been abused.
So, as I look back on my involvement in student politics, I can only say that it was an interesting experience, but ultimately one that served little real purpose. From day to day it appeared as though expressing a view that was not favored by the small group that dominated the top of the union, was just wrong. It appeared that ore and more, fad politics, taken from the trending page of social media was becoming the name of the game – and issues that effected the people our Union represented, was going down the drain, in favor of populist buzzword issues, that at the end of the day, lay outside the influence of the Unions.
Is it therefore any wonder that Student Politics is held in such low esteem, indeed ridiculed? When its own leaders focus more and more on the analytics page of twitter, and less and less on what their voters need and want. As I leave university, I can only shake my head – student unions are not representative of the student body, they are not effective, and are becoming more and more unfit for purpose.