by Simon Murphy
Aaron Porter looks drawn, his face long stopped searching for answers – resigned to his fate.
“All I ask is that you hear me out,” he pleads. The floor is restless, smatterings of applause when he indicates – at regular intervals – that his leadership was at fault.
“I’ve been accused of getting things wrong this year.” “YEP,” a lone heckler shouts from the back. Another heckler wails, “You’re a scumbag” and another, “kill George Osborne”. It’s worth noting that it’s not at all clear both comments are directed at the Chancellor.
There is lots of rhetoric about “wars” and “battles” but for his talk, Porter admits his tactics were flawed, there was not “a good enough plan for what would happen after November 10.” He “holds his hands up” for that but still condemns the violence at Millbank and radicalisation of some students. “Violence against people or property cannot be accepted and I will never bend on that.”
“We need to make sure the war is just the beginning,” he says. There is still a fight to be had, Porter insists, “the genie is not totally out of the bottle”.
There is even a ripple of applause when Porter mentions a possible return to a free higher education system. “I wasn’t expecting an applause there,” he says. Perhaps an indication that the NUS’ leadership is out of touch with its membership. But he makes clear that although he has “always respected that position,” he insists that the NUS must to be realistic and realise that no major party in Westminster will deliver that goal.
Time for another tirade against the Lib Dems – “liberal with the truth and democratic with the blame,” he declares. A marked difference from last year, when Nick Clegg opened the conference with a video feed.
There is plenty of acceptance of blame, “And so it goes, the student movement is always much, much bigger than than one man.”
More applause too when he mentions his decision to step down in February. Yet for all this talk, Aaron Porter looks every bit the modern politician – in casual mode with crisp shirt, thick rimmed glasses, waving his hands about like any other Westminster stooge, he even has the bald patch to match.