by Emilie Tapping
Never before has the NUS leadership race been so exciting. We are standing in the eye of the storm after what has been an incredible year for activism and the student movement. The factions are in disarray, with loyalties flying left, right and centre. A strong left slate has been presented for all positions, with a stoic Mark Bergfeld at the top.
The far left has grown since the Tory – Lib Dem coalition government took power just under a year ago, vastly improving the far-left’s chances of winning positions. Previous attempts have been fruitless at NUS despite strong candidates such as Assed Baig who gave a mind-blowing speech last year but missed out on the VP Soc and Cit position to incumbent Susan Nash. The far-left have been enjoying victories across the UK with candidates winning at various institutions – the most notable being UCLU with the election of VP HE candidate Michael Chessum last year.
The Organised Independents seem to have taken the biggest hit since Aaron Porter’s decision not to rerun for NUS President dividing the group between Shane Chowen and Liam Burns. Philip Whyte, officer at Strathclyde Union and previously an OI member, has parted ways with the group to support Burns, the current president of NUS Scotland, whilst others are supporting current FE President, Chowen. Both will provide a different perspective on the position as neither come from the traditional England higher education background that we have seen in recent years. The OI’s still have officers running in most other positions, with what looks to be support for Usman Ali for VPHE and Pete Mercer for VP Welfare.
Labour Students are in a similar position with cracks beginning to appear. Usman, who has in the past seemed to fall in line with Labour Students, is backing Chowen whilst Labour Students themselves appear to be backing Burns.
The rumour mill has already started with hopes that this might be the end of factional manipulation of NUS elections, giving room for more independent candidates to stand. Following in your friend and my friend Kit Friend’s footsteps as the token ballsy Tory this year is Thomas Byrne. Friend stood on a platform that having a Tory officer would mean that the government would be more likely to engage with NUS and whilst we haven’t heard much from Byrne on the subject, the current government’s apparent disdain for the student movement at the moment would suggest that maybe he was right.
Will the Labour/OI factionalism continue to reign after this conference? Keep an eye on our updates for more speculation.