[Journalist and free speech advocate Tom Slater is this coming week’s guest on Real Politik. His new book is titled, Unsafe Spaces: The Crisis of Free Speech on Campus.-Ed.]
The National Union of Students conference is over. But we’ll still have the memories – the jazz hands, the whingeing and the casual anti-Semitism. For this was the year when this tyranny of crybabies, this politburo of plonkers, truly outdid itself. Not only did delegates call for social-media apps to be banned (people are saying nasty things on them) and for Holocaust Memorial Day to be scrapped (apparently it’s not ‘inclusive’) — they also elected as the new NUS president Malia Bouattia, someone who thinks condemning ISIS might ‘send the wrong message’ and is wont to wax lyrical about the ‘Zionist-led media’.
This year’s shitshow has led to students around the country calling for their unions to disaffiliate from the NUS. About time. The NUS is a censorious, anti-democratic husk, propped up by right-on middle-class cliques. Though it claims to fight for students’ rights, it doesn’t have much truck with their right to speak freely, their right to conduct their sexual lives as they see fit, or even their right to party. In 2013, the NUS signed up to minimum pricing: this is a students’ union that thinks beer is too cheap.
It’s time to smash the NUS and start anew. Students need a union that truly looks out for them, that allows them to make common cause on the issues that matter. But, above all, they need a union that treats them as morally autonomous adults, that takes them seriously, that believes students can change the world rather than just be triggered by it. Here are my ideas for some core principles that the new union of students should abide by: