Saturday, 13 April 2013

Conference Report: Left at the End?

The National Union of Students' National Conference saw a dominance of moderate candidates and resolutions. Toni Pearce [pictured] was elected as the union's first national president from Further Education, and centre left candidates won all the full time positions being elected in Sheffield.

Also, just to add insult to injury for the far left, it's not unlikely that a Tory will top the vote for the block of fifteen executive councilors when the ballots are counted on Wednesday - something that has never been a likely prospect in previous years.

Facebook and blogs from members of the left have been filled with disappointment and outright anger at the way the conference turned out for them; indeed there was a sense of clutching at straws when talking about one or two motions that did go in their favour.

The thing is, conference floor has never been as "right wing" as it was in Sheffield this year. There were some motions put forward by lefty unions that fell woefully, perhaps only attracting two dozen votes in favour, in comparison to six or seven hundred votes against. The accusation is that the Nolsies (or Labour Students to you and me) have stitched-up conference floor, and/or there's some sort of conspiracy against the revolutionary left.

Frankly, it's just nonsense. The 1980s are long gone, and the demographic of students has changed dramatically since the turn of the millennium. The vast majority of delegates elected to conference, just like the public at large, are not party political; but what they are is very moderate. They may be centre left or even centre right in outlook, however the party whip is not going to feature in their decision making - the policies being debated will.

The best example of this was the complete lack of interest in messing around with the order paper and the order of motions. In the Society and Citizenship Zone there were 4 procedural motions about moving a given motion to be debated first, only one managed to gain interest from the 100 delegates required to hear the case for the move, and that motion clearly fell too - followed by a challenge to the chair's ruling that fell by even more of a margin. All that happened is 15 to 20 minutes were wasted at the start of the zone talking about various non-issues, and that time was lost from the motions debating time.

Reading this, you might think that the conference was frustrating for the vast majority of delegates in the hall but, although there were segments that were incredibly annoying, the conference overall was very enjoyable and a great success.

On a personal note, I even spoke against a motion (about opposition to the concept of trustee boards) that subsequently fell, taking me to 3 and 0 on motions at NUS conference going the way I spoke on them! Also, I now have text that I wrote as policy of the national union. Win!

I will be on my course at Hertfordshire until May 2014, so I might be making an appearance at conference next year too! Fingers crossed.