Explaining the election of Malia Bouattia

What to make of the election of Malia Malia Bouattia to the presidency of the National Union of Students? Well, the political establishment are pretty clear about the opinions every right-thinking person should have. “Malia Bouattia’s election as NUS president proves deeply divisive“, says The Graun. “Disaffiliation threat could leave NUS facing a financial blackhole“, The HuffPo writes. And eager to stir things up, the increasingly tabloid Telegraph reckons Malia’s election “sends a dark message to Jewish students“. Sounds serious.

In my younger days, I was often of the view that if radicals succeeded in pissing off the centre left establishment, then it couldn’t be so bad. Specifically in the case of the NUS, I do recall a sliver of hysteria greeting the election of Kat Fletcher to the NUS president’s post in 2004. A position, in case we’ve forgotten, that has long been regarded the private property of wannabe Labour MPs in what passes for the students’ movement. Well, the sky didn’t fall in, Kat went on to become a Jez aide/handler, and after 2006 control returned to a succession of colourless and uninteresting mediocrities. And yes Wes, I include you in that number. Continue reading

Labour Friends of Israel continues to whitewash war crimes

Palestine1One year on from the tragic events in Gaza last summer, and the British Israel lobby is still trying to distract us from Israel’s crimes by highlighting perceived wrongdoing by other sides.

In her piece for Left Foot Forward, Jennifer Gerber makes a number of claims which require refutation: Hamas’ responsibility for provoking ‘the conflict’; the use of ‘terror tunnels’; Hamas use of human shields; and finally what Gerber laughably calls, ‘Israel’s attempt to avoid civilian casualties’.

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Labour Students and the cause of free education

Free education for allNUS Conference 2014 was one of the most leftwing conferences in years, passing a string of radical policies of default support for staff strikes, campaigns for a 5:1 pay ratio, a legal fund for victimised student activists and of course, free education. The graduate tax had become a soft compromise option for many in Labour, a midway point between full blown privatisation under the Tories and the full repudiation of Blairism that free education represents.

By rejecting both fees and a graduate tax, NUS moved into line with Labour-affiliated unions such as the GMB, Unite, UNISON and the TUC in demanding free education. This is a deeper shift in policy than a purely cosmetic change in how education is funded. It represents a stance against privatisation, against the idea that education is a commodity, and the policy clearly calls for education to be paid for by taxing the rich and democratic control of the banking sector. In other words, free education isn’t just a policy, it’s a whole new philosophy of how Labour should behave towards vested interests, private companies and unaccountable power when it is government. Continue reading

A turning point in the National Union of Students?

freeeducation copyThis could be a turning point for the National Union of Students (NUS) and the student left. Delegates at the recent NUS’s national conference ended over a decade of NUS opposition to free education. The result is a triumph for principled student activists, inside and outside of NUS, and it is a further defeat for Blairism. However, it is only meaningful if students and activists on the ground have a clear understanding of what has happened, and what it means.

For years, NUS has been plagued by inaction and spinelessness. It began in 1996 when NUS abandoned its commitment to free education, a cynical manoeuvre by Labour Students – the faction which has historically dominated NUS – to pave the way to New Labour tuition fees, and other than one brief period in 2002-3, NUS has openly opposed free education. They got away with it for years while the student left was occupied elsewhere: anti-globalisation, the Iraq war, climate change. Continue reading

Take action against the student loan book privatisation

WillettsStudents have declared next week a “week of action” against the proposed privatisation of the student loan book. On Friday 18th October, students will gather outside the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills to protest the plans, which have worrying implications for students past, present and future.

An Early Day Motion (no. 542) has been launched in Parliament, spearheaded by a number of left-wing MPs working with students, who are concerned that “in order to make the student loan book profitable for private companies, [the privatisation] would need to be accompanied by either subsidies from the taxpayer or an increase in the financial burden placed on graduates.” The Student Assembly Against Austerity has designed a helpful tool for lobbying MPs to sign up to the motion – just put in your postcode, change the message if you so please, and you can send off an email to your MP on the subject. Continue reading