An anti-BNP campaign on campus, Hope not Hate, has created a dispute between the campaign and YUSU over the legality of both its and the Union’s political agenda.
David Levene, event organiser for Hope not Hate, which calls on students to unite against the BNP in the upcoming European elections, lobbied YUSU to support his group last week.
YUSU contend that this would have been in contravention of legislation preventing the Union from joining political campaigns.
Levene, whose anti-BNP rally was held on Sunday, stated that he thought some YUSU officers weren’t doing enough to advertise such events and to raise awareness of anti-fascism within their legal powers.
“There is a real risk the BNP will gain a seat in Yorkshire, meaning a massive financial boost – allowing them to expand like never before,” said Levene.
The BNP have said that they “definitely support” YUSU’s decision not to endorse the campaign.
YUSU President Tom Scott has stated that the Union is “not allowed to campaign for or against any political party. There was a concern that we could act illegally by having the organisation, rather than ourselves as individuals, campaign.”
Sarah Fennell, former YUSU LGBT Officer, and anti-BNP campaigner, disagreed with YUSU’s decision, saying: “It’s definitely a student issue. I can understand that YUSU didn’t want to be seen advocating any political party, but we’re not advocating any political party, were uniting against a political party.”
Simon Darby, BNP Deputy Leader, has strongly supported YUSU’s stance towards Hope not Hate, saying that he doesn’t think they should be advertising “vehicles to boost the Labour Party.”
Darby added that he believed students to be “perfectly capable of making their own decisions.”
To complicate the issue, the campaign guidelines of the National Union of Students (NUS), of which YUSU is a member, state that it is within the Unions legal rights to advocate a vote against fascist parties: “Students’ Unions, under charity law, are allowed to encourage their students to make their vote an anti-racist vote.”
The organisation urges unions to implore students “not to cast a fascist or racist vote at the ballot box. This is permissible as long as there is no direct mention of a political party.”
YUSU Societies and Communications Officer Rory Shanks stated: “We are in real danger of breaking the law, which is definitely the case with this version of the Hope not Hate campaign as it clearly references political parties. I also think that our resources should be directed at students as students when appropriately mandated, and not to fuel anyone’s wider party political agendas”. At last Wednesday’s Union Council meeting, YUSU confirmed that they were unable to support or condemn any political party, but instead would encourage students to use their vote.
During the meeting, Democracy and Services Officer-elect Lewis Bretts argued that any anti-BNP movements would be partisan campaigns and shouldn’t be advertised or seen to be advocated by YUSU.
An unnamed YUSU Officer has also said that they believed some people would think highlighting the threat of the BNP could be damaging to the democratic process.
One anonymous student present at the rally said that she thought it was “pathetic on YUSU’s part” for failing to advocate anti-fascism, while another described YUSU as “spineless” for not taking a stance against the BNP.
Fennell added that she found the decision not to endorse the campaign “disappointing, because obviously we have a massive proportion of international students… and then, of course, the BNP are incredibly against women and LBGT students.”
Fennell was keen to stress the importance of preventing the BNP from using any electoral success, and the cross-continental danger it poses: “The scary thing is that they only need to have a few candidates get through, and then they get millions of pounds in funding and then they expand, uniting with other fascist parties in Europe… it’s very dangerous what they can do around Europe.”
The European Elections will be taking place on June 4, and are expected to be the biggest trans-national elections in history.