Aaron Porter’s failings should teach us a lesson

As NUS President Aaron Porter announced last week he would be stepping down after a highly criticised year in office, his failures can serve as a cogent warning to all YUSU candidates of the dangers of over-politicising the realm of student politics

Last week Aaron Porter finally announced that he will indeed step down as the NUS President at the end of his first term in June, a declaration that has been greeted with an almost universal sigh of relief. Even if he had decided to run again in April it is unlikely that he would have won after such an eventful and seemingly disastrous year. He has been endlessly attacked in the political and the personal sphere, whilst being accused of ignoring students and at the same time riling students up through a false portrayal of the tuition fees situation.

On meeting Aaron Porter last year, I was completely ignorant to the “student revolution” that was about to take place. He was a couple of months into his first term as president and was bamboozling a group of students with his facts, figures and arguments against tuition fees and for graduate tax. At the time he appeared self-assured and well established in what he was fighting for; he confidently harped on about the pledge so many politicians had signed and the inevitability of its success.

But as soon as he finished talking several hands shot up in the air, and what proceeded was a grueling interrogation that clearly indicated the lack of belief these students had in Porter. In the proceeding year Porter has often been criticised for being too politically minded in the midst of a student population that care about change over high end politics. According to my memory of Porter, though, it seems that not even the students who were interested in politics agreed with what he was saying. And this is where he went wrong.

For all his seemingly noble intentions, at the end of the day he forgot to take note of what the student population actually wanted. The elitist universities were not interested in graduate tax and neither were the poorer universities. Those with more conservative leanings were not going to support a policy whereby they would end up paying for more than their own degree, whilst the everyday student had no intention of reading a ten page pamphlet when the real issue was simply preventing tuition fees from trebling. Porter failed to engage students at a political level and on the streets.

This is a lesson we should take particular interest in during our very own University elections. Both YUSU candidates and students should use the NUS fiasco as a warning over the way our system is ran. Our future president should take heed from Porter’s focus on policies and ignorance of genuine student desires.

Sad as it may be, the majority of ordinary students at York do not really care or know about the ins and outs of YUSU. Therefore, any YUSU candidate attempting to engage students using confusing YUSU politics are only segregating students from the process, as it leaves them unable to see a realistic way to change the system. At the same time students need to make sure they let YUSU hear their voices so to avoid being led into something unwanted.

Aaron Porter leaves behind a bitter legacy of fees and student revolt, and it is hard to deny he will be walking a way from office with more than a few regrets. However, if his step down from power teaches us anything, it is that there is no place in student politics for the careerist agenda, and be it in the NUS or simply the York student Union, putting personal ambition above student representation and engagement will never be tolerated for long.

2 comments

  1. While I’m on your side in wanting Porter out, your argument seems to do a lot of saying that students are fully justified in their ignorance, though there’s just about enough ambiguity to let you off. Even so, the tuition fees issue required a fair amount of understanding and research to understand it; you seem to be championing students who had no idea what they were talking about.

    And finally, your comments about having a “careerist agenda” and “putting personal ambition above student representation” come completely out of left-field at the end. It’s perfectly likely that Aaron Porter did care about students, but that he was just incompetent.

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  2. I’m no fan of Aaron Porter’s Labour politics, but I think he’s been incredibly unfairly treated. Whilst some in the student population think the best way to influence a government is to shout loudly outside Parliament, Porter got that he needed to sit down and get on with the ministers involved.

    It seems to me that he felt obliged to follow student will and hold the “Demolition” student demonstration, whilst holding private reservations about it. Those doubts were confounded when the actions in Millbank turned millions of non-students off from the cause, and lost any sympathy the general population had for students.

    Aaron Porters legacy is the fact that the new system of loan repayment is much more progressive than the previous system. Yes, headline fees are higher, but in reality, only for those rich enough to pay them off. If you never earn more than £21,000 your tuition fee is £0.

    My worry is the NUS will now go down the line of a left-wing loony, whose inability to get elected anywhere apart from the NUS will avoid them being classed as a “careerist” as the writer above puts it. Whilst they might be popular amongst the student population, their ability at influencing policy and getting results for students will be significantly less than someone with the political nouse as Porter.

    The resignation of Porter makes me think that next time this year, many students will be thinking they should have been more careful what this wish for…

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