National Union of Students comes under attack

With Malia Bouattia’s polarising ascent to its presidency and no action on electoral reform, the NUS is facing an existential crisis, reports

Malia Bouattia, incoming NUS President. Image credit: NUS

Malia Bouattia, the incoming NUS President, has faced a severe backlash over purported anti-Semitism. Image: NUS

This year’s National Union of Students (NUS) conference has once again seen the rejection of a “One Member, One Vote” (OMOV) electoral system proposed by York, amid the election of arguably its most divisive president to date, Malia Bouattia. In response, questions are being raised as to how democratic the union truly is.

Motions passed at the annual conference included a full or partial ban on using social media anonymously during campus elections, the creation of a paid, full-time NUS Trans Officer (which was voted down last year), and a “Trans Liberation” campaign.

The most controversial moment came, however, when Darta Kaleja, a delegate from Chester University, argued against a motion commemorating those who died in the Holocaust, claiming that it would fail to acknowledge other genocides. This provoked an outcry from the political class, including former Communities and Local Government Secretary Sir Eric Pickles.

“Unbelievable,” Pickles tweeted. “There are some within the NUS that allow antisemitism [to] flourish within their organisation.”

Labour MP and former NUS President Wes Streeting publicly stated that the NUS no longer represents students well, though praised previous NUS President Megan Dunn’s leadership.

Former NUS President and current Labour MP Wes Streeting has been a vocal critic of Bouattia. Image credit: The Leadership Foundation

Former NUS President and current Labour MP Wes Streeting has been a vocal critic of Bouattia. Image: The Leadership Foundation

Pickles’ tweet doubled as a thinly veiled criticism of President-elect Malia Bouattia, who has previously accused the University of Birmingham of being “something of a Zionist outpost”. Bouattia has been accused of expressing anti-Semitic views on multiple occasions.

Bouattia’s unpopularity among students has contributed to over 24 universities, including Oxford, Cambridge, LSE, Durham and York, creating movements to disaffiliate themselves from the NUS. Such unpopularity has brought the current process of electing delegates to vote on motions, rather than individual students each having a vote, under scrutiny.

Despite this, the alternative of implementing OMOV has previously been proposed at least four times at different NUS conferences – and voted down by delegates on each occasion.

“The lack of One Member, One Vote means that the new president of the NUS has a mandate from just 0.0005 per cent of NUS members,” Jayh Karia, a York student at the forefront of the campaign for the University to disaffiliate from the NUS, remarked.

He also commented that that the “fundamentally undemocratic” delegate system “means warped and twisted policies that touch into extremism, antisemitism and anti-democratic are at the forefront of student politics”.

It is speculated that students will be able to vote on York’s affiliation with the NUS in due course, as anti-NUS campaigners prepare to table a referendum on the matter via YUSU.

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