By Harry Flannery
In a move truly unbefitting of the current political climate, NUS delegates have returned a supposedly ‘centrist’ candidate to the position of NUS president. Yes, Shakira Martin a ‘working-class, single mother’ from Lewisham has ousted the allegedly anti-Semitic, far-left and frankly shambolic leadership of Malia Bouattia.
While the Daily Telegraph expressed its incredulity at the fact that the new NUS leader had not attended university, seemingly unaware that the NUS doesn’t exclusively represent students from those institutions, the majority of those of sound mind welcome the election of an NUS president who, at the very least, has the good manners to pretend she has student interests at heart.
For anyone who exists outside the left-wing dystopia of the NUS, Ms. Martin is by no means the ‘centrist’ she claims to be. Her politics are closely aligned to that of Ms. Bouattia and in the past, she has claimed to be more radical than Jeremy Corbyn. She even endorsed Bouattia at the last presidential election. However, in her previous role as Vice President, she at least showed the political nous to distance herself from the reported anti-Semitism of her president, and she does genuinely seem to care about student issues.
The outcome of Durham’s Tom Harwood’s election campaign will be disappointing for him. Harwood obtained only 35 votes from NUS delegates, in comparison to Martin’s 402 and Bouattia’s 272. Nevertheless, he must be commended for his role in bringing the absurd and sinister nature of the NUS’s outgoing leadership to the wider public’s attention. For too long, the NUS has disregarded the everyday needs of students, such as increasing rent prices and rising tuition fees. Instead, it has pursued not only ludicrous policies, such as banning prisons and redefining the meaning of the word ‘woman’, but also irrelevant political ideals that hold no bearing on students, such as the boycotting of Israeli goods. Harwood’s delegate and presidential campaigns, while not leading him to the president’s chair, were successful in forcing the NUS to reconsider how it represents British students and ultimately paved the way for the seemingly more sensible leadership of Shakira Martin.
If Martin is, in fact, anything more than a militant, socialist wolf in sensible, centrist sheep’s clothing, she has a long road ahead of her in terms of restoring the reputation of the Union. Ridding it of its toxicity would be a start. In the last fortnight, the Independent revealed that NUS executive members had shared online videos mocking Jews and had called for the destruction of Israel. Sean O’Neill, who ran in last week’s elections for a role on the Executive Council, has a Twitter feed which includes the hashtag ‘#heilhitler’. It is deeply concerning that those who hold such extreme and repugnant views are so entrenched in the NUS elite – and it is vital that Ms. Martin eradicates this element of the Union in order to retain what is left of its credibility.
It is easy to forget that the NUS was once a respected mainstream organisation that achieved meaningful change for students. In 1974 the Union pressured British Rail into offering student rail cards, an act that still saves students money today, and in 1992 the NUS pressured the government into exempting full-time students from council tax. These kinds of victories might not make headlines and are certainly not glamorous, but they provided real, lasting change that has gone on to benefit millions of students.
Malia Bouattia’s tenure as President was defined by absurdity and controversy. Shakira Martin’s must be defined by reform, progress and a return to the heady days of meaningful student representation. If she can achieve these changes – then, and only then – Ms. Martin will be considered among past NUS Presidential greats such as Jack Straw and Charles Clarke. She must decide how she wants history to judge her.
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