Porter perfects his 'Mullaband' contemplative face for the future.
Mind when the media took it upon themselves to decide that Diana was “the people’s princess” even though she had just as little to do with us untitled scum as the rest of them? Well, Aaron Porter would do well to remember that just because the media treat you like you’re King of the Students doesn’t make it so.
NUS has been basically an irrelevance for many students for a long time now, with the closest a lot of us get to them being flashing an NUS extra card in a shop. Others (including me) attend institutions where the student population has repeatedly rejected having NUS organise on campus, because they’re basically useless to us and in some cases would actually be detrimental to student organisation, as well as food and drink prices in unions. Given that, perhaps it was inevitable that when a real crisis happened, the NUS would be no help at all.
In his tenure as NUS president, Porter has abandoned the idea of free education and proposed a graduate tax, attacked those who occupied Millbank as a “tiny minority” who apparently weren’t ‘real’ students (whatever that means), and then, in a desperate attempt to claw back some credibility and power after the movement ran away from him, was forced into a humiliating admission of “spineless dithering” on his part. I’d propose that that statement was the most truthful and relevant thing Porter’s said during this entire attack on students all across the UK, because the latest move from NUS has again been to push for lobbying of MPs, and to reject the UK wide demo on vote day in favour of their own candlelit vigil by the Thames. Oh, and we should all spend the day lobbying our MPs instead to tell them just how mistaken they are about fees increases.
There’s two problems here. First, the idea of lobbying, with specific reference to the NUS call to lobby Lib Dem MPs. The thing about this approach is that it largely depends on the belief that MPs simply haven’t thought through the consequences that fee rises and cuts will have for young people who’re seeking education. The idea of free education has been under attack for years, with further attacks on the idea that the arts are worth studying at all, and thinly disguised snobbery towards any institution that’s not an ’ancient’ university. These attacks don’t come out of politicians being misguided, it’s part of a concerted agenda to privatise education, delimit what is worthy of study (and what is worth studying is what’s immediately valuable to UK capitalism) and further turn educational institutions into cash machines that are basically closed to people without money, much like the US. This isn’t some mistake, it’s a mission. There might well be a significant number of MPs who will vote against this week’s bill, due to personal convictions or political expediency, but the amount of them who will truly believe that education should be free at the point of demand and genuinely accessible, and who wont buy into the limiting of what people can study, will unfortunately be much smaller.
So, given that it’s not just about one bill, and not just about some Lib Dem betrayal (many of us aren’t surprised at all, because a generally social democratic, pro capitalist party like them were always going to run into a bit of cognitive dissonance when they actually got power, and were never going to take long to drop the policies that appeal to young people and students) then it’s more than fair to say that lobbying MPs is not going to solve this. This is a long term fight to stop education cuts, and to preserve the rights of people who aren’t of the upper classes to get an education without jumping through scholarship hoops, so this repeated rejection of big demos and focus on lobbying days that NUS champion just isn’t going to cut it as a strategy.
Some people find it perplexing that an organisation called the National Union of Students can be so utterly out of tune with the way the wind’s blowing among the people they wish to represent. However, we need to take into account that an NUS position is a classic career move for those who want a job in politics, particularly people who are dying to become a Labour MP. Aaron Porter stood as an independent for the NUS presidency, but is in fact a Labour member. After talking to Porter on the Daily Politics Show, Andrew Neil probably got it dead on when he said “I think I was talking to a future MP there!”. If Porter wants a career as an MP, he’s going to have to play the game and avoid rattling any cages, and that basically rules out doing anything that will actually make any difference, or make people feel a sense of cohesion, power and optimism.
So, we get useless shite like a candelit vigil, an idea which has unfortunately spread to some individual student representative councils, for example Glasgow uni’s. Candelit vigils are usually held to mourn something that’s already happened, or something happening that is outside of our power to change because we are removed from it. That is not the case here, and apart from anything else, asking people to stand quietly and hold a fuckin candle while this vote happens is a great way to demotivate everyone. I wont be trekking to Edinburgh to melt a bit of wax, and I doubt the NUS demo will pull many folk away from Parliament Square either, no matter how many pleas they put out.
Porter is guilty of a massive dereliction of duty as a student representative, and I’ve outlined why. He has no interest in following the wishes of most students across the UK, because it doesn’t fit his political and personal interests. The campaign against cuts and fees has officially run away from NUS, and they’ve nobody to blame but themselves. Students of all stripes, and future students too, don’t want a king, they want a voice, and unfortunately from Porter’s point of view, they’ve found it themselves.