There is a tradition in NUS elections of candidates being scared to criticise each other and instead ending up just saying nice things about “me me me” – “what I’ve done, why I’m wonderful” and nothing about their polices.
In many cases delegates have very little idea of the nuanced political differences between the candidates they vote for. I’m writing this because I want to say loud and clear why I am not Pete Mercer and draw clear water between us politically. If you are going to vote for me I want you do it with a clear understanding of the principles I’m standing for.
I’m standing on a grassroots platform for the NUS re-connect with its members, not just sabbaticals, to take a fight to the government on Welfare. Specifically, I want to see the NUS lead a fight on the NHS, disability benefits & Atos as well as funding for students at university.
Pete is enthusiastic and personable officer but he has failed to deliver on his tough talk of a campaign to defend student welfare. Last year at conference I watched Pete give what looked like a refreshing speech to conference, promising a new direction for welfare campaigns. He stood up took the platform and told the conference floor he was “Pete mercer standing for united campaigning action, standing to protect, inspire and fight, standing up for students standing for you VP welfare”
And it got better “Conference we need a fast responsive fighting & innovative welfare campaign that reaches into the corridors of power from politicians to principals, from halls to homes, on our campuses, in our student unions, we need a welfare zone with teeth.”
by the time he got to “Our education, our homes our communities and our institutions are under attack and we are a generation that needs to stand up and fight like it has never fought before” he was getting his first rapturous applause from the conference floor.
At last! Here was a credible candidate standing promising a real fight to defend the public welfare services that we are so afraid to loose. We needed that badly. To put it simply, this last year couldn’t have been more crucial to have an NUS VP welfare that understands how to get inspiring grassroots campaigns going.
However the strong words given by Pete at last year’s conference haven’t translated into the strong actions that we needed. This year we’ve faced a bill that will hurt & undermine the National Health Service more than any other in its history. Because of this bill we potentially face a society that returns to a healthcare system, which allows people to die for the lack of funds. The condemnation of the bill from all health professionals was near to universal from paediatricians the Royal College of Nursing and the Royal College of Midwives, all joining the British Medical Association in “outright opposition”. All kinds of public & private sector groups joined in, but were was the NUS?
We should have been on the front line of the fight to protect students from bullying greedy companies like ATOS, who are driving disabled people of much needed benefits often to suicide. And we should have been at the forefront of the battle against the plans to abolish Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and the fight to bring back EMA.
The political battles this year were a close run thing; there was serious pressure on Andrew Lanslsey to resign. He hasn’t and it haunts me that it could have come differently. Right now students happen to be one of the strongest campaigning forces in the country. Millions of us rely on the NHS for their health, welfare & wellbeing, we should have found allies and fought back to protect these vital services. The NUS’s & in particular Pete Mercer’s failure to basically do anything may well have lasting consequences.
There was one element in particular of Pete’s speech & platform last year that really worried me; it was his defeatist attitude to fees. “We have heard so many talk about what went wrong and how we lost and whether we did enough. Well I say it is time to shut up and move on, we lost this fight on fees, but millions of students are looking to their national union and their VP welfare to fight for them.”
I think it is extremely problematic to have a VP welfare who believes its “time to shut up and move on, we lost this fight on fees,” in the year when the first cohort of students will be coming in paying £9000 fees. Years when increasing number of students are choosing not to university because they don’t want debt or can’t afford to live while they are studying. Do those studying for their GCSE’s and A-levels, who are working out nervously if they can afford to go university, want the NUS to shut up and move on?
The NUS VP welfare needs to completely back this fight because fees & living costs are a major welfare issue. The stress of not having enough money, not knowing where rent will come from, and the strain of having to work several jobs is what is undermining our welfare. Further, Pete’s strategy is naïve politically; “to say ignore that, now fight on this”, ignores political reality. The HE White Paper Bill, which was due to be put to debate in parliament at the same time as the NHS bill, was most likely delayed because the government didn’t think it could afford two controversial debates at the same time. To be most effective we don’t want to tackle the government on one issue at a time, but tackle them in a responsive and smart way. The fight for welfare & fees mustn’t continue to be separated.
Let’s look at what our liberation activists are telling us, there are real problems with replacing free education with means tested bursaries. For different reasons many have become estranged from their parents, rejected for reasons as diverse as their beliefs, plans, gender, identity and sexuality. Their parents “means” which they have no access to, makes it very difficult for them to get bursaries. If we are going to seriously protect the welfare of all, we need a VP welfare that stands up for a free universal education system for all.
I’m running because I can’t accept a candidate that is just going to keep shrugging his shoulders and moving on; Pete doesn’t mention the NHS bill or even the NHS once in his manifesto this year. Legislation can be reversed we mustn’t give up, history shows that bad policy can be beaten back.
This is what I stand for, I’m not the candidate that gives up or is giving up. I’m not going to buy into any defeatist narratives; I want to carry on the fight. If you’re voting for me you’re voting for a NUS that is going to stand up to pick the big fight over the NHS.
In short, I’m standing because last year Pete Mercer was elected promising massive campaigns however these have not emerged. He has failed to deliver at a crucial moment so I am now challenging Pete on his record & skills as a grassroots campaigner. I think when an officer fails to deliver, conference must look to alternatives, which are both offered by myself and Sean Rillo Raczka.
This is a message that we can fight and we must win. I think the NUS is great at sharing best practice with Student Unions on how to provide welfare services. But what it really needs is a re-connect with its individual members. I want to see the NUS to construct in this welfare emergency, democratic regional structures to lead a fight. The NUS VP Welfare needs to go round colleges, sixth forms and universities to find and help campaigners form regional groups, which will have the contacts and structures to run an effective and responsive democratic campaign for welfare services on and off campus. Grassroots campaigns need facilitation and organisation but currently the NUS only delivers call outs & platitudes, expecting things to happen organically.
If you vote for me I will get out the office and engage with the membership to get the job done.
If you’re not delegate get out and join some of the great campaigning organizations that are really making a difference like the national campaign against fees and cuts.