Whilst radicalism in Britain was seeing a revival around the G20 protests, some poor sods on the left drew the short straw and had to make the annual trek up to Blackpool for the NUS Annual Conference.
However, the conference started off with a pleasant surprise for me – it only took us 3 hours from Bangor to get there - it usually takes me that long to get to Manchester if I’m lucky!
The conference reflected the situation that NUS finds itself in at present – the vast majority of the motions were fairly pointless and without substance. Most of the motions with any substance had been proposed by groups and students unions on the left which tried to bring into conference the voice of the energetic movements that had developed. Unsuprisingly, amendments of free education, supporting the gaza occupations, recognising the success of those occupations etc. all got voted down. The only motion that did get passed was an amendment by Sussex against Ultra-vires that saw Wes Streeting speak for it (we believe he was deliberately baiting the Organised Independents).
Conference also featured some of the worst chairing I’ve ever seen with some NEC members blatantly deciding to ignore delegates wishes. We also saw a motion of censure being passed against Hind Hassan and Rob Owen.
The left was noticeably weaker than the last time I had gone to NUS conference. Another Education is Possible (SWP) were a lot smaller than the last time I’d seen them they maybe around 40 delegates. Education Not For Sale were also smaller – with around 10-12 delegates. Our delegation was very small – however, we’d have been around the same size as ENS if we hadn’t sent people down to the G20 protests instead of NUS Conference – our delegation of 5 was holding the ‘fort’.
Another presence at the conference was Communist Students – but it wasn’t Communist Students that’s associated with the CPGB – instead it was the CPB attempting to reclaim the name. Whilst they didn’t have any delegates they did run a stall and put on a fringe meeting which they asked us to speak at about the No2EU campaign. Indeed they were very friendly to us through the whole conference – allowing us to put copies of my election leaflet on their stall.
The CPB fringe meeting was small but very interesting – due to the smallness of it I was able to quiz the guest speaker, a consul from the Venezuelan Ambassy, about crime and criminal justice in Venezuela (post coming shortly!). We also had a brief discussion on how the No2EU election campaign was developing. I also went to two fringe meeting organised by the SWP – the first was a debate between Rob Owen and Wes Streeting which went over most of the same old ground. The second was the SWSS fringe on ‘How Can Palestine Be Free?’ There were two speakers – a SWSS student who talked about Zionism – unfortunately most of his contribution was stuff to do with the guy who came up with it rather than an actual analysis of its development and influence today. The second contribution was that of Michael Lavalatte who spoke about how we can solve the conflict there – a contribution which was good in some ways – stressing the need for socialism and opposing the Hamas tactic of firing rockets into Israel – but was still vague. Unlike the SWP fringe I went to three years ago, this time they allowed a handful of contributions from the floor (although they ignored Dan Randall of ENS who had his hand up first) and another Socialist Students member came into the discussion pointing out the inverse relation of the strength of Zionist ideas to the strength of the working class in relation to Russia and Germany before commenting further on the working class being the force for socialist change in the Middle East, including in Israel. The SWP seemed to have clearly prepared for us to come in on this point as they began attacking the very idea that the Israeli working class could be a force for change saying that the official labour movement is tied to Zionism and excludes Arabs (but that doesn’t stop Israeli workers organising outside that, like we are doing with NUS). The SWSS speaker then also started replying to stuff we’d never said – one memorable point he tried to make was that the Palestinian working class (which we hadn’t mentioned) is very small – he said around 20% of the population (but the working class were only 5% of the population when the Bolsheviks took power in Russia!)
For me, the struggles of students mostly lay outside that conference. But compared to the expected weakness of our intervention we made a good intervention into the conference, making several good speeches (including mine for the block of 15 – I didn’t get elected by the way). We also did a mildly successful stall in Blackpool on the Wednesday lunchtime. But I guess the best moment for the left in the conference was when Dan Randall (ENS) got elected onto the new trustee board with the highest number of first preference votes running on a anti-trustee board platform. (the appointees to the board include the Sheffield Uni vice-chancellor who threatened his own student with court action and a director of Lloyds TSB bank – which says it all about the board). James Haywood (AEP) was elected to the block of 15 and Dan Swain (AEP) was elected to the democratic procedures committee.