Watching Prime Minister's Questions last week was absolutely infuriating. What I thought was going to be a relaxing half an hour in bed, left me tense, on edge, sat up and shouting at the TV. I even had to leave the room at one point. It left me feeling genuinely distressed at the state of this country and the state of our 'democracy'.
And let me get this straight: it wasn't about one side or the other. I am neither a Labour nor a Conservative voter, and I'm not sure if I will ever be. What made me so angry was how the whole of the House felt like Pantomime. There was jeering and shouting from the backbenches, 'banter' flying around left, right and centre and Cameron was doing nothing but play up to the whole thing - acting like school bully trying to win over his peers. The way he spoke to Corbyn was so derogatory, so disrespectful and just downright unacceptable. Him and the rest of the Conservatives seemed to have no shame in ignoring totally what their job is - to represent the people of this country. What makes it so much worse is that several voters will not see any problem with the way that he acted - he will get away with it and will continue to do so over the next four and a half years. There are no excuses for this behaviour, but I do believe that the reason it was even accepted, is largely because, so publicly over the past few months, the Labour Party have become a broken force; just waiting to be torn apart by the public, the media and their fellow politicians alike. And I've been thinking about it over the weekend; the NUS are exactly the same.
Even though I have been a Student Union President for 18 months, and before that had no break from education from the day I first started school, the NUS is something that I have only started to recently take any kind of interest in. In my first year as a sabbatical, it was too 'shout-y', too party political and too far removed from anything that was going on in my campus and affecting my students. To be perfectly honest, I really didn't see the point in it or what on earth it was there for. A shift in the sabbatical officers at the last election has, for the first time, made me feel like myself and my students were represented and recognised; and it has encouraged me to get more involved.
Doing so has provided me with training and development which has been crucial to me doing my job this year, it has given me a support network of people who I can not only share ideas with, but when I'm feeling overwhelmed and things have been tough, they are the only other people who really understand the challenges that I'm going through. I would go as far as to say that NUS has changed the way that I look at the world - it's given me an understanding of social inequalities around class, race and gender that I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to explore. I have learned so much from NUS in such a short space of time, and I really believe that I'm a better person for it.
I think that I speak for many others when I say that the shift in NUS in recent months has been a good thing.They are really starting to review the way that they do things. Sabbatical officers, like myself, are being elected onto committees that they previously had no interest in, and student unions like mine are beginning to feel more connected. The organisation is finally starting to reflect a nice, diverse range of opinions. It feels positive. It feels encouraging.
What it has done, however, is to cause a huge amount of friction in the leadership. It's created a power struggle between those that feel NUS should be more relevant to their students on the ground, and those who believe that they should be using their platform to fight national and international causes. They debate about what the 'average' student is. They accuse each other of making bad decisions. They speak to each other in a way that can be downright nasty. They plaster their internal politics all over social media for everyone to see, and they can't even stick up for each other when the national press shames certain individuals. Instead, they use it as an opportunity to get one up on each other and they proceed to publish blogs about their differences.
It's created an environment where students who want to get involved with NUS feel like they have to 'pick sides'. I feel on edge when I talk to different people at events and conferences, or when I praise the work of a friend on social media. The atmosphere that they've created makes you feel that way. The biggest shock that I ever got was learning a few months back that they even organise their elections based around these two sides (or factions, as they like to call them) - which I have to say, for an organisation that puts so much emphasis on democracy, is the most undemocratic and unfair concept that I've ever heard of. For an organisation that puts so much emphasis on inclusivity, and 'safe spaces', they seriously need to learn to practice what they preach.
Like everybody else, it is true that I am closer to certain individuals in NUS then others, and naturally, there are individuals that I feel like I can better relate to. But surely that is just human nature. Even though I don't agree with the views of everybody, I respect where they have come from, and I respect their huge drive to make a difference.
And that's the point. All of the people who are involved in NUS are doing it because they want to change the world, and being involved in student unions has given them the confidence to believe that they can. And an organisation that takes the lead on tackling social injustice, and whose goal is to ultimately make education as accessible and fair for all, is a pretty good place to start. The ironic thing is that every single one of the students involved in NUS have the same aim. They have the same value sets and the same vision of the world that they want to help create.
The problem they have, however, is that they can't seem to work together and because of that, they're not achieving what they are all capable of. Their internal politics is preventing them from doing so, because they are so publicly divided. Of course they have differences in opinion. Of course they have different political views. Of course they have different tactics for campaigning. They all come from different backgrounds, different upbringings and were from different student unions. In acting how they have been - just like the Labour Party, they are not uniting together, and as a result, they are not being taken seriously. Not only to the seven million students in the United Kingdom that they are there to represent, but to universities and the Government alike - the ones that they are supposed to be influencing in order to create change.
The NUS is an organisation with so much potential. And it is full of people who have incredible ideas, a great understanding of the faults of today's society and such wonderful visions of the world that they want to live in. These are the bright, altruistic, ambitious leaders of tomorrow. But without putting their differences aside and fighting for the common ground that they all so strongly believe in, they are playing exactly into the stereotype that everyone has of them - childish. A bunch of kids trying to play politics. And if they keep at it, they will never get anywhere.Suggest a correction