The NUS Is Only Half the Problem

27/04/2016 13:33

Following the election of Malia Bouattia for NUS president last week, controversial due to her previous anti-semitic remarks and endorsing violent resistance against Israel, there has been bit of a snowball effect. Students across the UK have been calling for disaffiliation, following the lead of a group of Oxford delegates whose motion for One Member One Vote was rejected at the NUS Conference.

It has become increasingly obvious the the NUS is no longer considered representative by many students. The undemocratic nature of NUS elections has resulted in a hijacking by the progressive left, with conferences becoming an event centred around identity politics and Tory-bashing. The focus on bettering student lives has been replaced by virtue-signalling and wider political issues, officially lending support to Jeremy Corbyn, and causes such as the Remain campaign, all the while spectacularly neglecting to accept the variation of political views within the student population.

Similarly, much criticism has been given to the censorial climate fostered by the NUS, with its no-platforming and safe space policies treating students like vulnerable children who cannot be exposed to any idea that differs from the progressive narrative. Although the NUS defends these by informing us that the no-platform policy was established in the 70s and only consists of six groups, they once again completely miss the point that even this is too much; free speech has to be absolute or it is worth nothing. Specific NUS campaigns refuse platforms or to appear in the same space as those whose views they disagree with - a notable example being feminist Julie Bindel for her allegedly transphobic remarks (made thirteen years ago). The climate has become one in which any viewpoint that strays from the progressive narrative is deemed 'offensive', and given the label of racist, homophobic, Islamophobic, transphobic - any '-phobic' you can possibly imagine.

Yet despite these criticisms, despite the growing disaffiliation momentum, it is clear that the NUS is only half the problem. A survey produced for Victoria Derbyshire's free speech on campus debate showed that 63% of students support the NUS no-platform policy. Indeed, following his comments about Obama's half-Kenyan ancestry, and a "general tone of disrespect" towards the president, Boris Johnson was recently disinvited form an EU Referendum event by student body Kings Think Tank, of Kings College London - one of the universities seeking NUS disaffiliation. The suggestion is absurd - the most powerful man in the world now seems to be beyond criticism, a prospect that greatly resembles all manner of fascist dictatorships.

These students seem to forget that without free speech, many of the values we hold today, which were originally deemed offensive, would not have been formed. Without free speech, scientific advances would not have been allowed to occur, homosexuality would still be illegal, women would still not have the vote. It is these same people who relied upon free speech for their campaigns who now seek to limit and censor ideas and views they have decided to find offensive. The fact is lost that the best way to defeat an ideology is with speech to expose its weaknesses and bigotry, not censorship, which simply attempts to pretend that these opinions do not exist.

It is not just the NUS but the student body that needs to change. We need to stop infantilising ourselves, stop portraying ourselves as too weak to be able to be exposed to other ideas, and stop allowing the NUS to 'protect' us through its love of safe spaces. University is the time to grow up, to grow as a person, to be confronted with these ideas, to be made uncomfortable. University is the time to learn how to debate and how to defend and develop our own opinions. We simply cannot do this if we obsess over this new victim mentality, seeking offense where none is intended. We cannot do this if we refuse to allow those we disagree with to speak. This is a generation of intellectual cowards; whether the NUS disaffiliation campaigns are successful or not, nothing will change until we do.