THE BLOG

Is There Any Room for the Right in Student Politics?

05/12/2014 11:41 GMT | Updated 02/02/2015 10:59 GMT

"Loony lefty love-in" was one of the more colourful phrases used to describe this year's NUS Conference. This coming together of student politicians, activists and union hacks left little room for right-wingers, who huffed through the week cursing the 'loony left' at every turn.

Right-wing blogger Lukas Mikelionis last week published a scathing attack on what he refers to as the 'activism complex'.

"The fact is that maddening fatuous narcissist left wing zealots run student unions, societies, groups, and the whole activism complex," he explains.

He depicts this group as a tightly-nit web of hypocrites and careerists, driven exclusively by a thirst for power. Although members of this so-called complex may be quick to dismiss him a poor man's James Delingpole, hidden beneath his anger are some hard truths.

The intellectual left's bizarre refusal to condemn Isis, for instance, as they ban anything they find remotely unbecoming is hardly the smartest move to make while the rest of society tries to engage with students, not alienate them further.

But Lukas' bluster, more pertinently, reveals an underlying frustration experienced by those unable to penetrate these inner circles. The right may blame the activism complex for shutting them out. But could it be the case that there's simply no room for them?

Student politicians standing in union elections on a right-wing platform often come across as parody candidates, baffling students with their seemingly counterintuitive right-wing principals. "You want to pay even more to go to university?" And so on.

Crucially, research shows most students identify as left-of-centre. YouthSight asked a sample to place themselves on a scale running from zero to ten, where zero represented very left-wing and ten very right-wing. The average student placed themselves at 4.6, while placing Labour at 4.1, the Tories at 6.9, and Ukip at 7.6.

In terms of voting intention, 75% of students would pledge support for Labour, the Lib Dems, or the Greens at the next election, while the remaining 25% would vote for either Ukip or the Tories. Also notable is a collapse in Tory popularity over the last four years, with nearer to 40% suggesting they would vote Conservative in early 2010. How can the right ever hope to represent an electorate that doesn't share their values?

The anti-establishment nature of the student movement has also been a permanent, seemingly uncompromising fixture. Some of the major issues facing students too - rising rents and the day-to-day costs of living for example - could arguably be fixed by implementing a series of interventionist policies than by relying on the free market.

While the student movement campaigns for an end to austerity and the abolition of tuition fees, it's difficult to imagine what a right-wing equivalent would fight for. Perhaps they would organise marches to scrap students' unions, or draw up petitions to transfer more powers to reckless university managers.

Or perhaps, using a bit of guile, they could plug an ever-growing leadership gap. As student activists aim to tackle the wider issues, the little things can often be ignored. The exorbitant cost of sandwiches in the union café, the lack of microwaves on campus, and the set of inadequate library opening hours can do more to spark the average student into life than the elusive threat of austerity, or the nightmarish TTIP.

Perhaps somewhere in this there lies a loose thread at which the right can finally tug to bring down the mighty activism complex they loathe so much. I doubt moaning would do any good.