Student politics has a bad reputation. Ask average Joe Public and he'd tell you that it enjoys a dubious association with the hard left, with pretentious wannabe revolutionaries and with fierce self-importance in the face of crippling irrelevance. He'd be wrong - but he could be forgiven for indulging in those stereotypes, because parts of the student left do a pretty good job of reinforcing them.
The last couple of years have been utterly disastrous for the reputation of university politics and its practitioners. Minority violence at legitimate protests up and down the country has been underlined by disjointed opposition to tuition fee rises, factionalism within students' unions and a flurry of unsuccessful occupy copy-cat 'movements'. The sensible voices on the left of the student body have been drowned out by extremists, and all pretence of engagement with reality has been washed away by swaggering talk of 'movements', 'resistance' and 'solidarity'.
It's not that I have anything against movements, resistance and solidarity - far from it. I'd just prefer it if the movements were movements, not disjointed and disorganised collections of individuals; I'd prefer it if resistance meant resistance, not utopian demands on the part of isolated bodies claiming to represent great swathes of the student body; and I'd rather those preaching 'solidarity' could practise a bit of it, instead of waging petty and bitter disputes with those who don't share their alternative view of reality.
No single individual represents the utter madness of the hard left than Edd Bauer, a sabbatical officer with responsibility for education at Birmigham University's Students' Guild. After being arrested for a stupid stunt at the 2011 Lib Dem conference he was justifiably suspended from his duties. Far from apologising for shaming his union, and for undermining the previous protests of others who weren't quite as bent on garnering attention, he launched a swaggering crusade to have himself re-instated, culminating in a deplorable attempt to remove the President of Birmingham's Guild.
More recently Bauer managed to half-justify his university's ludicrous protest ban by deliberately deviating from a previously agreed route on a tense demonstration, ruining dialogue between the Guild and the university - presumably in order to bask in the limelight once more. Guild President Mark Harrop - still in power, no thanks to Bauer - had been due to take on Vice Chancellor David Eastwood in a special public Question Time until the difficulties at the protest. The event has now been postponed, and it is not certain that it will go ahead at all. A chance to make the intellectual case for the public university has been trashed. Again.
As one senior figure in the NUS mused to me recently, the irony is that those who profess the gospel of solidarity most strenuously are often those whose childish, self-indulgent factionalism is the most harmful to the student cause. Let's be honest: no intelligent student could really manage to think that sabotaging a protest could encourage solidarity; nobody with half a brain thinks that breaking into Fortnum & Mason's, smashing up Millbank and lobbing a fire extinguisher off the top of a building is going to inspire national sympathy for the students who are suffering for a crisis which they did not cause.
As a student who wholeheartedly opposes the reckless approach this Government takes to higher education, and who absolutely backs the right of students to assert their demands through peaceful and lawful protest - including, by the way, the right to peacefully occupy certain bits of land - I find it infuriating that small cliques of self-aggrandising egotists are using violence and internal subversion for nobodies good but their own. They know who they are, and they should be ashamed of themselves.
Edd Bauer, by the way, was found not guilty of causing danger to the public. It's just a shame that in the months following his arrest he felt it was necessary to do far more serious damage to the interests of students across the country.
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