A former Oxford NUS delegate has strongly condemned the national Union as a hub of political discrimination.
Jack Matthews, who was elected NUS delegate in 2010, made the allegations in a blog post this week.
In the post, entitled “Student Leaders: Will You Defend My Right To Be Heard?”, Matthews gives a detailed account of his time at the NUS. He cites numerous instances of personal bullying on account of his conservative political stance and concludes that “Our NUS does not reflect the membership it claims to represent.”
Matthews described his first National Executive Council meeting.
“One member began to speak of how the NUS should build a bonfire, with the Lib Dems in the middle the Tories on top […] somehow I had stumbled into the heart of an organisation where you could joke about the murder of someone along party lines.”
He also described how one afternoon at his first Conference, he hung a Conservative Party lanyard around his neck, rather than the official one he was provided with. “Someone felt it necessary to go up to my Student Union President, and inform him that one of his delegation was a Conservative […] I was made to feel like I didn’t belong.”
He also makes reference to “the endless speeches […] about ‘Tory scumbags’”.
On one occasion, following “offensive” speeches made about the death of Margaret Thatcher, Matthews says that “the vitriol was so great I felt no longer able to remain on Conference floor, and left the building. I was effectively hounded out.”
This is not the only account of political bullying at the NUS. Jade Love, an NUS delegate for the University of Sterling who identifies as Conservative, told this paper: “Within the first hours of the Conference in 2013, I was made to feel most unwelcome […] following the shameful cheering regarding Margaret Thatcher’s death.”
At a Conservative Fringe meeting at one of the conferences, Love describes how she “came across a member who in no uncertain terms told me that they hoped I would be the next Tory to die.”
She also spoke about “songs filled with anti-Tory slurs to NUS members.”
Nathan Akehurst, former candidate for presidency of OUSU who affiliates politically with the far-left, echoed Jack’s concerns: “The NUS problem with democracy and representation is severe and in no small part to blame on Labour Students’ bureaucratic entrenchment.”
Akehurst disagreed, however, with the characterisation of the NUS as a radical-left institution., saying: “The radical left have consistently criticised the NUS’ ongoing failure to stand up for students in the face of attacks on higher education.”
Matthews’ criticism was not limited to NUS. Writing about his experiences with OUSU he wrote: “I will never forget how when at husting we were asked to declare our political affiliation. Down the line we went; Labour, Labour […] Conservative. There was an audible gasp from the OUSU council.”
In response to Jack’s statements, Tom Rutland, OUSU President, said: “I have no time for people who sing about putting anybody on a bonfire, but my experience with NUS has been very postitive.”
He added: “If there is a political mainstream in OUSU, then it’s one that is both representative of and chosen by common rooms.”
Matthews responded with: “There are many who have pleasant experiences within NUS, but how many of those challenged the status quo?”, ending his blog with an plea that current students “stand up and protect the right of students to be heard – even if their views are different to yours.”
A spokesperson for the NUS said: “NUS does not align itself to any particular political party. Our membership is made up of thousands of students with a board spectrum of political views. This sometimes results in debates at conferences but all views are heard and received. We also operate an equal opportunities policy within NUS and throughout all of our events which extends to different political views”.