Tag Archives: Aaron Porter

Porter’s parting shot at the left

by Edd Mustill

“Withdraw your children from the streets. They are drugging your children, they are making your children drunk and sending them to hell.”

Muammar Gaddafi
Aaron Porter

Today’s interview with outgoing NUS president Aaron Porter in G2 reveals a lot about his political approach, and that of the Labourite groups which have run NUS since humankind crawled out of the sea.

He dismisses the tactics of the left as “still incredibly irrelevant, outdated and frankly tired, and if these people think that’s the way to get their point across then I frankly think they are deluded.”

Anyone who has been involved in student politics will recognise this as a common tactic: dividing people into sensible, right-minded moderates and insane revolutionaries. Imagine being a revolutionary, eh? You’d have to be crazy. So anything revolutionaries say is crazy. End of. The left is not made up of “ordinary students” but sinister political operatives, doing things only for their own end. In this interview, Porter goes further and includes the Guardian newspaper as part of this agenda.

Porter is no doubt correct to say that a general radicalisation of students has not occurred, but to dismiss everything that has happened since November so lightly is the mark of a man detached from political reality.

More than anything, the approach of the right in NUS is, and has been for a long time, incredibly dogmatic. The line goes like this: Students don’t want rhetoric. Students are not political. Students are fed up of radical posturing and support responsible, constructive criticism of government policy.

The idea that an “effective campaign” is something that plays well in the media is a poisonous one, and too often influences people on the left as well. Remember that the attack on Millbank got nothing but hostility from the press, but without it a movement on the scale of what we saw before Christmas would have been very unlikely.

Porter praises the Egyptian protests and says he has more sympathy with the Poll Tax protests of the early ’90s, than the Millbank protest. Never mind that the Poll Tax protesters smashed up a lot of the West End in a much more indiscriminate fashion than the vandalism at Tory HQ. What he’s really hiding behind is the old moderate axiom: I support genuine protest that I don’t have to deal with or take responsibility for. Things that occur, for example, thousands of miles away or many years ago.

Ultimately, it is the paucity of Porter’s politics that have led to his demise.

The following quote reveals all we need to know about his political skill. Challenged by Decca Aitkenhead about the inadequacy of the NUS’s anti-fees campaign, he says: “The preferred outcome from the pledge would’ve been that the Liberal Democrats stuck to it – but they didn’t.”

British student politics has not lost a world-class political mind.

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Stop using the phrase “Big Society”!

by Edd Mustill

Don’t worry. This isn’t one of those over-long and fairly vacuous articles about how the left needs to find language that is “more inclusive,” “less dogmatic,” and so on. I just want to quickly comment on a couple of issues around language and slogans that have been bothering me recently.

1)Stop trying to “reclaim” or “invert” the phrase “Big Society”

If you’ve been on a protest recently you’ll know what I’m on about here. Lot’s of people are carrying placards saying things like “This is what your Big Society looks like.” Even today some UKuncut actions were billed as “the Big Society bail-in.

Stop it. I can see what you’re trying to do. David Cameron supposedly wants people to take control over aspects of their life, and that’s what we’re doing by protesting, so you see, this is our version of the Big Society. But stop it.

The Big Society is a vacuous phrase. You can’t give meaning to it by inverting it or treating it ironically. Engaging with it only legitimises a concept that no-one, even inside the Conservative Party, really takes seriously.

Yes, let’s talk about our class taking control over aspects of society: Our version of the Big Society is called socialism. Can we start to talk about that instead?

2) Aaron Porter is definitely a scab

Since the Second Great Chasing of NUS president Aaron Porter in Glasgow, a certain attitude has been floating around along the lines of: “Let’s not make this personal. We don’t want to resort to personal attacks and bullying. Some of the language used against him has been too strong.” And so on.

I’m sensitive to the fact that we don’t want to make our criticisms of Porter too personal, for the political reason that the problems in NUS go far beyond his personal role and lack of leadership.

This said, he is obviously a scab, and we should call him on this. There is a dispute occurring in British universities over fee levels and funding. He is ostensibly the leader of the students’ union. However, his role has been to attempt to subvert the radical action of students. He has decried and dismissed radical action, his has implicitly made false allegations against his political opponents, and has presided over an NUS leadership which has abandoned the fight against higher fees in stark terms.

“Scab” isn’t a word that should be thrown around lightly, but it is entirely appropriate in Porter’s case.

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Carnival of Socialism

by Edd Mustill

Welcome to the 52nd Carnival of Socialism and the first to be hosted by the Great Unrest. In light of recent events, we’ll be focusing on an international theme.

Tunisia

While Tunisian events seem to have been eclipsed by Egypt for the time being, they remain important. Follow statements from the leadership of the UGTT union here.

Socialist Appeal describe what they think is the development of some elements of dual power. But Tunisia Scenario has a more sombre assessment. The majority of demonstrators seem to want to give the interim government a chance. The author also reports:

“Since the revolution many of my friends have started wearing Hijab and growing beards (having a long beard and going to prayers could supposedly get you disappeared) and it’s one of the most visible signs of the revolution. We hear a lot in America about regimes around here that repressively enforce Islam, but a lot regimes are just as oppressive in the opposite direction and it’s nice to see people take their basic rights back.”


Egypt

Of far left groups, Counterfire has probably been giving most coverage to the Egyptian protests. Understandably, most of the coverage so far takes the form of news rather than in-depth analysis. Socialist Worker carries some fantastic live eyewitness reporting from Judith Orr. Richard Seymour takes up the question of the army as an unknown quantity. Workers’ Liberty report on the formation of a new independent union federation. Entdinglichung has the press release.

The Egyptian blog Maat carries a detailed description of state repression and the rollercoaster of emotions unleashed by the revolutionary movement. The Arabawy blog is a good one for more eyewitness evidence, and reports that the tax collectors’ union is calling for the dissolution of parliament and cabinet.

Carl at TCF has produced a solid overview of the Muslim Brotherhood and a critique of the line on Islamism taken by prominent SWPers past and present, including Lindsey German, Callinicos, and Chris Harman. Dave Osler is pessimistic about the prospects for a positive resolution to the crisis from the point of view of the left.

Yourfriendinthenorth takes the “Socialist” International to task for keeping Mubarak’s party as a full member (yeah, I know…) until the last possible moment.

What are the prospects for further spreading of the unrest? Paul at TCF asks if the contagion will spread to Algeria. Here is the blog for an overlooked action taken last week by the General Union of Palestinian Students. They staged a sit-in at the PLO’s London offices to kick-start a campaign for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council. Perhaps partly influenced by recent student actions in Britain and/or the movements in Tunisia and Egypt? Tendence Coatesy has a round up of developments in Sudan.

Puerto Rico

Meanwhile the Third Estate is seemingly one of few English-language websites to be following events in Puerto Rico, where a somehow forgotten student struggle has escalated into violent clashes with riot police.

Ireland

The Republic of Ireland has been kicked around and stomped all over by international finance, and is now at the beginning of an important general election campaign. Andy at Socialist Unity has bigged-up Sinn Fein’s anti-cuts credentials and electoral prospects.

WorldbyStorm at Cedar Lounge Revolution predicts a very tough time for the governing Fianna Fail party if recent polling is anything to go by. A Fine Gael/Labour coalition seems likely, and the Labour leadership is criticised here for not countenencing a coalition with Sinn Fein and the Left.

Cedar Lounge also has one of the more unusual election broadcasts, from independent candidate Dylan Haskins.

Britain

Back home, the split in the National Shop Stewards’ Network following the Socialist Party’s decision to push through the launch of a new anti-cuts campaign has provoked remarkably little discussion, perhaps eclipsed by international events. The exception is this thread on Socialist Unity.

The anti-cuts protests of 29th January have restarted the movement after a Christmas lull. The anti-official sentiment was shown in Manchester when NUS president Aaron Porter was chased off the demonstration. Subsequent wobbly accusations of anti-semitic abuse have been discussed on this blog and at Latte Labour, among other places. SSY‘s article is typically scathing. Infantile and Disorderly has a detailed account of the Manchester protest. Truth, Reason, and Liberty has an anarchist perspective, making the point I have tried to make on this blog that the anti-cuts battle is not a debate but a clash of social forces.

HarpyMarx has some good photos from the roving London protests. Latte Labour has a detailed account of Saturday in London, including a critical view of the Oxford Street protesters’ lack of engagement with shoppers.

UK Uncut’s Boots protest on Sunday was met with heavy-handed policing and the use of pepper spray, as detailed on the group’s website. New Left Project carries a report from one of the activists, which includes interesting indications of the attitudes of a police officer and the Boots staff themselves.

RandomPottins’ description of an anti-cuts protest in Brent reminds us that local groups are gathering steam in between the national demos. Hangbitch reports that Barnet Unison is balloting for strike action, although there seems to be very little of this going on nationally, considering the scale of the attack on local government jobs.

Debates around the movement go on. OpenDemocracy is advertising a forthcoming book on the recent protests from an eclectic bunch of contributors. Luna17 posts a short defence of democratic centralism. Although it forms part of a discussion about the Tommy Sheridan saga, it has a place as part of the wider debate about structures that is ongoing in the movement at the moment. Rob Ray decries what he sees as the Trotskyist tactic of setting up fronts. Another form of organisation, that of sex workers, is discussed at The Daily (Maybe) in a guest post from Jane Watkinson.

Owen Jones criticises “traditional” nationalisation, which is an incredibly important point to make.

Sofie at Zetkin is currently writing a three-part post about journalism and the student movement, taking Laurie Penny to task on some issues, which is worth checking out.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party can’t seem to get into the news much. Left Outside sounds a note of caution for those who are too optimistic about Ed Balls’ appointment as shadow chancellor. Darrell Goodliffe at Labourlist wants his party more heavily involved in the anti-cuts movement.

Leftist Lols

The award for Left-Wing Spat of the Week goes to Jacob at the Third Estate and Laurie Penny, who are engaged in a crucial high-level polemic about whether or not one of them is “a cunt.” (Un?)fortunately the comments thread is now closed.

Elsewhere Madam Miaow keeps up with the Julian Assange saga. The man is now being accused of smelling pretty bad.

So that’s our Carnival. The next one will be hosted by AVPS in mid-February.

Let’s give the final word over to Maat:

“Around me, friends are sleeping on couches, on the floor, in any empty space they can find.
I call them friends eventhough half of them I’ve never met before this week, but so many things happened, together we shared intensely charged emotional days that we became friends rapidly.

Yesterday I was terrified, I was freaked out like never before. I was shaking in bed trying to convince myself to sleep. I actually thought of writing a note and posting it on my fridge incase I died. Now I feel elated.

I have lived to see the uprise of the Egyptian people and the downfall of Mobarak. I can dream about having kids and me telling them proudly that I was part of this extraordinary moment.”

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Anti-Semitism in Manchester?

by nineteensixtyseven

There have been a number of press reports today uncritically reporting that NUS President Aaron Porter was subjected to anti-Semitic abuse ahead of the demo in Manchester.  It is possible that the reports are true.  If this is the case  then it is clearly a very serious incident and should be totally condemned in no uncertain terms as a sinister development in the ongoing debate around his leadership.  However, it is necessary to look closer at the reports in the Daily Mail, the Daily Telegraph and on Sky before we reach any conclusions.

The Daily Mail reports that “One photographer reported chants of ‘Tory Jew scum’” and on the basis of this anonymous source constructs its story.  Sky asserts without supporting evidence or an indication of any source that demonstrators ‘surrounded him, chanting anti-Semitic insults and calling for him to resign as he attended the rally’ and the Telegraph reports that unnamed ‘Witnesses report that among the chants directed at him from a small number of demonstrators were “——- Tory Jew”. So far we have as evidence a photographer and unnamed witnesses as the basis of these news stories.

It is interesting to note that the allegations of anti-Semitism do not appear on the Guardian’s coverage of the Manchester demo nor the recently updated BBC report, which says only that a ‘small but loud group also made their views heard about wanting to replace the National Union of Students president, Aaron Porter.’  Only the right-wing media outlets have been stressing this particular angle of the story, with Reuters neglecting to mention it.  Do the other media outlets not trust its basis in truth? It is quite possible from the hostile tone of their previous coverage that the Mail, Telegraph and Sky are pushing their own political agenda to discredit student protesters on the basis of flimsy supporting evidence.

Footage has emerged of the final moments of the demonstration which suggest one source of potential confusion:

The chant, “Aaron Porter, we know you.  You’re a fucking Tory too!” is clearly audible and it is one that most of us familiar with demos have heard, whether with reference to Porter or Nick Clegg.  The Mail, too, reports this as being the main chant, basing their story on the separate utterance, ‘Tory Jew scum’ as allegedly heard by a photographer.  The Telegraph, however, reports the anti-Semitic chanting as “——- Tory Jew” which is very similar in sound to ‘Tory too’ and makes no mention of ‘Tory Jew scum’.

This similarity has been noticed by Edinburgh Anti-Cuts who attended the demo and wrote on Twitter that “Reports #Manchester chanting ‘you’re a Tory jew’ to Aaron Porter today – Not true – actual chant was ‘You’re a Tory too’ #demo2011#dayx.”  An eye-witness account by a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty also fails to mention the anti-Semitic angle, and this is from a group known for its sensitivity to anti-Semitism on the Left. If we accept the reasonable possibility that the Telegraph has conflated ‘Tory Jew’ and ‘Tory too’ then this leaves us with only the word of an unnamed photographer as the substantive basis for these allegations.

In fact, the Mail goes further by positing a direct causality between the alleged anti-Semitic remarks and Porter pulling out of the rally in Manchester.  This seems to be stretching the facts too far because it see more likely that Porter knew the rest of the general crowd would be hostile.  Debates about his leadership have been ongoing for weeks and student unions have been preparing motions of no confidence in his presidency.  If this was Porter’s reasoning then it was sound because the reception given to his Vice President, Shane Chowen, from the much larger crowd at the rally forced him off the platform.  On this point, then, the Mail article is potentially misleading.  It is also misleading of Sky and the Telegraph to assert that demonstrators ‘surrounded [Porter], chanting anti-Semitic insults’ if, as the Telegraph appears to suggest, it was only ‘a small number of demonstrators’ who are alleged to have used anti-Semitic terms and even this is open to dispute in the Telegraph’s account of events.

Again, it is quite possible that some anti-Semitic remarks were made.  That the rest of the protesters, according to the Telegraph, chanted “No to racism, no to racism” suggests that this might have been the case.  However, reasons for suspicion lie in the fact that the only outlets to report this angle of the story are right-wing and politically biased against students.  Moreover, the sources are unnamed and potentially conflicting, and it is possible that the Telegraph’s ‘witnesses’ misheard a more innocuous chant.  In the absence of stronger corroborating evidence and video footage proving the allegations of anti-Semitism the student movement has to be careful about debilitating smears from the Tory press whilst also making it clear, if the reports are true, that no form of racism can ever be tolerated in our movement.

UPDATE:  See another good analysis from Alex Andrews which has a definite chronology to the news reports in a way that I was technically incapable of finding out!

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Are the “official” leaderships closing ranks?

by Edd Mustill

Times Higher Education this week reports on divisions in the lecturers’ union, the UCU, between the current general secretary Sally Hunt and the UCU Left.

Phil at AVPS has written a good piece about this here. It seems one point of conflict is the UCU NEC’s decision to back a call from the Left supporting the protest in London on 29th January.

Meanwhile, NUS President Aaron “Glowstick” Porter is bringing a motion to an emergency NEC meeting on Monday condemning the plans for a London demonstration on 29th January. In the name of unity with the trade union movement, Porter wants students to attend the TUC’s Manchester rally on that day. This would perhaps make sense, if Unite, the GMB, and UCU weren’t backing both protests.

We shouldn’t be surprised. In his quest for unity in the movement, Porter has variously dismissed, condemned, and tried to take credit for actions called by groups and individuals to his left.

It seems that the official leaderships of the UCU and NUS are closing ranks as the authority to direct the movement slips away from them. They are wary of having to work with less “official” bodies, because of the political effects this will have on radicalising some of their members. The telling sentence in the THE report is this:

“Critics of the UCU Left note that many of its key figures are members of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), arguing that this subjects the union to external influence.”

As if members of the union who are also members of a political party are somehow less legitimate as members! What then should we say about the NUS leaders who are also in the Labour Party, for example? Is this subjecting the NUS to a perfidious external influence? As if every political body isn’t “subject to external influence” all the time. Otherwise what would be the point in us ever doing anything?

This is nothing more than an example of the sort of sectionalism that has long-plagued the trade union movement in Britain. The let-us-get-on-with-it attitude of union leaderships is constant, and it was precisely this that was rejected by the students in the Autumn, which allowed the movement to develop.

The NUS is one of the worst unions for sectionalism, having not so long ago criticising the UCU for considering industrial action. Porter’s focus on Manchester has nothing to do with genuine unity and everything to do with his attempt to reign in the movement. The strategy he is now pursuing, if his open letter to Simon Hughes is anything to go by, accepts that as far as he is concerned the battle against tuition fees is over.

As for the 29th, more demonstrations are obviously a good thing at the moment. Not everyone can get to Manchester. Just as when there is a national demo in London, people who can’t make it protest in their own towns, the same is true of Manchester. There are local protests organised in Sheffield and Glasgow, but no-one is accusing the local anti-cuts groups there of “splitting the movement.” In a situation where we are building national resistance to a national government, it’s ridiculous to suggest that there should be no London demonstration. We can and should build the 29th into a national day of action against cuts, as much as we can.

Demonstrate in London. Demonstrate in Manchester. Demonstrate in your own town. Let’s do it.

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Porter keeps on flipping

by Edd Mustill

NUS president Aaron Porter will have to be careful, as we say back in Sheffield, that he doesn’t “get a sore arse from sitting on the fence too much.”

Initially, he decried the day of action on the 24th for supposedly distracting from the NUS “strategy” of attempting to force by elections on Liberal Democrat MPs, using a constitutional provision which, by the way, does not yet exist.

He humbly back-tracked publicly in a speech to the UCL occupation on Sunday morning. He has acknowledged that peaceful direct action including occupations are accepted as a legitimiate tactic by the NUS, although his recent blog studiously ignores the existence of NCAFC and EAN:

“I want to announce my support for a new wave of action, spurred on and supported by NUS and Students’ Unions, mobilising our students in colleges and Universities and working with other activists and supporters from across the education sector, the trade union movement, parents, families and beyond. There has never been a more important time for a united student movement, and this is what I will lead.”

No activists will read this and think, “Thank god! At last we have a leader.” The numbers at tomorrow’s day of action will not be any higher because of this belated announcement.

Today the Cambridge Defend Education group, which was served with an injuction against its occupation of the Old Schools site, claimed on twitter:

“asked @aaronporter for support w/ our possession order. He said ‘we are not offering legal advice or financial support to students.’”

Porter tried to clear this up by suggesting that the NUS is seeking legal advice about the rights of occupiers but not on a “case by case basis.”

The NUS completely lost the leadership of the student movement after Porter so strongly and quickly condemned the Millbank protest in the national media. They are now trying to reclaim that leadership. The radical students who have mobilised themselves, and the groups who have been behind the days of action, must not let them do this.

Remember that the NUS wanted us to have one march, on the 10th, listen to some speakers, and go back to lobby our MPs. Remember that they have no strategy for defeating higher fees and education cuts.

The ball is still in the court of the radicals. We must start to formulate a strategy for defeating the Bill, and we must keep up and increase the use of democratic forums like general assemblies for debating the direction of the protest movement.

Comparisons can easily be drawn between Porter and Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party (remember them?) Perhaps Aaron gets a dizzying feeling when he sees Ed on the telly; a sense that he is gazing into his own future. Like Aaron, Ed has been unable to make his mind up about whether he supports the students protests, or perhaps whether it is politically expedient for him to do so. Political fence-sitting is fine in times of social peace, and it might even win you an election. Not any more.

Good luck to everyone tomorrow.

As they say in France, “The future belongs to us!”

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