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He dismisses the tactics of the left as “still incredibly irrelevant, outdated and frankly tired, and if these people think that’s the way to get their point across then I frankly think they are deluded.”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