Present: Toni Pearce, Joe Vinson, Rachel Wenstone, Dom Anderson, Raechel Mattey, Maggie Hayes, Colum McGuire, Aaron Kiely, Malia Bouattia, Hannah Patterson, Jawanza Ipyana, Sky Yartlett, Finn McGoldrick, Kelley Temple, Daniel Stevens, Arianna Tassinari, Josh Rowlands, Emma Barnes, Anna Chowcat, Amy Gilligan, Stephanie Lloyd, Rhiannon Hedge, Gordon Maloney, Robert Foster, Fergal McFerran, Rosie Huzzard, Rhiannon Durrans, Harry Fox, Matt Stanley, James McAsh, Paul Abernethy, Charles Barry, Chris Clements, Jessica Goldstone, Peter Smallwood, Marc McCorkell
Observing: Stacey Devine, Georgie Court, Matthew Tennant.
Not attending: Charlotte Knight, Rachael Thornton, Tabz O’Brien-Butcher, Rebecca Hall, Jeni-Marie Pittuck, Ben Dilks, Edmund Schluessel, Kirat Raj Singh
Induction training for the incoming NEC members was provided before the meeting started.
The meeting was opened by Toni Pearce at 11:30am.
After the initial formalities of approving the minutes, we moved in to the accountability section.
This was slightly different to normal NEC meetings, because as it was the beginning of the year there were no reports. Instead the Zones, Nations, Liberation and Sections Officers fed back on what their priorities for the year were, and then the rest of the NEC asked questions about these plans.
Additionally because Block allocations to member Unions had not been made, there were no reports from the Block with membership feedback.
I didn’t make comprehensive notes of every campaign’s priorities, in fact I know that I forgot to write anything down at all about what NUS Wales or the Black Students Campaign were going to be doing, but here goes a quick summary of what was said:
- HE Zone (Rachel Wenstone): student rights and protections, democratic institutions, arts, placements, access, postgraduate funding
- FE Zone (Joe Vinson): GCSE changes, curriculum, review of vocational education, FE funding
- UD Zone (Rachael Mattey): making democracy work for students (not the other way round), private providers, utilising student activities
- Welfare Zone (Colum McGuire): homes fit for study, making the case for welfare, health and NHS, local public services
- Soc and Cit Zone (Dom Anderson): General Election, employment rights, votes at 16, Ethics and Environment, Free Maxwell
- Women’s Campaign (Kelley Temple): Women in leadership, student carers, lad culture, regional forums
- Disabled Students (Hannah Patterson): Disability living allowance, anti-cuts, anti-atos, real change for SU representation
- LGBT Campaign (Sky Yarlett and Finn McGoldrick): anti-homophobic bullying, data on LGBT students, out in sport, trans students, activist training
- International Students (Daniel Stevens): anti-immigration restrictions, fixed fees, linking internationall students more into NUS
- NUS Scotland (Gordon Maloney): free education, moving away from loans towards grants, widening access, housing, university governance
The next items of business were several items that have to be sorted at the beginning of the year. These were approving the NEC Rules (Standing Orders), agreeing to the list of Presidential appointments and agreeing the cycle of business for the upcoming year. These were all agreed unanimously. The first draft of detailed budgets were shown to the NEC.
We also held elections for the NEC Clerks and for the Nominations Committee (the one that appoints trustees). Jawanaza Ipyana and Jess Goldstone managed to successfully beat RON for the two positions on the Nominations Committee.
The election for NEC Clerks (similar to a mini Steering Committee) was a close-run contest, with the three candidates for the two places being me, Ben Dilks and James McAsh. The result was:
Round 1 – Ben Dilks 12, Charles Barry 10, James McAsh 10, RON 1; Round 2 – Ben Dilks 12, James McAsh 11, Charles Barry 10.
Naturally, I was a bit disappointed to have lost by such a close margin, but I’m sure Ben and James will do a fine job in this role.
View the completed policy that was passed at this NEC meeting
Motion 1 – Migration
The NEC had a suprisingly large amount of policy to discuss at this meeting – considering this is the “bedding in” meeting where everyone finds their feet.
First up was a motion submitted by Edmund Schleussel on current migration rules. The real irony of the motion was that Edmund, an international postgraduate student from the USA, was unable to attend the meeting to propose his motion. The UK Border Agency had ordered him to return to the USA and reapply for a new visa for the coming year.
There were two amendments, both which were simple “add” amendments and which were considered as ‘friendly’ . They were both consolidated into the motion without much debate. I voted for both amendments.
There were then two requests to delete parts of the original motion. The first part was Resolves 5 and 6. It was argued that this language, which mentioned NUS refusing to support certain political parties if they backed cuts, austerity or increased migration restrictions, was unnecessary and potentially compromised the ability of NUS to be neutral between political parties.
It was argued back that a refusal to support any party is in no way the same as supporting other parties. The part was removed, by a fairly close result: 17 to remove, 11 to keep. I abstained on this vote because while I thought it was an overly broad and not particularly well written part of the motion, I did not accept the logic that it made NUS support particular political parties.
The second part was Resolves 7, which said NUS would support protests against migration rules and offered congratulations to those who had protested against UKIP. It was argued we should remove this part for two reasons, firstly, because it embodied support for an outdated ‘macho politics’ which prioritised shouting above discussion, and secondly that it again compromised the idea of NUS as a neutral body with respect to political parties. It was argued back that demonstrating is not ‘macho politics’, it is a common political tactic, that the demonstrations focus on migration rules, not particular parties, and that UKIP constitute a political body which has no desire to advance the rights of students and so protesting against them is a legitimate tactic.
The part was removed. This vote was the closest of the entire meeting, with 15 voting to remove and 13 voting to keep. I voted to keep the parts for two reasons, firstly, I feel that NUS shouldn’t be disapproving of peaceful protests by students, and secondly I don’t believe that protesting against the policies of a political party means that you are no longer party-political neutral.
The motion with these changes was passed unanimously.
Motion 2: Migration affiliations
This motion called for NUS to affiliate to two organisations, the Migrants Rights Network and the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants. After being introduced by Daniel Stevens, this motion was passed unanimously without further debate.
Motion 3: Anti-racism, anti-fascism
Hotly anticipated after May’s débacle, there were two motions on this topic – one submitted by Dom Anderson, the other submitted by Rosie Huzzard. These were combined so that the second motion became one massive amendment.
At this point I got a bit distracted and lost track of what was going on, so this may not be a totally accurate version of events on this motion.
There were two parts requests on this amendment: to delete bullet 2 of Further Believes 1 and to delete bullet 3 of Further Believes 3.
The first of these (bullet 2) was to delete one line which criticised the organisation Unite Against Facism for its failure to “militantly oppose the far right in the streets”. The debate on this, obviously, centred around whether ‘militant’ action is the sort of thing that NUS wants to be involved with. Those critical of this part said it represents a form of ‘macho’ male-dominated politics which is not what NUS should be involved with, and the word ‘militant’ implies violent action, which NUS should also not support. Those who defended the part argued it was not about violent protests, but about being strong-willed. In the end this part was removed (I voted to remove).
The second part was a debate on tactics. The line said that we supported ‘driving fascists off the streets’, instead of calling for state bans. Those calling to remove this part argued that state bans were an effective part of combating extremist behaviour and that to retain this part would undermine NUS’s long-standing No Platform policy. Those calling to retain this part said that was not the case, No Platform could be maintained in the absence of state bans, and anyway, state bans did not solve the underlying cause of extremist behaviour and allowed extremists to play the ‘victim card’. This part was eventually removed, however I can’t remember for the life of me how I voted (I think I abstained).
This amendment was then bizarrely voted on in a recorded vote, in which all but (I think) two members of the NEC voted to include this into the main policy text. I say this seemed bizarre because while there are no secret votes at the NEC, the minutes normally do not show who voted which way, unless a NEC member requests it. Mostly only the more controversial and closely-fought motions receive a recorded vote, so it was unusual to see a recorded vote on such an uncontroversial amendment.
There was another amendment, which was promptly included in the main motion, and then finally the motion was voted through unanimously.
Opponents of No Platform should take note – the NEC passed unanimously the part which said: “To campaign for no platform for fascists within NUS or in our Students’ Unions”.
Motion 4: Councillors against the cuts
This motion was short and simple – it wanted NUS to sign up to the principles of a group called “Councillors against the Cuts” (CAC) and lend its support to this organisation’s aims.
I can’t remember how the debate went (more problems of doing this writeup a month late), but the end result was that the motion fell.
I voted against the motion. The reasons for this are simple: CAC is an organisation dedicated to one tactic, which I think is a silly tactic that will do no good and will cause potentially great harm. Hence even though I might agree with the overall aims of CAC, I can’t possibly agree with their tactics. For those of you who don’t know, CAC argues that Councillors should refuse to “implement cuts” (ie the fact they have less money than the year before) by refusing to set a budget. CAC hopes that this will create a ‘wave of resistance’ or something, and this will prevent cuts from happening.
To me this sounds like that episode of South Park with the gnomes (clip). Firstly, the tactic doesn’t make any coherent sense: it is central government who have cut local government budgets, so the cuts have happened to councils whether they like it or not. To refuse to “implement cuts” by not spending money makes as much sense as saying I will refuse to “implement punctures” by continuing to drive on flat tires.
Secondly, I am deeply uneasy about the idea that we should use maladministration as a tactic. If we disagree with central government cuts it is at the ballot box and in the Commons where we should fight back. Abandoning public services at a local level as a political weapon and imperilling the livelihood of Council employees is neglectful, reckless and immoral. I watched the debate in detail earlier this year in Newcastle and I was dismayed at the inability of those pushing to implement these tactics to comprehend the highly risky nature of their tactics.
Motion 5: Expropriate the banks
A motion was put to National Conference 2013, which due to lack of time was passed to the NEC to decide. At the NEC, it was passed ‘on the nod’ unanimously. This Conference motion included a demand to expropriate banks and use this to expand the public sector. This motion was proposed to give teeth to that motion by setting this as a campaign for the year.
There were some claims that by refusing to implement this motion, we would be going against the mandate of Conference. I can’t see this myself, seeing as 1) the policy was passed by the NEC, 2) the NEC doesn’t have the same legitimacy as National Conference, 3) it was one vaguely written line in a motion on child poverty, and 4) the motion gave no instructions to actually do anything.
The motion was opposed on the grounds that supporting bank expropriation is not a priority for either students generally nor for the Society and Citizenship Zone. Dom Anderson had mentioned earlier in the accountability section that when compared to the issue of student employability, bank expropriation rates very low in his opinion.
Eventually this motion was consigned to the NEC dustbin. I voted against the motion for two main reasons. First, NUS is the National Union of Students, not the Campaign for Renationalisation or the Institute for Economic Policy. I do accept the point that students are part of society and so we can campaign to change society in any way we want. But ask any student what part of society they would want to change and I can think of 10 maybe even 20 other aspects that they would say could probably do with being changed first.
The second reason is that though I may find the excessively high remuneration of bankers distasteful, I do not believe expropriation (as I understood it, nationalisation without compensation) is a good economic policy to be proposing.
Motion 6: Defend the NHS
This motion as originally proposed asked to do 3 things. One, to publicise and financially support (with a £250 donation no less) a conference being held at ULU this November on NHS changes. Two, to support a demonstration being held outside Conservative Party Conference. Three, to support a statement of 10 demands towards the Labour Party by Hull North CLP (Constituency Labour Party).
There were two amendments to this motion, both add amendments. The first was to oppose the introduction of charges on international students, the second made a minor change to the statement of beliefs. Both were accepted unanimously.
We then returned to the main motion where there were two requests to take parts. The first was to remove Resolves 1 and 3 of the original motion, ie the bits about supporting the conference and Hull North CLP. It was argued that NUS are not the Labour Party, so why should we be getting involved in their internal politicking – we would not be doing the same inside Conservative Party conference. In response it was argued that we need to influence national policy in the lead up to 2015, and engaging inside the Labour Party is one way to achieve this.
There were more points for and against these parts, but I’ve forgotten them (sorry!). The parts were removed. I voted to remove these parts because I think NUS should not be getting involved in Labour Party politics, second I think the statement contains numerous points I would disagree with and thirdly I do not think NUS should be donating random sums of money to the pet projects of individual NEC members for them to use as they see fit – there was no decent explanation of what this money was needed for or what it would be put towards.
There was then a request to delete part 2, which supported the demo outside Conservative Party conference. The argument to remove this was that rather than protesting outside we should be engaging with the people inside the building, and we shouldn’t be threatening the people who are there to participate in the conference. The parts were retained, relatively narrowly. I can’t remember how I voted (probably to abstain, knowing my indecisive self).
The amended motion was then passed unanimously.
Motion 7: Comprehensive Spending Review
This motion was submitted as an emergency motion and was written in response to the recent Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) by the government. The CSR has resulted in a cut to tertiary education generally as well as several policy changes which are bad for students. The motion condemned these cuts and policy changes, and called for the student loan book not to be sold off to private providers.
The NEC unanimously voted to support the motion.
Note to self: finish these write-ups closer to the date.
Planning the year ahead
At National Conference each year, dozens of resolutions are added to NUS’s policy book, along with the resolutions of the previous two conferences. This creates an enormous amount of active policy, more than could possibly be used in one year to form the basis of campaigning and lobbying. In this regard then the elected officers of NUS have to prioritise what they see as the most important policies over the coming year. Their preferred priorities are included in their manifestos and these form the basis of how people get elected to their positions.
The NEC has an oversight role in ensuring that the priorities of one elected officer fit in with the agreed priorities of the organisation as a whole. In May, at the last NEC meeting, we had a group discussion about which policies we thought were the most important, and gave this feedback to the elected officers. This came back to us at this meeting as an agreed summary of what would be prioritised throughout the year.
This document can be found in the main document pack of the previous post. Broadly speaking, these are the key areas NUS is going to work on this year:
- Students and work – focussing on creating better jobs for students and graduates through research, campaigns and a national accreditation scheme, continued and upscaled campaigning on the issue of unpaid internships and apprenticeships and action on procurement to increase the volume of student and graduate jobs.
- Real Educational Change – looking at new rights and protections for students in the higher education landscape, a national campaign to extend UCAS and the OIA into further education and pushing for a postgraduate loans scheme to tackle the looming crisis of PG access in HE.
- General Election 2015 – bringing in a community organizer academy developing skills and capacity amongst students and officers, ten community organising and outreach hubs focused around voter registration and employment and rolling out of a research led general election strategy.
- Women and Leadership – introducing a new national mentoring scheme for women officers and staff, tools to increase the number of women candidates in elections and practical action to help unions tackle Lad Culture on campus
To work on these a bit more, we held a breakout session on Points 1-3 (someone spotted these neatly fell into the categories of “Educate, Employ, Empower”, veterans of #demo2012 take note). NEC members held discussions in small groups with the NUS staff members who would be leading in these areas.
I went to the General Election group – we had an interesting discussion about what we should be aiming for in our strategy for 2015, who we should work with, what areas we should prioritise, how we should best concentrate our efforts. I can’t say it was the most decisive discussion I’ve ever been in; I pity the person who has to write up the minutes of what we said and come to a conclusion!
Personally I feel that these are all excellent areas for NUS to focus on and I think they have the potential to make a big impact over the coming year.
Shortly before the NEC concluded, the NEC held a minutes silence in memory of Fénian Ó Duġaén, a former Sabb of Leicester University Students’ Union, who had sadly passed away.
Following this, a statement read on behalf of Toni Pearce and Dom Anderson on the death of Trayvon Martin.
The NEC then adjourned and many members went to Westminster to celebrate the passing of Same Sex Marriage through the House of Lords.
A little bit on the end
That would be the end of this write-up, were it not for a blog which crossed my computer screen a few weeks ago by a fellow NEC member, Rosie Huzzard. I just want to add a few comments rebutting some of the things written in the piece.
There are two main issues I have. The first is that it sounds like an extended version of the scene from Life of Brian ‘What have the Romans ever done for us?’ – ‘What has the NEC ever done for students?’: Well, apart from the cuts to HE and FE funding, the rise of the EDL, £3000 bonds for international students, free access to the NHS for all students, no platform, a demo outside Tory party conference, the sale of the student loan book, what has the NEC ever campaigned on?
The second is the rather strange way that the piece makes out that the reason that the NEC voted down the motions on Councillors Against the Cuts, Expropriation of the Banks and parts of the NHS motion is because actually, we are not real people but rather a series of sophisticated automatons controlled by Tony Blair. Presumably my real self was abducted shortly after I was elected.
The saddest thing about this criticism of what happened is that it is an act of self-deception: others didn’t vote down these motions because it would harm our careers in the Labour Party (honestly, what career?), but because we sincerely thought they were pretty rubbish ideas and not the policies NUS should be pursuing. There was some very sophisticated debate on the floor of the NEC and I think it’s dispiriting to see it all written up as us kowtowing to an imaginary factional line.
Contact and next meeting
As always, if you’d like to discuss any of this with me, or you have a strong opinion on something NUS have done, feel free to contact me on twitter (@charlesbarry), or by email, which is my firstname.lastname@example.org
The next NEC meeting is on the 17th September 2013.