Date: 9th May 2013
Time: 11:45 – 18:00
Present: Liam Burns, Dannie Grufferty, Pete Mercer, Adrianne Peltz, Joe Vinson, Rachael Thornton, Maggie Hayes, Dom Anderson, Vicki Baars, Sky Yarlett, Daniel Stevens, Fiona Wood, Toni Pearce, Jeni-Marie Pittuck, Colum McGuire, Aaron Kiely, Hannah Paterson, Kelley Temple, Jo Johnson, Stephanie Lloyd, Jamie Woodcock, Matt Stanley, Michael Chessum, Roshni Joshi.
Also attending (NEC-elect): Tabz O’Brien-Butcher, Edmund Schluessel, Fergal McFerran, Peter Smallwood, Arianna Tassinari, Anna Chowcat, Rachael Mattey, Jawanza Ipyana, Rosie Huzzard, James McAsh, Kirat Raj Singh, Jess Goldstone, Paul Abernethy, Rebecca Hall, Charles Barry (obviously).
After a brief series of introductions (featuring what everyone’s favourite sandwiches were), and acceptance of the minutes, the meeting went ahead into the accountability section.
Several Officers had not submitted written reports. These were Toni Pearce, Daniel Stevens, Rachel Wenstone. All apologised to the NEC, saying they had recently come off annual leave and they presented verbal reports in their place. There were also no reports submitted from the Mature and Part-Time or Postgraduate Sections.
There were very few questions to any of the Officers, which was surprising given the considerable number that were asked at National Conference.
Kelley Temple mentioned the recent controversy at York SU where a proposed Feminist Society had been refused acceptance. Kelley asked that the facts were still to be ascertained and meetings and communications to resolve the matter were still ongoing. On behalf of the Women’s Campaign she urged NEC members not to sign any statements until she had finished progressing her discussions.
Daniel Stevens mentioned he was somewhat shocked to wake up on Wednesday (8th May) to hear the Queen’s speech being used to attack international students. He condemned the proposed new requirements for landlords to check the immigration status of their tenants; this was widely shared amongst the NEC.
Fiona Wood expressed regret at the lack of attendance of officers at the NUS Mature and Part-Time students conference. Liam Burns responded, defending the officer team and stating that while he agreed that greater involvement in the sections was a good thing, no individuals were to blame for the current situation. It was stated that better planning of which officers attended which conferences would be welcome. It was also stated that it would be useful for accountability purposes to be able to see the attendance records of officers at NUS events and conferences.
The issue of accessibility at National Conference was raised, and it was said that the NEC needed to lead more on this issue, and not be seen to be whooping or heckling. It was also noted that the NEC was being inaccessible in the way it had strewn papers on the floor near the front. Rachael Thornton mentioned that she thought that the behaviour of the NEC at Conference was inaccessible and unfair, and that the behaviour of many during Motion 701 on social media was appalling and would not have been tolerated if it had been done in person on the Conference floor. Toni Pearce agreed, and said that careful consideration of how we regulate social media was required, but that the NEC should definitely be setting a positive example at next year’s conference.
Additionally, it was noted that the conference days were too long. One person stated that we were technically breaching employment law in having conference days so long. While the debate on an extra conference day is one that is not settled, it is clear that we need to have more access breaks. It was also stated that fringes are not breaks, and should not be portrayed as such in Conference guidance – there should be proper breaks instead, and ideally time to help groupings caucus as well.
There were no updates from Block members on member concerns. This is somewhat disappointing considering that we have just had National Conference: I do not think that our CMs have nothing to say on this!
Jim Dickinson (Director Policy and Delivery) noted that the next National Conference was only (!) 11 months away, and that NUS Democratic Procedures Committee had partially completed its evaluation of the site for next year’s conference. Hopefully I am not breaking some confidential embargo to say that it is looking like Liverpool will be the site for Conference 2014.
Before we got to discussing the Conference policy, there was then a Constitutional argument around the use of the ‘parts procedure’ . The parts procedure is the ability to separate specific parts of a motion proposal and vote to delete or keep them separately from the rest of the motion text. This may seem obscure, but it was to have major consequences later on.
After to-ing and fro-ing by various NEC members, following precedent, Toni Pearce (in the Chair) ruled that we could not use the parts procedure because the motions and their amendments have to be considered on an ‘as is’ basis: they are the property of National Conference and not the NEC, so the NEC could only give them an up-or-down vote and not modify them further. This ruling was challenged but the NEC voted to uphold the ruling of the Chair.
Policy was then passed at almost light-speed, with only one or two hiccups. In fact, to be begin with, the sheer speed confused even the seasoned NEC members. Toni Pearce remarked that without the Conference debate, it was “like watching the TV on silent”.
The hiccups are covered below, so here’s the list of motions that were referred to the NEC and were passed without controversy:
- Circle of Life (325)
- Student Representation in MOOCs (327)
Society and Citizenship:
- Ethical Sourcing/Ethical Investment (403) including amendments 403a and 403b
- Tax Avoidance (404)
- Child Poverty (405) with amendment 405a
- Councils and Cuts (411),
- Reinventing the Study Leaver Employment Landscape (412) including amendment 412a
- Strong Students’ Unions for Strong Citizens (413)
- Sex and Relationship Education (414)
- Responding to NHS reform (415) with amendment 415a
- Bedroom Tax (418)
- Protecting and Advancing the Arts (420)
- Evidence Based Drug Policy (421)
- NUS for migrants rights (422)
- Syria (426)
- Scottish Independence (427)
- Keep it Crystal Clear – Crystal Mark it! (514)
- Arts unions need different support (515)
- Council Tax and Part Time Students (613)
- Transport: Fair, Safe, Affordable (614)
- Welfare for Trainee Teachers (615)
- Integration between home and international students (619)
Now for the hiccups:
- Motion 326 had apparently been withdrawn by the proposer and so was not discussed by the NEC.
- Motion 417 was opposed by Dannie Grufferty. I actually can’t remember the argument against but the NEC voted the policy down. Amusingly though, Liam Burns went against VP-unity and voted for the policy – being the only one apart from the Student Broad Left faction.
- Motion 418 was opposed by Kelley Temple on the grounds that it lent support to the Stop The War Coalition, who had denied that Julian Assange had a case to answer re his rape accusations and had even held a vigil in his favour. NUS had recently set a strong position against rape apology and to support this policy would be to erode that substantially. The policy fell.
- Motion 423, which called for a boycott of anything produced in Israel, was opposed by Rachael Wenstone. She argued that the boycott-divest-sanctions (BDS) approach was fundamentally racist upon the people of Israel and would harm collaborations with socialist and left groups within Israel. Michael Chessum took the next speech in favour, but admitted the motion wasn’t as good as it could be. He eventually abstained on the vote. Dannie Grufferty noted the pointlessness of a NUS boycott, saying “the amount NUS spends on Israeli goods is equivalent to about two tomatoes a year”. A recorded vote was held, 5 voted in favour, 15 voted against.
- Motion 424 was opposed by Rachael Thornton who said that the motion did nothing for students and appeared to imply that we should waste NUS resources on a trip for NUS officers to Greece. The motion fell.
- Motion 425 (Europe) looked like it was going to sail through unanimously – but to others’ suprise, Liam Burns voted against. He said we hadn’t bothered to ask students views on such a big topic. It passed anyway.
- Motion 423 recieved a complete shredding by Liam Burns, who lambasted almost every choice of wording of each of the resolves clauses. To be fair, the motion drafters probably hadn’t really thought the implications through of their policy. For example, resolves 1 said NUS would have to hold a mass demo every time any union in any place at any time held industrial action. Resolves 2 meant that the NUS would have to call for an almost permanent student walk-out as soon as any general strike were called – which Liam pithily put down as “that’s not students walking out: that’s students dropping out”. The motion fell.
- Motion 616 was withdrawn and so was not discussed by the NEC.
- Motion 618 was the final minor-controversy of the NEC meeting. It was pointed out that we already had policy on researching drug evidence (motion 421). The motion fell.
This seems to have caused a enormous outpouring of unjustified and offensive comments on twitter, so in the interests of reason and protecting my sanity I want to explain this separately to the other motions.
A motion entitled “Challenging Racism & Fascism on our campuses and in our communities” was submitted to National Conference by the Black Students Committee. Although originally submitted to the Welfare Zone, it was moved to Society and Citizenship Zone (which was a lower priority Zone this year) by a Presidential ruling of Liam Burns. This ruling was challenged and upheld by National Conference.
The motion, along with many others, was remitted to the NEC from National Conference due to a lack of time to discuss it there. However, as mentioned above, the parts procedure was not able to be used as it has to be discussed on the ‘as is’ basis on which it was sent to the NEC.
The amendment 416a was agreed to without too much controversy. It was criticised for making Anti-Racism Anti-Facism party political, but passed anyway. The votes were, for once, not on the usual party lines.
Debate then ensued on motion 416 as whole. The main point of debate revolved around Resolves 5, which said “Continue working with Unite Against Fascism, Searchlight, One Society Many Cultures and Love Music Hate Racism”.
The original issue of contention was Martin Smith (AKA Comrade Delta of the Socialist Workers Party) was an officer of UAF and we should not be associating with UAF while he is still an officer. However, it was pointed out that Martin Smith was not a UAF officer any more and so this point was not valid. To clarify this point, the NEC took a break to find out the facts. When we returned, it was clarified that Martin Smith was not a UAF officer any more.
Kelley Temple opposed Resolves 5 of the motion on the grounds that NUS should not be associating with UAF, because even though Martin Smith was no longer an officer, UAF had done nothing to condemn his actions and had allowed him a quiet retirement. This was not an acceptable way of treating the situation. Against this however argued that if a complaint had been made against a NEC member through the Code of Conduct, it would have been dealt with privately and NUS would not have issued a press release announcing the dismissal of that person.
Michael Chessum noted the part only said to “work with” UAF and not to affiliate to it. While the behaviour of the UAF was regrettable, he said, it was not enough grounds to throw out the whole motion.
Steph Lloyd said she strongly felt that we could not even be seen to be affirming the actions of UAF in relation to Martin Smith, and so she would vote against this motion.
It was also pointed out by others that they felt deeply uncomfortable about having to choose between Women’s Liberation and Anti-Racism. There was a widespread consensus that the motion would have passed if the NEC had been able to use the parts procedure on Resolves 5.
The motion fell with 8 votes in favour, 11 votes against and 4 abstentions. However, it is worth noting that a motion on “Anti-Racism, Anti-Facism” passed at Conference 2010 and was renewed at Conference 2013 for another 3 years. Assurances have been given that the motion will be reintroduced at July’s NEC without the contentious part.
What then followed was truly remarkable. Members of the Student Broad Left faction, led by Black Students Officer Aaron Kiely, then started accusing other members who voted down 416 of behaving “shamefully”, of opposing fighting racism as a priority, and of not supporting the NUS No Platform policy. Others joined in too. Soon the press releases had been issued and media commentary had been put out.
One of the members of SBL (who is not on the NEC nor present in the room) then effectively accused Adrianne Peltz (outgoing NUS-USI President) of being a racist and voting against the motion on the grounds that she was a white south african. This rightly caused outrage and Adrianne made a statement to the NEC condemning this attack. That person has subsequently deleted the tweet and withdrawn the remark so I see no point in perpetuating the invective. However the attack on Adrianne was ludicrous and idiotic.
Daniel Stevens and Dennis Esch issued a very sensible statement, which I fully support, on behalf of the International Students Campaign:
An international student should never be singled out because of their nationality or ethnicity. We stand in solidarity with Adrianne Peltz and gives her our full support. We hope that those involved can apologise and that we can move forward as a movement. Discrimination of international students and migrants is a serious growing issue in wider society and has no place within the student movement.
Personally in my mind this controversy is a manufactured hysteria. The nuances of people’s positions were clearly set out in their speeches and to reduce the discussion to ‘are you for or against racism’ is discreditable. Further it creates an impression of tension and infighting that doesn’t actually exist at the top of NUS which does the organisation’s reputation no good either.
Part 2 to follow soon!
NEC = National Executive Committee
NUS = National Union of Students
NUS-USI = National Union of Students-Union of Students in Ireland, the Northern Irish regional branch of NUS
SU = Students’ Union
CM = Constituent Member, a member SU of NUS
MOOC = Massively Online Open Course
UAF = Unite Against Facism
SBL = Student Broad Left