In the run up to the National Conference of the National Union of Students, we have offered all candidates for President, Vice President, and Block of 15 the opportunity to write articles for us explaining their priorities, their manifesto and why delegates should support them and elect them to their respective roles. Each candidate is allowed between 600 and 1,000 words, and we will publish each article in the order that we receive them.

by Leon French

I’m Leon French, and I’m standing in the upcoming NUS Presidential election. Rather than stand as a partisan candidate, I’ve opted to run as an independent and I want to discuss the reasons behind this.

I’m not an ideological person. I do not subscribe to one dogma or another, and I can agree with members of the right and left on a number of different issues. I believe in healthcare as a public good and the preservation of the NHS as much as I feel that taxation isn’t a simple solution to the deficit. However, when it comes to student politics, I believe in a set of core principles, a set that we — regardless of our leftness and rightness — can agree upon. Our union should be representative, accountable, and — above all — democratic; in the hands of the students that it exists to represent. Education of all forms is a right for all, regardless of background or political persuasion, and I believe that is all that matters in student politics, fighting for a better education and a better future for students.

The NUS in its current form is not a democratic institution. It is nowhere near accountable enough in order to be representative for students. Students across universities, colleges, and other educational bodies are apathetic to the union because it does not reflect their concerns, their worries, their lives.

The NUS in its current form is not a democratic institution.

The reason is simple: How can a union be representative when their president isn’t elected through One Member, One Vote? How can a union be accountable when there is no serious system for students to scrutinise the National Exec? How can a mandate be claimed if students have limited involvement in the decisions and direction of their union? The answer is a simple one – it can’t. These are neither ideological nor partisan questions, these are vital questions that students across the nation are asking, and still no answer is received.

I am standing to answer those concerns and put into practice effective measures in order to bring about positive change, positive change that students are demanding, to improve the union and make it a force to be reckoned with – a democratic, representative force with a strong mandate and the backing of engaged and active students. I want to work towards bringing in One Member, One Vote for the election of the National Exec. I will take the radical step of inviting students to ask – how should the union be run and what can it do for them?

In the Scottish Referendum, we saw positive political engagement with students because it was the first time those students were ever invited to take part in deciding the direction that Scotland, their home, was to take. Their contribution brought about record numbers of participation with an incredible voter turnout. There’s a lesson to be learnt in that. If we invite students to participate, and neither hide nor bar them from the decision-making process, then we will experience a surge of participation. I, for one, believe we must give students a voice in politics. For far too long, students have been marginalised, and if our own union cannot listen to students, then how can we ever expect Parliament to? Are we willing to give our students a voice in their future?

I have spoken to students who feel the same as I, that the NUS is not their NUS, that the NUS has failed them time and time again, that the government ignores them, and that politics as a whole has let them down. There is a feeling that we have a national organisation dedicated to represent them, but still remains cautious about asking their opinion, about inviting them to vote on critical elections. But having annual elections is not a stopping point where we can then feel our union is now an accountable one; we need changes far deeper than that.

I have spoken to students who feel the same as I, that the NUS is not their NUS, that the NUS has failed them time and time again, that the government ignores them, and that politics as a whole has let them down.

Students epitomise positive change – we are the future, we are the next generation, we are the builders of a better tomorrow. I want to invite students to be able to be the architect of their union, of their future, and that’s the reason I’m doing all I can to open up new channels of dialogue and communication, in the run up to the election and with plans on how to continue that if elected. This will take hard work, but it will be worth it just so that we, and future students, have a union built for them.

I might be a member of the Conservative Party, but that’s a non-issue when the future of our union is at stake. I only hope that I can unite both the left and right, reconcile their differences, and put together a joint plan for the benefit of the students who are fed up and tired with the partisan bickering that has plagued this union for far too long. If the union opts for a hard-line socialist route following its democratisation, then I would not care so long as students decide that for themselves and have a union that voices their concerns. I know that is likeliest, but I will never regret giving a voice to those without. Right-leaning, left-leaning, centre-ground – it doesn’t matter one bit, we can all join in and agree that the best union is a democratic one. That is what I want to achieve in this election.

Right-leaning, left-leaning, centre-ground – it doesn’t matter one bit, we can all join in and agree that the best union is a democratic one. 

Your support in this upcoming election is crucial. Ideological differences aside, the future of our union is at stake. This election’s choice is a choice for or against much needed reform, reform I wish to enact for the benefit of students nation-wide. Together, we can make a difference, just so long as we can all reach out to one another, communicate and enact positive change. And that’s the reason I’m standing as independent.

Leon French,
NUS Presidential Candidate
Your Union, Your Voice

To read all candidates’ articles, click here.

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