by Lucy Auger
On the last day of NUS National Conference, an extensive governance review was passed amid confusion and accusations of political bias from NUS’ Democratic Procedures Committee. The review was comprised of four sections, each relating to four ‘principles for a good democracy’, and in total, sixteen amendments were submitted by delegates, many of which contained fundamental changes to the vision that the review had set out.
The debate around the review was one of high controversy. The final day of conference saw an enormous backlash from many delegates claiming that the review, supposedly designed to improve NUS democracy, was in fact seriously undemocratic. Some delegates even campaigned against the review outside conference floor, lobbying delegates in advance to vote against. But the review was forced through all the same. Richard Brooks, Vice President of Union Development, and other organisers from the right of NUS threw the debate into frantic confusion by accusing delegates of filibustering, and when only a handful of amendments had been debated, Brooks brought a procedural motion to cut off the remaining amendments and let them fall without debate.
When this procedural motion was passed and the vast majority of amendments were not incorporated into the review, the governance review passed after only a handful of speeches. Let’s run down the most significant changes brought about by the 6 or so pages of text that invoked this drama.
Abolition of NUS’ Block of 15
Section D of the review calls for the abolition of NUS’ Block of 15, 15 elected representatives who currently sit on NUS National Executive Committee, one of NUS’ highest policy making bodies. This means that the Vice Presidents who also sit on the NEC will have far more power than they previously held, as their will be 15 fewer elected members of the NEC to hold them to account. The Block of 15 is important as its size means it tends to represent a diverse range of political opinion compared to the singularly elected VP positions.
This decision massively centralises NUS’ highest student-led decision making body, and puts power in the hands of a far smaller group of people.
The shift from ‘NUS Zones’ to ‘regions’ and ‘networks’
This new structure will make it almost impossible for NUS to develop a united national front on many issues. For example, the shift from NUS Zones to regions makes it nearly impossible to call a national demonstration similar to the one we saw in November last year. This is a blatant attempt from the right of NUS and a politically biased DPC to prevent radical direct action on a large scale.
Abolition of a National Welfare Officer (VP Welfare)
An amendment was tabled to prevent the abolition of the Vice President Welfare position, but it fell. In essence, this decision means that there will be welfare officers responsible for each region, but no national welfare officer able to speak for NUS as a whole. There are two main implications of this.
Firstly, the views of NUS in the public eye will be diluted, as we will not be able to speak with a united voice about Welfare issues related to our movement as a whole. And secondly, regions facing the biggest fights for student welfare will struggle to draw on support from regions other than their own. For example, when students in Northern Ireland stand up against oppressive abortion laws, their struggle will be denied a national voice, and will be forced to fight these laws largely on their own.
issues affecting minority groups will inevitably get pushed to the sidelines
Allowing motions to be passed without debate
Finally, as a result of the governance review, NUS will now be able to pass motions ‘without debate’, if they are shown to have a ‘broad consensus’ by a pre-conference ballot. This means issues affecting minority groups will inevitably get pushed to the sidelines, as the majority of delegates will vote before they hear arguments from these groups.