Incumbent Malia Bouattia loses to Shakira Martin for NUS president after only a year in power!
Martin drew attention to her professionalism, expert research, unity and credibility in representing further education, working with institutions to win reforms etc. Making a big U-turn from her left-wing credentials in the past year, she has shared a platform with the Blairites in the conference.
Everyone at conference has drawn attention to the same issues: fees, cuts, housing costs, mental health, racism, sexism, yet in the same breath many candidates have voted against decisive motions committing to free education and living grants ‒ backed up by student organising against institutions and governments ‒ in favour of institutional wrangling, minor concessions, and back-room deals. They condemn the same problems but offer very limited policies for change.
Martin condemned Prevent but also argued for working with Prevent agencies to “get a sense of what’s going on”. Martin pledged for a political union, but to represent everyone, “Labour, Conservative or Green”, along with many platitudes about “the real issues facing students”.
Martin had a lot of support – the right were very coordinated and well-organised. She played a lot on her effective campaigning around Further Education, and talked a lot about education, aspiration and inspiration.
Bouattia on the other hand drew attention to her history of organising and activism around racism, housing, cuts, course closures, rent strikes; her fight against HE counter-reforms, deportations, and Prevent. She openly condemned the Tory government and their vicious attacks, as well as drawing attention to the refugee crisis, its links to racism and Tory policy. Yet she maintained a commitment to a combination of street and boardroom action, and generally appeared as divisive, while not doing too much in the past year to take the fight to the government.
Despite thin accusations of anti-Semitism, she has put a lot into organising against islamophobia, anti-black racism and anti-Semitism. At this conference, she really needed to make the point about the source of racism rather than just decrying it, which is of course the scapegoating of minorities for austerity and crisis.
Both candidates raised the issue of mental health, which has been a big issue at conference, and Bouttia, though linking it to government policy and austerity, was seen as not doing enough.
In all the Blairite “unity” and “realism” campaign has been quite strong against a left candidate who has not done enough to boldly fight for and defend her socialist arguments in words or in deeds.