It is right to have no confidence in Aaron Porter….
I am not surprised there are serious attempts to unseat Aaron Porter from his position at the helm of the National Union of Students. Sunny Hundal, however, thinks now is the wrong time and such moves are ‘damaging to left unity’. I had to laugh at his criticism of the Labour left for ‘pretending the right’ doesn’t exist in its attempts to establish greater unity. The merriment was caused by the fact that not more than a few days Liberal Conspiracy published an article calling for ‘left unity’ between everyone the author, Emily Davis, liked with absolutely no place for those who she did not. Perhaps Sunny and Emily should compare notes on left unity because when it comes down to it the former’s liquidationist unity is as exclusive as the latters sectarian variety. In Sunny’s conception there is plenty of space in the big tent for the right-wing but none for the challengers to Porter.
The charge sheet against Porter is too extensive to ignore. Not only has he been weak and dithering but he actively colluded with this government in a desperate attempt to sell some of his own members down the river in a vain attempt to claim a public relations victory. My only surprise is that it has taken this long to mount a challenge to Porter. Nonetheless lets humble Sunny and deal with the points he makes:
Strategically it doesn’t make any sense. The student movement needs to be united right now to fight the battle on tuition fees and EMA. But just when the vote is being passed (in the Lords) and the issue is at the top of the agenda and there is space to extract some concessions out of the government, the infighting starts.
You can almost see Nick Clegg and Vince Cable smirking at the news; ‘it’s about time these lefties stabbed each other in the back, I was getting worried they were getting too successful!‘. Absolutely brilliant timing guys, now all the media attention will focus on whether Aaron Porter is being ousted or not. That will really help save EMAs.
Wrong. Now is exactly the time to solve this issue as the movement enters a naturally imposed (by the Christmas holidays) recess. Yes, unity is needed but Porter’s particular brand of spineless todying is far more dibilitating to this movement than ‘disunity’. Unity at all costs can be a greater evil than the necessary disunity caused by the movement rising in democratic rebellion against a leader that has lost its confidence. The fighting that is about to ensure is Porter’s fault not that of his challengers.
It’s far too early. A successful campaign to oust Porter would first build up a solid base of support (outside the occupations) and show what real leadership can be like in action. The occupations are great but they are not populated by even anything approaching a significant proportion of students. They’re also new and transitory: it’s unlikely they will last for months on end. What happens after? Who would replace Porter? At a time the education agenda is in the spotlight, the movement wants to have a fight for the next potential leader?
Looking in from the outside the solid base is provided by the contempt the leadership of the NUS is held in so bang goes that argument. The occupations and their activists have been in the lead of this movement and I dont doubt their ability to unite around a new leadership and win support for that figure within the wider union. Obvious candidates, like Clare Soloman, are already emerging. This is widely acknowledged even by the right-wing press with the Daily Express taking time out from flooding the news stands with its ridiculous campaign to withdraw from the EU to smear Soloman. Sunny obviously hasn’t noticed something the editors of the Express have.
Some keep saying he’s not providing adequate leadership. I’ll accept that Porter should have loudly condemned the disproportionate actions of the police. But is the NUS stopping anyone from setting up an occupation? Have they stopped anyone from holding a protest or self-organising? The leadership not doing what you want them to isn’t a reason enough to try and get rid of them. A better way would have been for others to set the agenda and force the NUS leadership to be forced to follow suit. Are ordinary students incapable of taking the initiative and pressing ahead anyway? Why do you need a leader to tell you what to do?
No, but then again it is reasonable to expect a leader to represent and support your self-activity; something Porter has failed to do consistently. You can also reasonably expect your leadership not to be horse-trading behind your back over what kind of cuts its willing to accept from this government and which of its members it will betray. Since the leadership has failed in its democratically anoited duty; what does Sunny expect members of the NUS to do? Roll over and let Porter tickle their tummy while he betrays his mandate and the people he represents? Its precisely at this time when the leadership has demonstrated how rotten it is that it must be removed.
Lastly, if the attempted no-confidence motion fails, it just creates bad blood and disunity at the wrong time (it might do so anyway).
As I have explained above this scaremongering fails to weigh all the factors; least of all it fails to engage with political reality (and the reality of the actions of the leadership of the NUS). We are literally in the realm of the politics of the fairy tale with threats of ‘bad blood’ being used to scare the rebels into acquiescence. It posits ultimate evil as a probable result while refusing to consider the possibility that in this given context it may not be an ultimate, but in fact, a lesser evil we are dealing with. Pundits who try and choke democratic calls for a rotten leadership to go at birth in the name of a spurious and hypocritical unity seriously have to ask if it is not they themselves that are damaging the movement.