Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter


9:10 am - December 15th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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A few months ago I was invited to a meeting of Labour lefties to talk about how internal party democracy needed reform. After agreeing that some recommendations could be presented to the new leader at party conference, I asked who from the Labour-right needed to be on board. I got a blank look.

If we want to push the party to change, I said, surely we need all parts of the party to sign up? More blank looks; some shuffling of feet.

As someone fairly new to the internal workings of the Labour party, it amuses and frustrates me with equal measure how much different different parts of the party try to ignore each other.

The Labour right regularly dismiss the left as naive activists who would keep them out of power, while the left would rather pretend the right just didn’t exist. Occasionally, like the Labour Yes campaign, they come together. It doesn’t feel like there’s more cross fertilisation.

As someone who sees himself firmly on the Left (within Labour and outside), what frequently frustrates me is our willingness to believe our own hype. People around us are saying the same thing, therefore it must be the case that everyone thinks that. Or that even if others don’t agree, we can safely ignore them because they don’t matter anyway.

We are here to shift paradigms and demand the impossible dammit! Pragmatism is for wusses! And you know what happens to wusses… I’m not even caricaturing here.

* * * * * * * * * * *

So last night it turns out there is “a plot” to pass a motion of no-confidence in NUS President Aaron Porter. I got annoyed, and this is why.

1. 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.

2. 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?

3. 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?

4. Lastly, if the attempted no-confidence motion fails, it just creates bad blood and disunity at the wrong time (it might do so anyway).

* * * * * * * * * * *

I agree with the criticisms that Aaron Porter is not radical enough, should have done more to support the occupations and defend students facing police brutality. But I also accept that a leader has to represent different groups who may not always see eye-to-eye.

The analogy at the top was to say lefties need to recognise that even on the left there are people who take a different view of how politics should be conducted. Not everyone on the left embraces the violence on the streets, and not everyone supports ‘free’ education (as Chris Dillow points out, a graduate tax may be more progressive).

I said earlier that at the heart of leftie infighting lies the belief that others in the movement have no right to do things differently. I’m sick of the tendency for people to brand others they disagree with as ‘sell-outs’ or accusing them of betrayals. There was a recent article by Nigel Stanley of the TUC on the “false choice in the cuts debate” – which makes similar points (h-t Mark Brown).

Sorry but you cannot be for unity if you’re going to accuse those who take a different line of betrayal. Coalition-building and ‘left unity’ doesn’t work like that.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


Everything you say is very sensible.

“as Chris Dillow points out, a graduate tax may be more progressive”

Except that the new system is nothing other than a particular form of graduate tax.

The problem is, Porter failed to provide leadership when it mattered. Instead, he spent weeks dithering and then finally managed to rent a spine from Labour. He’s only in the job of NUS president because he wants a nice safe Labour seat.

After being threatened with removal by baliffs, students from UCL called on Aaron Porter, who had earlier pledged legal and financial help to all student occupiers. “”You are our union, and we’re facing a legal bill, you promised us support – we urgently need your help,” said the occupiers.

Porter, who had earlier apologised for “dithering” over whether or not to extend support to student protesters, stammered that he had not meant that kind of support, and that nobody’s legal costs could be covered.

[…]

“We are disappointed in Aaron Porter,” said representatives of the Cambridge occupation, who also contacted the NUS to be told that there would be no legal support available “By offering legal help and not following through, Porter is actually putting students in danger.”Aaron Porter declined to comment.

All that’s missing from this is a Cleggite photo of Porter holding a piece of card with ‘I pledge legal and financial help to students’ on it. Porter could try and save his worthless neck by showing a bit of unity himself. Here we have yet another narrow-backed careerist who’ll be shafting students from a cabinet seat in a few years. The NUS has a long bizarre history of producing such specimens. Hell, he even looks like a Miliband.

I’m afraid that BuddyHell hits the nail on the head.

Viewed from the outside, Porter has all the appearance of a colourless drone on a self-chosen trajectory toward a career as a professional politician.

Today NUS president, tomorrow a short stint as a parliamentarian researcher then farmed out to a think-tank or NGO for a while followed by a first unsuccessful run at an unwinnable seat for a bit of campaign experience at the sharp end before being shuffled into a nice safe seat somewhere urban or up north as a fully NEC approved carpetbagger.

That may not be a fair reflection of the guy, but that’s how he’s perceived, and if there’s any truth in that perception then it would be a mistake to expect anything approaching radicalism from him because he’s already thinking several years ahead and worrying about the media giving him a right royal kicking for having been NUS president during a period when students kicked off and smashed a few windows at CCHQ.

Sunny – this seems to me to overcomplicate what is basically a simple point.

The leadership is elected democratically to represent the members. If members take the view that the leadership is failing to do that job, then the members are entitled to go through the procedures that are established to address problems of this kind. If at the end of that process, a no-confidence vote is passed democratically then the leadership is replaced.

Its a simple matter of democratic representation. And if you don’t like it, then consider the alternative: members who feel that their union leadership is not doing the job it is tasked with, do not address that problem, but simply shut up, for the sake of unity. That strikes me as neither practical, nor sustainable, nor democratic.

If it does come to a vote, then we will see how that turns out. If the leadership loses, then plainly that will vindicate those who have raised the no-confidence motions. My sense is that they are right to suspect that the leadership has lost the confidence of most of its members, in which case there is no credible alternative to the leadership being removed.

I fail to see how the NUS can properly function – or how a sustainable degree of unity can be achieved – if the leadership doesn’t have its members confidnece.

btw., I will say this to those who, like me, have lost confidence in the leadership. Lets drop the personal comments about Porter and focus on the facts. That approach will be far more credible and effective. It seems to me that there’s more than enough material there to pass a no-confidence vote, without descending to name-calling.

Maybe the guy is a “careerist”, or whatever. But equally, it may be that he honestly and sincerely believes in the mistaken approach he has taken. Either way, the question strikes me as irrelevant.

I know Sunny is keen on the notion of ‘re-framing’ but this takes it to a new extreme. Instead of engaging with the actual issues, this article attempts to re-frame what’s happening here as being about ‘left unity’. But ‘unity’ isn’t remotely what this is about. It is dishonest to smear critics of any organisation’s leadership as sowing division – this is a classic means of silencing dissent.

The backlash against Porter’s failing and dismal leadership of NUS is entirely justified. Anger and frustration with Porter is extremely widespread – it is a phenomenon in the grassroots among those protesting in recent weeks, not just among seasoned left-wing activists.

It is based on the following:

1. Aaron Porter failed to build on the very successful 10 November national demo, having nothing to do with the following days of action and even distancing himself and NUS from them. On 9 Dec NUS and UCU had a vigil which numbered in the hundreds, while at least 30,000 were marched on Parliament (this had to be organised outside the NUS structures).

2. Porter failed to deliver practical, legal or financial support from NUS to the numerous occupations around the country.

3. He has failed to defend protestors attacked by police or speak out against police violence. He and NUS have – with the exception of condemning the attack on Jody McIntyre – refused to speak out about police conduct. Instead, Porter has effectively encouraged right-wing attempts (by government, media and police) to smear protestors as a ‘violent minority’ etc.

These are the central issues, though other complaints can be added. Sunny needs to engage with these issues properly.

In terms of strategy, let’s be clear that leadership matters. The grassroots student and school student movement has been amazing since 10 Nov and achieved a great deal. But it could do even more if the official movement, i.e. NUS, had leaders worthy of those taking to the streets, participating in occupations, etc. The movement deserves better than Aaron Porter.

Nobody is being ‘sectarian’ and suggesting Porter only listens to ‘one section of the movement’. The problem is that he’s barely listening to – never mind leading – the movement at all. The first rule is you need to be in the right place. Last Thursday the NUS president was in the wrong place – the movement completely overtook him.

Sunny should engage with these issues rather than inventing straw arguments – no, it’s not about ‘purity’ or branding people ‘sell outs’. It’s always a sign of a weak position when someone makes up such phrases rather than actually quoting from those they are disagreeing with.

I’ll grant the fact that he abandoned the occupations despite his promise. I’ll also agree that this is the democratic right of students.

But neither seem to address my points. How will they stop the cuts to education at a critical time? AP may very well be ousted and replaced within a few months of heavy infighting. Great. Job done. Except the Coalition will be very glad to have students fighting amongst themselves at the critical time the debate is high on the agenda.

My other point is also not addressed. I fully support the occupations, but what percentage are they of the total student body? Is that a representative sample of students? We shall soon find out. But students in occupation aren’t all students.

Sunny you need to clarify what you mean in point 3 in particular because you seem to be tangling yourself up in knots.

I havent heard anyone criticise him for preventing them self-organising – they have criticised him for not organising himself and the union he leads.

You say a better way would be for others to set the agenda and force the NUS leadership to support such actions. But individual students did set the agenda, occupying and calling actions and mobilised impressive numbers. But nothing like the numbers NUS could have organised if it had supported them. That is why there were concerted efforts through the formal structires of the NEC, students unions and via social media calling on him to take action. Calls which he ignored. The 52,000+ who marched on the national demo shows the strength of the union calling a national action.

Surely you would question why NUS hired a double decker bus and security team for the Embankment on the day of the vote and then not advertising on their website? Why arrange for Denham and numerous MPs to address such a pitiful crowd when at least 15,000 by the Mets estimate were in Parliament Sq?

And why was their online lobbying tool placed online so late and apparently untested so it had problems with the functionality?

And thats before you hear he flagged up cuts to grants as an alternative.

Clearly many students dont need him to tell them what to do but they need him to listen to his members. And when he refuses to act to defend students, why shouldnt they seek a better President?

“I asked who from the Labour-right needed to be on board. I got a blank look. ”

Out of interest, is the labour-right likely to be interested in coming on board?

I ask because they are the ones who have spent the past 15 years shitting on the left, and I doubt they care about winning if it means having to give the left something.

Coalition-building and ‘left unity’ doesn’t work like that.

There’s a question that arises from this, though, which is making it difficult for me to make much sense of why you want “left unity” in the first place and what you’d do with it if you had it.

The question is this. Does the left have at least one common fundamental principle? [1]

If it does, then surely it’s reasonable to expect all members of the “united left” to agree with this principle, and to reject as a member of the “united left” people who don’t. In other words, on that particular principle, there can be no disagreement from within, because definitionally if you don’t agree with that principle you’re not on “the left”. (Also, if it does, as the obvious follow-up question, what do you believe the fundamental principle(s) of the left to be?)

If it doesn’t, then what’s the point of having a united left in the first place? On any individual issue some fraction of your united left will disagree, and I’m not sure what benefit is drawn from calling it a “united left” rather than building different coalitions on an issue-by-issue basis. Indeed, an “issue by issue” approach would lead to fewer accusations of selling out since you wouldn’t be given the false hope that the other people would agree with you on issue Y just because you’d campaigned together on issue X.

[1] Having asked the question, in my own opinion the answer appears to be one of “No” or an answer such as “We’re not the Tories” which is equivalent to “No”. But there may be some unifying principle that’s so obvious I’ve missed it.

Sunny: ‘How will they stop the cuts to education at a critical time? AP may very well be ousted and replaced within a few months of heavy infighting. Great. Job done. Except the Coalition will be very glad to have students fighting amongst themselves at the critical time the debate is high on the agenda.’

Nobody is arguing that removing Porter from the leadership of NUS will stop the cuts to education. They are arguing that Porter’s presidency of NUS is an obstacle in that struggle, rather than a support or a benefit. The movement will be more effective if he is removed, through the democratic channels available, and members can vote for leaders who will represent them and their interests. This is fundamental to both democratic accountability and ensuring the movement is effective.

It has nothing to do with students fighting among themselves. It is, in principle, wrong to accuse critics of a leadership of sowing division. This is wrong whether it is applied to Labour Party, a trade union, NUS or any other organisation. It’s an old, familiar way of discouraging criticism – one that fails to engage with the issues.

It is absolutely legitimate and democratic for grassroots members to oppose their own leadership, when that leadership is failing to reflect, articulate and lead what is happening at the base. In the current situation it is urgent and necessary because the failure of leadership is so acute.

As for timing, when will there be a time which ISN’T critical?! This isn’t going away. If poor leadership is hindering the movement NOW it is entirely correct to seek to change it sooner rather than later.

I understand your sentiments and agree unity in the left can be important, but unity above all is counter productive to what many of us believe. It was the Labour party uniting behind Tony Blair that lead us into the war in Iraq, I am sure many of those who voted for the war did so to not split the party. Sometimes principles and ideology need to come before unity. I do see the left uniting at the moment and they are uniting against the condems but also uniting against new Labour career politico’s like Porter

How will they stop the cuts to education at a critical time?

I think I did answer this, actually. I said “I fail to see how the NUS can properly function – or how a sustainable degree of unity can be achieved – if the leadership doesn’t have its members confidnece”. I described the status quo as potentially unsustainable. The democratic argument is one of principle, first, but then also just as much one of pragmatism. The concerns Alex raises above, and the shabby way the occupations were treated, are not things that can simply be wished away. Sustainable unity, which I agree is a practical necessity, can only be achieved if the issues are acknowledged and then properly addressed.

Another practical point regarding effectiveness. We saw a huge amount of energy, inventiveness and broad engagement spring up these past few weeks through the catalyst of the occupations. It was that spontaneous, grassroots upsurge which took a leading role in the anti-fees/cuts campaign. It effectively marginalised the NUS leadership simply because it spoke to and resonated with the concerns of students in a way that the NUS leadership did not.

Now think that through to its logical conclusion. If the occupation movement could harness the means and resources of the NUS itself, then the possibilities become very interesting indeed.

My other point is also not addressed. I fully support the occupations, but what percentage are they of the total student body? Is that a representative sample of students? We shall soon find out. But students in occupation aren’t all students.

Well, UCL Union voted overwhelmingly in support of the occupation last week. The numbers on the march last Thursday as against the numbers at the [cough] glowstick vigil also give an indication. As you say, we will soon find out. But there appears to be more than sufficient evidence to suspect that the leadership has lost its members’ confidence, and that this should be tested by a vote.

“But neither seem to address my points. How will they stop the cuts to education at a critical time?”

Aside from being elected to Parliament I don’t see how they can.

“Does the left have at least one common fundamental principle? ”

I think “the left” is too broad a term to have one, just like “the right”. But if we break down political beliefs even further into sub categories, then we broadly have 5 traditions that can be described as left: Communism, Anarchism, Democratic Socialism (the authoritarian versions I’d place in the communist category), environmentalism, and progressive liberalism. I’d also note feminism as an important belief system that stretches accross all 5.

There is a lot of interaction between the last 3 groups in particular, and it is these 3 where unity is likely be achieved (the first 2 will say they want it, but history would suggest only on their terms). I think unity would pretty much be based around the following principles: Reduction of inequality, Internationalism, Belief in civil liberties and democracy, and environmental sustainability.

Now there would probably be a great deal of disagreement on methods and policies needed to achieve the 4, as well as perhaps debates on what they mean and whether they are contradictory, but they present good fundamental principles for defining what it means to be ‘left’.

Sometimes I think the NUS is undervalued as a union because it doesn’t represent people in employment.

If you imagine Unite – say – failing to provide legal support for its members, despite promising to do so, and staying mute when its members are on the receiving end of extreme police brutality, there would immediately be a bid to oust the leaders. I doubt any issues of unity would arise then – it would just be viewed as a matter of competence.

I agree with Dave W – it seems fundamentally undemocratic to remain silent if you believe your representative is not doing his job. I don’t think unity is some sacred cow that should be preserved over issues that are more important, like democracy.

Again the students play into the hands of the government by infighting.

Perhaps max clifford should deal with the pr side for the students, as at the moment they’re making a right hash of things.

If this mutiny succeeds, and credibility for the protesters will be gone. I myself condone the saddling of students with such hefty debt, BUT am finding myself pushed by students further away from supporting them on a daily basis as the left becomes more like the EDL & BNP.

“am finding myself pushed by students further away from supporting them”

To what extent does public opinion matter on the issue?

20. Luis Enrique

Even if you think Porter has done a terrible job and needs to go, there is still a question about how ousting him now will affect the campaign to fight the government on this issue. It might be that ousting him now will cripple the campaign as Sunny fears, or it might be that getting somebody better in charge (and quickly) would end up strengthening it. I think Sunny is right to raise the pragmatic question.

(a small point, Alex, why accuse Sunny of employing “a classic means of silencing dissent” – he’s just making an argument that the movement to oust Porter is a bad move right now. You conclude “It’s always a sign of a weak position when someone makes up such phrases” – take your own advice).

More generally, there’s an eternal and insoluble problem of when the advantages of unity outweigh the disadvantages of diluting your principles. Reductio ad absurdum: if we formed a united front with the Conservatives then we’d be really unstoppable. I don’t what determines when disagreements become small enough to cooperation preferable to opposition.

cim I see the appeal of a fragmented movement that forms coalitions on specific issues – Lord knows there are very many of the left I vehemently disagree with and would not want to get in bed with (and vice versa, of course), but the received wisdom is that the left is weaker than the right because it tends to fragment more than the right. Is that wrong?

sometimes I think I’d like to see the Labour party split into a socialist-left and a centre-left. The centre-left could attract (some) Lib Dems. Then each faction would be free to make their own arguments and attract, or fail to attract, electoral support and if necessary form coalitions without having to pretend they agree with each other.

n.b. while I’m here, anybody interested in inequality, poverty and Labour’s record should read Lane Kenworthy’s latest:

http://lanekenworthy.net/2010/12/14/has-rising-inequality-been-bad-for-the-poor/

and if anybody is still interested in banking, whilst there’s much for lefties to disagree with here, I like the idea that bankers have figured out how to drink our milkshake right up:

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2010/12/inequality_instability_and_finance

The final para of the Economist piece:

“It would be lovely were some genius to offer us persuasive theoretical assurance that there exists some feasible system of political economy that creates at least as much wealth and welfare as does our own, but which is both more stable and more just because less easily “gamed” by ingenious profit-seekers. Until then, we must consider the unhappy possibility that our current, insufferable arrangement of institutions is the best we know how to do.”

Indeed. (Though rent-seekers would be more accurate description of much banking activity?)

@19

*bangs head on table*

If the public don’t support the cause, then you have no cause. The students simply become a group that will be attacked by other groups of society who are really affected by these cuts. Whole families unemployed, terminally ill refused treatment due to NHS cuts. The list of possible attacks on students needing to get a grip will be huge. Students make up such a small proportion if society.

Its not an argument I would suggest students allow the extremist left to take them too. They will lose EVERYTHING they have fought for so far.

If thats the democracy you want, then go right ahead. I won’t lose any sleep over you guys self imploding

He gels his fringe up. There’s simply no forgiving that.

Simon, my question was more about to what extent it matters. You can have 90% of the public supporting you, but if parliament decides the other way then that it is it. There are numerous examples of issues where the government and public opinion are at odds, and the government pushes ahead with something with little consequence. So why should students care about alienating people when public opinion doesn’t matter?

@24
Because its the.public who have the.power to change government and cot for someone to reverse this. If public opinion goes, it won’t make it onto any parties manifesto, and remain unchallenged.

You have to look at the longer term and whole picture if you want change 😉

Cot should read vote.

Luis Enrique:
‘(a small point, Alex, why accuse Sunny of employing “a classic means of silencing dissent” – he’s just making an argument that the movement to oust Porter is a bad move right now. You conclude “It’s always a sign of a weak position when someone makes up such phrases” – take your own advice).’

My point was very clear. People shouldn’t invent things that others are supposed to think/believe/say, then knock them down. It’s therefore wrong for Sunny to claim that people are accusing Aaron Porter of being a “sell out” or that they want “purity”. The SOAS and Birkbeck motions don’t say that. Nor does the statement signed by Clare Solomon and several others. Nor does the Facebook group in support of this position say it.

So, Sunny should address what people ARE saying, instead of making things up. It shouldn’t have been necessary for me to point out – in a comment above – the main reasons why people are calling for ‘no confidence’.

Is Sunny ‘just making an argument that the movement to oust Porter is a bad move right now’? No he isn’t – read the article again. He devotes a significant portion to framing this as about ‘left unity’ and characterising the movers of ‘no confidence’ resolutions as divisive and creating disunity. It is central to the article – it’s even in the title.

In response to Simon H:
The unofficial student movement is doing great work vis-a-vis the media, despite most of the media being instinctively hostile. See, for example, the series of press conferences organised at short notice by ULU and others. There’s no reason why NUS members seeking democratic accountability and effective leadership in their own union will repel public opinion.

The success, or otherwise of this argument, seems to come down to how well this concept of “left unity” in this or in Emily Davis’s post works. I would suggest that it doesn’t work very well. The problem is that unity is being thought on the level of elite opinion (the student movement leadership) and this version of unity blocks a wider unity.

Without wishing to come accross as a brutal Communist, in the Russian revolution, Trotsky and Lenin drew a strict distinction between elite unity (coalition in the Constituent Assembly) and popular unity (the mass movement of workers, soldiers and peasants). The first form of unity attempted to block the second form. There is an analogy with this in Porter’s moderate, economistic leadership, which attempts to limit the kind of protests than can be staged and the possibility of linking them to other anti-cuts struggles. Elite unity potentially prevents a more universal unity.

As a student at a very screwed university, I really can’t get behind this plea for ‘unity’. I don’t want ‘united’, I want ‘effective’. Do I think that the protests are effective? Yeah. Protests ARE more effective when they impact on ordinary people’s lives.

When schoolkids come home beaten by police or kettled until very late, when parents see their kids’ and their friends’ kids’ EMA pulled, when they see their kids saddled with a lifetime of debt just for the *opportunity* to go after better jobs (and I see too many underemployed graduates these days), they get pissed off. And do you think they’ll listen to some unpleasant Beeb bias or the eyewitness accounts of people they know?

When you get some 200 riot police turning up for 40 or so protesters like yesterday’s ‘kettle the police’ rally, you drain the state where it hurts – the wallet. Either they can put up taxes or cut other things to pay for police (and piss more people off), or stop being so intransigent and listen to what people want.

Are the occupiers representative? Well, our SU President got 400 or so first preference votes in the election (normal for a Million+ uni I’m told), while the occupiers have over a thousand signatures of support – and that was by last Tuesday. It still took the our SU Council to overrule the Execs, who mostly seemed to be worried about not being in control of what was going on.

The NUS has failed pretty comprehensively in this issue and members have a right to demand better leadership. Not just ‘different’ leadership like Sunny suggests, but something that harnesses students’ desires. I have no problem with the NUS adopting multiple methods to win, but I do ask that they be clear and intelligent enough to pick methods that yield results.

“@24
Because its the.public who have the.power to change government”

I doubt any government has ever lost an election on student finance. At most this translates to about 20 Lib Dem MPs losing seats to labour, who will no doubt promptly forget about the issue in office anyway.

Also manifesto commitments are meaningless, the lib dems are a party reliant on student support, and that has made little difference in terms of the priority they have given the issue. What I’m getting at here is that peaceful means and trying to persuade people have got students (and frankly other causes) nowhere, and they know it.

Basically what I’m getting at is that the support of you or I is not relevent, and the students don’t care what we think as a result. Which is why they’ve moved onto plan B, which is direct action. They may have alienated some members of the public, but the strategy has raised the media profile of the issue, caused a few resignations, increased policing costs for london, and at least made the government offer some concessions (like scholarships etc). I’m guessing the theory is that more of the same may reduce public support, but is probably gather more goodies and concessions, as well as acting as an example to others, than the route of marches from A to B that get 5 lines in most newspapers.

“As a student at a very screwed university, I really can’t get behind this plea for ‘unity’. I don’t want ‘united’, I want ‘effective’. ”

this illustrates my point more succinctly. I’m guessing students – having grown up with the Iraq war – know full well traditional means of protests don’t work, and public opinion is irrelevant to the success or failure of a cause. And have therefore chosen to explore what works,

32. David Nowell Smith

Excellent post, Sunny. Yes, Porter was foolish to promise legal and financial support (or to imply that this was the ‘support’ he offered) to occupiers – but anyone who thought he could have provided such support is either duping themselves or horrendously naïve: how much money do the NUS have? Unless things have changed since I was a student, they get minimal fees from members, and will have spent most of that on the demos. And of course he ought to have condemned police brutality. But I imagine that to those watching his interviews on newsnight or wherever he seems serious, moderate, etc., which isn’t a bad thing, especially when the media are doing ‘feckless vandals’ sensationalism. He may come across as many things, but a feckless vandal is not one of them.
What gets me is the idea that there is not space within the student movement – or any anti-cuts movement – for occupiers *and* moderates like Porter alike. Surely the idea ought to be to use as many channels as possible, and build as broad a coalition (if that word hasn’t been tainted) as possible. There are things that an organisation that needs to appear responsible (such as the NUS right now) cannot do, such as stage occupations, civil disobedience, etc., but that others can – so let them get on with it.
This isn’t just a case of pragmatism, but pluralism. It’s ironic as well as disheartening that the right can be so much more pluralistic than the left – that they’ve worked out that they’re a coalition (from Ken Clarke to Daniel Hannan, say) and that if they get power there’ll be something in it for all of them, even if they want slightly different things. They seem far more tolerant of one another than the various splinters of the left do – and, incidentally, they spend an awful more time in power.

33. Luis Enrique

Alex

the case against Porter you summarize @7 isn’t a millions miles away from saying Porter has sold the movement out, failed it, whatever. I don’t see why you’re acting as if Sunny has completely characterized the situation and obsessing with his choice of constabulary. I’m sure many of Porter’s critics do think of him, more or less, as a sell out. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable for Sunny to write about this situation in terms of unity. I really don’t see what you think you’re adding by going on about how he’s “framing”* things. He’s saying this is an example of a situation where unity is important. He could be right, he could be wrong, but there’s no reason not just take his words at their face value. Of course a campaign against the leader right now is divisive, that’s not “framing” it’s just an assertion.

* a tendency to inculcate a habit of crapping on about “framing” and “narratives” is one of my chief objections to arts degrees. It’s not that there’s no content to such notions, but that they’re frequently employed poorly, and sound clever without actually adding anything useful.

34. Luis Enrique

“constabulary”? I think I have some sort of medical condition. I mean “vocabulary”

35. Luis Enrique

I wish that edit function could be re-introduced. MIScharacterised it should be.

Good grief, Sunny! Why is this infighting? What is being proposed is being an elected individual to account, it is called democracy and accountability, or don’t you believe in that? And it’s not just “trots” who are pissed off with Porter though the way you lump all lefties as “trots” (which, c’mon, is politically sloppy) and/or people that don’t agree with you is rather indicative of the way you frame political debate which also lacks nuance.

Indeed Sunny, the evil trots are taking over NUS……run to hills!!!!

Planeshift/16: “Now there would probably be a great deal of disagreement on methods and policies needed to achieve the 4, as well as perhaps debates on what they mean and whether they are contradictory, but they present good fundamental principles for defining what it means to be ‘left’.”

Right, but a “united left” would have to get beyond that stage and actually give a definitive answer to those questions that all of its members could agree on, without either losing too many members or watering down the principles into uselessness. I think even between the latter three groups that would be impossible. I’m not even sure it would even be possible internally to just one of those groups.

(I think feminism is perhaps better counted within “social justice activism” as a sixth left strand, with the usual partial agreement between strands that characterises the left)

Luis/20: I think the left needs to learn to manage its inevitable fragmentation better. But I don’t think insisting on (or even aiming for) a false unity is the way to do that.

I think the right is more unified, and this does advantage it, but I think it’s nowhere near as unified as it’s perceived to be, and I don’t think the left would be best served by being that unified because it would mean either compromising on people’s core principles or asking others to make that sacrifice when you won’t.

I think the only reason Labour doesn’t split is because a non-PR electoral system makes it electorally impossible to do that and retain any hope of power. PR and a reasonably amicable split would probably benefit both halves considerably more in the long term than remaining together under FPTP or AV does.

I might say more on what I think “effectively managed fragmentation” looks like when I have more time, but I think it can get most of the advantages of unity without too many disadvantages.

Sunny you have this one all wrong. You’re too hung up on radicalism, Trotskyism etc. Whereas in fact the main concern here is competency in leadership – which those concerned worry Porter is failing at. He admitted to dithering and then apologised – fine. But then there was the issue of financial aid – which made his leadership turn from shambolic to dangerous. I’ll repeat what Guy Aitchison said about Porter on this:

“It was deeply irresponsible of Aaron Porter to have promised legal & financial aid to occupations and then gone back on his word. [I]t was weak to not back protests & direct [action] & shameful to have lobbied secretly for cuts in financial support for poorer students”

This is not in-fighting, this is the realisation that the student movement is 20 paces in front of union leadership, and it’s becoming financially dangerous, politically worrying. It’s a trememndously democratic decision by the largely self-motivated movement to realise that they need a good leader. They now realise Porter is not he.

Aaron Porter has admitted to being spineless and a ditherer. He’s apparently not made good on his word to support the occupations with financial and legal help. If that’s really the case why should students let him lead?

An ineffective leader causes more lefty disunity than those calling for a new one.

(On a side note, isn’t leftist unity a bit of a red herring? When has the left been united? Serious question.)

40. Luis Enrique

despite what I’ve written above in defense of Sunny, it’s quite possible that Sunny is wrong and Porter is rubbish and needs booting out that that outweighs the advantages of unity.

OK. One fundamental point here that needs to be mentioned. The job of the NUS is not to represent or be part of the left.

It is to represent its members, the students of all but five (?) of Britain’s universities. If they happen to want something different to what the ‘left’ want (obviously not in this case) then the NUS has to oppose the left.

It is perhaps overly unifying to assume that the NUS has to be of the left; Mr Porter may well be aware he has far more members who agree with the introduction of higher fees than he has who are occupying university buildings. And I suspect he is counting on the fact that a move by the radical protestors would probably be defeated by the non-radical majority (which seems quite likely, although the NUS delegate structure does allow for entryism and unrepresntative radicalism).

I support the no confidence motion against Aaron Porter because, even if it doesn’t pass, it voices student dissatisfaction with what the NUS has become. The NUS is behind the times – right now, nobody needs a timid front for New Labour that is keen not to offend. What did the NUS do on the day of tuition fees? They held a rally with candle glowsticks (seriously) and a nauseating procession of Labour MPs who would probably have voted for the fees themselves had they been in power.

The no-confidence motion is a wake-up call for the NUS to change its act. Labour could do with the same – but unlike Labour, who are complacently hoping Lib Dems will just transfer their allegiance, the NUS has competition from well-organised grassroots activists. The situation has changed, and the no-con motion signals to the media and the NUS that Aaron Porter can’t be regarded as speaking on behalf of all students. Smart Labourites may also read between the lines and realise that opposing the coalition’s cuts doesn’t mean we’re ready to support Labour just yet.

I thought I’d address your four points with what I perceive to be the counter arguments.

1 The student movement does need to be united but Porter hasn’t demonstrated a willingness to represent the unity that I see. He’s consistently disowned it in favour of seeming more conservative than the protesters so it’s no wonder that they want to shed him. It really doesn’t matter if the timing seems off or not because the media have essentially refused to place their attention on issues like the EMA and the reasons for the student action anyway.

2 It’s not too early. After Christmas it’s going to be difficult to get the momentum up again. They need a rallying cry and Porter’s lack of representation is not going to provide that cry. Allowing him to continue to meet the national press as the leader of a movement that he has essentially failed to support properly is a mistake because the press think he is the representative. Moreover I am not (quite) a student so I rather think it’s their job and not ours to decide if there is a fit replacement.

3 The NUS is meant to be the student’s union. They have not provided legal support for students, they have not organised them as a political force. The idea that it is adequate action for a union not to stop students from doing things is peculiar. I think the occupations have attempted to set the agenda and the NUS leadership has failed to meet their standards and that’s why they’re considering ridding themselves of Porter.

4 It could create bad blood but that’s an internal issue. The disunity already exists because Aaron Porter has been a bad representative

Nina,

Re your points 1 and 3, are you sure the protesters represent the majority of students? A surprising number of those on the streets are not actually students remember (school children, college attendees, socialist workers, other sympathisers, UCU members), and the NUS may have a common interest with them but has no obligation to represent them.

You are equating the issue with the whole student body, and the evidence to support that has not been shown.

I agree with 32.
It has been argued that both a moderate and more radical approach, at the same time, to the women’s suffrage movement was much more effective than either alone.
There needs to be acceptance of pluralist methods and viewpoints within the anti-cuts movement. Those decrying Aaron Porter for ‘spinelessness’ will actually alienate a lot of moderate students who nonetheless support other anti-cuts actions. At the very least we should be more respectful – he cannot be compared to Clegg, and he’s definitely not as worthy of opposition of Cameron, so why are some choosing to use the same level of negative rhetoric towards him? Where are the priorities in that?
Also, if those occupying or destroying property are going to be choose that method – they should have thought beforehand about whether they are prepared to pay the penalty. The suffragettes were prepared, for example. There’s no point being radical and then expecting no consequences – that is a very complacent attitude take if you’re going to commit radical actions!

I’m frankly disgusted that supposed “liberal” and “leftist” commenters are trying to excuse this.

Meanwhile, those of us who aren’t students and involved with this internal power struggle politics are horrified.

We have watched and supported massive challenges to the tories, and hoped they would continue and expand to include the rest of us who are being attacked. Now there is a real chance of disintegration.

Thanks very bloody much.

Good post Sunny.

‘Indeed Sunny, the evil trots are taking over NUS……run to hills!!!!’

Precicely the way the media will run with this.

44\Watchman – when was the last time you saw so many students out and protesting?

And, given the absolute disparity between those and the NUS rallies, don’t you think it’s plausible they have more support? The ‘silent majority’ appeals can be utter bullshit (Christian Voice), but even if taken seriously, they’re also dodgy in terms of proof.

After all, how do you differentiate between those students who don’t support the coalition against fees and cuts and those who do but have work/deadlines/children?

@22

If the public don’t support the cause, then you have no cause.

That’s couldn’t be said better.

I agree with Sunny and the points elaborated by David Nowell Smith @32 and Emily Davis @45

Porter is very rightly criticised but at the moment he plays well to the general public (and the slick careerism for which many dislike him is reassuring to many who are alienated by the way the press covers the broader demonstrations).

The wider the base of support, the stronger the movement.

Many have pointed out that the NUS are not leading these protests: so much the better. Leave Porter in place for now to reassure the press and carry on organising, debating and protesting standing neither behind nor against but beside the NUS. The Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives are both showing signs of division: now is not the time to weaken opposition but following suit.

Hi Sunny,

As the proposer of the no-confidence motion that passed at SOAS, I’ve written a reply over at Counterfire: http://www.counterfire.org/index.php/articles/38-opinion/8829-why-were-right-to-oust-aaron-porter-a-reply-to-sunny-hundal-

You and your readers may be interested in it. Perhaps you would like it put it up on your site in order to contribute to an ongoing discussion?

All the best,
Elly

I’m sorry but I don’t buy this ‘we’ll have unity once we oust the person who disagrees with us’ logic. That is fundamentally the reason why the left keeps failing.

Louise: Good grief, Sunny! Why is this infighting? What is being proposed is being an elected individual to account, it is called democracy and accountability, or don’t you believe in that?

Erm, because trying to oust a leader not long after he was elected is called infighting? No doubt you guys think that you have unanimous support, but I bet there are many who do think this is an attempt by a few far lefties to install Clare Solomon as NUS President, and will oppose it, and infighting will follow.

I find the idea that this is *not* infighting as just ludicrous. It clearly is. At least accept that.

And Alex – if you think people haven’t called him a sell-out or accused him of betrayal, then I suggest you check out the @replies at me on Twitter.

Carl – sorry, but you need a good leader to do what? What exactly is the NUS stopping you guys from? You think a new NUS leader could easily get involved in legal challenges? It would bankrupt the NUS pretty quickly.

Nina seems to be the only one who had tried to addressed by found points, and thanks for that.

1. It really doesn’t matter if the timing seems off or not because the media have essentially refused to place their attention on issues like the EMA and the reasons for the student action anyway.

this is ludicrous. There has been intense discussion so far on the Libdem pledges, on the value of the pupil premium, on what is being proposed and how it will affect pupils… on the EMA too. This idea that you can have in-fighting now, at this critical time, and it doesn’t matter anyway because the media agenda isn’t to doesn’t make any sense to me. In six months from now – the agenda will definitely have moved on. Then what?

2 It’s not too early. After Christmas it’s going to be difficult to get the momentum up again. They need a rallying cry and Porter’s lack of representation is not going to provide that cry.

But who says you need him to make that rallying cry? Why can’t students do it themselves via the occupations and more?

I didn’t realise the students were *that* paralysed just because they didn’t have a leader. My impression was that they were quite independently capable of self-organising and mobilising.

I think the occupations have attempted to set the agenda and the NUS leadership has failed to meet their standards and that’s why they’re considering ridding themselves of Porter.

Yes, I see this. But I fail to see how you couldn’t carry on setting the agenda anyway.

We have watched and supported massive challenges to the tories, and hoped they would continue and expand to include the rest of us who are being attacked. Now there is a real chance of disintegration.

Thanks very bloody much.

Exactly earwicga.

What fucking timing eh? I remember people calling for Porter to be ousted before the vote had even passed and having a big fight in the middle of the demonstrations.

These people are the strategic geniuses of the next generation! I fucking despair sometimes.

Sunny you say “who says you need him to make that rallying cry?”

But do you not accept that whilst many students are taking a lead in organising their actions, they would have a much greater impact and could draw in a much greater number of students, if the national union gave them backing and resources.

You miss my point Sunny, although you’re spot on with one aspect: “What exactly is the NUS stopping you guys from?” – Nothing, that seems to be the problem, as I’ve said the movement is 20 paces in front of Porter. He made a promise of legal and financial aid to occupations and precisely at a time when almost a third of UK universities have had occupations he goes back on that word. He has done the same with supporting occupations. To the movement’s credit it hasn’t been at the beck and call of the union – thus the impetus to remove Porter.

Wow.

We’re discussing student politics. Is this nostalgia or are people actually serious?

So what if students are infighting. Isn’t that what student politics is all about? If they didn’t, I’d be concerned those who’ll go on to be real elected representatives aren’t getting adequate preparation.

tbh I’d be surprised if Cameron and Clegg care remotely about who the NUS president is. The actions that matter and keep the issue alive in the public realm (occupations, resistance, etc) have continued in the face of Porter’s inaction, which suggests the leadership of the NUS doesn’t really matter; self-organisation by grassroots students is what matters.

Carl,

Do you know.how much legal support for every occupation would cost the nus?

How much cash do you think they have to offer this support, and how long before the nus would be bankrupt?

@Simon H

How much legal support have the occupations required so far, what has it cost, and how did they raise it?

I expect there is some scaremongering from NUS on this.

Simon H;

If you were privy to that information you wouldn’t make a promise of delivering it would you

I have two points on this. First, if we’re going to focus on left unity let’s start off with those on the center left that have refused to stand united with the student movement. I think they should get a mention.

If I hear another Labour politician going on about how camilla was menaced without mentioning Alfie Meadows or the behaviour of the police I think I’ll scream. Why are these Labour MPs absolved from criticism?

So let’s critique the right of the left and their willingness to undermine the student movement.

Secondly, this is the second article on Lib Con in the matter of days that is framed as a piece on ‘left unity’ but is, in fact, an attack on the left of the left. I think both articles would have been stronger if they had forgotten talking about abstract unity and confined themselves to an argument as to why the left of the left is wrong on this issue.

We could then have a clearer and more respectful debate, in my opinion.

61. Godwin Odusami

I strongly believe Aaron Potter should be removed from office, as we speak, the most deprived community in East London University have no Students’ Union, the University have tactically taken over our Union, repeated calls by the elected officers to the NUS was ignored by the leadership of Aaron Potter, we took the unprecedented decision to take the matter before the High Court.

The intervention of Aaaron Potter could have brokered a truce between the officers- elect and the University, but his leadership took the wrong decision of trying to subvert the rights of the officers and working closely with the staffs of our Union contrary to the strong tradition and policy of the NUS. The NUS does not involve the staff of the NUS in the democractic governance of the NUS, so why has Aaron Potter refused to come to our assistance when the Union needs its support.

It is a pathetic situation right now as there is no Students’ Union at the Unniversity of East London, a borough so deprived in our Country. Imagine the impact our 22 thousand strong students could have had on the protest as we could have marched on parliament on foot from East London causing the greatest awareness and impact of the raise and cuts.

Godwin Odusami is the President -Elect of the East London University ( subject to Judicial Review at the Royal High Court of Justice) February 16th is the Court hearing date. All are welcome to attend.

The actions that matter and keep the issue alive in the public realm (occupations, resistance, etc) have continued in the face of Porter’s inaction, which suggests the leadership of the NUS doesn’t really matter; self-organisation by grassroots students is what matters.

timf – exactly. So why the need to replace Porter? PS – I’ve never met the guy so I’m not holding a candle for my mate or anything. But it worries me that calls for left unity are always followed by people trying to get rid of people they don’t like in the name of unity.

As for why I wrote this post – it’s because of this idiotic charge of him ‘selling out’ – which is banded about every day these days.

Am I going to stand by and watch people accuse each others of being sell-outs just because they don’t pass the purity test? You damn right it annoys me. I get far left idiots all the time sniping at me on Twitter calling me a sell-out and not really being on the left.

“So why the need to replace Porter?”

NUS elections are in April, and will presumably be a Labour vs leftie contest (Porter is eligible for a second term if he wants). To beat Porter, the lefties presumably have to make the case that he has not been a very good leader, and getting a load of student unions to pass no con motions is one way of trying to show that.

Winning the NUS presidency would be quite a big prize for small non-Labour leftie groups, no?

I fear the horse has already bolted on this one, whether the rebels oust Porter or not – the impression has already been made in the media that the student movement is divided between Trots’n’Moderates (not saying that’s a correct impression, just that it exists, and does the cause no end of harm). A case of damage limitation now in which Porter would be wise to make some sort of statement akin to Sunny’s OP – not as combative of course and with a high degree of “mea culpa” – and the NUS to put this sorry episode behind them & focus on the real enemy – the coalition government.

Meanwhile, those of us who aren’t students and involved with this internal power struggle politics are horrified.

Speak for yourself, I aint horrified. Like I said, ineffective leadership is far more divisive than any so called lefty infighting.

And I ask again, when has the left ever been united? It’s more a holy grail (or pipe dream depending on how cynical you want to be) than an historical fact!

Are the media really interested in the internal democracy of the student union compared to frothing at the mouth over rioting or treating intelligent protesters in the most insulting manner (Jody on BBC news comes to mind)?

Will this issue of who leads the NUS melt into nothing when you consider the student protest is only ONE part of the anti-cuts movement? If you want bigger fish to fry how about focusing on linking these different sections together into a cohesive force for political change?

Sunny

On the one hand you’re saying that it’s important not to uproot the presidency of the NUS as it will cause division. Presumably because the NUS presidency is important – if it wasn’t important, the no-confidence motion wouldn’t cause division.

On the other hand, you’re arguing that it doesn’t matter if the NUS president isn’t doing squat as long as he isn’t stopping grassroots activists in their actions. In other words, the NUS presidency isn’t important and is really just a bit of a sideshow.

The NUS presidency is either important enough to protect or unimportant enough to ignore. It cannot be both.

I’m no longer a student, so I’m not going to tell students who their president should be. However, it’s plainly not much of an argument to say that because the president isn’t stopping grassroots activism, it doesn’t matter if he isn’t doing anything himself. What’s the point of having an NUS and a president (membership of which costs cash-strapped student unions a fair wad of cash) if they aren’t going to do anything?

So the question becomes one of Porter’s performance in the job. Since the November 10th national demonstration, what has Porter been doing? Media interviews, yes, but that by itself hardly seems sufficient (and many news outlets have started turning to the likes of Clare Solomon and Michael Chessum as they twig that Porter doesn’t really have much of an ear to the ground with the student protests). Then there was the glowstick fiasco. What else? Not a lot that I can see.

This question of disunity is not an absolute one as you make out. The question is not simply – will this cause disunity? The question is – will any disunity this move causes be outweighed by the benefits of a stronger NUS leadership? If the answer to this second question is ‘yes’, then the no-confidence motion becomes logical.

I don’t buy that this will detract from the tuition fees and EMA campaigns. These campaigns have pretty much taken on their own momentum and leadership, away from the NUS. The media will focus on EMA when it comes up for debate in parliament etc. Any newspapers that bury coverage of EMA in favour of an old-fashioned student politics row are the kind of newspapers that would bury coverage of EMA in favour of pretty much anything. If it’s not a move to dislodge Porter, they’ll find something else. So the timing issue doesn’t carry the weight you make it out to. Trouble at the top of the NUS hardly means Save EMA is going to down tools, does it?

The real question for me regards those students who are anti-fees but aren’t up for occupations (while respecting those who are) and are uncomfortable with the idea of going toe-to-toe with the riot cops. I suspect that’s a fairly large proportion of the student body, and whoever runs the NUS, and whoever organises the protests, needs to remember them and engage with them and get/keep them involved.

That’s the real unity that needs to be maintained. As for Aaron Porter – if a majority of his electorate feel he’s not up to the job, get in someone who is.

leon,

Is there not then a risk however of the same infighting overtaking your united movement. Sunny has a good basic point (from an outsider’s perspective) that the left can sometimes steal victory from itself with its internicene arguments.

To be fair, this is generally because of genuine anger and revolutionary zeal, not some cynical politics, but that does not hide the problem that if you build a leftish coalition, the normal political pressures of trying to unite diverse leftish groups will apply. I think this will be more apparent if you face strong and determined opposition on the issue, as you do from the coalition – there is no clear prize in sight, so everyone thinks their way is better than the (necessary) compromise that is being followed.

I don’t think Sunny has suggested an overall solution (if he has one, the man’s a genius). He is at least aware that the problem is endemic and difficult to ignore.

47 and 48 @Earwicga, when I said “the Trots are taking over NUS….run to the hills” it was precisely cos the media picks up on it aided and abetted by an very unhelpful post by Sunny who is helping to create this blinking myth about so-called “trots”… Lump ’em all together, why donn’cha ya? Oh yeah, you do.

You say, “We have watched and supported massive challenges to the tories, and hoped they would continue and expand to include the rest of us who are being attacked. Now there is a real chance of disintegration. Thanks very bloody much”

I too am not a student, I am a TU activist and socialist but to coin a phrase we are “all in this together”. The reason people are pissed off with Porter is that he has betrayed and sold students out. How are students expected to take Porter to task who, incidentally, aren’t all on the “far left”? How are you able to make your concerns known through democratic procedures? Don’t have a go at the students who are pissed off with Porter and blame them for this “disintegration” lay the blame at Porter, who has consistently sold students out. I am sure students will be able to catalogue Porter’s betrayals.

So in reality, if there is a disintegration of NUS then that will be fault of the likes of Porter as he shows no clear political leadership nor backbone and surely that is vital for fighting the cuts and not seeing it as an opportunistic and cynical vehicle in getting a nice comfy safe Labour seat.

@67

Chaminda nails it.

The analogy with the Labour Party does not stand. The Labour Party is a political entity, and although not entirely united, it brings people together on matters of principles and politics. The NUS is not. The reason that the NUS is important for students is not because of what it stands for, but rather because it has an arbitrary monopoly in a critical space. So, Sunny, if you really want to follow your analogy you should be demanding a total student unity on a few matters of principle rather than the unity of arbitrary organisations that happen to already exist, and which in the NUS’s case has spent the last decade or so reforming any principles it may have had into “services”

@69 Louise

‘I am sure students will be able to catalogue Porter’s betrayals.’

Then why not do that and make sure somebody else is elected in April. Which is four fucking months away, not four years.

Sunny you are exactly right about unity.

I have no opinion on NUS presidency but I recognise the blinked attitude of some in the Labour Party. One person on the left of it tried to persuade me it had all been downhill form the death of John Smith. He just could not understand that many Labour voters thought 1997 was quite a good year for the Party. He also believed that working class people vote Labour, which is a ridiculously simplistic analysis.

I identify more with the right of the Labour Party, so perhaps I am too quick to see the lefts faults, but they do seem to live in a bit of a political bubble.

@58 Rich

Several occupations on Twitter have banded 15k-25k expenses that their uni’s are trying to recover. At least 2 did go to court. This can’t have been cheap.

Many uni’s are seeking to recover security and legal costs from occupiers. One tweeter I read a few weeks threatened cost recovery from all taking part.

@59 Carl

But when was this.promise made? Before this became so big, or after. Understandable if before, as he had no way to know so many would occupy.

@61

‘Imagine the impact our 22 thousand strong students could have had on the protest as we could have marched on parliament on foot from East London causing the greatest awareness and impact of the raise and cuts.’

Why didn’t you then? What was stopping you? Aaron Porter?

76. David Nowell Smith

Chaminda – I think the thing to note is that even if Porter is causing divisions (he obviously is, otherwise we wouldn’t be arguing about it), a no-confidence vote is going to be even more divisive. At the moment the radical and the ‘down with this sort of thing careful now’ groups are working more or less autonomously from one another, and that’s going ok (give or take asinine candle-burning sessions). But what will happen if there’s a vote of no confidence? Firstly, it brings the two sides into open conflict (really there are three sides – the radicals who want him replaced, those who don’t, and the moderates), which directs attention from the real enemy – the Higher Education Bill that just passed through the Lords. But also, these things take time, and resources, to organise, and the NUS doesn’t have great reserves of either. So they start balloting, campaigning, etc., and that takes up their time — time that could be devoted to fighting the privatisation of higher education. Whether, as Leon suggests, the media give two effs (I imagine not) is neither here nor there – student activists will no longer be directing all their effort towards saving higher education.
And imagine a non-partisan student receiving a ballot paper in early january – they’ll just think ‘why the hell are you having a vote now when there are bigger fish to fry?’ Tactically it is horribly inept and makes it more likely that the tories get away with it. Again.

@75

Earwicga, 4 months is a VERY long time in politics. Do you really want to wait around to see what damage and destruction is done by this “spineless ditherer” (actually his words not mine!). If you think that’s leadership then you have low expectations of activism and fighting the cuts.

@76 – I’ll accept that there’s a risk of student activists’ time being taken up with no-confidencing the president. That is an actual risk, because these student activists are actually getting out there and doing something at present.

But when you say the different strands of the movement (radical, moderate etc) are working well together, I must say I’m still not sold that the NUS leadership is actually doing anything at the minute, or has done anything since November 10th. And that Telegraph story was hugely inflammatory – offering the government one aspect of student support to cut instead of another *is* selling out members, no matter how much that phrase may get misused. I saw Aaron’s explanation of this report on LibCon and it wasn’t at all convincing.

@72 – A note re dates – while the NUS presidential election is in April, any new president wouldn’t take over until probably August. That’s next academic year. Therefore the time lag is more than cursory.

“The student movement needs to be united right now”

Aaron Porter isn’t part of the student movement.

Aaron porter is a typically ineffective Labour apparatchik – ineffective because he is too close to politically to the Tories anyway. He is a careerist who is heading to parliament off the back of the NUS. Its a moot point whether people should waste time trying to boot him out rather than focusing on the campaign. He could be simply bypassed.

“I’ll grant the fact that he abandoned the occupations despite his promise.”

Why is Porter lying to students more acceptable than Clegg doing so?

I am a lecturer, a UCU Branch Secretary, and (thanks to my status as a PhD candidate) also a student.

Students at my university are typical of those to which Chaminda (67) refers: against the fees hike but quite conservative and looking for leadership. The local SU follows very closely the lead offered (or not, as the case may be) by the national leadership. As a consequence, the dithering to which AP admitted echoes down the line. As a further consequence, precious time has been wasted since 10 November, time that could have been spent mobilising students. As it is, that job has been left to a loose coalition of student and staff activists, with the result that awareness and attendance at protests such as last Thursday has been much lower than it would had NUS and the local SU got solidly behind the movement.

I can’t help noticing that this “unity” word gets tossed around by those such as Sunny, such as elements on the UCU and NUS Right, when in fact they are promoting their own brand of sectarianism. Case in point: last Thursday’s protest was called and mobilised at very short notice. UCU and NUS decided, not for the first time, to insulate themselves to as to avoid contamination by protests organised by so-called radical groups. One result, in the frantic few days leading up to Thursday, was confusion. As a Branch Sec, I found it very difficult to get clear information from either NUS or UCU, and had to piece together information which I could then pass on to my members. That is not good enough given the circumstances and the serious threat posed to universities.

The other, far more damaging consequence, was the confusion, disarray and lack of resources which attended the protests themselves. While I and many others were kettled in Parliament Square, I hear that Aaron Porter was appealing, in vain, to the Met. The injuries that protestors suffered last Thursday are bad enough, but we are lucky that noone was killed. The chances of a more peaceful demonstration that would be less subject to police intimidation and violence would have been vastly increased had we seen some of this precious “unity” from the NUS President last week.

Sunny – are you not also sick of the tendency for people to brand others they disagree with as ‘Trots’ if they raise their head above the parapet of a party selling itself as a movement (the Labour Party)? I know I am. In fact most of those I know who are outside the Labour Party and are part of the labour movement are NOT trots – either affiliated to other groupings or none. I would also say that is the case of the students who went beyond the SWP etc and used the technology and tactics they have learned over the past few years to organise (flashmobbing/ using twitter/ texting/ blogs etc etc)- and from school occupations across the country last year.

the current youth movement do not trust the mainstream media nor the ready made SWP type fronts to “guide them.” We would be wise to remember that.

That is not to say that the SWP will not try to highjack parts of this movement – but recent splits / walk outs/ wrecking tactics by the SWP in England and Scotland have weakened them beyond all recognition from even during the G8 demos in 2005.

Porter and the NUS are not representative of students- nor have had much bearing on what the movement has achieved. The NUS is really as this blog says, just a coming together of student Unions – and those who involve themselves in those ( http://www.betternation.org/2010/12/perhaps-its-time-for-an-actual-national-union-of-those-studying/ ) – and they are usually young people already involved in either mainstream parties or, and not to put to fine a point on it – those interested in DJing in the union etc.

This movement needs spokespeople – not Aaron Porter pretending to lead from his candle lit front. Young people are wise enough -perhaps beyond the wisdom of their parents etc – NOT to want leaders – just spokespeople.

I vote for Jody McIntyre as a spokesperson – neither a Trot nor a slave to the party as far as I am aware…. http://www.betternation.org/2010/12/perhaps-its-time-for-an-actual-national-union-of-those-studying/

sorry… meant to add Jody’s twitter account as the second link.

sorry… meant to add Jody’s twitter account as the second link. http://twitter.com/jodymcintyre

I agreed with Sunny until I read Porter’s article in last week’s New Statesman where he stated that the students could do a better job inside parliament pursuading MPs rather than standing outside protesting.

If the student leadership doesn’t know how to build a movement, and the 3 components of P-M-O then I can understand why student activists would want to replace the leadership.

Chaminda – thanks for writing a reponse that actually deal with the issues than simply repeats the same old cliches.

You say: The NUS presidency is either important enough to protect or unimportant enough to ignore. It cannot be both.

What I mean is this. The NUS President can’t stand in the way of protests or action anyway. So in that sense it’s not important enough to worry about right now as an impediment – as several are making it out to be.

But it’s important not to have the ‘disunity’ for several reasons.

First, as David points out in 76 – what you’ll have now is a long, protracted battle between the different factions up til April. Porter will want to consolidate his support, while the factions wanting him out will start canvassing for their support.

As a result, time potentially spent on fighting the govt will be spent fighting each other.

Secondly, what if the motion fails? What if he gets re-elected again? Who are the main people who will stand against him, and are students united behind them and against Porter? What will happen is that even if Porter gets re-elected, the deep divisions and bad blood will be created. They won’t go away. The people who want him out will simply say that he is still not legitimate and will carry on fighting.

And so for the next five years, when you could have tapped into the new, vibrant student movement to oppose the cuts, there is a strong danger it could descend into infighting.

You have to take this into account when thinking of the cost-benefit analysis.

My ideal scenario: keep fighting the Coalition for now, and build an alternative structure that is truly representative and widespread. Then use that to fight the election in April/May -whenever it is – and then accept the outcomes. But always remember who the real enemy is.

Judging by many of the comments above, the real enemy is Aaron Porter the “careerist” and “ditherer” rather than the Coalition. And guess who they will mostly be fighting for the next few months?

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/8190379/National-Union-of-Students-secretly-urged-Government-to-make-deep-cuts-in-student-grants.html

THIS is why porter has got to go!

THis is not divisive, he will still do what hes been doing all along. If anything this could pull him towards the radicals as he avoids trying to be ousted. Yeah maybe hes looking at a safe seat in his future career but that wont happen if he gets ousted will it?

You say the occupations are a minority of students. To be honest, most students dont care about politics at all! If the NUS was representative of the majority of students, it would be apolitcal and would lobby video game companies and brewers.

Is there not then a risk however of the same infighting overtaking your united movement. Sunny has a good basic point (from an outsider’s perspective) that the left can sometimes steal victory from itself with its internicene arguments.

Too much stock in being put in the President of the NUS place in the wider anti cuts movement. Him going, a slight scuffle around it won’t change very much in the scheme of things. Focusing down on this is a bigger distraction than any accusations of ‘lefty infighting’ (the more I hear the term lefty unity the more hollow it sounds).

Why defending him is an issue for the whole of the British left is a little mystifying tbh…does Sunny owe him money or something?! 😀

This is bigger and broader than who ‘leads’ the student movement. Students seem to be getting organised and active without the leadership as it is and that will continue and grow irrespective of who goes on BBC Question Time as their representative.

“I asked who from the Labour-right needed to be on board. I got a blank look.”

I have had nothing but disdain from the Labour right over anything I have done to try and sort out the party.

There are a few good ones, but the vast majority have supported the Blair project of gutting the party’s democracy. As such, it seems a bit pointless to ask them to come on board to support the opposite. Much more obvious is to try and beat them in elections, etc., for example to the NEC.

I respect where you’re coming from, but basically you’re being very hopeful…

Tom – Heh, yes I do get your point and I think that’s valid in many circumstances. But this was about trying to change party democracy. I can’t see that progressing unless there’s some bipartisan work on it.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  2. Laurence Durnan

    [cough] @PennyRed >> RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  3. Martha Mackenzie

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  4. Rachel

    Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter | Liberal Conspiracy http://goo.gl/ZfYny

  5. Ellie Gellard

    Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  6. Susan Thorne

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  7. Susan Thorne

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  8. Duncan Hothersall

    This -> RT @BevaniteEllie Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  9. Duncan Hothersall

    This -> RT @BevaniteEllie Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  10. richdavidson

    “@libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44” <<read, considered and once again #iagreewithsunny.

  11. WH

    This – http://bit.ly/hJPzKh

  12. Jonathan Calder

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  13. safefromwolves

    RT @richdavidson “@libcon: Left unity & the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44” < read, considered & once again #iagreewithsunny

  14. Anthony Parker

    RT @BevaniteEllie: Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  15. HarpyMarx

    LibCon "plot" post http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/15/left-unity-and-the-bid-to-oust-aaron-porter/

  16. Dave Harris

    +1 RT @BevaniteEllie Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  17. Newell Hampson-Jones

    Absolutely fantastic post from @sunny_hundal about why the movement to oust @aaronporter is just plain wrong headed: http://ow.ly/3przM

  18. David Cunliffe

    RT @BevaniteEllie: Absolutely agree with conclusion of this. RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  19. sdv_duras

    @sunny_hundal on why students should keep Aaron Porter – http://bit.ly/eCgStH — strange anti-democratic logic what do you think?

  20. Rooftop Jaxx

    RT @libcon Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 <<anything intrinsically *wrong* w democratic right of recall?

  21. Axis of Elvis

    Pragmatism is for wusses, so let's be pragmatic here? RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  22. sunny hundal

    Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  23. Life: Downloaded

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  24. Christopher Meredith

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 <– great points made.

  25. Luke Bozier

    Power-mad students need to grow up RT @sunny_hundal the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  26. Richard Johnson

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  27. Nicolas Redfern

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  28. Whatever happened to unity and solidarity? « The Scribe of the Red Rose

    […] friend Sunny Handal states on his blog http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/15/left-unity-and-the-bid-to-oust-aaron-porter/ , that “strategically it doesn’t make any sense. The student movement needs to be united […]

  29. HeardinLondon

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  30. David Carter

    RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy

  31. TeresaMary

    Hundal has a point! RT @sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 -response to the controversy

  32. James Brown

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  33. Nick Barlow

    Oh look, it's the traditional NUS response to a crisis: form a circular firing squad! http://bit.ly/i7yjwp

  34. Stephen Brown

    Rt @sunny_hundal Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy <-Agreed.

  35. Ged Robinson

    "@sunny_hundal: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44 – my response to the controversy" < spot on Sunny

  36. Olly Grender

    The word "betrayal" might get worn out by overuse by some http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  37. Emily Davis

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  38. earwicga

    Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/JiFbEKS via @libcon

  39. Jennifer C Krase

    RT @earwicga: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/JiFbEKS via @libcon

  40. Chris James-Watkins

    RT @earwicga: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/JiFbEKS via @libcon

  41. Danielle Grufferty

    RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  42. Chris James-Watkins

    RT @DannieGruff: RT @libcon: Left unity and the bid to oust Aaron Porter http://bit.ly/eMAD44

  43. It is right to have no confidence in Aaron Porter…. |

    […] 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’ […]

  44. John Brissenden

    @nomoregames It's like fucking Right Wing Troll bingo: http://bit.ly/i4mo7Q

  45. Casper ter Kuile

    Absolute agreement with @sunny_hundal – we deal with our shit when the cameras look the other way. http://tinyurl.com/39ykxl5

  46. sunny hundal

    RT @caspertk: Absolute agreement with @sunny_hundal – we deal with our shit when the cameras look the other way. http://tinyurl.com/39ykxl5

  47. Tom Burke

    RT @caspertk: Absolute agreement with @sunny_hundal – we deal with our shit when the cameras look the other way. http://tinyurl.com/39ykxl5

  48. punkscience

    ‘it’s about time these lefties stabbed each other in the back, I was getting worried they were getting too successful!‘ ~ http://is.gd/iOXLW

  49. Why we want to ‘recall’ Aaron Porter as NUS President | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Sunny Hundal implied that so-called infighting within the student movement would detract from the burning […]

  50. So-called left wing unity and the Spanish Civil War « Raincoat Optimism

    […] is in faithfulness to something called “left unity” – brought to the fore recently by Sunny Hundal. In his piece on the “plot” to pass a no-confidence motion against Porter, he cites four […]

  51. So-called left wing unity and the Spanish Civil War « Though Cowards Flinch

    […] is in faithfulness to something called “left unity” – brought to the fore recently by Sunny Hundal. In his piece on the “plot” to pass a no-confidence motion against Porter, he cites four […]

  52. zetkin « notebook

    […] but be quick to accuse anyone else’s ideas as pointless lefty bickering. Splitters! See here for a particularly subtle […]





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