I’m the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me

6:29 pm - March 3rd 2011

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contribution by Thomas Byrne

The other day, Liberal Conspiracy interviewed the three “front runners” in the race to be National Union of Students President. What they failed to mention is that there are only four candidates. I am that fourth candidate, and I’m grateful to this site for giving me the right to be heard.

The reason I was not featured was quite simple: I’m not left-wing. But that doesn’t mean my platform can’t be appealing to those on the left.

I’m sure you’ll agree that a proper debate is needed in this election rather than some kind of demonstrators’ beauty contest to see who can whine at the government the loudest.

Over the past few years, the National Union of Students has been run either by ideologically driven left-wing radicals, or wannabe politicians striving for a position in the Labour Party. This has to stop. It’s time that the NUS were run in the interests of students rather than ideologues and partisan political careerists.

My platform is based on the principle of doing what the NUS can actually achieve rather than shouting ineffectually from the sidelines. I believe we can propose more realistic forms of student support for those attending college, training and work placements.

For example, lots of the EMA is wasted and should be more targeted, but we can also make the case for more funding for those with disabilities for whom £30 a week is insufficient. Even Conservative MPs support this, and I’m sure those on the left do too.

We can also press for reform of A levels, pushing for universities to have more say over exam board specifications so that students don’t find they’ve been pushed into inadequate courses that leave them unprepared. Even with Vocational training, we need a better and more detailed understanding of what actually works: the NUS is ideally placed to ensure students get the best deal in the Wolfson Review despite concerns Michael Gove is moving towards focusing schools primarily on academia. But this can only happen if we work closely and sensibly with the Review. Surely that’s something we can agree on too?

I’ve also proposed that the NUS campaign for reducing bureaucratic pressure on teachers, actively promoting the Teach First programme and abolishing or overhauling the unaccountable Connexions, a service that has let down our poorest students by lowering their aspirations and giving them damaging careers advice.

But the NUS can go even further. It can play a central role in helping students find internships, replacing Connexions’ careers advice and improving social mobility, aiding charities, voluntary groups, anyone that offers their own programmes. After all, why should a Union only deal with the government? It has such huge potential as a force on its own to help students.

My position on tuition fees is probably what most led to my exclusion from Liberal Conspiracy. I thought that the NUS’s proposals for a graduate contribution were inferior, leaving poorer graduates with a lower repayment threshold at £15,000, as well as totally severing university accountability to students by having all funding centrally directed.

But I also regret that the government decided to retain the language of ‘fees’ and ‘loans’ rather than ‘graduate contributions‘, something that shouldn’t, and hopefully won’t put off poorer potential applicants. These are concerns that I think are acceptable to those on the left, along with the fact that I deeply oppose the former NUS president’s proposal to cut student grants to the poorest applicants as an alternative to the fees hike.

I know I am not a typical NUS presidential candidate, and many of you will find some of what I say uncomfortable. But that doesn’t mean you should ignore what a more centrist candidate has to say. It might feel easier electing a typical candidate, but it won’t help us to put forward a robust case that will actually be listened to by the government.

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Reader comments

While I’ve never seen eye to eye with your general conservative views on Twitter, this no nonsense attitude is something I applaud and were I a delegate, would have earnt my vote.

Sadly, you make far too much sense ever to be elected by the NUS but well done for offering the alternative.

I’m not a member of the NUS and doubt that I’d agree with all of Mr Byrne’s positions if I was but he’s the only candidate I’ve ever drunk with and I can say that he acquits himself admirably to the task.

Loving the astroturf comments.

As a fellow York student and member of the Labour Club, I am familiar with Thomas’ views and can’t claim to agree with them, certainly not on tuition fees or even Connexion. However I will say that whenever I’ve talked to him, he has always been admirably fair and independently minded and often articulates a variant of conservative thought that I can find common ground with. I wish him the best of luck with his campaign and I certainly hope he gives some of the career politicians in Labour Students and the NUS a run for their money.

And no ‘mirrors’, this is not astroturfing, at least not on my part.

If you were going to set up astroturf comments, mirrors, would you:

(A) Have somebody praise your ideas, honesty and eloquence.
(B) Have someone damn your rival’s lies, misdeeds and foolishness.
(C) Have some bloke claim he doubts that he’d agree with you but make facetious reference to a night of shared drunkenness.

If it’s (C) don’t go into advertising. (If it’s any of others then, well, still, don’t go into advertising.)

6. Mr S. Pill

“It can play a central role in helping students find internships”

Yay, more unpaid work for those who can afford it with rich mummy and daddy bailing them out while everyone else has to start at the bottom – assuming there are jobs that haven’t been turned into internships, of course.

I can only assume this guy is taking the piss.

Mr S. Pill

Good point – a hell of a lot of interneships are slavery with air conditioning.

8. Mr S. Pill


The problem is you don’t hear enough about it because even the so-called liberal press (Gaurdian, New Stateman) use unpaid interns for jobs that really should be paid. Hell even the DWP does. If the NUS started to encourage use of internships then they would well and truly have lost the plot.


Well, I don’t see a problem with internships per se any more than I do with apprenticeships. It’s their conditions that make ’em so dreadful – employers need to be advised, rather candidly, that “internship” doesn’t mean “great way to save the cash that an employee might demand”.

10. Mr S. Pill


Nor do I, per se, but increasingly they are used in the way you suggest (and that link explains) and are only really helpful for people who are already well-off & can afford to subsist on minimum expenses. IMO it increases the class divide.

11. Chaise Guevara

@ 9 BenSix

What Pill said: it’s not just the working conditions of the bad ones, it’s the exclusivity of the good ones. To work a 40-hour week unpaid and survive, you need financial backing – or at least the quasi-financial backing of a parent or friend’s house within commuting distance where you can live for free.

Internships are supposed to demonstrate dedication – in reality, they just show that you have at least a middling amount of personal privilege.

He tried to get me to join Res Publica…


Well my proposal for what it’s worth?

You shake it to the left and you shae it to the right…
And then you kick Mr Byrne into touch with all your might ….

I would suggest internship are not the solution. What students leaving university need are real jobs.

I enjoyed this article immensely simply for the fact he didn’t mention the fact that he was a Tory once.

He did say that he “wasn’t left-wing” but at first I thought he meant in the same way that Shane Chowen and Liam Burns aren’t left-wing!

I have no idea whether the positive comments are astroturfed, but York University Conservative Society (with which Thomas seems to be at least associated) does have form in piling in for the comments section on left wing blogs, so make up your own mind: http://politicalscrapbook.net/2011/02/york-university-conservative-society-gets-down-with-the-kids/

I can’t seem to get my post to come up on the BBC cuts thread.

Just testing this thread.

16. Charlieman

Thank you, Sunny, for permitting this guest post. Thomas Byrne talked about liberal things; he should not have felt embarrassed about party affiliation (not accusing you, Sunny).

In a previous thread (Owen Jones and the mainstream NUS candidates), I was a bit grumpy. They did not talk about education which is the only thing that an NUS President might influence. Is there something fishy about education that is uncomfortable to NUS President candidates? Or more likely, that they understand nothing?


No disagreement from me. Though I have to say that when internships were auctioned off to Oxbridge students it was nice to see a quiet structural bias thrust itself into the spotlight.

I’d vote for you, your about the right person for progressive labour or what ever they call it now, you could go and appeal to the Tory students to join, then labour will say look at the members we are getting, and boy I’m sure you’d be sitting in a labour seat within a few years, but take parachute lessons.

Noooo – if you are going to drop a right-winger into a safe Labour constituency it is far more fun if you forget the parachute.

20. MrAverage

Good luck to you, all sounds reasonably plausible. Don’t expect much sympathy here though – people are more likely to pick on one one aspect of your case and then ignore the rest, or reference any party political skeletons.

Sounds sensible, good luck…

Thomas seems fair and reasonable with a levelheadedness that acknowledges the world is not perfect and people can’t have everything. Sure, it would be fantastic if all students automatically got incredible jobs after university, but that’s sadly not how it works. Mr Byrne is sensible with the perfect balance between sensibility and optimism.

And for that reason, he won’t win.

Hang on – is this Liberal Consipiracy?

I presume the normal level of innate respect for people around here has raised its head again, since although there seems to be a fair bit of disagreement with some of the points put forward by Mr Byrne, no-one seems to have gone for him personally. I’m quite surprised to be honest, but can I (non-patronisingly) congratulate people on this (probably not – I’ve just read the sentence back; oh well, let’s post anyway…)

24. Tom Phillips

It’s sad how most of the comments aren’t anything to do with whether what Thomas said is a good thing for the NUS or not, but are just rhetorical comments about his apparent party affiliation, as if that proves he’s not a good candidate. When will people learn to look past party colours, which are almost indistinguishable nowadays, and look to principle?

I like policy of putting certain words in bold at random throughout his article though I don’t see how his key-note policy of not being left-wing distinguishes him from any of his recent predecessors.


I think what distinguishes him from previous presidents recently is that he admits he is not left-wing.

If this works incidentally, and Thomas gets elected, I’m thinking of putting myself up for leader of the Socialist Workers. I’m not left-wing, but…

“I like policy of putting certain words in bold at random throughout his article though I don’t see how his key-note policy of not being left-wing distinguishes him from any of his recent predecessors.”

As much as I like the bold, it’s Sunny’s work, not mine.

Then you’ve lost my vote. With regards to your other policy, are you promising to be more right-wing than Aaron Porter? That would take some doing, I’m not sure it’s a pledge you could keep.

You think the NUS is run by ideologues and careerists. But do you not have an ideology yourself? It is a common mistake among rightwingers to suppose that conservatism isn’t an ideology and that all ideologies are leftwing. I suppose that since the term took on negative connotations, most people don’t like to admit to being ideological. And careerism? Can you guarantee you will never seek a political career yourself? If you did decide to seek one after becoming NUS president, would that be wrong? If so, why? And if not, “careerism” is an empty criticism.

Your post may mislead some readers as you try to misrepresent yourself as being a moderate or a mere non-leftist rather than mentioning that you are in fact rightwing and connected to the Tory Party – and as such, you would be highly unrepresentative of most students’ views.

Your policy on internships would only aid the middle classes who can already afford to work for free, helping them get greater chances while penalising poorer students who can’t afford to.

On tuition fees you seem to think the problem can be solved simply by renaming them. You appear not to have considered the arguments for free education. You seek a commodified world in which education is a mere product rather than something valued in its own right. Would you make sixth-formers pay for lessons too? In fact many European countries still have free higher education – notably the Nordic countries – and others have much lower fees than the UK. So fees are far from inevitable, yet instead of fighting them you would immediately raise the flag of surrender. You would be representing Tory policies to the students rather than the other way round. Those students not wealthy enough to be able to undertake internships often need to work low-paid jobs. How would you stand up for them, if you’re still opposed to the minimum wage?

Why does he describe himself as ‘centrist’? – He’s clearly right – wing.

It seems the comments here have become a debate that is primarily about internships.

Yes, it’s criminal the adverts you see for some unpaid internships that demand that their applicants are graduates with a year’s relevant experience. But a lot of internships ARE paid, and some are paid quite well. Similarly, many companies offer good graduate placement schemes. If you use your university holidays to gain work experience then by the time you graduate you may well be in a firm enough position to land a ‘proper’ job.

A lot of my role models in media, fashion, music and art came from very humble backgrounds and a lot of them took big risks, moved to London with next to nothing and just found their way. I remember being on a three-month paid internship at a big magazine publishing house and there were editors there who had litterally packed a rucksack in the 90s, moved into a hostel in London, took out a waitressing job, and a loan, and just worked their ass off.

It’s much easier now when you can network online, showcase your talent with a blog, and with companies like Office Angels dotted about giving intelligent people well-paid contract work.

Yes of course it helps if you have financial backing, and of course it helps if you have accommodation in Zones 1-2 of London. But if the debate is to be so Londoncentric then let’s not forget there are also lots of poor people and students who live in Zones 1-2 of London as well, it’s not all Belsizers.

Perhaps government internships should provide accommodation. I know that some medical students and trainee doctors are given free accommodation in central London.

Too many graduates are self-absorbed careerists. The truth is, to be successful and safely so, you need to identify what your passion is and work very hard at it for a long time. Not everyone will be the leader of the Labour party, the editor of Vogue or Keith Allen’s daughter.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    I'm the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  2. Alex

    @OwenJones84 Ruh roh – he is also a 'classical liberal' – LibCon have the skinny (for some reason?!) http://bit.ly/gy5zNF

  3. James Brown

    RT @libcon: I'm the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  4. Thomas Byrne

    I'm the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  5. aaronton

    RT @ByrneToff: I'm the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  6. David Talbot

    Given how @AaronPorter managed to fuck off the NUS, does @ByrneToff stand a chance in the election? I suspect he does http://is.gd/MerdqZ

  7. Thomas Byrne

    Another tout for the article I wrote for @libcon on why I should be NUS president. http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  8. Lawrence Mills

    RT @ByrneToff: Another tout for the article I wrote for @libcon on why I should be NUS president. http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  9. S.A. McMurray

    RT @ByrneToff: Another tout for the article I wrote for @libcon on why I should be NUS president. http://bit.ly/hks1ZE

  10. Nik Darlington

    Thomas Bryne: I’m the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/MqWRFHL

  11. Fabienne

    I missed this before but worth a read. It's @ByrneToff's pitch for NUS Prez : http://bit.ly/egH4u9

  12. Thomas Byrne

    @education_el I wrote an article for @libcon here http://bit.ly/gGssl0 and my manifesto is here http://bit.ly/ebUoPv

  13. Thomas Byrne

    @jackcullenuk Just the four! Owen wouldn't interview me because he didn't like my platform. they lemme write 'ere http://bit.ly/gGssl0

  14. Thomas Byrne

    With interest in the election picking up : http://bit.ly/gGssl0 I’m the fourth NUS candidate: why you should vote for me.#nusnc11

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