Regardless of how the debate at tonight’s General Meeting of the Students’ Union on the proposed Vote of No Confidence in Aaron Porter, President of the National Union of Students, falls the very fact that the motion was brought it a good thing.
To see an autonomous student group actively engaging in student politics is a positive step change from the last couple of years when the only ones talking about, and willing to act over, the policies of the Students’ Union (SU) was its own faithful.
The last two years has seen a deprivation of students who, despite not necessarily agreeing with the policies of the SU, get involved with it anyway: putting their own views across and challenging the status quo.
It wasn’t always this way. For several years the Labour Club on campus played an active role in SU politics, without aligning themselves to the LUSU line. The benefit of the Labour Club was that it was an alternative breeding ground to the JCRs for students to form their views on the University and Students’ Union. On paper this might not appear like it would make much difference, but on the small scale of Lancaster the differences seemed large indeed.
The Labour Club rarely saw eye-to-eye with the Union, but instead of retreating to their armchairs to moan about how the SU did not represent them, they took an active role in reshaping it. Every time there was a Union election (Cross-Campus or Full Time Officers), you could be sure that there would be a Labour Club candidate standing. At best it meant that two different but valid arguments were made for how the Union should move forward under new leadership. At worst at least meant that uncontested elections where a rare occurrence. More often than not, a Labour Club block would be voted in.
Engagaing in the Union meant that the Labour Club could steer the agenda. Meetings of Union Council would see that different factions debating on points of ideology, not just convenience. The Labour Club would campaign when the Union would not, but their engagement meant that they also understood when the Union could not. In those incidents the Labour Club could front a campaign which would have damaged Union/University relations too much on an issue the Union could not afford to loose, appearing to be independent but actually working behind the scenes with LUSU to get the most effective campaign across.
An engaged but autonomous group can be that most valuable thing: the critical friend. They can hold the SU to account, but also facilitate them in times of need. The Lancaster University Against Cuts group may not embrace the LUSU system in the same way as the Labour Club, but it can only be a good day when a group of students stands up to be counted.