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The news that Aaron Porter will not be re-standing for NUS President in April came as a surprise to most. The general discourse had been whether or not he would win a second election, but never on whether or not he would stand.
It’s reasonable that this question was never posed. Porter is now only the second NUs President since 1969 not to serve a second term. The fact that he had to announce that he would not be seeking a second term is indicative of how the general expectation – probably even his own expectation – was that he would be fighting for re-election. We’ll never know when he decided to buck the trend, but a safe bet would be somewhere in manchester on Janurary 26, around the time angry students were throwing oranges at him.
Porter is a classic example of having too much responsibility at too young an age. To have the futures of entire generations on your shoulders before you’ve reached 26 is not an enviable position. But it was his choice to take it on, and he knew the risks attached.
This year was always going to be a volatile one for the NUS. The fact that the Browne Review would propose an increase in fees was one of the worst kept secrets in politics, and whatever the colour of the party of government at the time it reported, the recommendations were always going to be considered.
Regardless of when he first decided he would like to be NUS President, Porter will have certainly known of the implications of the Browne Review when he began campaigning to be elected National President. He had time to factor in the likely outcome of the Browne Review into his plan and to realise what it would mean for student politics.
He should have realised that this would be a year that called for strong principles and even stronger conviction. It would need someone who could be a leader of hearts and minds, as well as a shrewd enough operator to negotiate the best deal for students with the politicians.
If Porter ever truly had this conviction, and it’s questionable, he certainly does not have it now. His – in effect – standing down is nothing short of admitting defeat.
In hindsight the news this week should not have been a surprise. The decision not the restand is probably the most telling point of Porter’s presidency. The road which Porter has travelled down to reach this decision is the one which has guided his term in office. It demonstrates not only a perpetual defeatism but an innate inability to grit it out when things get tough, two qualities which we have seen become increasingly prominent since the first march in November. It proves in the end that he never really was the right person to lead the student movement. regardless of where your politics lies, no one can truly want someone who is so easily beaten down as a leader.
The new NUS President will be elected in April. There will be plenty of discussion between now and then of who will get it, but let us hope it is someone with the conviction to get the job done.