Published in The Mancunion, issue of 09/05/11.
It is sometimes quite challenging, being a Right-Wing student in a Student Union with a political culture quite as introverted, Left-Wing and often hostile as Manchester’s, but it’s rarely dull. In less than a month I will have sat my last exam as a University of Manchester student and must thus surrender my council seat and hang up my hat as UMSU’s token Righty. I thought I’d use my last article for The Mancunion to relate some of my motivations and experiences of politics inside your Students’ Union, and try to encourage more people who are neither flower children nor Communists to step up and take my place in years to come.
Not that it’s a particularly appealing prospect, on the surface. Perhaps the most egregious slander I’ve sustained during my time here was a persistent rumour in my first year that I was a member of the British National Party. Whilst this rumour was thankfully discredited by the (remarkably timely) leaking of the BNP membership list to the national press, it serves as useful illustration of the gauntlet of hostility any dissenting student politician has to run if you want to stick your head above the parapet. Other examples include my being mobbed at the 2011 student elections (one of my gallant defenders was punched in the face by a newly elected candidate, I was merely spat at) and a faintly laughable but nonetheless intimidating Socialist occupation of the Conservative Future AGM last term. We had the nerve to hold our meeting in the Students’ Union, you see.#
So why on earth should you, the Right-Wing student of tomorrow, put yourself through all that? Why did I? Fundamentally, because our Students’ Union is supposed to represent all of us, and I don’t think that many people can honestly claim that it does. That’s why I think that Centre-Right and Right-Wing students need to brave the horrors of Left-Wing intolerance and take part in the Students’ Union. For too long, UMSU has had systems that empower tiny special interest groups to enact their agendas in the name of every student. Would a Union that was genuinely responsive to the great majority of its students ban meat from our bar on Mondays, or Coca-Cola from our shop, or outright ban the word “Fresher’s” from ‘Welcome Week’? I don’t think so. The Students’ Union will remain a remote and largely irrelevant institution until it represents the broad spectrum of student opinion.
Thankfully, some of the worst of the constitutional monstrosities are being phased out. General Meetings – wherein the whims of a few hundred activists are held above the mandates of execs with many thousands of votes – are going at the end of next year, replaced by general referendums where all motions are put before the full student body. This offers an excellent opportunity for people from a broader range of political viewpoints to engage the next generation of Manchester students with their union, but this opportunity is only as valuable as what students do with it.
So this plea is to you, all the centre-right students who aren’t graduating this year. Next year, get involved. Write for this paper, stand for election and generally make nuisances of yourselves. Demonstrate to the wider world that not all students are socialists, communists, radical feminists and greens. It’s the only way you’re ever going to change the union, and the left will continue to present itself as the universal “voice of students” until you do.