Earlier this month I joined several hundred student delegates at NUS National Conference where we decide the next steps for the student movement for the coming year.
It was the third National Conference I had attended and we had three days of intense debate and discussions.
Since 2010 students have come under intense attack from the coalition government. Many of us were already struggling to make ends meet, but our standards of living have been slashed as well as the provision of education. Tuition fees have been trebled, Education Maintenance Allowances (EMA) abolished, courses cut and the rights of international students have been under assault. And the Tory-led government plans to cut further.
That is why the Tories are deeply unpopular amongst students. Most of us want to see them removed from office as soon as possible. We need a Labour government that values education and is intent on improving society – not a coalition that makes us all poorer.
For many years our annual NUS conference has confined the Tories to the wilderness. I am proud to say we kept the NUS leadership a Tory-free zone.
But that changed at this year’s conference, when those on the right wing of Labour helped re-establish the Tories on the NUS National Executive Committee (NEC), and with a huge vote.
The union’s most high profile Labour Party member, the current NUS President Liam Burns, nominated the Tory candidate for the NUS NEC and leading Labour right students acted like cheer leaders to help get the Tory candidate elected.
Without the Labour right’s support no Tory would have been elected, as they just do not have the votes at our conference.
As elsewhere in the Labour Party, there is a thorough discussion amongst student Labour members about the policies necessary for a Labour government. Some of us believe Labour will need to undo the damage done to the education system by abolition of the EMA. Others, on the Labour right, do not want to bring back EMA. But helping Tories get elected should not be up for discussion – they should be thrown out of every elected post they hold at the earliest opportunity.
Allowing Tory students this new foothold inside NUS is a mistake. Whatever differences Labour-supporting students have over policy – the one thing we must unite around is defeating the Tories and the return of Labour to government. That will be much aided when Labour’s right stops helping the Tories in the student movement.
• Aaron Kiely is NUS Black Students’ Officer and a Labour councillor