Lancaster students propose Vote of No Confidence in national president

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Photo by Tom Skarbek-Wazynski

An activist group of students at Lancaster are proposing that LUSU follows calls from several other universities for the National Union of Students (NUS) President Aaron Porter to resign.

Just two months before the annual NUS Conference is staged in Gateshead, Porter is facing a battle to retain the leadership of the Union.

At a meeting of the local student group Lancaster University Against Cuts in week four they decided to bring four motions to the General Meeting which is due to be held in week five. The motions are aimed at getting LUSU to take a harder line against education cuts and tuition fee rises.

The first motion they will bring to the General Meeting is to directly back the calls of a Vote of No Confidence (VNC) in Porter. As part of this, the students present would be voting to “mandate the President to call for an Extraordinary Conference to hear this vote of no confidence.”

The NUS is a confederation of over 600 students’ unions and rules require 20 student bodies to propose and vote in favour of a VNC against the president to force an emergency NUS Conference. At that conference, a vote would be held to decide if the officer was able to continue with their term in office.

That wouldn’t be the only requirement of LUSU Full Time Officers (FTOs) if the motions were passed. The second proviso is, crucially, “that LUSU delegates, including the LUSU President, will under no circumstances vote for Aaron Porter to retain the Presidency at the NUS National Conference in April, or at any subsequent conference.”

Lancaster University‘s Students‘ Union (LUSU), as with every other students’ union affiliated with the NUS, will be sending delegates to the conference in April. The election for president will take place at the conference and Porter is yet to confirm if he will follow in the footsteps of his predecessor, Wes Streeting, who successfully ran for a second term in office.

The likelihood of the motions being passed appears to be slim. In his recent speech to University Court, LUSU President Robbie Pickles stated that “LUSU has forged stronger links with the political minds of the NUS” and that LUSU had been “supporting Aaron Porter as the moderate to lead the national union”. He went on to say he shared Porter’s “conviction and his direction”. When asked on his support of Porter, Pickles said he believed students should be “united as a movement” and that he would support Porter whilst he was still President of the NUS. However, when asked about the forthcoming conference, Pickles said he would not decide on who he would vote for as NUS President until he saw the candidates.

Chris Witter, a member of Lancaster University Against Cuts, has clear views on the way in which students’ unions should vote at the NUS Conference. “We’ve seen a mass student anti-cuts movement develop in recent months that has far outstripped all expectations. Not only has Porter consistently betrayed both this movement and the interests of student in general, but he has done his utmost to sabotage and undermine both this movement and student interests in general.”

Witter added: “Whatever way you look at it, Aaron Porter is betraying students: whether through his careerist collaboration with an anti-intellectual and philistine government or through his sheer incompetence. He must go now.”

This focus of universities nationwide on Porter rather than the body he heads seems to reflect the feeling that his leadership of the NUS has been disappointing.
Witter is certainly of that opinion. He argues that “whichever way you look at it, Aaron Porter is betraying students: whether through his careerist collaboration with an anti-intellectual and philistine government or through his sheer incompetence. He must go now. “

Continuous pressure on Porter’s leadership from across the country climaxed on Saturday, January 29 when a Manchester based protest against public spending cuts and the rise in tuition fees turned aggressive and resulted in the NUS President being escorted away by the police for his own safety. Porter was subject to chants such as “students, workers, hear our shout; we want Aaron Porter out” and his deputy, Shane Chowen, was the target of apple cores and eggs, when he took to the stage to address the crowd.

Since December several students’ unions have proposed a VNC against Porter. The School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) held a Union General Meeting on Friday December 10, 2010 and their Union Secretary, Elly Badcock, successfully proposed a VNC. Speaking to SCAN Badcock was keen to state she did not think the “NUS is irrelevant” but had proposed the vote because students “want the leadership of our national union to stand up and fight against cuts – something Porter has repeatedly refused to do”.

Badcock went on to condemn Porter’s recent actions and his comments to the media, saying “he has characterised the student protests as extremist and unrepresentative, and refused to call more NUS-backed national demonstrations save last Saturday’s in Manchester. A VNC against Porter shows he’s the unrepresentative one, and increases the pressure for a union leader willing to properly represent students fighting against cuts.”

A Facebook group called It is time to go Aaron Porter – we need a fighting NUS has also been created, and has already attracted just under 1000 members. The group declares their reasons for not supporting Porter are down to his “failure to call or even back another National Demonstration, his refusal to back up his promises of support for occupations, his weak stance on police brutality and his collusion with the Government in identifying cuts means that he has lost the confidence of the movement”.

When Aaron Porter spoke to SCAN in week three he played down talks of a VNC with a diplomatic response. “Students’ unions are incredibly democratic organisations, and if one student would like an issue discussed then that is the case, but this does not mean it’s a widespread opinion.”

He added that he felt “the overwhelming majority of students and students’ unions, believe that NUS’ campaign has helped to raise the profile of student issues this year in a responsible and relentless fashion.”

On the subject of his own and the NUS’ stance on some of the more militant protesting, which has attracted criticism from some students as not being conducive to a unite student body, Porter stood firm. “It was right that NUS condemned violence, in order to protect public support.” His confidence in the backing he has from students and his awareness of the situation were clear. “Only two students’ unions have passed votes of no confidence (SOAS and Birkbeck), but the same motion has been resoundingly defeated in countless other SUs, who have endorsed NUS’ position, and my leadership.”

The proposed motions from Lancaster University Against Cuts also go on to call for more than just Porter’s resignation. At the general meeting they will propose that LUSU should immediately promise to actively back two upcoming protests, in February and March, the first of which will be aimed locally at University management as they decide the fees to charge in 2012.
The second protest is London based and aimed nationally, and organised by the NUS, indicating that the lack of support for Porter doesn’t necessarily reflect on the Union. The motions ask that LUSU get as involved in this protest, to be held on March 26, as eagerly as they did for the November 24 national protest in London.

The extent of the involvement expected from LUSU by Lancaster University Against Cuts is clearly outlined. Should the third motion, involving participation in protests, be passed, the Students’ Union must “Fully support this protest and all further NUS sponsored protests”; “Provide free or subsidised transport for March 26 and all subsequent NUS sponsored protests”; “Use its resources to advertise these protests and transport”; and “Encourage its officers to help organise and to attend these protests”.

The last motion to be proposed is that LUSU should immediately begin to “work with staff unions on campus to build a campaign to defend staff jobs and student services from cuts”. Members of the University and Colleges Union (UCU) who teach at the University already attended the march in November alongside the students representing Lancaster.

In a bid to show a united front with tutors and staff who are also being faced with cuts, the motion states that LUSU should “Support staff strike actions” and “Demand that University management brings to the attention of LUSU, students and all trade unions its plans for restructuring of staffing and of university services.”

More than this, in the eyes of Lancaster University Against Cuts LUSU should take a more active role as a prominent Students’ Union and “Coordinate closely with other staff unions, taking an active role in organizing meetings and action against damaging restructuring plans, redundancies, changes to pensions and working conditions.”

The general meeting where these motions will be made is to be held on Tuesday week five. All students are permitted to attend.