It was a dark and dribbly night, so when David Klemperer handed me a generous glass of vintage Alsace, things were looking up. I was, however, a little surprised by this extravagance. For David is a self-proclaimed socialist, former head of the Labour Club, and now integral member of the liberal OUSU slate: ‘Oh Well, Alright Then’. Nevertheless, David is a man of sense above anything else; and no right-thinking person would ever turn down a vintage Alsace from the John’s bar. It was delicious.
I began the interview by asking the question that everyone wants answered: “what actually is the NUS?” David was gentle. The National Union of Students, he explained, is a centralised institution with which most university student unions affiliate, representing them on a larger scale, providing them with a voice on the national stage.
“Sounds good to me”, I murmured, tucking into my Alsace. “No but it isn’t”, he quickly retorted. For according to David, rather than representing students, the NUS has come to represent itself. The current Vice President, for example, would rather lobby the government on national rent-controls or banning YickYak, than mental health – an issue pertinent to Oxford.
This prioritising of personal politics by NUS big-dogs isn’t new. David went on to cite recent NUS attempts to lobby the UN Security Council, and condemn Russia. All very honourable, but laughably inappropriate for the NUS. David explained how this absurd action, more likely to get us bombed than anything, is perpetuated by a “self-selecting, reinforcing political clique”. In summary: “what you have is a National Union of Students that isn’t about students, it’s about politics … a place where ambitious, self-serving hacks can grandstand to fight their own factional battles within the labour party.” In the words of the Vice President herself: “I will always put my politics before students.” Yuck.
It is for this “blatant disregard for democracy” that ‘Oh Well, Alright Then’, the slate famed for its pledge to ‘away with pointless crap’, started the campaign to get Oxford out of the NUS, and representing itself directly to the government. Indeed the same is happening in universities across the country: Aberystwyth, KCL, Birmingham, Bristol, Westminster and LSE being just some of them.
It would appear that whilst the press has got all excited about the current president, Malia Bouattia, with her ill-fated comments and associations, she is just the tip of the iceberg – and Oxford, that five-star luxury liner, isn’t going to crash into her.