ACC Liverpool, where this week’s drama was played out. Photo: William Pinkney-Baird.

From Tuesday to Thursday of this week, delegates from across the UK flooded into Liverpool for NUS National Conference. This conference witnessed a massive breakthrough for the left, for a student movement that recognises the need for direct action and is firmly committed to free education.

This is clearly apparent in the candidates elected for the full-time officer positions. Last year, out of the six full-time officer positions, only one candidate from the left was elected (Piers Telemacque for VP Society and Citizenship). This year, four such candidates were elected (Piers was re-elected, Sorana Vieru was elected for VP Higher Education, Shakira Martin was elected for VP Further Education, and Shelly Asquith was elected for VP Welfare). You can find Bright Green’s exclusive interviews with Sorana, Shakira and Shelly here. Beth Redmond, who was standing for National President, lost out to Megan Dunn; and Abdi Suleiman narrowly lost to Richard Brooks for the position of VP Union Development.

The motions passed also show that the left is now winning the argument in NUS. Last year represented a landmark moment in that NUS voted to support free education for the first time in over a decade—but only on the smallest of majorities. This year, the NUS vote to uphold its free education policy, and to extend these principles to Further Education, won on a landslide. NUS also voted to:

  • If the Tories continue in government, have ‘clear and inspiring policies’ to fight them effectively; if Labour wins, demand they implement such policies, including: an end to austerity and the reversal of cuts, taking public ownership and control over the banks, an end to scapegoating of migrants, and strong action on climate change
  • Call for rent controls, encourage student housing co-ops, and support local community housing campaigns that resist eviction and demolition of homes
  • Launch a major campaign to bring back EMA, including national days of action and protest
  • Call for students’ unions to pay the living wage for all staff and and support them in trading where possible in ethical and Fairtrade products and services
  • Work with trade unions and campaigning organisations to call for investment in youth employment, demanding an end to unpaid internships and an end to exploitative zero hours contracts, and supporting young people and students to become trade union members
  • Campaign for the UK to remain a member of the European Union in any EU referendum, and support freedom of movement and equal rights for all
  • Campaign against any attempts to curb the right to protest
  • Oppose the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and the PREVENT strategy

There were a few disappointments, however. The motion calling for means-tested financial support to be replaced by a living grant for all students fell, and time ran out before the call for a national demonstration for free education could be heard.

But all in all, it has been an excellent conference for the left in NUS, marking a very real breakthrough. It is now necessary to ensure that these newly elected officers remain accountable to a mass grassroots student movement, and that these gains can be consolidated against the inevitable backlash from the right, allowing further victories to be won in the future.