Talking dissatisfaction and disaffiliation with NUS: Let Cambridge Decide’s Adam Crafton

Jack Whitehead 12 May 2016

The hotly debated topic of NUS affiliation reached a new level last week when the CUSU council voted to hold a referendum on the subject, with 36 votes for, and 10 against. The referendum is set to be held between the 17th and the 20th of May, and will allow students to have their say on the NUS’s direction.

Brought forward by the founder of the NUS: Let Cambridge Decide campaign, Jack May, the motion was seconded by Adam Crafton, a 4th Year MML student at Homerton, who I caught up with to learn more.

For Adam, Monday night ‘went as well as we’d hoped’. Now that the referendum has opened up the possibility for debate, it's a case of waiting for the other side to respond, and to hear the other side of the argument. What that is, remains to be seen, but what is the argument of those advocating disaffiliation?

Adam sees the campaign as ‘a reactionary response to the presidency of Malia Bouattia, who has engaged in what we deem to be anti-Semitic rhetoric, voicing tropes of Jewish power and Jewish influence. We feel the NUS is failing in its capacity as a leading exemplar of diversity and equality’

Whilst it might feel like the campaign has been directed at Malia as an individual up to this point, Adam assures me this is not the case. ‘I have no issue with her having her private views, she’s more than free to think whatever she likes, but when you are representing seven million students nationwide, and using the word ‘we’ on national television […] it seems crazy to me that someone clearly so intelligent can be so careless when it comes to anti-Semitic rhetoric.’

Representation is the key issue: ‘No minority group should be told that you have to stand as a delegate to ensure equal representation, to be spoken about without hostility in 2016.’

So Malia is representative of a NUS that Adam doesn’t want to be a part of. But Adam isn’t a part of it. He is represented by CUSU which in turn is represented by its representatives at the NUS Conference. So how does the NUS actually impact a student’s life here at Cambridge?

‘This is something that CUSU have to outline. Many of us don’t know the nature of the relationship between CUSU and the NUS. In terms of what we stand to lose, there is a financial consequence, but I would argue that any minority group which is feeling unrepresented in 2016 over rights – [the maintenance of this state of affairs is] incomparable to the possible loss of a couple of grand.’

Maybe I’ve misunderstood, but as far as I can work out, the NUS doesn’t give out money, it takes it, in the form of membership. Adam does admit that’s it up to current CUSU president Priscilla to explain the extent to which CUSU depends on the NUS though – it seems no one is really sure what the NUS does for us.

As a result, it seems that CUSU is as much under the spotlight as the NUS. I ask Adam if the conflation of internal problems within CUSU, and the broader problem of NUS affiliation, is a problem.

‘I see them as two totally separate things. At no point have we being saying this is a motion against CUSU. They were hugely supportive of what we were saying on Monday night.’ Ironically, it seems an emphasis on working together is central to this campaign; Adam makes it quite clear that this isn’t just a problem that Jewish members of our community should be concerned with, but rather one that all Cambridge students have a stake in.

Indeed, although set off by Malia’s comments, the campaign isn’t solely about her connection to the NUS, but is rather about the nature of the NUS more generally. While I can’t say I’ve ever given the NUS a second thought (apart from the 10% off it gives you at pizza hut), Adam reckons ‘we’ve all heard things about the NUS that are a little bit peculiar.’

‘Now that disengagement with the organisation has become so high, it has allowed really quite concerning politics to come to the forefront of the institution. All across the spectrum there is now recognition of internal issues which the NUS needs to consider.’ This is particularly troubling when the NUS has a mandate to represent students fairly across the board on all student issues. Adam sees this coming before all the other not specifically student related engagements that the NUS is involved with.

‘When it comes to an issue like the Israel-Palestine conflict that divides everyone, I find it strange that there is a need [on the NUS’s behalf] to take a clear position. I also find it quite weird that the NUS is expected to condemn ISIS. I don’t really see how that is a priority for the NUS Conference.’

‘I’d much rather see an NUS that is focused on issues for students studying in Britain, and ensuring that their lives on campus are as comfortable as possible. Adopting positions on debates such as the Israel-Palestine conflict can [negatively] affect the lives of students in Britain.’

In contrast, ‘when they are fighting against [things like] Prevent, that is exactly what they should be doing, because that is effecting the lives of Muslim students on campuses in Britain.’ The ultimate problem of the NUS? ‘There seems to be this feeling of having to change the world.’

Would disaffiliation from the NUS allow for similar problems arising within Cambridge itself? ‘In Cambridge we have a community that is highly aware, and we have highly vocal and autonomous liberation campaigns. I think we’re doing that as our own community, without the NUS. We can do all this without an organisation that is failing to represent all of us on a national level.’

So no one has come forward yet strongly advocating remaining with the NUS? It seems not, but the NUS: Let Cambridge Decide campaign are waiting for these arguments to come forward. If we were to disaffiliate, does Adam see us rejoining NUS down the line?

‘The hope is that this current national issue will startle the NUS into greater reform.’ Adam believes ‘we would be stronger with a NUS that represents everyone fairly’, but at the moment this isn’t the case. We’ll have to wait and see what comes of the referendum; maybe when they reform they can increase their discounts at pizza hut as well.