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by Bhadra Sreejith, News Editor
Tom Harwood, who ran for NUS delegate on a satirical campaign in which he promised to defeat ISIS through NUS boycotts, has announced that he will be running for NUS President.
The 20-year-old Politics student at Durham mocked the “irrelevant grandstanding” of student union leaders during his NUS Delegate campaign, promising to build a statue of Malia Bouattia, the current NUS President. “We are a student movement. We should fight for student issues, not involve ourselves in foreign policy or call to abolish the monarchy. That way lies irrelevance and illegitimacy,” he told The Beaver.
The anti-establishment candidate’s current campaign also includes satirical elements, such as ensuring “every lecture begins with a pledge of allegiance to the NUS”, ridding the world of nuclear weapons, and starting construction of a death star, thereby ensuring jobs for all graduates.
More seriously, Harwood pledges to “make the NUS ever so slightly less terrible” by campaigning on student issues, not geopolitical issues, and allowing students across the UK to vote for their NUS President: currently, only elected delegates from institutions can vote.
His manifesto includes pledges to lobby the government to take international students out of migration statistics as well as for lower taxes in student bars. It also includes a commitment to turn back the “wave of anti-Semitism on campuses across the country”. In an interview with the Jewish Chronicle, he said “It’s really quite questionable how the NUS has only ever passed boycott measures against one country – and it happens to be the Jewish state.”
The NUS has been accused of being antisemitic in the past. Malia Bouattia’s comment in 2011 that Birmingham University had become a “Zionist outpost” met with outrage from prominent Jewish groups across the country, and caused her to be censured by a group of MPs who called her comments “outright[ly] racist”. An internal investigation recommended that Malia Bouattia apologise for her comments but face no disciplinary action.
“My issue is that the NUS doesn’t represent students any more, and it hasn’t done for a long time,” Tom Harwood told the BBC. “It’s run by a very narrow group of people who come from an even narrower spectrum of opinion and they’re in no way representing the issues that actually matter to students.”
Speaking exclusively to The Beaver, Harwood said “I am fighting to win. This race is bigger than personalities, it’s about the survival and credibility of the student movement as a whole. It’s clear that there needs to be a change in direction… I think we all feel that the student movement sometimes takes itself too seriously. Some jokes and some fun are needed, alongside the serious issues. My balance has been great at engaging students who would not normally be involved. The NUS has been hijacked by an extreme group from the far left of politics, and moderate voices are being hounded out of the organisation. It has got to stop.”
Harwood’s campaign has received much attention on Facebook and Twitter, but only NUS delegates are allowed to vote in the elections, which use the Single Transferable Vote system, like the LSE. Hannah Kaufman, who is one of LSE’s two NUS delegates, said that she is currently “speaking to the candidates, assessing their manifestos and seeing if they are willing to listen to my concerns with NUS at the moment”. Muhummed Cassidy, who is LSE’s other NUS delegate, said that he would be “reviewing the list of candidates running in due course”. Kaufman mentioned that she had been speaking to members of student societies to take into account their views, while Cassidy didn’t make it clear if he would be doing the same.
The vote on the next president of the NUS is from the 25-27 April. Along with Tom Harwood, incumbent Malia Bouattia and Vice-President for Further Education Shakira Martin will be standing for election.