(This is my last ever article for QMessenger, QMSU’s fortnightly newspaper. This issue is due out this week.)
Clare Solomon, I’m with you in Rockland. No, just kidding. Solomon’s defeat last month tells us much. Firstly, schadenfreude is well funny. Secondly, students are not uncaring idiots. Vraj’s surprise victory, by just 178 votes, is a pretty enormous victory for London students and, with luck, students across the country.
After Millbank and the NUS’s National Demo in November 2010, Solomon’s failure to reject the violence of a minority of protestors tore a chasm in what could have been a burgeoning student ‘movement’ (meant loosely, at least). Not only this, she ripped whatever sympathy there was for students from Middle England. Her wobbly interview on Newsnight is now infamous. (‘I didn’t break into the building and I don’t think anybody broke into the building.’ Whoops.) Since her defeat, with further protests and violence at March 26th’s March For The Alternative, it is clear that the groups hijacking the protests to break the law and whack the police are nothing to do with students. If she had condemned the criminality at Millbank, as Aaron Porter had done, any chance of a student movement would not have crumbled long before March 26th, when it was obvious even to the BBC that, with hindsight, the National Demo was not about causing criminal damage. Porter, regardless of the ball he dropped later, was at least prepared to turn on NUS members who were committing acts of violence. Meekly claiming, with others, that Millbank was justifiable for being just one ‘tactic’ was her and the movement’s undoing. And she will always be partly responsible for it.
Vraj’s victory, however small, shows that London students are not ignorant to what Solomon represents. A total number of votes cast of 2,358 is abysmal for a union with 120,000 members. Nobody is saying this was a top day for student democracy. Solomon still commanded nearly half of that vote. But the point is that, with respect to Vraj’s no doubt exemplary vision for ULU, many students voted for the ‘not Clare Solomon’ option. This, in a very minute sense, highlights how far the Left has to go to appeal to students and, more broadly, ordinary voters. With Vraj’s victory, the Left must begin to realise that this hubristic waffle about bringing down the government, of turning Trafalgar Square into Tahrir Square, is exactly the kind of daft buffoonery that is playing into the hands of liberals and conservatives. When the only opposition to the cuts is spouting about the dictatorship of the proletariat, it’s no wonder everybody assumes these protests are run by anarchists and revolutionaries. When the news pictures covering opposition to the cuts are dominated by either windows getting smashed, police officers being punched, student leaders washing their hands or worried Trade Union secretaries shrugging and sweating, is it surprising the Coalition can do whatever the hell it wants?
Vraj must begin by sweeping away Solomon’s sympathy with revolution and anti-capitalist pillow talk. These are noble aims, but people are selfish. In the new austerity, nobody cares about historical materialism. They want a strong opposition, one that stands for peaceful protest, for progress, equality, fairness, accessible education, the protection of public services, jobs and pensions, the right to an equal start in life for them and their children. The student Left must get on side and drop this destructive ambivalence toward violence. With strong leadership and consensus on the issues that matter (not driving a bin through HSBC), ULU can in 2011 be an effective base for opposing the cuts to higher education. Over to you, Vraj. So long, Clare Solomon, and thanks for all the fists.