Durham University’s NUS presidential candidate, Tom Harwood, has gained media attention with articles appearing in The Huffington Post and The Independent, amongst others, on his self-proclaimed “anti-establishment” agenda.
This April, NUS delegates will be electing a new President at their 2017 UK Conference. Current President Malia Bouattia is standing with the slogan: “For a strong transformative union.” Bouattia’s Vice President, Shakira Martin, is also standing, with the aim of “making education an option for everyone”. Tom Harwood has said he will create “a credible, inclusive NUS” if he is elected.
Speaking on the BBC’s Daily Politics show, Harwood said the NUS is run by “a very narrow group of people that come from an even narrower spectrum of opinion and they’re in no way representing the issues that actually matter to students”.
Formerly the Chairman of the national pro-leave Students for Britain campaign during the EU referendum, Harwood was also a vocal member of the 2016 A Better Durham (ABD) campaign, which aimed to disassociate Durham University from the NUS.
The ABD campaign came away with just 40 per cent of the Durham student vote. Harwood is now seeking to bring about change from within and make what he calls a more “representative” and “democratic” NUS.
Currently, a minority of UK students participate in student politics. The Mancunion reported a 16 per cent turnout in the University of Manchester Student Union’s Executive Team elections, down 36 per cent from last year. However, Harry Newton, the Head Sports Editor, believes that “the fall in turnout may be linked to the crashing of the voting system, Mi-Voice, for periods over Wednesday and Thursday”.
Figures published by market research company Ipsos MORI show that most 18 to 24-year-olds do not vote in national elections, with a 43 per cent turnout in the 2015 general election. The national rate was 66 per cent.
Harwood claims this lack of engagement is a result of student politics being “too serious”. Aiming to engage students in his campaign, Harwood has made heavy use of humour and satire, including pledges to build a statue of Malia Bouattia and to take down ISIS through NUS boycotts.
Promises listed on his website include a “one member one vote” system in all NUS elections, raising the earnings threshold at which further education students start paying back fees and “[lobbying] to lower taxes on alcohol in student bars”.
Summing up his main argument on the Daily Politics, Harwood said: “All of the people within the NUS come from the same political opinion and they rail against the government and sometimes, perhaps, they should focus on presenting a broader spectrum of student opinion that actually exists.”