The NUS plan to betray the poor

Aaron Porter, NUS president, secretly proposed cutting maintenance grants by £800m to avoid a hike i

The president of the National Union of Students, Aaron Porter, secretly proposed an £800m cut to maintenance grants – which go towards helping the poorest students pay for their living costs at university – in order to avoid a sharp increase in fees.

The plans were put forward in an email to the Business Secretary, Vince Cable, in October, before the release of the Browne review.

Porter defended his position in the Telegraph. "We were asked by Dr Cable to demonstrate how fees could be kept at current levels and on the basis of his request we produced modelling to show how that could be done."

Porter's suggestion to take from the poor to subsidise the middle classes does not sit well with the NUS's attempts to portray coalition plans as an attack on the poorest in society. While tuition fees are now paid back at an affordable rate over 25 years, living costs have to be paid upfront, making maintenance grants absolutely vital to many students.

It is the latest in a string of blunders by the NUS president, who has been marginalised as the movement against increased tuition fees has widened.

When student groups launched a string of occupations last month, Porter dithered before offering his support to them. This support was exposed as lukewarm when the UCL Occupation called on the NUS for legal support and was refused.

In this week's New Statesman, Porter hits out at his critics in the NUS and calls for unity.

"It is disappointing but sadly predictable . . . that in the weeks leading up to the parliamentary vote, focus has shifted to petty squabbles and internal criticism rather than directing all our efforts on applying pressure to influence policy," he writes.

After these revelations, Porter can expect a lot more "internal criticism".

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How the Lib Dems learned to love all-women shortlists

Yes, the sitting Lib Dem MPs are mostly white, middle-aged middle class men. But the party's not taking any chances. 

I can’t tell you who’ll be the Lib Dem candidate in Southport on 8 June, but I do know one thing about them. As they’re replacing a sitting Lib Dem (John Pugh is retiring) - they’ll be female.

The same is true in many of our top 20 target seats, including places like Lewes (Kelly-Marie Blundell), Yeovil (Daisy Benson), Thornbury and Yate (Clare Young), and Sutton and Cheam (Amna Ahmad). There was air punching in Lib Dem offices all over the country on Tuesday when it was announced Jo Swinson was standing again in East Dunbartonshire.

And while every current Lib Dem constituency MP will get showered with love and attention in the campaign, one will get rather more attention than most - it’s no coincidence that Tim Farron’s first stop of the campaign was in Richmond Park, standing side by side with Sarah Olney.

How so?

Because the party membership took a long look at itself after the 2015 election - and a rather longer look at the eight white, middle-aged middle class men (sorry chaps) who now formed the Parliamentary party and said - "we’ve really got to sort this out".

And so after decades of prevarication, we put a policy in place to deliberately increase the diversity of candidates.

Quietly, over the last two years, the Liberal Democrats have been putting candidates into place in key target constituencies . There were more than 300 in total before this week’s general election call, and many of them have been there for a year or more. And they’ve been selected under new procedures adopted at Lib Dem Spring Conference in 2016, designed to deliberately promote the diversity of candidates in winnable seats

This includes mandating all-women shortlists when selecting candidates who are replacing sitting MPs, similar rules in our strongest electoral regions. In our top 10 per cent of constituencies, there is a requirement that at least two candidates are shortlisted from underrepresented groups on every list. We became the first party to reserve spaces on the shortlists of winnable seats for underrepresented candidates including women, BAME, LGBT+ and disabled candidates

It’s not going to be perfect - the hugely welcome return of Lib Dem grandees like Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Julian Huppert to their old stomping grounds will strengthen the party but not our gender imbalance. But excluding those former MPs coming back to the fray, every top 20 target constituency bar one has to date selected a female candidate.

Equality (together with liberty and community) is one of the three key values framed in the preamble to the Lib Dem constitution. It’s a relief that after this election, the Liberal Democratic party in the Commons will reflect that aspiration rather better than it has done in the past.

Richard Morris blogs at A View From Ham Common, which was named Best New Blog at the 2011 Lib Dem Conference

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