What a month it was for Aaron Porter, NUS President. The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford looks back at the lows and lows of a Tory low-life and bids farewell.
On the 29th January, Aaron Porter was invited to speak at the closing rally of the NUS/UCU “A Future that Works” demonstration in Manchester. As protesters gathered at the starting point on Oxford Road, about thirty activists from Hull and Leeds Universities accosted Porter and demanded that he justify his record. Instead of engaging with the students, Porter turned and hurried off. In true Benny Hill style, he found himself being followed by a growing number of demonstrators. Within a couple of minutes he was literally being chased through the streets of Manchester by almost half of those who had gathered for the march – perhaps about five hundred people – with chants including “Students, workers, hear us shout, Aaron Porter sold us out” and “Porter – out”. Eventually he took refuge in Manchester Metropolitan Union, protected by a heavy cordon of riot police.
Unsurprisingly, Porter did not turn up to speak at the closing rally. NUS Vice-President and Further Education officer, Shane Chowan spoke in Porter’s place. He was drowned out by hostile chanting and pelted with eggs and was unable to finish his speech. Most of the speakers were heckled repeatedly.
After the rally, about a thousand students marched back into the city center. They were met by a huge and violent police presence, and were kettled in central Manchester’s Deangate.
The following day, the Telegraph and the Daily Mail reported that during Porter’s pursuit through the streets of Manchester, he was subjected to racial taunts and chanting. The Mail’s article was titled: “Student leader faces barrage of anti-Jewish abuse at rally as protesters accuse him of being a Tory.”
When activists contacted the two newspapers, The Mail claimed a photographer was the sole source of their story but refused to name him. The Telegraph said there were only two sources for their story, a PA photographer, and the NUS itself. The NUS official who heard the chants, is “believed to be an aide to Porter”, an NUS Press Officer said: “We cannot allow you to speak to the person directly. There is an ongoing police investigation into the allegations, and we feel it is not appropriate to discuss the matter.”
In an email to NUS members printed in the Financial Times, Porter said; “Just before the march started, I was surrounded by a particularly vicious minority of protesters more intent on shouting threatening and racist abuse at me rather than focusing on the issues.” On January 30th, He sent a tweet that read: “I Will not back down to intimidation, and certainly not to racial abuse”, and in a Times article on January 31st he wrote of the protest: “However, before I was able to speak to the rally of thousands, a small group of people started to chant abuse to try to intimidate me, and there were audible anti-Semitic comments.”
Porter later admitted that he had not himself heard any racial abuse “The NUS had only confirmed the story when journalists contacted them for a comment”. In a statement through the NUS Press Office, Porter said: “I was not certain what was said by those shouting abuse at me, however I was informed by others present that amongst other things anti-Semitic comments were made. I have not made a specific complaint to the police as I did not clearly hear the contents of the chants myself.”
Allegations of racist chanting or abuse have been strongly denied and contemptuously shrugged off as a highly cynical attempt to salvage a sinking political career.
Two YouTube videos have emerged since the protest. One shows the moments before Porter was escorted into the Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union. Another substantially longer one, which is largely uncut, shows most of the protest. At no point are there anti-Semitic chants, nor chants of “no to racism,” which was reported in the Telegraph article but not in the Mail.
There was a BBC reporter outside Manchester Metropolitan Students’ Union where Porter was taken. The BBC news reports made no mention of anti-Semitic chants.
Like the WMDs in Iraq, this looks like noxious New Labour spin. May be the weapons will turn up and video evidence of racial abuse will be made available, but I doubt it. Although no eyewitnesses have come forward to corroborate the Mail or Telegraph‘s claims, several have come forward to say that they heard no racist abuse.
A member of the Campaign Against Fees and Cuts said on their website: “We were at the front of the crowd which chased Porter, and thus would have heard any racist chants – let alone a “barrage”! We were also in possession of two of the four megaphones involved”.
Josie Hooker, a student at the University of Manchester was about 15 metres away from Porter for the majority of the march. She also claimed not to have heard anti-Semitic chants or the chants of “no to racism”. “At no point did I hear anti-Semitic abuse and at no point did I hear anyone shout ‘no to racism,’” she said. “Due to my position on the march, I believe that if a 20 strong group of people were shouting ‘no to racism’ in response to anti-Semitic or racist abuse, myself or one of the 15-20 odd friends and acquaintances present in various positions among the protesters would have heard it.”
She also suggested that the photographer who heard the chant “Tory Jew Scum” simply miss-heard “you’re a fucking Tory too,” which was chanted throughout the protest.
Peter Campbell, a medical student from Newcastle, also claimed to have heard no racial abuse. Referring to the “Aaron Porter we know you, you’re a fucking Tory too” chant, he said: “It is a chant of disgust at a man who has repeatedly set back the student movement. It is certainly not pleasant, it’s not meant to be. However, it is not anti-Semitic.”
Chris Marks, from the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, when asked if there were any anti-Semitic chants said: “Absolutely and categorically not. I was at the front of the group which instigated the protest. If there had been anti-Semitic chants we would have heard and challenged it. Anything shouted was jovial.”
On the 12th February, Porter was in need of police protection again, when he was chased through the streets of Glasgow. As he left the Labour Students Conference at Glasgow University, where he had been speaking, he encountered a group of student activists. Occupiers from Glasgow University, who are battling against cuts on their campus.
The protesters crowded around the entrance as he left. In the words of one protester: “Having been sacrificed to us by his Labour bosses, so they could clear the door of the clearly terrifying mob, Aaron was kettled by us. Much screaming of “I don’t expect to be filmed!” and “I don’t want to be hit!” followed – nobody was hitting him, in fact he broke someone’s camera.- until he did a total comedy run away”. Showing uncharacteristic swift and decisive action, Porter immediately dived between one of the protesters’ legs and fled. Porter was forced into hiding somewhere on the Glasgow University campus. Even the Labour Club didn’t know where he was hiding. It’s an indictment of the disgraceful policies of the NUS leadership when even the Labour Students and Young Labour delegates appeared, to say the least, unconcerned about Porter’s wereabouts.
Porter’s recent betrayals began when he condemned the occupation of Millbank, whilst keeping silent about the much more extreme police violence. Secondly he flip-flopped, saying he had been “spineless”. He announced support for student occupations and promised he would obtain legal aid for occupiers which he didn’t do. Then he voted against NUS support for an anti-fees demo, instead choosing to back a useless “candelit vigil”.
The Daily Telegraph reported on 8th December that they have seen emails from Porter to the Government, leaked by his close associates. Trying to persuade ministers at the Department for Business to enact their planned 15 per cent cut in higher education funding without lifting the cap on fees. The NUS leadership urged ministers to cut grants and loans as an alternative to raising tuition fees. Aaron was ready to call for cuts of up to £800 million in grants behind the back of students.
In one email to the Department for Business, dated Oct 1, Porter suggested that £800 million should be “deducted from the grants pot” over four years. That would cut total spending on grants by 61 per cent. Porter also proposed the “introduction of a real rate of interest” for student loans.
In an email the following day, Graeme Wise, an NUS political officer, urged ministers seeking cuts to start with the “student support” package of grants and loans. Graeme Wise also suggested that the cuts in support could be imposed on students currently at university.The NUS’ plans also called for 2.4 billion to be cut from the universities’ teaching budget over four years, a reduction of 48 per cent.
The NUS have also been calling on NUS officers at different universities not to oppose hikes in fees, describing them as “relatively progressive” – completely at odds with what they said publicly. Another leaked memo told NUS officers to “engage” with university leaders rather than campaign for lower fees.
In response, the President of Cambridge University Students’ Union, Rahul Mansigani, said: “It is disappointing that anyone views as progressive a scheme that students up and down the country have campaigned against”.
Porter has been universally condemned by both students and NUS officers as a “sell-out”, a Tory and a careerist. He has been accused of giving into the government without a fight; spending more time condemning student protesters than arguing against the tuition fee rise; and more concerned with ingratiating himself with politicians than standing up for students
When newly elected, last summer he said in a Guardian interview, he would “define success as ensuring that a market in fees does not emerge”. Failure, he said, “would be a real market in fees coupled with cuts from the government”.
The Guardian interviewed him again on the 28th February and asked him, How then can you possibly claim to have been a success? His responses were almost delusional: “I still believe we’ve run a successful high-profile campaign. A disastrous campaign would be one that made no impact whatsoever. This made an indelible imprint in the public’s consciousness and in the political landscape. Did we get what we wanted? No, we didn’t. Would I have signed up to the proposals for trebled tuition fees? Not in a million years. But I think it would be wrong of me to say that this was not a successful campaign. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say the coalition was under real pressure.”
The VOAG would argue that the campaign’s impact was achieved not by the NUS, but by the occupations and by the protesters, condemned by Porter, who invaded Millbank Tower back in November. Had students not organised outside the NUS structures, and had they not stormed Millbank; had 50,000 students simply marched peacefully through London, tuition fees would not have developed into the high-profile issue it has become.
Many Liberal Democrat candidates signed an NUS pledge before the election that they would vote against any fee increase. The breaking of this pledge by the Lib Dem leadership became a focus for Porter. Porter declared to the guardian “Committing them to oppose any rise in tuition fees was a master-stroke”. The journalist replied: “Well it would have been a master stroke, I agree, if the Lib Dems had felt bound by it – but in the event they just tore it up”.
“I still think that it was a remarkable campaign tactic”, said Porter. “Because the pledge meant that one of the parties could not run away from it”. “It was the most effective campaign of 2010”.
“But they did run away from it”, replied the journalist, “didn’t they”? “They did,” he conceded, without missing a beat. “The preferred outcome from the pledge would’ve been that the Liberal Democrats stuck to it – but they didn’t.”
On the 21st February, Porter announced he would not be standing for re-election in the Student Union elections in April. Porter said that the campaign over fees is “moving into a different landscape” and the union needs a new president.
In an email to members, Porter wrote: “So this new regime brings with it a new landscape, and I believe the NUS needs reinvigorating to enter into the next phase of this campaign. After considerable soul-searching, I believe there needs to be a new President to lead the student movement into that next phase. As a result, I’ve resolved not to seek re-election at the National Conference this year”.
This is only the second time in over 40 years that an NUS President has not run for a second year in office. In a guardian interview following his announcement, Porter maintained he would be certain to win the presidency if he chose to stand. “Oh, without a doubt”. He predicted the NUS will elect a successor very much in his “image” – and said his tenure “had been a terrific success”.
Regarding the student protests, he told the Guardian, “I cannot see, on the issue of tuition fees, how illegal protest is helpful.” “Well tuition fees, whilst I disagree with them, are not the biggest evil in society. It is not the worst decision that the Labour government made to introduce them, and it is not the worst decision this coalition has made to increase them.”
He concluded his Guardian interview with: “For me the question is about what next year would’ve been like. And I think that the NUS, and also me personally, need to be able to draw a line under the tuition fee debate, and I suspected that my continuation as NUS president would’ve inhibited us to move on from the tuition fee issue”.
Aaron Porter then, leaves us with a sigh of resignation for the inevitable. ‘We lost, now lets move on’. The Voice Of Anti-Capitalism in Guildford also gives a sigh, a sigh of utter contempt. What a waste of space.
There’s nothing inevitable about the education cuts, fee rises, or the implementation of the Bologna process and the marketisation of education. There is everything to play for. Education is only one area of the public sector that is under attach from the ConDem government. Workers And Students Unite is not an empty slogan, together we can stop all cuts. There is an alternative, but we must first see the end of this government.The TUC National demonstration on the 26th March is the first step and a spring-board to develop anti-cuts groups in every town, college and university in Britain.There are coaches subsidised by Surrey Unison leaving from Staines, Woking, Guildford and Redhill. Everybody is welcome. Tickets are only £2.00 Rtn. You can buy a ticket on-line at http://www.saveourservic.es or email:firstname.lastname@example.org