Anti-war mood may break Labour hold

March 28, 2003

A wave of anti-war feeling could help the far left break the 20-year Labour Party dominance of the National Union of Students in next Tuesday's elections for NUS president.

There are seven candidates standing for the president's role at the NUS annual conference next week and the "official" socialist candidate Kat Fletcher is a hot favourite, running almost neck and neck with current president Mandy Telford, who represents the Labour Party.

Ms Fletcher and her supporters are hopeful that concern about the war in Iraq, combined with anger over Labour's plans for top-up fees, could help her pip Ms Telford at the post.

"This could be time for the left to win," said Ms Fletcher, who is NUS women's officer. "The mood in students' unions has changed. Not only has the white paper radicalised students but also, of course, the war has caused a massive wave of anger across colleges."

Ms Fletcher is standing on an "Education Not War" slate, a coalition of socialist groups including the Campaign for Free Education, the Socialist Worker Party's student wing SWSS, and the Student Broad Left. Her manifesto promises "a sustained, militant campaign that challenges government" and warns: "If you're not fussed about top-up fees and if you want war on Iraq, vote for one of my opponents."

A rival to Ms Fletcher from the far left is Sukant Chandan, former education officer at Sussex University and a Socialist Labour Party member, who is standing on a "Students Against the War on Terror" slate, that opposes war on Iraq and supports "justice for Palestine". The split of second-preference votes between Mr Chandan and Ms Fletcher could determine the final outcome.

The NUS has been run by a Labour Party president for 18 of the past 20 years.

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