The National Union of Students will support a major demonstration against austerity and for free education, in a reversal of a decision which was taken little over a month ago.
The first meeting of the newly-elected national executive committee, held on 20 July, also passed a motion of censure against Megan Dunn, the national president, for allegedly failing to properly implement the union’s boycott of Israel.
It was just seven weeks ago that the NEC voted against supporting a demonstration being organised by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts for 4 November, with outgoing president Toni Pearce using her casting vote to block the move.
The issue has divided union branches, with some fearing that a repeat of the violence seen in a 50,000-strong demonstration in 2010 may harm the student cause and others voicing concern about the cost of the event and expressing doubt about the level of support that it is likely to attract.
But the new NEC is perceived to be more left-wing than its last incarnation, leading to the fresh vote.
The motion which was passed by the committee requires Ms Dunn to issue a statement in support of the demonstration, and states that the union should pay for and conduct a risk assessment for the demonstration.
Among the motion’s seconders were Shelly Asquith, the NUS’ vice-president (welfare), Piers Telemacque, the vice-president (society and citizenship), and several other full-time officers.
Mr Telemacque was also among the seconders of the motion of censure against Ms Dunn, which focuses on the acceptance of sponsorship from Coca-Cola for the NUS Awards held earlier this month.
The motion says that Coca-Cola is a target for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement which aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel to recognise Palestinian rights, and that the NUS is signed up to this campaign.
Despite pressure to apologise for accepting the sponsorship, the NUS instead decided that working with the soft drinks company was not against BDS policy and issued a statement saying that the union “prides itself” on its relationship with partners such as Coca-Cola.
As well as formally censuring Ms Dunn, the motion requires her, with Richard Brooks, the vice-president (union development), to “publish a formal apology stating that it was a mistake to accept Coca-Cola’s sponsorship and that this, and previous NUS statements, broke the policy of the union”.
The events come on the same day that Prime Minister David Cameron launched a stinging attack on the NUS for what he claimed was allying itself with CAGE, an advocacy group that was accused of being an apologist for the terrorist known as Jihadi John.
"When you choose to ally yourselves with an organisation like CAGE, which called Jihadi John a ‘beautiful young man’ and told people to 'support the jihad' in Iraq and Afghanistan it really does, in my opinion, shame your organisation and your noble history of campaigning for justice," Mr Cameron is reported to have said in a speech on tackling extremism.
The NUS said in a statement that his comments were "misleading" because "as previously and categorically stated, we will not work with CAGE in any capacity".
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