Youth wing call to cut the strings of labour `puppets'

October 8, 1999

Alan Thomson reports from the Conservative Party conference in Blackpool.

Many undergraduates have lost confidence in the leadership of the National Union of Students because they see it as merely the puppet of the Labour Party, according to young Conservatives at the conference.

Gavin Megaw, chairman of Conservative Future, the party's youth wing, said that disenchantment with the NUS leadership could signal the start of a race between Conservatives and left-wing groups for control of the union.

Mr Megaw, the first democratically elected chairman of the Conservative student movement, called on members to stand for election to the NUS to prevent a lurch to the left if Labour Students lose their grip.

Mr Megaw said: "Labour Students have little freedom. They are controlled by Millbank. They seem to be representing the views of government rather than students. The NUS is not motivating the campuses. So, among ordinary students, apathy is rife.

"But it is the left wing, particularly in London, who are leading critics of the NUS leadership. That is why if we do not want to see the NUS dragged to the left then Conservative students should join Conservative Future.

"If they do then they have the chance of standing up at NUS conference and making a difference," he added.

Unfortunately, Conservative Future has been forced to rethink its recruitment campaign after it was threatened with legal action by clothing company French Connection.

The row centred on the mischievous acronyms CFUK, Conservative Future UK, and FCUK, French Connection UK. Mr Megaw said that his organisation had bowed to pressure from French Connection.

Undaunted, Mr Megaw, who, contrary to party policy, is opposed to tuition fees, believes that the pressure on Labour Students will grow because some universities will start charging higher fees for home undergraduates.

"I think some universities will start charging more and people will pay to go to these universities. The question is: is it right that this happens?" he asked.

"If it does happening then Conservatives should support people's rights to go to different universities. However, quality must be insured at every institution," he said.

Having helped reform the Conservative Party's youth wing - Conservative Future was rolled together out of the Conservative Students and Young Conservatives - Mr Megaw is unlikely to see the changes bear fruit.

He is to stand down as chairman in next May's elections to take up a full-time position with the party.

"At least if there is one thing we managed to achieve in Conservative Future, it is to make it normal. It is not a bunch of public schoolboys. It is now about representing the views and needs of ordinary young people," he said.

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