Tomorrow, thousands of students are expected to descend upon the capital, placards in hand, in the hope their voices will be heard on educational matters. As, of course, is their right.
But, as always, these things come with their own set of controversies.
This time, it comes from an NUS official – the Vice President of Union Development, to be precise – emailing SU officers & posting to Facebook a list of chants which should be distributed amongst activists. Reasonable – until you read them.
The last on this list is the oft-heard “Build a bonfire” chant, which advocates burning both Tories & Lib Dems alike. Now, of course, nobody takes this literally, but it is never-the-less offensive.
Remember the outrage over a certain line about Tony Blair sung at Glee Club? There are differences, of course; it’s about a specific politician, sung amongst a group of like-minded people. I personally don’t like it, and would be the first to say something it people thought it appropriate to sing it at him/about him in front of others.
But that’s the problem here, isn’t it?
For a start, this is a student demo, not a party-specific demo, and so there will be students of all persuasions marching.
Is it really fair to ask them to sing this, or expect them to be surrounded by those gleefully chanting it at the suggestion of an NUS rep? Others on the list refer to Govt or politicians specifically, but this is more general, so more likely to make people uncomfortable. Is it really providing the safe space that, rightly, students should expect from an official event?
The post itself says something to the effect of the chants not being to everyone’s taste – surely that should have been a clue not to suggest them, perhaps?
Now, nobody is saying for one minute this chant would not have appeared anyway – people aren’t naive and there are things you learn to put up with when you join a political party – but to have it actively encouraged is thoughtless and inappropriate.
Liam Burns has said they do not endorse this, and the VP responsible has apologised.
And an apology is enough, of course it is – but it has to be a proper apology, one which recognises why what occurred was wrong, rather than simply saying it was.
As of the time of writing this, however, the post containing the chants is still on the Facebook event page, and no apology has not been made in a visible place, such as on the official NUS site/Facebook page.
And I’m not holding out much hope that this’ll change any time soon.