Conference, we are appalled…
The apolitical SU lover
“Don’t you think SUs are amazing?” they ask you. You’re at the NUS conference. Of course you’re a fan of student unions. “No but, like, just so so amazing?” Yes. You agree. You just want to get a coffee right now, okay? “Oh yeah, sure, but like SUs amiright? So great.” OK. YES. THEY’RE BRILLIANT. ARE YOU HAPPY NOW? CAN WE GET BACK TO THE CONFERENCE? “Oh, I don’t like to get too involved with it here. I just want to be the best part of my SU that I can be. That shouldn’t be about politics, it should be about students.”
The ageing Trotskyite
On the observers’ balcony, your neighbour leans over to you. He’s wearing straight-leg jeans and a plain black t-shirt, with short brown hair. He looks older than many of the delegates, you notice. “This your first conference?” he asks. You tell him yes, and you’re really enjoying it. “What about you? Have you been before?” you ask him, politely. He sighs, with the demeanour of someone just returned from a 4 year ordeal in the Australian outback. “This is my fourteenth.”
The cynical student hack
Dressed in a floor-length trench coat, sunglasses and Doc Martens, he tries to sneak into a faction meeting for ~the scoop~. He gets kicked out. He tries again. He gets kicked out. He tries again. Finally he slopes back to his laptop and writes a comment piece about how the NUS isn’t about students anymore, and submits it to the Spectator. In 20 years’ time he’ll be editing the Telegraph. He’ll be the editor of the Telegraph and what will you be doing, huh? What will you be doing?
The token right-winger
“Actually, austerity is good”, a voice pipes up behind you in a queue for coffee. But you weren’t even talking about austerity, and besides, you don’t know this person. You turn, and fix him with a confused stare. “Sorry, do we know you?” “I’m just saying, austerity can be a good thing. I have free speech! I can say what I like!” he replies. You turn away. All you want is a coffee. “Sorry, did I trigger you?” he calls out. You give up on the coffee and walk away. He’s still mumbling about jazz hands. Why do they always talk about jazz hands?
The first-year who doesn’t understand Israel-Palestine
When, inevitably, the topic of BDS appears, they shrink down in their seat on conference floor. They abstain from a vote. When asked why, they’ll tell you that they want to represent all students at their university, and don’t feel like they should take a side on this one. That evening, after more than a few drinks, they’ll confess to you that they don’t have a clue what West Bank is. “Is it, like, an actual bank? Like with money?” they ask. You try to explain in simple, neutral terms but you can see them staring back at you without comprehension. Fuck it. Get another vodka-lemonade.
The single-issue campaigner
“Conference, I would like to talk about places for wildlife on campus.” Who gave this person a microphone, you wonder. They’ve been talking about badgers for 20 minutes now, and it isn’t even on the conference floor. Just a random speech in the foyer. Later they hijack an available speech against an unrelated motion, to explain why foxes need liberation as much as we do, and calls for a Liberation Group for Laboratory Animals. You wonder if they think about any other issues. They don’t.
As you sit for a moment on Brighton beach, attempting to clear your head and remember what air tastes like when several thousand delegates aren’t all sucking it in to fuel their speeches on the HE Bill, you hear them. They’re talking animatedly down a phone, using phrases like “diverse managerial motivations” and “post-quality assessment insurance”. The waves lap gently on the shore but with their constant babble you know you can’t relax now. As you get up to go back inside, you hear it: “Yes, I can definitely start Monday. And I’ll try to pick up some contacts back in the conference today. Pleasure talking to you.” Ah, that’s why they’re here.
The really, really factional one
You strike up a conversation with them as you’re both smoking. They look stressed. “Well, Alicia doesn’t want to vote for the amendment to Motion 6g80x but I told her, we need to vote as a block. How petty can you be? Just because she feels like it isn’t “her politics” she wants to ruin this for the rest of us? If “her politics” aren’t like that, then why is she even in this? We need to be together on this one, otherwise we’re just handing it to ‘Them’. That’s just, like, how NUS works.” You nod sympathetically, then realise you have no idea what faction she’s part of. Is it your faction? Do you even have a faction? God, you’re tired.
The nice one
It’s only day two, but you want to go home. When you close your eyes, you see visions of Netflix, soup and a warm bed. As you sink down against a wall, trying to find the energy for another debate on the NSS boycott, a kind voice drifts your way. “Are you okay, love?” Suddenly, with the calm concern of a nurse talking to an old man in Tesco, someone is handing you a cup of tea. “Don’t worry, not much further to go now”, they promise. Tiredly you wonder if you’ve ever met anyone quite so nice in your time at university. Do such people exist? Is your tea-bearing angel just a hallucination as you will yourself to stay awake for the election? Do people actually know how to be nice these days? They’re probably from the Nations.