The reports that have been published are highly misleading in various ways, and I wanted to give you a clear picture of where we stand.
The motion that was passed reaffirmed NUS’ opposition to the Act, and related government policies and practices, which Conference believed – and I certainly believe – are creating and exacerbating a growing culture of Islamophobia in the United Kingdom. The Act mandates intrusive and disproportionate action by universities and students’ unions in relation to Muslim students in general, and Islamic Societies in particular, on grounds of ‘preventing violent extremism’. These are false grounds for action, and the relevant measures in the Act are little more than an exercise in scaremongering and scapegoating. There is no evidence that involvement in Islamic societies ‘radicalises’ people; in fact, extreme views expressed within Islamic Societies (ISOCs) are robustly contested and challenged by the societies themselves.
The motion additionally included a ‘resolves’ line setting out that our campaigning work would take place 'alongside civil liberties groups including CAGE' (Conference Resolves 1).
So I want to be clear – as we have been clear right along, including with the media who have been in touch following the motion, and with CAGE themselves – that we have no relationship with CAGE, and will not be working with CAGE in the future.
I am wholly unapologetic about the fact that NUS will not work with CAGE – and am therefore deeply frustrated that the media coverage has seemingly wilfully misrepresented our position, despite a clear and consistent line to them.
CAGE is a deeply problematic organisation. It is clear that its leaders have sympathised with violent extremism, and violence against women, and people associated with the group have sympathised with anti-Semitism. In the past they have aligned themselves with both Hizb-ut Tahrir and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC), which are subject to NUS’s formal No Platform policy.
And this isn’t just the view of NUS – Amnesty International have similarly stated that the views expressed by representatives of CAGE have been unacceptable, and at odds with human rights principles.
It is of course extremely troubling that journalists in major British newspapers have intentionally misrepresented us. The Telegraph (specifically Tim Ross, the Senior Political Correspondent), failed to make any attempt to clarify the true position with us before putting it to the Home Secretary in an interview (we have written to her to explain it properly). Worse, The Times (specifically, John Simpson), deliberately cut off the quote I gave him that read “to clarify, I have absolutely no intention of developing a working relationship - formal or otherwise - with CAGE”. This is a classic case of not letting the truth get in the way of a juicy by-line, and it’s just so depressing whenever any journalist sets aside their duty to tell the truth. So I’m calling him out on it, for all the good it will do, which is probably not much.
We will continue to work to challenge the incoming government on this agenda where we feel that it unfairly discriminates against groups of students, and where it undermines the relationship between universities, colleges and students’ unions. But we will only do so with groups that we feel are more widely compatible with our values, which is not the case with CAGE.