How would you say your experiences as a student leader helped you develop as a person and prepare you for the career that you have gone on to fulfil?
I will tell you what I think are the most important elements of it, which is not something that people talk about very much. The people who were involved in NUS, and I don't mean just the executive, I mean the conference, and by the way, the staff actually, generally speaking, are the cleverest people in their generation.
One of the things that I have always believed is that smart people basically rise to the top. Student politics, although it is sometimes sneered at by people: they are all on a ego trip, they're geeks and this, that and the other. The truth of the matter is that student politics is one of the most difficult forcing grounds.
You really have to be able to argue your case, you have to be articulate, you also have to know what you are talking about because there is always going to be some clever clogs who has got another fact.
So if I were to pick out the central attribute that I found in student politics, it was that if you take an NUS conference, it is the assembly of the thousand or so smartest, most aggressive, most ambitious, most cut-throat, but also the most fun people of your generation.
To get into it is very, very hard because you have got to compete to get to conference and then to shine at conference you have got to be really, really good.
Which is why when people say, “Oh, student politicians, they are all careerists and they are all just getting ready to get their seats in parliament”, I say, “Actually that is the wrong way round. What is actually true is that student politics kills off everybody who is a bit substandard or who is mediocre.
It is almost inevitable that people who get through that filter, who succeed in student politics, are going to succeed almost everywhere else in life. Today I meet people in politics obviously, but also in business, three or four chief executives of big companies, FTSE companies that I know were people who I first met in NUS politics.
The same is true in journalism. You have people like David Aaronovitch and so on, who have risen to the top in journalism. So the essential point about student politics is that it is fiercely competitive, it is very difficult to succeed in. If you succeed it in it means that you have learned the lessons, you've honed your skills of argument, intellectual enquiry and so on, and it will serve you well for the rest of your life.
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