#TBT: Conference stories

Thursday 20-04-2017 - 17:13

To coincide with next week’s National Conference and #ThrowBackThursday, we asked our staff to share their strangest memories from past conferences. From candidate doubles to last minute demonstrations, the response has been quite something…

The candidate look-alike conspiracy of 1982

“I attended NUS Conference in April 1982, I didn't realise it at the time but it was a bit of a watershed event. NUS had since 1975 elected "Broad Left" candidates an alliance of Communist, Clause four Labour, independent socialists and the odd liberal. The previous year the National Organisation of Labour Students (NOLS) withdrew from the alliance and the Broad Left changed its name to the Left Alliance and it was under this banner that David Aaronovitch had been re-elected the year before.

“Neil Stewart of NOLS was the first of a series of Labour Student Presidents, but at that time it was by no means certain that NOLS would continue to be successful. This picture was published in the NUS Newspaper "National Student" noting that Neil had had to deploy doubles at the conference to enhance his networking and get elected. Of course most people had beards then as now - I have learned over the years if you stick with it you just go in and out of fashion with little or no effort.  As you entered the conference floor for Hustings NUS Staff had a chalk board offering betting odds, not something you would see today. “

- Mike Day

The Macarena

“My memories as a first time delegate, representing Liverpool Hope SU in Blackpool Winter Gardens in 2002, are dominated by the tunnel of campaigners that held its ground on the entrance to Conference floor – with what seemed like 50 people from all factions, representing all the candidates waving flyers at the delegates…like some kind of electoral carwash.

“There were balloons and sweets and people were playing music and at one point we all spontaneously broke into the Macarena, much to the chagrin of NUS and the venue staff – not least Steering Committee who were desperate to get things going again. So much happens at conference, not all of it makes you happy, and if you don’t throw yourself into it, it can drag, so to quote Marty Rubin “Boredom is the price one pays for not enjoying everything.””

- Alan Roberts

The time where there was a last minute demo

“NUS put on coaches to take 1,000 delegates from Conference in Blackpool to London overnight to lobby on the Higher Education Bill in 2004, as the then Government had decided to hold the third reading on the last day. This involved a stop at the London Gateway services at about 4am, where bleary-eyed staff handed out sandwiches to equally bleary-eyed delegates, before we headed into London proper. We then spent a day lobbying MPs and demonstrating outside, despite most people not having properly slept for some time! We didn’t win, though we came close, but for me it really underlined the power, energy and commitment of delegates and NUS more generally.”

- David Malcolm

The long and winding roads that lead to National Conference for some

“Every year Plymouth University would put on a coach for the South West picking up HE and FE delegates from between Plymouth and Gloucester and driving us all the way up to Blackpool.

“For National Conference 2007 I hadn’t slept, I was waiting outside the uni and got on the bus around 3.30am in the morning. We picked up Darren, the then President of Exeter College an hour later and between the two of us, we managed to finish a bottle of Buckfast Tonic Wine by 9.00am and slept all the way to Blackpool."

- Katie Shaw

Larbert Tech

“In the mid-seventies NUS has taken on a series of Field Officers who covered a region of the UK to support union development work and to recruit new organisations as following the DES Circular 7.70 which indicated that there should be students’ unions in FE colleges. Back then the minimum fee for a students’ union with little or no income was about £10 and so to “test the system” the Field Officers created a false students’ union at a non-existent college called Larbert Tech (based in Scotland). As today conference had to vote to accept people into membership, it is perhaps significant that no-one from Scotland noticed that Larbert was made up.

“After Larbert was taken into membership the Field Officers then circulated a leaflet explaining that students at Larbert Tech had gone into occupation over a lack of common room facilities (which was a regular NUS Training exercise at the time) – slowly and surely Larbert tech crept into speeches with delegates arguing passionately that NUS should be supporting places like Larbert. By Day Three there was a classic speech – urging NUS to support the action, the delegate declared boldly that unlike “these bureaucrats” pointing to the NEC he had been to Larbert Tech and stood in solidarity with them.”

- Mike Day (again)

When an election came down to a coin toss.

“Not from National Conference but we do have the legendary NUS Scotland Conference year that some (who shall not be named) who was then President of a certain SU was on the campaign team of a particular candidate for NUS Scotland President, but (as the story goes) enjoyed himself a little too much in the evening and failed to wake for the election to cast his ballot. The election was a tie and was decided on the flip of a coin, leading to the infamous nickname of the eventual winner…”

- Al Powell

National Conference takes place in Brighton next week from Tuesday 25 – Thursday 27 April. Follow all of the news as it happens here on NUS Connect and on Twitter using the #NUSconference hashtag. 



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