NEC should not railroad through undemocratic decisions

This Tuesday’s NEC will see a paper proposing the creation of a NUS Area for London. I submitted an amendment to this paper which has been vetoed by the National President Toni Pearce: as it currently stands it will not even be discussed at the meeting.

While there are good things in the proposed paper, there are some major shortcomings, and the process that brought us here was a complete joke. In my capacity as an NEC member I want to shed some light on what has happened, and give my view on the ridiculous situation.

A week and a half ago I received the first set of papers for NEC. These included all the usual motions and reports, and also a proposal from Vice President Union Development, Raechel Mattey, to create a new autonomous part of NUS’s democratic structures for London unions: an NUS Area.

This was the first I had heard of this major proposal, which was surprising given that:

a)      I am a member of the Union Development Zone Committee and this work seems to perfectly into its remit:

Zone committees are charged with detailed policy development for their zone. They are required to consult with members and stakeholders and obtain or commission research pertaining to their zone for consideration by constituent members. They are also charged with the day to day monitoring and implementation of policy passed.

b)      I am one of the 5 NEC members who have been allocated to the unions in London.

Furthermore, when I got in touch with some of the unions in London it seemed that this was the first that they had heard of it too. I only managed to contact some unions, so others may have been consulted, but it seems like if there was any consultation on these proposals it was pretty minimal.

There are some good things in the proposal but there are definitely some major issues with it. The newly created London Union of Students executive went through the motion and made some suggested amendments. There was only a week between the papers coming out and the deadline for amendments so it was a bit of a rush, but I submitted the amendment on time.

I was then told that the amendment would not be accepted because the original proposal was not a motion.

There was some toing and froing for a while before the National President weighed in and declared the amendment invalid.

I believe this to be an outrageous position both constitutionally and democratically. Here is why:

  1. There is no mention of the existence of any ‘non-amendable proposal’ in the Constitution or the NEC Standing Order, just reports which explain what has happened and motions which determine what will happen. In fact where the constitution mentions ‘proposals’ to democratic bodies (Rules 21, 58, 68.3, 120, 150) it is always referring to motion which can be amended.
  2. Rules 2000-2004 of the NUS Constitution give NEC the power to recognise NUS Area Organisations ‘to whatever recognition criteria it sees fit’. This should presumably mean that the NEC as a whole should be able to decide how this works, not simply approve a recommendation from a Vice President.
  3. If NEC members can submit non-amendable proposals to NEC, why is this not made clear anywhere? What are the rules to govern it? Why would anyone bother following the more onerous motion-submission process when they can just do this?

I think that these three points are pretty conclusive but even if they are contested then there is still no reason at all to think that amendments cannot be accepted.

That is to say, I believe that the evidence stacks up in favour of saying that amendments must be accepted, but at best it is up to the discretion of the chair – the National President definitely could have accepted it if she had wanted to.

With so little consultation it is hard to know for sure whether London unions would want the amendment to pass or not (although a statement has just been sent to NEC members asking us to vote for the amendment, signed by a number of Presidents or leading officers in London unions). And it’s certainly not possible to work out whether the amendment would pass in NEC or not. But the idea that it should not even be discussed is completely beyond me.

There is good reason why amendments are written into the constitution. If motions can be proposed with no option to amend then people are left with only two options: the proposal or nothing. And if only some people who can submit these non-amendable proposals (as seems to be the case here) then these people have huge power: if people want change (and there has been talk of an NUS London for years) and you get to decide which changes will be discussed, and eliminate all others, then you have huge power. It’s not democratic. It’s a sham.

It is all too clear to me that this decision is driven by paranoia: that allowing a genuine open discussion would mean that the meeting might not go their way. But in protecting themselves the officers involved are displaying a profound lack of respect to the constitution, elected bodies and membership who NUS is supposed to serve.

In conclusion:

–          Many London unions want this amendment to pass, and some played a part in drafting it

–          There was little or no consultation on the original proposal.

–          There is no constitutional reason why the amendment cannot be discussed, and a very strong case why it must be discussed.

–          Allowing amendments is good democratic principle and prevents too much power being concentrated in the leadership


The proposal can be viewed here (from page 35)

The amendment can be viewed here 

The NUS Constitution can be viewed here

The NEC Standing Orders can be viewed here (page 33)


3 thoughts on “NEC should not railroad through undemocratic decisions

  1. If you bare in mind I’m no expert and haven’t read much of the constitution or weighed in before, could it not be that the proposal is made by the board not by NEC or an individual member.?

    As per “Such recognition will confer upon these organisations any such benefits and responsibilities as
    from time to time the board sees fit, acting under the guidance of the National
    Executive Council.”
    NEC doesn’t have the power to directly change the benefits and responsibilities conferred (maybe?), the course of action would presumably be to reject the proposal and issue a recommendation to the board that the changes outlined in your amendment be made before resubmission. A counter-proposal rather than an amendment if you like.

    Could be way off the mark but just how I see it. The problem of any organisation with 2,111 rules I guess 😛

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