After opening speeches and rubber stamping, the NUS extraordinary conference finally got to discuss one of the biggest series of reforms the organisation has ever seen. Only one motion was up for discussion: deleting the constitution in its entirety and replacing it with a structure similar to that now in use at ICU.
Despite spending an hour driving around Leicester looking for somewhere to park, ICU's delegation were able to join in this new round of NUS fun and games. The extraordinary conference started an hour late due to delays with registration, leading to an over-run at the end. The only effect the delay really had was to give the late-running ICU delegation the chance to hear a (fairly tedious) speech from Jon Cruddas MP on the advantages of a no-platform policy.
A number of amendments were proposed, the first of which called for the whole governance review to be rejected. Rob Owen, former General Secretary at the University of Manchester, spoke for the amendment, calling the new structures "more undemocratic, more difficult to understand". Supporting the review, NUS National Secretary Stephen Brown said that failure to change would result in disaffiliations, effectively "shutting down" the NUS. ICU's President, the Stevil Twin, also spoke against throwing out the reforms, telling conference:
"Do you want the student movement to be in a position to articulate intelligent arguments or would you rather continue with the status quo, whereby the image of student democracy ... presented to the public is one of rebels without a clue squabbling about whether the revolution should come on Thursday or whether it is better to wait until the next full moon".
The vote on the first amendment was the first opportunity to gauge opinion, with a vote count being called for. Those hoping to scupper the reforms at the very start were disappointed, with the amendment falling by 475 votes to 165.
The debate continued, with those on the left of NUS trying to retain as much of the existing structure as possible, while officers with more centrist views pushed for reform. NUS President Gemma Tumelty was up for the fight: speaking to ICU's delegation, she said "I will not lose this vote, failure is not an option".
Many of the amendments attempted to change the make-up of the trustee board, the high-level body with the final say on all legal and financial matters. Most fell as they called for it to be more "representative", by adding members from the special interest "liberation" campaigns. The President of the Union of Brunel Students summed up the argument against this well: she said that as a black woman she did not "have a different opinion on what is illegal from a white man".
Attempts to introduce overtly political elements to the trustee board were attacked quite brutally by Tobin Webb from Bristol, who remarked "[the] hard left has sought governance advice from Northern Rock". As 5pm approached a call was made to stop tinkering around the edges with amendments and put the governance changes to a vote. A count was called for (normally a majority is judged by sight alone), revealing some underhand tactics by those opposed to it - people were moving seats to be counted twice, or voting with blank pieces of paper rather than voting cards.
When the voting issues were resolved, 383 against 181 were in favour of voting directly on the governance changes. In summation of the changes, NUS VP (Higher Education) Wes Streeting practically wrote a disaffiliation campaign if the reforms failed, describing NUS as a "bankrupt shambolic farce ... that isn't worth saving".
The final vote was taken twice, both times showing a clear 2/3 majority; after 6 hours in Leicester the reforms most people were calling for were passed.
This is not the final hurdle: the changes must be ratified at annual conference in April, where their opponents have one last opportunity to kill off the governance review.