By Daniel Lemberger Cooper, RHULSU president (pc)
In September I wrote an article highlighting NUS national executive council member Aaron Kiely's shameful support for police repression during and after the riots. I also officially invited Aaron Kiely, who is the NEC member responsible for my student union, to come and debate these and related issues at Royal Holloway.
So far I have received no reply. Nor has the organisation of which Aaron is a member, Student Broad Left (the student wing of the Socialist Action group), responded. This is despite widespread debate and disquiet among student activists about Kiely's comments.
After a year which has seen widespread police repression against students, and hundreds of young working-class people being jailed for minor offences in the riots, I still want an answer about why a "left-wing" student leader has joined the chorus of right-wing praise for the police crack down. But another issue has now come up, posing fresh questions about whether Kiely is fit to be regarded as part of the left at all.
His comments about the police were made in his capacity as a Labour councillor in the Essex borough of Thurrock. When all this first came up, I hadn’t realised that Thurrock is a Labour-run council. That means that Kiely, as an apparently loyal and uncritical member of the ruling Labour group, has almost certainly voted for the cuts in jobs and services the council has made. (Almost 300 job losses so far, according to the GMB; the council itself says it will be cutting £10 million in the coming year, so there is undoubtedly more to come.)
How can you justify participating in the student anti-cuts movement, and present yourself as a leader of it, when as a councillor you vote for cuts to jobs and services in your local area? Can Aaron Kiely clarify: has he voted for cuts? Will he vote for cuts? (We would ask him these questions face to face, if he was not avoiding our attempts to get in touch.) Or is he among the relatively small number of Labour councillors who have refused to do the Tories’ dirty work and pledged themselves to vote against all cuts? (See, for instance, here). If the latter, why has he not said anything about it anywhere? (The Socialist Party reports here that they specifically wrote to Kiely before the election asking about this, but that he would not do so.)
Can Student Broad Left/Socialist Action explain why they tolerate someone who praises police repression and – it seems – votes for cuts to public services in their leadership, and indeed promote him as a leader of the left?
These are serious issues for student activists. We cannot build a healthy, effective student movement if we let this kind of behaviour go unchallenged and undebated. Those who agree that Aaron’s conduct is disgraceful, but are reluctant to speak out for fear of a row, should reconsider.
PS I will be sending Aaron another invitation to debate in my capacity as RHULSU president. Activists in my student union will not be impressed if he continues to refuse to reply.