The activist left has won the elections for the leadership of University of London Union - the federation of student unions at the old London universities.
Until a few years ago, ULU functioned almost purely as a building with bars and other facilities, with zero political campaigning. This has begun to change more recently, with the revival of student activism from 2010, and this result should consolidate that shift.
The winning candidates are all members of left-wing organisations. Sean Rillo Raczka, previously Vice President and a member of Socialist Workers' Party split Counterfire, was elected President unopposed (but with a strikingly large number of Re-Open Nominations votes). SWP member Jen Izaakson won a heavily contested election for Editor of the London Student newspaper, fairly narrowly. Stef Newton, also a Counterfire member, and Craig Gent, of the Anarchist Federation, were elected as Trustees. Most significantly, Workers' Liberty member Daniel Lemberger Cooper (who is currently president of Royal Holloway students' union) was elected Vice President.
Most significantly, because Daniel's main opponent was an SWP member, Ross Speer. Speer nominated at the last minute, after a number of SWP student activists offered support to Daniel's campaign, obviously causing the SWP student organisers to take fright. Their campaign focused heavily on the issues of Israel-Palestine and Islamophobia; this emphasis was, sadly but predictably, supplemented by a torrent of accusations that the AWL is anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic and so on.
The smears didn't stick. Daniel won support from large numbers of independent left activists and SU officers across London, including many who disagree with Workers' Liberty on, for instance, Palestine - but who rejected the slur that we are anti-Palestinian, and supported the general thrust of the campaign. (Many of these activists are involved in the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts.) He was also backed by an extremely wide range of activists at Royal Holloway - from the Anti-Cuts Alliance, Feminist Society, Afro-Caribbean Society, Islamic Society and many others.
The result reflected that wide base of support. In a three-way election, Daniel received 49.5 percent of the vote in the first round, and 61 percent in the second round. He won more votes than any other ULU candidate, including the uncontested Presidential candidate. (For the full results, see here.)
The fact the smear campaign failed is why this was a good result for political honesty, non-sectarianism and more generally reasonable behaviour on the left, as well as for a radical, campaigning student movement.
One reason so few students vote in the ULU elections, or have anything to do with ULU, is its historical lack of activity. Another, however, is that the left has focused narrowly on a few favoured left-wing (in some cases "left-wing") causes to the exclusion of serious campaigning on the many issues facing students in London. Even international solidarity has been reduced pretty much to the single issue of Palestine! Ross Speer's campaign was a clear example of this. This is not an argument against supporting the Palestinians - we disagree with much of the left on how to do it, but we are in favour of making solidarity. At the same time, we are also in favour of developing ULU as a union that mobilises students to win on issues such as fees, cuts, privatisation, housing, liberation and rights at work (as well as international solidarity).
One of the key planks of Daniel's campaign was opening up ULU membership to student unions in universities and colleges across London - so it is no longer an exclusive club for the posh universities. That will be essential if ULU is to fulfil its potential as an organising centre for the student movement in London.
After the March 2013 elections, the newly created ULU executive (the three existing sabbaticals, a new sabbatical Women's Officer and a number of part-time officers, replacing the old Trustee Board) is heavily dominated by the left, mostly supporters of the NCAFC.
Michael Chessum, elected President in a by-election last November after Sean Rillo-Raczka resigned, was easily re-elected. Daniel Cooper was narrowly re-elected Vice President, despite a major campaign against him following his refusal to take part in official, pro-war "remembrance" ceremonies.
The full results are here. We will make a statement about the election soon.