Contributed article by Ronnie Rowlands
Back in those heady, wistful days of February 2020, subtext reported that the students’ union (LUSU) had passed a drastic restructure of its executive officer team without adequate consultation.
LUSU’s reorganisation continues apace, with the sacking of President George Nuttall and the resignation of Vice-President (Welfare & Community) Grishma Bijukumar in April. This follows the departure of Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch and Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who both resigned earlier in the academic year, citing a ‘toxic workplace culture’ as the primary reason.
LUSU sabbatical officers skedaddling before their time is a rare, but not unheard of, thing. Throughout its history, LUSU has seen a handful of officer-elects failing their exams and therefore being ineligible to take office. Then there was the guy who won, then immediately resigned in horror upon learning who the other winners were. One officer elect was arrested for assault and barred from taking up office, his insistence that he could adequately execute his duties from a jail cell not quite cutting it with the powers that be.
But LUSU has never found itself down four officers. Just what the bloody hell went wrong?
Throughout his election campaign in 2019, George Nuttall was exalted by the snarky student social media as the saviour of the student voice, which had been sorely lacking since LUSU jettisoned most of its accountability structures in 2015 (subtexts passim). He had a history of activism (well, of giving off the impression that he did…) and, having served on the JCR Executive of the County College, was an obvious choice.
Having barely got its legs under the table, the Nuttall Ministry was immediately beset by the decision of LUSU’s Trustee Board to close the Sugarhouse, swayed to a majority by the vote of one sabbatical officer. A series of tactical (but not particularly subtle) leaks led to the very public outing and larruping of Vice-President (Activities) Ben Evans, who resigned shortly thereafter citing a toxic bullying culture within the officer team.
But still, the Sugarhouse was saved, and the Nuttall Ministry rode the wave of good PR as a substitute for doing much else. In February 2020, Nuttall was re-elected in an unopposed contest. Moments after his re-election, Vice-President (Union Development) Hannah Prydderch resigned.
Her resignation did not follow a surreptitious smear campaign. She left suddenly, citing bullying among the executive officer team as the reason, its concurrence with Nuttall’s re-election open to one very stark interpretation.
LUSU, which was spinning its tyres in the mud and failing to implement any of the policies that were passed at its general meeting in November, limped along.
On May 1, LUSU released the following statement:
‘George Nuttall was dismissed from office today following an independent investigation into complaints received by the Union […] Following a hearing, it was decided that […] Mr Nuttall should be dismissed from his post with immediate effect.’
At no point in LUSU’s history has a President been dismissed, either by the Trustee Board, or following a vote of no confidence. An army of sycophants, many of whom are friends with Nuttall on Facebook, immediately took to social media to decry LUSU’s senior management for turfing out ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’.
‘This is what happens when you try to stand up to Uni management – you’re destroyed’ thundered one unhappy student. The verdict of the Facebook Friends of Democracy was that a Good Man had been ousted for ruffling too many feathers.
This just doesn’t ring true.
Your author is proud to have served as a Vice-President of LUSU in 2014-15, and to have been a notoriously obstructive arsepain during his entire time at Lancaster.
Yes, it is true that the journeymen at LUSU’s top table would prefer a supine officer team and a quiet life. Nevertheless, my team and I: picketed open days; plastered campus with photoshopped posters of the Vice-Chancellor; occupied University House; and routinely showed up university management in front of its stakeholders. Yet we were never sacked.
Hell! My President, Laura Clayson, was the most notorious megaphone militant leftie of her era. She went on to be tried for terror-related charges in the Stansted 15 case, and you’re seriously telling me that this guy was subjected to a calculated whitewash for putting his name to a few terse open letters to D-Floor?
Give me a break.
Irrespective of the choreographed outcry, LUSU is an employer, bound by employment law. If a thorough investigation into a complaint is undertaken and that complaint is substantiated, then any organisation worth its salt will follow its HR policy. It seldom ends well for organisations which choose to cover up complaints and protect their figureheads.
There were demands for the nature of the complaints to be made public, but anybody with the brains of a centipede knows that such a move would compromise the anonymity of complainants. Given the way in which the choreographed sycophants have already publicly shamed LUSU officers and Trustee Board members this year, it is easy to see why LUSU might want to protect the complainants.
Some of the choreographed sycophants suggested that Nuttall should have been subjected to a motion of no confidence, to afford the students an opportunity to democratically remove their President.
I harbour some support for this idea. What a pity, then, that a motion of no confidence in George Nuttall, lodged by a student via the LUSU website in March, was summarily withdrawn due to unspecified ‘legal reasons’! Oddly, the Facebook Friends of Democracy had little to say about this.
Then there’s the suggestion that Nuttall is ‘the most popular President in institutional memory’. I would be interested to know what metric was used to make that claim. Whilst it is true that Nuttall was re-elected to the Presidency with ‘70% of the vote’, this isn’t particularly difficult when you’re the only candidate running. Even then, 70% is low for an uncontested election! For most people on campus, the ‘institutional memory’ only stretches back for about three years.
Nuttall does not fare nearly as well in your author’s ‘institutional memory’, which stretches back a decade. In the context of ten years, and using the same metric, Nuttall’s popularity is historically low. There have been three other uncontested sabbatical elections in the last decade – one victor was returned with 83% of the vote, one with 79%, and one with 82%. Furthermore, Nuttall’s re-election campaign attracted 552 votes to Re-Open Nominations, the highest vote share for RON in any sabbatical contest for at least ten years.
Had I the time or inclination, I’d go back further, but this isn’t about sticking the boot into someone while they’re down. It’s about believing people who have been victimised.
I was utterly horrified to see the scorn, deflection, and denial from an organised army of sycophants on social media, their blind rabidity dwarfing the sparse voices of concern for the victims of bullying. The University of Lancaster has been beset by a culture of bullying this year, and it is disheartening to see that culture running so rampantly through LUSU; ostensibly the ‘Good Guys’; its victims dismissed by a court of public opinion that should know better.
Last year, I didn’t envy Nuttall the mess he had to clear up. This year, I do not envy our President-elect the task of lifting LUSU out of the ditch that Nuttall has left it in.