Shakira Martin was on Wednesday elected to serve as the next President of the National Union of Students, winning with first preference votes alone.
In the first round, Martin won 402 votes—56 per cent of the vote share. Malia Bouattia, who was running for re-election, won 235 votes and Tom Harwood, an NUS delegate from Durham University, received 35 votes.
Martin identifies herself as a black single mother from a working-class family, and positioned herself as a centrist candidate. She is currently the NUS Vice President for Further Education.
Following her election victory, she said: “I am honoured and humbled to have been elected as NUS’ National President. I take this as a vote of trust that our members believe I can lead our national movement to be the fighting and campaigning organisation we need it to be, representing the breadth of our diverse membership.”
Consonant with her campaign pledge to ‘make education an option for everyone’, Martin continued: “Further Education made me who I am today and [I] look forward to sharing stories of just how powerful all forms of education can be when we’re all given access to it.
During my term in office I want to spend my time listening, learning and leading.”
Tom Harwood positioned himself as a moderate campaigner, and the only candidate for restoring faith in a NUS which he alleges is “in crisis”.
Speaking to Cherwell, Harwood said: “I am so proud of the role I have played in this election. Our campaign shifted the debate and helped set the course for what can be a more moderate union.”
Each candidate began the day with an impassioned speech to the conference as a final plea for votes.
Bouattia began by defending her record, focussing particularly on her fight against prejudice following a year which has been plagued by allegations of anti-Semitism and alienation of students. Close to tears as she recounted fleeing war-torn Algeria to live below the poverty line in Britain, she told the conference that only she knew “what it means to make sacrifices for education.”
By contrast, Harwood pitched his vision for a depoliticised union, critiquing the “hard-left” message which he argued has permeated student politics, describing it is as creating a “toxic culture”. He drew particular attention to the “arbitrary censure” of Richard Brooks earlier this year and what he saw as the clear message that four successful disaffiliation referenda from university unions gave to the NUS.
But the victor in the conference vote was Shakira. She told the conference that she had listened and that she could restore trust in a broken NUS. Her pledges to fight for students often marginalised by the mainstream student movement—those like herself who find themselves in further education from challenging backgrounds—resonated with many who sought a real alternative to the sort of politics that marked the presidency of Bouattia.
Adam Hilsenrath, an Oxford NUS delegate who ran last term on the Wake Up NUS slate, told Cherwell: “I am delighted with Shakira Martin’s election to the NUS presidency. Her victory is a vote against the divisive rhetoric experienced over the past year under Malia Bouattia, which led to 26 disaffi liation referenda.
It is also a vote against Bouattia’s past anti-Semitic comments, and against the anti-Semitism in the student movement in general that is still yet to be eliminated. Martin’s victory signals a willingness for the movement to show positive change towards inclusivity going forward and I look forward to seeing those changes under her presidency.”
The day was, however, not just about elections. Oxford had several successes, which included Student Union President Jack Hampton proposing an overwhelmingly-backed motion to increase funding and resources in an effort to help those students who have experienced mental health problems. He drew on his experience coordinating similar efforts during his tenure in Oxford, but told the conference he knew that not every Student Union had the research power or capital to invest in such products.