I'm basing this argument on the premise that the new constitution for the NUS gets ratified. If it doesn't then disaffiliation may well become necessary, and I will be proposing it in my union. It is also comforting to know that I am a masochist; political involvement is not about personal comfort.
We should first dispense with the notion that the NUS is some EU clone. It is not. The NUS has virtually no ability to dictate the policy of individual unions, and acts instead as an umbrella organisation to represent their interests. It bears closer resemblance to the LGA than Brussels. The idea that it is "bloated" is also a myth; in the past few years the organisation has undergone drastic efficiency drives and downsizing to balance its budget, to the point where they sold off their headquarters building. It has a budget far smaller than some of the unions it represents.
Far from being a mere collection of unwashed, unshaven, oppositionalist placard-wavers keen on demonstrating about whatever it is trendy to be against this month, the NUS performs roles that are vital to many student unions. It provides training and a forum for sabbatical officers to share ideas that many individual unions simply could not afford. Through NUSSL and NUS Extra it helps provide services to and discounts to unions and their members.
When those on the Right are organised, we have successes. It may surprise some to learn that the NUS has had two CF members on their executive in recent memory. We don't know if we could get more on because we haven't tried. When the Right are on top of their brief and in command of the facts, we are able to make valuable contributions to the debate. The fact that our ideas are neither the empty rhetoric of the left, nor the stereotype expected of the right, gives us a distinct advantage in discussions.
Though the idea that a CF defeat in the NUS would affect our party's standing in a general election is absurd, there is the genuine possibility of the NUS becoming the focus of future opposition to a Conservative government on education policy. The only way to reduce such knee-jerk automatic hostility is to have people inside the Union making the case for such policy. Even if the NUS retains a left-wing slant, which it will for the forseeable future, better that their ideas encounter stiff opposition than the unanimous approval of an audience unaware of any alternative.
It has always been something of a bogeyman to demonise the NUS as the front group of a band of revolutionary Trotskyites. Though disproportionately represented, they still remain in a minority. That minority is shrinking year on year, as witnessed at the last annual conference, where they suffered a major rout from the NEC. A vast swathe of delegates belong to no faction whatsoever, and are willing to vote on the merits of the argument. We owe it to them, as well as the students we represent, to make that argument.
The idea that we should spend more time and effort organising and campaigning on campuses is indeed a laudable one, but it does not come at the exclusion of conservatives organising for and within the NUS. Part of the reason the hard left are disproportionately represented is because on many campuses they run the strongest campaigns. Were CF members to offer organised, sustained, issue-focused opposition we could reap similar rewards. The divisive politics of the hard-left are off-putting for many students. We are in an excellent position to offer a viable alternative.
Fundamentally, the idea of organised national representation for students is a good one. We cannot simply keep out of the organisation that does that because we disagree with its current policies. Conservatism, if it means anything, is about working within flawed systems to reform them, rather than seeking to overthrow them in a utopian fantasy or fit of pique. A new rival to the NUS isn't going to come along. Education policy is currently severely flawed; we have to remain in the NUS to explain why, and how we would improve it. We have to remain in to make sure that left-wing dogma does not go unchallenged. Above all, we must remain in because to leave would be to silence ourselves.