It’s NUS Conference week, which in my time as a student meant it was the time of year when thousands of students (accompanied by the contestants in the Britain’s Most Obscure Trotskyite Sect competition) descended on Blackpool for a week of increasingly bitter political debate, badly organised elections, heavy drinking, the making and breaking of friendships, and the cultivation of a ridiculously over-inflated sense of self-importance. Nowadays it’s all different, as it takes place in Liverpool (even NUS doesn’t rate Blackpool as a conference destination any more).
To mark Conference, NUS tweeted out an infographic with a bunch of factoids about NUS Conference over the years, including a list of MPs who’ve been to one. Unsurprisingly, most of those MPs are Labour (see this post of mine for some explanation why) but there are also a few Conservative MPs listed (one of whom is Rab Butler, which gives you an idea of how far back they had to go to find them) and three Liberal Democrat MPs. The first two on the list are quite well known – Tim Farron, who was President of Newcastle’s Union Society, and Lembit Opik, who was President of Bristol Union and also served on the NUS NEC – but the third is the much more obscure Ian Cunningham MP. Indeed, he’s so obscure that he never actually existed.
There’s never been a Liberal Democrat MP called Ian Cunningham. There wasn’t a Social Democrat one called Ian Cunningham, and from what I can tell there wasn’t a Liberal MP since 1922 (the year NUS was founded) called Ian Cunningham. There doesn’t even seem to be an MP with a name similar to ‘Ian Cunningham’ who NUS could have got confused with.
In normal times, this would be something to be joked about, an embarrassing slip where a bit of filler text didn’t get deleted. But this is a time when NUS are running a ‘Liar, Liar’ campaign targeted at Liberal Democrat MPs – and in their own publicity, they’ve just made up a Liberal Democrat MP! ‘His’ name is right next to a whole bunch of NUS Presidents who became Labour MPs – Charles Clarke, Jack Straw, Jim Murphy, Stephen Twigg, Lorna Fitzsimons – and then voted both to introduce fees and then increase them, in direct opposition to their party’s manifesto, but does NUS publicity mention them at all, let alone criticise them?
NUS can criticise people all they like, but until they start getting their own facts right, they shouldn’t expect people to take them seriously.