It will be of little surprise to those engaged in University and Union politics to hear that the National Union of Students (NUS) was also stirring up trouble ten years ago. In an attempt to promote healthy sexual behaviour on university campuses, the NUS proposed a scheme “which effectively bribes students to get tested” by offering free alcohol in exchange for students taking sexual health tests. Attempts to introduce this scheme at Students’ Unions in Manchester, London and Birmingham led to students abusing the initiative in order to obtain the free alcohol, with reports of students pouring beer into sample vials and giving out false names and addresses. Despite being criticised by the Student Support Officer at Newcastle University Students’ Union, one student responded positively to the scheme when questioned, saying: “hey, why not, if there’s free booze going!”
Freshers’ fair was full of controversy as the Courier reported that the Conservative Students Society “caused a political storm” with a risqué poster featuring a “seductively dressed woman proclaiming that ‘Life’s better under a Conservative’”. Members of the Union Executive Committee faced a storm of complaints about the poster’s sexist connotations, including a confrontation by a member of the Socialist Workers Society and the Anti-Nazi League, which ultimately led Simon Batiste, a member of the Conservative Student Society and third-year Law student, to take down the controversial poster for the remainder of the fair. Batiste was not satisfied with this solution, however, later stating that the only complaints were from “left-wing loonies trying to cause maximum embarrassment for the Conservatives”, adding: “I don’t see what’s wrong with the poster, and I will put it up again”.
Adding to the on-campus entertainment that week was a performance by Blur at the Students’ Union. Support act Salad was heavily slated by the reviewer, being described as “crap” and “dullards” with a “bad dress sense”. Blur, however, came off much more lightly, despite being described as “displaying all the enthusiasm and vigour of a rainy day at Bognor Regis”. Following the performance of popular songs such as “There’s No Other Way” and “She’s So High”, the reviewer finished on an optimistic note, saying that she “didn’t always trust that they could avoid the musical dumper, but tonight proves not only that but also there may be more and better to come. They’re not as good as the Jam though.”
As a student of 20 years old, Tim Farron wrote an article for the Courier in which he reflected on his time at the 1990 Liberal Democrat Conference in Blackpool. Topics discussed at the Conference included the abolition of A-levels, the disestablishment of the Church of England, the rejection of graduate tax, and the halving of military spending. Farron described how the Conference reminded him why he became a founder member of the Liberal Democrats in 1988, saying that ”Liberal Democracy is based upon a desire for peace, freedom, democracy and a determination to eradicate poverty, conflict and tyranny. No other party shares this kind of commitment and, therefore, as Paddy Ashdown pointed out, no other party deserves to win the next election!” Farron adamantly stated that “I was born a Liberal, I shall die a Liberal, thus no matter how many times we may come third or second, I’m not giving up. Nevertheless, if anyone thinks we’re in this game for anything else but to come first, then they obviously don’t understand politics!” Farron summed up his time by simply concluding: ”A good Conference, I spent £70 on beer!!!!”
While the Lib Dem Conference may have gone down well, freshers’ week faced a hostile reception following controversial free Welcome Packs being distributed to students. Packs containing Tango were given to men, and packs containing Diet Tango were given to women. The President of the National Union of Students had personally endorsed these packs, but had been unable to provide a comment on the sexism allegations before the Courier went to print. The packs also included Dairy Crunch bars produced by Nestle, despite the sale of their products having been banned by a Students’ Union General Meeting the year before because of the company’s dealings in South Africa.
October 1990 also saw another unfavourable music review. Following a performance on campus by the Bootleg Beatles as part of freshers’ week frivolities, one reviewer described the act as “undoubtedly the ugliest band to appear on a Level 2 stage since the horrendous Bloos Brothers of York” in an article titled “Bootleg Bollocks”.
Two first-year students were thrown out of Castle Leazes after having a food fight in the Eustace Percy dining hall. The two girls were discovered throwing trifle at each other to the extent that they were “covered from head to toe”, and were consequently expelled from Castle Leazes, being given seven days to find alternative accommodation. As this occurred during an accommodation crisis at Newcastle University, where many students were left in emergency dormitory accommodation, one of the girls involved expressed her fears that they were removed from Leazes as a quick fix solution to free up more bedrooms for other students. Current freshers at Leazes, take note…if you’re unhappy with your accommodation, maybe a food fight is the way to go.