By Rob Wells, The Linc
Despite cynics often pointing out that the difference between the major political parties in Britain is comparable to the difference between a sultana and a raisin, the candidates in SU elections are worse.
“One of my favourite sayings about politics is that ‘Whoever you vote for, the Government always gets in.’ You can seamlessly replace ‘Government’ with ‘Students’ Union’.” Forget different varieties of grape; ours mostly come from the same vineyard.
There were a couple of instances where there were significant differences between the candidates, such as in the contest for the full-time Sports and Teams position, which went to Rowing Club president Chris Farrell.
Some of the five candidates’ policies overlapped – such as increased publicity for teams – but their manifestos were noticeably different.
However, if your turn your attention to the candidates for the SU presidency, it looks like the they sat in a room together and agreed on pledges they could all make.
All four of them said they wanted to be more involved with the university’s satellite campuses. The winner, Chris Charnley and James Mason both mentioned expanding the university shop and making sure accommodation is checked. Mr Charnley and Stacie Ridley both discussed extending the library’s opening hours.
The amount of overlap between this year’s candidates for the top job was ridiculous. It gets even more so when you compare Mr Charnley’s manifesto to that of his predecessor, Daniel Hutchinson, when the latter was elected president in 2008.
They both stress the importance of “re-engaging” with students, and then go on (in almost the same order) to promise to improve the shop, keep the library open for longer, check student accommodation – Mr Charnley calls this “victimisation”, Mr Hutchinson calls it “taking advantage”, I call it a synonym – and finally to increase student influence over the Engine Shed and the Tower Bar.
However, it would be glib to accuse the SU’s new president of plagiarising his predecessor’s positions.
The reality is far more worrying. Those attempting to get elected to office in our Students’ Union have apparently discovered a set of safe, uncontroversial proposals that can be safely repeated year-after-year.
This has allowed them to bypass the inconvenience of policy and focus on what cynics have always accused these elections of being: a popularity contest. Who do you know, and how can you attract more attention to yourself?
This year it was Chris Charnley’s superman costume.
It would be incredibly naive to suggest that injecting some actual difference and serious competition into these elections would substantially increase student involvement and voter turnout. As mentioned, the Sports and Teams contest was better in this regard, but attracted just 15 more votes than the presidential vote.
But it can not hurt. According to the SU’s figures, voter turnout was 11.9%. Even adjusting the number of members to account for part-time students, who are not eligible to vote under NUS rules, turnout is still just 13%.
That is atrocious, and being elected on stale, year-old pledges does nothing to help.Tweet