YUSU elections have come around once again with wearying inevitability. Already, would be BNOCs are stalking the corridors of power, forging alliances amongst themselves and desperately trying to find a slogan that rhymes with their surname, or donning a costume they’d willingly wear all day every day for a week, no matter how many rashes it might give them.
Spare a thought for the poor student hack, forced to cover the elections with their identikit candidates. They’re all earnestly devoted to ‘accountability,’ ‘transparency’ and ‘YOUR Union,’ all reliant on campaign gimmicks. Threatening to overwhelm us with boring detail, they struggle to recognise that actually, yes, we are late for a lecture and don’t have time to talk about widening access to chess-boxing, and their efforts to tread the line between corporate politicking and being wo/men of the people fall short every time.
Last year’s election process was fairly dull to cover, even with a freak twitter storm during the election debate. Despite the emergence of a strong contender to Kallum in the form of Thomas Banks, who promised to remove the napkins under the garlic bread in the Courtyard, and the gloriously bitchy household rivalry for one sabbatical officer’s position, most people recognised that we would, indeed, Keep Kallum and Carry On. This year though, anything could happen.
It is likely that the majority of the candidates for the position of Our Beloved Leader will be YUSU insiders. These former college chairs and part-time officers fear a world where their achievements in arranging bar crawls three times a term fail to impress employers who look for a little more than a strong liver and wilfully masochistic tendencies, and so hope to cling onto the University bubble for just one more year (or two, in some cases).
What I’m more interested though, is the “joke” candidates who run. British student politics has had a renaissance in seemingly silly students getting a significant proportion of the vote recently. In St. Andrews, Jamie Ross explained his decision to run for his SU presidency by saying “I have a campaign budget of £103 to spend, and I plan to spend it on shoes. If I pass the minimum percentage thresh-hold of votes: free shoes. Only you can make it happen.” Meanwhile, in Oxford, Louis Trup wrote his manifesto in crayon and had policies including double beds for all and world peace. So far, so student-y, but actually, what’s interesting is that had St Andrew’s voted in a first past the post system, Ross would have won, and Louis Trup did actually win in Oxford.
York has fine form in this too, in 2008 our SU president was Mad Cap’n Tom Scott, who campaigned and served his time in character as a pirate. What’s happened to us since then? student politics is British politics in microcosm, stagnant, wearying and full of careerists and doublespeak, but there’s no reason it needs to stay that way.
This time last year, my editors thrust a comment piece upon me, “Write about why it’s important to vote” they said, and with naive gusto I threw myself into it. I wrote about “having YOUR say” and “engagement” with all the enthusiasm of someone who hadn’t really paid attention to student politics before. A year later, I return, once again to urge you to participate, but perhaps with a tad bit more cynicism.
The way I understand student politics (which is so dreadfully concerned with democracy) is that a student union president is mostly a conduit through which the student’s ideas flow through and are then relayed to other, more powerful people who actually make a difference. It would be best then, for the entire student population and YUSU’s reputation at large, to elect a candidate who has absolutely no interest in student politics, so that our elected leaders don’t try and interfere with what the students actually want. Just imagine what chaos could follow a students’ union who cared about things – we could even have an SU which blithely pushes through a referendum despite not reaching quorum!
Even if you disagree with this perception of SU politics, then perhaps there’s an argument for saying that really, with a year in power, the change that can be effected is so minimal that it wouldn’t be ridiculous to assume the SU staff just get on with it while their elected leaders ponce about ‘engaging students’ (imagine Yes, Minister on a university scale). If that’s the case, then the least the sabbs can do is adopt a comedy persona and entertain us while they do it.
If the last two years have taught us anything, it’s that York students respond to personalities. It’s just a shame that people seem to think the personalities should come with policies. I urge all of you to nominate yourself for a SU position, the less you want it, the better it is for the rest of us.