The Students’ Union (SU) Executive Elections are an opportunity for every University student to engage in the collaborative system of democracy. Passionate candidates can platform their ideas and fellow students can decide who it is that best represents them. Student leadership should be a miniature version of government – a group of representatives elected by the students, for the students. This magazine plays a vital role – students holding students to account.
Students take for granted that they are given a real influence within the university through these elections, and in a way, they should. Even though it may not always feel this way, the UK is a democracy. On the smaller scale of a university, every student has the right to run through similar democratic processes. They deserve to be heard, even aside from the vast amount of money we pay.
Sadly however, the ability to participate in democracy isn’t enough for some to do so, hence the massive promotion of the election. Given the general apathy to voting within the youth demographic (there was a 47% turnout amongst voters aged 18-24 in the last general election) voter awareness is especially necessary within a body made up primarily of people of said age.
Simply referring to laziness as an excuse for the youth not turning up is lazy in itself. To many, voting is an exercise in futility. It’s not just that people feel their individual vote won’t matter, but that our leaders don’t care or prioritise youth interests or needs anyway. This is what’s so brilliant about the student elections; it is an opportunity for people to engage in the democratic process by voting for their peers and that should be the focus of the campaign. These candidates do care and will make a difference to your student life, as they are one of you, rather than merely pretending to be.
This is what’s so brilliant about the student elections; it is an opportunity for people to engage in the democratic process by voting for their peers and that should be the focus of the campaign.
So why is it that candidates are reducing their campaigns to a packet of Haribo? I sat in the Percy Gee building every day of campaign week, happy to sit and listen to the candidates about their manifesto and why they should have my vote, so I can make a truly informed decision. Only once, Wellbeing Officer candidate Sam Bouch empathetically explained the key points of his manifesto to me, and it was a breath of fresh air. This isn’t to say other candidates aren’t passionate about their causes, but frankly I would not know.
Everyone else has followed the same predictable formula:
- Briefly introduce themselves and ask if I’ve voted.
- Chuck a campaign flyer on the table.
- Offer some sweets.
I wonder if this practise would be normalised and accepted if you replaced the sweet with an amount of money – even a 5p coin. Engaging in democracy shouldn’t have to be rewarded. The election should be promoted, as done by offering a free biscuit in return for a voting receipt to raise awareness to the student election on a larger scale.
But an individual candidate pairing their flyer with a sweet is dangerously close to bribery. I even saw representatives for one candidate withhold a packet of crisps until they had witnessed the placing of a vote within their specific box. Conveniently, they forgot to mention the ranked choice feature. Perhaps there was purposeful deception or malice in their behaviour, but more likely they were simply ignorant to their undemocratic and corrupt practises. Either way, the general acceptance of handing treats out like it is a birthday party will inevitably lead to actual bribery.
Perhaps it seems overblown for me to be making an issue out of this in a student election, but ultimately everyone attending this university is an adult. This is not a Year 6 School Council election. This is a real opportunity for students to engage in politics on a personal scale, and the standard practice of offering sweets instead of actual reasons to vote confirms this student election as the exercise in futility people my age believe democracy to be.
This is a real opportunity for students to engage in politics on a personal scale, and the standard practise of offering sweets instead of actual reasons to vote confirms this student election as the exercise in futility people my age believe democracy to be.
Our candidates not only have the opportunity, but also a responsibility, to show the benefits of voting in an election: to instil a sense of worthiness and trust in the features of democracy; to show that wanting to make positive change and having beliefs and ideas is something to be applauded, and that showing support for a person through voting is genuinely beneficial.
Instead, the campaigns consist of who gives out the best sweet. Democracy is worth more than a lollipop, and our candidates should treat themselves, their manifestos and the institutions that give them a platform with some respect.
Although the SU Executive Election is now over, you can view all 2022 coverage here.
Image: Ellie Fleury.
Auden Chamberlain is a first-year Politics and Sociology student. He writes film reviews for the magazine, and is secretary of Band and Gig Society.