by Sam Naylor
It’s over, people. Candidates and students alike will be breathing deep the post-election buzz. Well not everyone and probably not even most people. Though a record breaking year for UEA elections, still only 23% of those who could vote did — there was a total of 3404 votes. Granted this is student elections and across the country it appears engagement at this level is struggling to grab the majority’s interest but it still supposes a democratic deficit. Negativity aside for a sentence, it was great to see the highest turn out ever for the voluntary position of Ethical Issues officer. However, letting the gloom resume, the positions for mature and post-graduate students received a shockingly low turnout — only a 7% turnout for mature students and an even lower 4% turnout for post-graduate students. This begs to question: are our democratic procedures within university effective?
Without diminishing the achievements of candidates, student elections are in part a glorified popularity contest. Policies are an important aspect of the elections, but people play a much larger part of the parcel. You know how it is — voting for friends, or friends of friends or that girl that you met at a house party once and she kind of seemed like a decent human being. I can’t see a way for this to move beyond the realm of people politics or the ‘Union Bubble’ with its internal divisions and machinations.
I thought students unions were about unifying the individual population into a cooperative body
Perhaps the cliques is one of the standout turnoffs — besides from the usual ‘the issues don’t affect me so I don’t care about them’ attitude — within student politics. Though this could be preparing students for the ‘adult’ realm of national politics whereby prime ministers are reduced to temper tantrums and name calling to cling to some warped form of moral high ground.
I thought students unions were about unifying the individual population into a cooperative body. But with such low voter turnout in student elections can’t they be seen as failing this mandate in some way? Yes student elections are marginally important for a select few, but we will not see an improved voter turnout or student participation following the unnecessary and overbearing ‘scandal’ and drama that emerged post-election. Apathy towards the SU is only entrenched upon reading some of the many articles that highlight the childish and reactionary nature of a few individuals. As much as I love House of Cards, UEA SU elections do not need to compete with those sensationalised narratives.
Who is the SU representing with only 23% of students eligible actually participating? From my very limited knowledge there was no strong push to support healthcare students at UEA in candidates’ manifestos, and at a time where these students are being hit particularly hard by the current Conservative regime are their issues being ignored?
Print has its place but when the street becomes a soggy grave for posters to drown it’s time to rethink our reliance
The real issue we’ve all been too afraid to address though is the swathes of paper that are plastered around campus. Not only does this make it particularly difficult to focus on any one candidate’s aims and intentions, it also does not help the environmental credentials of the institution. Even more ironic was the environmental stances of candidates printed on swathes of paper, littering campus. Perhaps a push for easy online access that cross examines candidate’s manifestos next to each other would make it easier for students to see what they stand for as well as saving on paper and printing waste. Print has its place but when the street becomes a soggy grave for posters to drown it’s time to rethink our reliance.
It is difficult to know how to keep our officers accountable to their promises when only a fifth of the student body voted them in — though I don’t want to lump all officers together, as I know that most will work their hardest to bring about improvements. I wish all the successful candidates the best of luck with their time in office later this year and will wholeheartedly support some of the fantastic plans like decentring our curriculum. However student politics cannot continue to be an all or nothing game for a select few. Instead it needs to move towards including the breadth of our diverse population and I think de-toxifying the business-as-usual model is a step towards inclusion.
Featured image © Gleen Wood