Do you know the name of our outgoing Union President? I bet you don’t - I mean, I certainly didn’t until about five minutes ago.
Apparently, she’s called Lottie Doherty. A brief scroll of her Twitter tells me very little about her, other than that she’s in favour of the University strikes and approved of the university wide switch to Ecosia. Maybe not my cup of tea, but the more you know, I guess.
That I’ve got by for a whole year without such knowledge is pretty telling. There are all these people supposedly standing for election, yet I really don’t have a scoobies as to who they are, and I don’t think I ever will.
This is why the recent election is a joke. The vast majority of us don’t know who these people are, and they have been given no reason to vote for them. So paltry was the expected turnout that people were literally bribed with cupcakes (by the Student Union!) to artificially bring it up. When the vote actually happened, the whole thing was laughable. So few people felt compelled to vote that the incoming President won with less than 700 votes.
What annoys me most is the narrative surrounding this sorry state of affairs. We students are apparently oh-so lazy for not voting. For some reason, so goes the argument, there’s a moral – or ‘civic’ – duty for us to, literally, engage in an act of box-ticking.
You don’t have a right to make me vote – to make me consent to some process that you want to legitimise. For me, this is half the point. You, as a candidate, have failed to convince me why I should care. That is on you. If you are self-evidently the person with a manifesto that will make a tangibly positive difference to my quality of life, that’s great. All you need to do is speak to me or hand me a leaflet. I will vote for you.
If on the other hand, student politics deals with problems that really aren’t that big, or the differences between candidates’ preferences are not sufficient to merit caring, or the role itself is an empty title, then I won’t vote for you. It’s that simple.
To put it in layman’s terms, something is wrong. Either you are a candidate who can’t be bothered to do the work required, or the whole fandango is a rotten affair.
It seems reasonable and feasible that both might be true. In either case, spoiling a ballot is not only justified, but seems something I’m morally obligated to do. If it feels like it doesn’t make a difference who I vote for, I need to signal that - and I’m not going to be convinced by exhortations to the contrary.
Not only does student politics seem irrelevant to most people’s lives, I am extremely skeptical about these candidates’ motivations for running. Much like a life in actual politics, life in student politics comes at a considerable cost. Doing your job well involves giving up a lot of time for not much back. You go to meetings, campaign, engage the student body – tedious nonsense that means you can’t go to the pub, write your essay, or do whatever other stupid stuff kids like to do these days.
I’m not sure I could be convinced to do it, so I require a conceptual leg up to understand why anyone else would. Is it for their CV? If it is, I am opposed to validating their representation of me – I don’t want to be a means to an end, and so want to show my disapproval. Alternatively, do they want to be externally recognised for their achievements by the wider student body? If they’re that desperate for external recognition, they should sort their own problems out before they sort out mine. The fight for external recognition of your person is how politics gets so nasty in real life – all those big beasts fighting to defend their very fragile egos. If the same thing is happening in student politics, I just don’t want to legitimise it.
Of course, it’s conceivable to see that many would act out of moral compulsion, but I just don’t buy it. I don’t believe our society’s motor is one of duty and selflessness anymore. Of course, people are not always selfish, but it is rare that acts of extreme selflessness have significant social value attributed to them. Hence, social care is treated as grubby and lonely and it’s rare to talk down to a city banker. It’s become demoralising and unrewarding to do the job that’s difficult but necessary - for most people, it’s too much to take, let alone sign up for.
You might disagree – feel free to do so. I’m not bothered. It’s not for me to tell you how or if to vote.
However, this, more or less, misses the point. To misquote Obama, ‘you’re entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts’. It is abundantly clear there is a wider problem and my concerns are ones that most students share. To put it simply, the people have spoken, and they don’t care.
Illustration: Lauren McAndrews