“People have their own lives”


She models herself on Harriet Harman, is used to being in the spotlight and is coming soon to a doorstep near you. Martha Mackenzie is the tough, ambitious but principled politico who is determined to make you get involved in OUSU – whether you like it or not.

In fact, most students didn’t vote in the election that crowned her OUSU President-elect last week. Turnout fell again to a record low of 14 percent this year, meaning 90 percent of Oxford students did not give her their vote. When it comes to OUSU, most students have been disengaged for years and think that will continue.

But they don’t reckon with Mackenzie. She is under no illusions as to how the average student feels about her election: our next President’s motivational mantra is “nobody cares”.  She certainly talks the talk and is clearly passionate about “making people care” – she is determined to speak to ordinary students, even if she has to knock on every door in the University. As a former student actress, she doesn’t lack confidence.

Although every OUSU President for longer than the life of this illustrious publication has pledged to reconnect with students, as she outlines her plans with messianic zeal it is hard not to be swept up in the notion that she can slay that implacable foe, apathy. Her enthusiasm is infectious.

“People have their own lives…we need to respect that and not just assume that people should care,” she tells The Oxford Student as we settle down for coffee.

She has no qualms about tackling such tough issues, and doesn’t flinch when asked to give a message to the “silent majority” who did not vote, and have probably never heard of their newest student representative.

“I’d say 14 percent of people did vote and they picked us, our team and the people who have been put in this place, and I believe that we are the best for the job and we are going to do as good a job as possible. All of us take the role of a representative incredibly seriously. Even if that person didn’t vote for me, it’s still my responsibility to represent them and I will do my utmost to do that.”

But for all she promises change we can believe in – yes, she worships at the altar of London Citizens – Mackenzie is hardly unlike former presidents. In fact, she ticks all the standard OUSU boxes: JCR President, active OULC member, community organiser.

Despite this, she is determined to involve people from across the political spectrum, as evidenced by the OUCA members on her campaign slate.

Her commitment to this has clearly outlasted the campaign. “We’re meant to be representing the student body and we can’t do that if whole swathes of the student body think that we’re completely irrelevant because only people with one political view can get involved.”

In keeping with the current President, David Barclay, who has proudly draped a St Andrew’s flag above his desk in Thomas Hull House, she even has Scottish roots.

But she stands out most obviously from previous incumbents simply in that she is the first female president for six years.

Mackenzie ascribes the lack of female politicos in Oxford to a problem with the political culture – one that has worsened in the last four or five years. “I think Oxford has actually been more male-dominated than it was in the past.” She was astounded at how often during the election there would be only two women in a room full of campaigners and voters – Martha and her academic affairs sab-elect, Hannah Cusworth.

Even when women do stand for positions, she argues, there is a difference in attitude from the electorate – particularly in the focus on appearance. “Posters are graffitied on in a way that I don’t think they are if you’re a man… I made sure in every single hust that I had a scarf or high-necked top just to make sure people were looking at my face. I had to consider that.”

She is inspired by feminist figures – when asked which historical figure she would most like to have endorsed her campaign (in their personal capacity, of course), she chooses Mary Woolstonecraft. Usually an unpopular choice, she picks Harriet Harman as her political hero: “She’s a woman who got into power while she was pregnant, in the 80s, during a very sexist era and has actually done a lot and has never lost sight of why she’s in Parliament.”

She rejects these headline-hungry journos’ attempts to goad her into saying she wants to be the next Harriet Harman, flatly replying: “No, I want to be the next Martha Mackenzie.” You might have evaded Mackenzie Mark 1 during the campaign, but we can’t help feeling you’ll be hearing from this new version rather a lot before long.

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