So I am a self-confessed OUSU addict and got sucked in the way a lot of people do – started off as a JCR rep (because nobody else wanted to do it), then ended up as Chair of Scrutiny Committee, then Chair of Council and so it goes on… At the start, I probably felt how many students do about OUSU – apathetic at best, pretty pissed off at worst.
But after several years of working for and with our Student Union in a number of capacities, I am fiercely passionate about the work it does and the way it helps the very students who sit in so many JCRs running it down at every opportunity. These are, ironically enough, the same people who do not turn up to hustings, do not vote in elections and do not turn up to working groups or respond to emails requesting feedback. I do my best as an OUSU rep to promote OUSU and how important it is. It’s a thankless, uphill task, but one I’ll willingly take on because I know what the real OUSU is about. And this is why I am so angry at the way this election campaign is turning out and can understand why ordinary students just want to turn their backs on their Student Union.
Most people probably won’t take a look at the Official Response to the Complaints made during these OUSU elections. Under the Electoral Regulations, every candidate has the right to complain if they feel election regulations are being undermined in some way. All well and good, however there has been an increasing trend in the past years towards abusing this democratic process as an electioneering tactic, designed to out-manoeuvre the other team, or give it enough bad publicity that its chances of winning are significantly harmed. The complaints lodged against certain slates in this year’s elections are breathtaking in their pettiness and their nastiness by turn. Allegations range from the tearing down of opposing slate’s posters to the blatant copying of a professional website (which the team could never have afforded with the expenditure cap) to an accusation of ‘misrepresentation’ because one team claimed they aren’t ‘student politicians’ (how do you even prove that?). Spare a thought for the saint-like Returning Officer, Nick Cooper, who has voluntarily taken on this role for the term, and as such, has to sift through 7+ pages of complaints from some teams, parts of which are written in Latin (!), in order to arrive at a judgment on what has happened and the appropriate sanctions.
And this is where I find myself starting to agree with this year’s supposed ‘joke’ candidate, Louis Trup. Because he is dead right when he urges people to see past the politics of OUSU and actually consider the people who matter in all this: the students. I don’t mean the politics of fighting against higher fees, campaigning for access bursaries and other important student issues – I myself will tell you how brilliant your Student Union is until the cows come home, but I fail to see how the tactics employed by some of the slates in this year’s elections serve democracy. I myself have been threatened for the hustings I requested at my college, lambasted for reasonable requests about door-knocking and have quite frankly been ashamed of what has been an intensely negative campaign by the leading Presidential Candidates in particular. Rather than focussing on what they can do for students and how they are going to implement effective policies, they have concentrated on bringing each other down, slamming their opponents in a way that is definitely unconstructive and bordering on the offensive. I personally can’t see past these people’s behaviour to even get as far as their policies or manifestos – why would I want to elect a leader for my darling OUSU who thinks nothing of trampling over fellow students and using threatening or underhand tactics to win the election?
And so the real point I want to make (if you have kept reading this far) is that this is NOT the real OUSU. This is not the OUSU whose Sabbatical Officers work insanely long office hours, fighting for better funding packages, student welfare, departmental representation and many more issues besides. This is NOT the OUSU that trains your Common Room reps to do a good job, that liaises with the university to secure a better deal for you or that runs the Student Advice Service that will help you with anything you need. This is not the OUSU that I know and love and have had the privilege of working with for my Oxford career. This is another beast altogether and the behaviour of many slates in this year’s elections has been utterly shameful. I would still urge you to vote, but vote wisely and truly consider the people you are electing – not because they have the flashiest websites, or the most friends in certain political clubs, or the most intimidating debating manner, but because they have the interests at heart of those that matter the most: Oxford students.