OUSU’s nastiest election

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A former OUSU President has waded in to this week’s election fracas by claiming that the campaign has been “the nastiest ever”.

The comments, received on condition of anonymity, refer to the machinations of the past two weeks, and were partially echoed by OUSU President Tom Rutland. Polls close at 6pm this evening, having opened at 8am on Tuesday morning.

Since Saturday, negative campaigning has marred the contest as the candidates have traded blows over everything from underhand promotional tactics to misleading voters.

Nathan Akehurst, Alex Bartram, Jane Cahill and Louis Trup are all competing for the estimated £20,000-a-year job of OUSU President. Both Cahill and Bartram have faced electoral sanctions, with all candidates apart from Trup launching official complaints with election officials against competitors.

Cahill agreed with the ex-OUSU official’s assessment of the campaign’s nastiness, saying that she “felt the same way most days.”

Bartram labelled elements of the campaign “awful,” while Akehurst refused to comment on the activities of other candidates. Current OUSU President Rutland claimed to be “impressed with parts of all of the Presidential campaigns,” but conceded that“there have been some negative elements in the campaigns and press comments in the past week.”

Nick Cooper, the Returning Officer of the election, in one of his judgements this week issued a plea to end the use of complaints as a campaigning device: “An election is an opportunity for voters to decide who they want to represent them.”

Cahill’s remorseful sentiment has been prompted by attacks on her slate, ‘Jane4Change’. She faced censure twice in 48 hours earlier this week.

After a formal complaint by David Bagg, campaign agent for Bartram’s slate ‘Team Alex’, Cahill was ordered to return a ninth of all of her election material. The decision came in response to the revelation that her website was plagiarised from company.

want to represent them.”

Cahill’s remorseful sentiment has been prompted by attacks on her slate, ‘Jane4Change’. She faced censure twice in 48 hours earlier this week.

After a formal complaint by David Bagg, campaign agent for Bartram’s slate ‘Team Alex’, Cahill was ordered to return a ninth of all of her election material. The decision came in response to the revelation that her website was plagiarised from company Mixd, who, coincidentally, specialise in website design.

Jane4Change was subsequently referred to the Returning Officer by another rival, as Akehurst’s team Reclaim OUSU accused the slate of malpractice. Cooper concurred that Cahill’s supporters had been illicitly replacing Akehurst’s posters with those promoting Jane4Change.

However, after taking into account Jane4Change official Helena Dollimore’s claim that “it was an isolated incident”, Cooper only ordered the seizure of two of Cahill’s posters.

Responding to the affair, Akehurst was quick to draw parallels: “I might think anyone intending to commit electoral malpractice would go about it slightly less obviously, but am not so sure after the website plagiarism debacle.”

Jane4Change later apologised to Reclaim OUSU.

The Cahill campaign, however, was not completely passive this week, with Jane4Change launching a complaint of its own against Team Alex. On Monday evening, it was announced that Dollimore had formally questioned Bartram’s assertion that his candidates were “not student politicians”.

Cooper was obliged to enter the fray again, and ordered the Bartram slate to “remove any Facebook posts with the claim”.

The judgement was not without its caveats, though, with a plea to end the use of complaints as a campaigning device: “An election is an opportunity for voters to decide who they want to represent them. […] I encourage all candidates to continue to promote themselves and, in some cases, to leave voters to determine whether their opponents’ claims are plausible.”

However, Cooper has also found himself in hot water this week, with The Oxford Student discovering that he mistakenly approved an ineligible candidate. Lauren McKarus, a visiting student from Sarah Lawrence College in New York, is seeking the position of International Students Officer. She is a visiting student, and so cannot constitutionally stand for election.

Cooper, however, did not notice this until McKarus emailed him asking why she had not received her unique voter code. It was only after this enquiry that he spotted his earlier mistake, despite her visitor status featuring heavily in her election material and in hustings attended by Cooper.

McKarus, however, refused to withdraw her candidacy. She said: “According to OUSU’s website, their ‘core purpose is to engage and represent the student body of Oxford’. Further, under the heading ‘Notes on Eligibility’ the paragraph begins with ‘everybody can run for all of these positions’.

“I believe that visiting students not only fall under the category of ‘student’ and ‘everybody’ but are a thriving part of the Oxford community.”

Cooper sought to explain his mistake by noting that no visiting students had run in an OUSU election before. He added: “Unfortunately when you aren’t looking specifically for something, you sometimes don’t see it.”

The affair was referred to an OUSU Junior Tribunal. After hearing her case on Tuesday evening, they disqualified McKarus as a candidate, who then announced her intention to appeal to a more senior board. As The Oxford Student went to print, the outcome of the case was unclear.

Meanwhile, Trup has entirely steered clear of interaction with election officials, saying: “I am openly against nastiness, being much more of a pro-hug kind of guy.”

The Brasenose geographer, originally considered a joke candidate, has recently surprised some with a well-received commentary in The Oxford Student on the state of OUSU politics.

Stating that he could not believe that he was not seen as a serious contender, Trup argued: “OUSU positions should not be seen as stepping stones. We should have fun students working for fun students, not un-fun student politicians working towards a cosy Labour seat in 20 years.”

Trup’s shift in emphasis has won him plaudits, earning an endorsement from online newspaper The Oxford Tab. Other newspapers have endorsed Trup’s rivals, however. Cherwell Editor Nick Hilton has put his weight behind Cahill, while The Oxford Student ‘s Editors have backed ReclaimOUSU’s Nathan Akehurst.

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