Akehurst: No regrets and the future’s bright

I wanted to share a few semi-coherent thoughts whilst last night’s historic election is still fresh in everyone’s minds. Firstly, my head hurts. Copious amounts of whiskey, cheap cava, Carling and burnt pizza are not the most salubrious of combinations. Secondly, Reclaim OUSU won- seven of our thirteen candidates were elected. Thirdly, I feel privileged to have taken part in the first OUSU election in recent history that a sizeable mass of students actually gave a shit about. It might have been called ‘the nastiest election ever’ but it was also the most honest. We challenged the two big slates on policies (usually depressingly absent in student politics), Trup challenged everyone on being out of touch with the student body. Both things needed to be said, and standing was an experience I will not forget for a long time to come.

That’s why I am happy to have lost to Trup. With almost zero preparation he stormed to a 700-odd vote lead in what must be the clearest mandate an OUSU president has had for quite some time. We have to ask how we’ve reached the point where our union is so maligned that joke candidates can win. But Trup is more than a joke candidate- sure, he’s said few real policies, but he has been involved in serious activism and he has some serious points to make. He’s also closest to us – if it hadn’t been against electoral rules he’d have advocated second-preferencing Reclaim OUSU. Whilst we disagree on a fair few things, we both stood to burst the OUSU bubble. I don’t want a student union that shies away from tough campaigning where it matters because it’s ‘unrealistic’ (or harmful to someone’s CV), nor do I want a union that locks 99% of its members out of ever voting on policy outside of a three-day electoral circus with a few pre-selected choices. I don’t think Louis does either. Whilst student media have turned this into a personality-fest and focused on individual candidates and their campaigns, I never saw this as being about me. It was about ideas, and so I’m glad the set of ideas that probably shares the most with ours has been successful.

I’m also happy that unorthodoxy has won the day. Throughout the entire campaign, we tried to some extent  to replicate the electoral machines of the usual OUSU slates. This was always going to be an uphill battle. We didn’t have PresCom (the committee of JCR presidents that seems to end up having a divine right to control OUSU politics), we didn’t have an army of Labour doorknockers and we spent our preparation weeks having tough and sometimes heated debates about policy rather than schmoozing anyone and everyone who might be willing to stand for a position or knock on a door. And yet for once that battle was meaningless.

All this said, I don’t just want to bash OUSU candidates or OUSU as a concept. A strong central student union is crucial when it comes to representing student interests to the university, council or even national government, or supporting university-wide causes, societies and services. Plus, my opponents and I have had a bitter few weeks- abuse in the student press, trying to hust eight common rooms in a night, sleep deprivation, living on Tesco sandwiches and trying to manage finals work in the midst of it all. None of them are evil, or ‘joyless toads’ in the Tab’s words and if nothing else, the work involved in running deserves at least some respect.

Where we raised issues, Trup mocked them. ‘#LJTrup4ousu4change’ stood against the generic personality-based titles of the usual OUSU campaigns just as much as ‘Reclaim OUSU’ did. We ran with the slogan ‘for students, not student politicians’ not because we are anti-politics but because we believe student unions are more than launch pads for Westminster careers. But Trup’s comment about it being hard to win ‘without being on the Labour slate’ was set to a four-chord song and crooned at the electorate in folky foot-tapping rhythm. The problem- that a core of Labour activists dominate student union elections- could in my opinion could be solved with just a bit of honesty. If you knew you were voting for the OULC-backed slate, rather than ‘Team Insert President’s Name’ then you could make an informed choice.

There are, however, more and bigger fish to fry. The student loan book is still to be sold off, risking spiralling interest rates. Staff will strike again for fair pay on December 3rd. The debates around our university and our future are things we should all get involved in. The issues that Reclaim OUSU stood on- arcane and arbitrary fining systems, soaring rents and student union democracy – don’t go away because the elections are over. The team and I ran because we want a student union worthy of the name, where every student has the chance (and hopefully the desire) to participate actively. I like to think that Louis Trup wants the same. Let’s work together to make it happen and reclaim our union.