OxStu Previews: The Union Election

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The Oxford Union presidential election will take place tomorrow, with the President and all officerships being contested.

Candidates for all positions remain disproportionately male and privately educated.

Members will have a choice between Daniel Wilkinson, a 2nd year PPEist, the presidential candidate for the ‘Progress’ slate, and Julian Kirk, a PPE finalist, who is leading the ‘Refresh’ slate.

Both slates are fielding candidates for the Union’s three officerships (Librarian, Secretary, and Treasurer), as well as its two elected committees, Standing (which is the senior of the two) and Secretary’s.

This term 5 out of 8 of the candidates for the senior positions – President and officers –  attended a private school, with all four of the senior candidates from the ‘Refresh’ slate having been privately educated.  

Only 2 out of the 8 candidates for officer positions are female: Cecilia Zhao, Refresh’s candidate for Librarian, and Amy Gregg, a graduate student, and former President of Cambridge Union, who is Progress’ candidate for Treasurer. Only 30% of all of the candidates running at all levels are female.

A third of all candidates are BME – there are 8 BME students out of the 21 who are running for Standing Committee level and higher. No candidates, however, are black. 

Both slates say they are keen to highlight the recurrent problem facing the union: access and inclusivity.

‘Progress’ have pledged a long-term strategy to lower membership fees, remove nomination fees from elections, and to publish and election guide so students from all backgrounds understand how to get involved.

‘Refresh’ have promised to create an ‘access development fund’, hold debating workshops in low income schools across the world, and partner with college access programmes.

Kirk told The Oxford Student: “We want to engage members much more in the running of the society. With that in mind, we want to have weekly members’ debates that are both the opportunity for members to bring business regarding the running of the society as well as formal debates designed for members to engage with each other in shaping the discourses to which we play host.”

He added: “We believe that one of the key access issues the Union faces is the barrier of the upfront cost of membership, which the union needs to have at the moment as a result of the way its cash flow is structured- this is one of the aims of the development fund: to smooth out cash flow over the year to hopefully move towards a model where all members can pay by installments.”

‘Progress’ presidential candidate Daniel Wilkinson, formerly Treasurer of the Union, told The Oxford Student: “I am humbled and honoured to be in the position to run for President this Friday. As a first-generation university student from a state school, I fell into the Union without really knowing what it was.

“ I’m thankful to so many people for joining me in this journey and allowing me to be in this position, and I really hope that come Saturday we will be in a place to make genuine Progress in our society.”

Following a recent rule change, it is no longer only members of standing committee and ex-officers who are eligible for presidential election, a move which enabled Kirk’s presidential bid – he is an ex-chair of consultative committee. The change was approved by a margin of a mere two votes.

This term has seen an increase in the number of candidates at all levels, with thirty students running for secretary’s committee and thirteen running for standing committee. Many of these students have decided to run independently or in small groups called ‘pods’, without the support of a slate.

Amongst these candidates are a group of three, ‘#reFOrM”, which include Varun Doshi, a candidate for standing committee.

Speaking about their decision to run together, he told The Oxford Student: “Fraser, Abhishek and I do all believe in the union and what it stands for; however, we do feel that there is a lot that needs changing and reforming. We decided not to formally join any of the major slates as we wanted to run together as good friends and also so that we could push forward policies that we genuinely believed in rather than have to push forward a sort of ‘party line’.”

“These policies focus on giving back to members, through pledges such as taking members’ suggestions for invites, and promoting diversity and access within the union, by lowering ‘pay to play’ election nomination fees.”

Members will have the chance to vote for their chosen candidate this Friday, and results will be announced the following day.

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