By George Watkins
I can understand why a lot of students see there being no point in elections for positions within the Student Union every year. A common misconception is that it’s a space for uppity Politics students to have something to boost their CV with to satisfy their ego trip. The problem with stereotypes is that there is usually an element of truth which it is based on. I won’t argue that some students have, maybe, in the past used the election system to promote their own interests rather than those of the students they actually represent. Honestly though, having experienced the week for myself, you’re missing the reason that most students stand. Before you jump on the bandwagon of the people that think they’re brave slagging off people who put themselves out there in the hope of making a difference, let me take you on a tour of what it means to go for a position and maybe you’ll be able to make up your own mind instead of listening to rumours.
The starting place is to think of a problem with the university. In my instance, standing for Students with Disabilities’ Officer, it was that Student Support services are overwhelmed with far too high a demand, and how you could fix it. This is so exciting. You could fundamentally restructure a part of the university you feel isn’t working well or you could put a cookie dispenser in the SU. Next, think of which category that would fall under. For me it was clearly Disabilities Officer, as I wasn’t too keen on taking a year out for a Vice President position. For your cookies it could be VP Welfare if you were deadly serious. Nominating yourself is easy. There’s been posters everywhere in the university buildings. They give you guidance on how to do it, and will answer your questions if you do feel like you need convincing.
So you’ve nominated yourself. Then what? You’ll attend some candidate briefings to learn more about the process and how straightforward it actually is, and then all of a sudden you’ll find yourself having to create a manifesto. Say you’re standing for VP Welfare. Apart from your cookie dispenser, you aren’t sure what to fill the other spaces. Try talking to other students, and have a brainstorm, because you’ll probably overlooking an obvious problem if you try to do it by yourself. Make a list and test it out with people. They need to be popular ideas or you won’t get elected. That’s how democracy works. I’m still a strong believer that if any candidate for SU President had demanded better WiFi they would have been elected straight away. Then there’s designing posters, aka the fun bit. Want your face taking up the whole sheet? Go for it? If you fancy trying to be arty and represent the stigma surrounding disabilities using a marker pen, a lemon and a group of smug looking oranges then go ahead. Make sure it represents your message or nobody will care.
Campaign week. You pick up your fliers and posters. You have your special coloured t shirt and you’re pushed out into the world, terrified by the scary students walking past you whom you need to convince to vote for you. There has to be a plan. What are you good at? My skill was talking to people and explaining my ideas in person to little groups instead of lecture shout outs. Be creative too. If you’re keen to do a video, then go ahead, but remember that spray painting your name on public property isn’t the smartest move for a potential student representative. It flies by, and before you know it, you’re at the results ceremony, wondering if you’ve done enough. Maybe you have, but it doesn’t end there if you don’t.
I learned a huge amount from election week. I didn’t get into office, but I realised how receptive people are to an idea if you sell it with the passion you have for it, so I’ve taken that on board to use for promoting my personal mental health campaign on campus. It’s amazing what a leap of faith can give you. If nothing else, you’ve had a mad week of free breakfasts and the chance to talk to that girl you liked off your course with the pretence of the election. It’ll vary from candidate to candidate obviously.
Defeat is the best measure of character, and will teach you more about yourself than any lecture or seminar you ever attend. Victory is wonderful, and will give you the chance to see your ideas become fleshed out, but sometimes not winning is more important. Around 50 candidates, and about 10 positions. The maths isn’t hard. I had a crisis for the subsequent days after my loss, wondering what I would do with myself, because as part of the election you believe your ideas are the best thing to ever exist. You have to, or you won’t convince people to vote. It’s spurred me on to push for my reforms I was keen on, and thankfully I know the people who have got into office, so they will help me make that happen. Don’t disregard something just because other people say it’s something it probably isn’t.