Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Student elections: Not just a 'beauty contest'!

Here's a piece I worte for last weeks The Socialist. Not sure who it's of interest to, but I would like to get more studetn visitors and I think it's a decent article

Students can't go anywhere in February and March without being bombarded by people handing out leaflets, with 'Vote for Robbo' or 'Sharon for Pres' on their t-shirts, not to mention the odd person dressed as a furry animal.

Yes, it's student elections time. This is a time for student union people to crawl out of their hiding places and attempt to talk to students. Desperate for votes, they try everything from free sweets to outright harassment!

Nonetheless most students don't bother to vote at this stage. Why should they? Many candidates don't talk about the real issues such as tuition fees, rip-off accommodation and course cuts.

Instead manifestos typically consist of pledges to be fair and to listen. But in my experience they all say that and nothing changes.

For Socialist Students, elections are not only an opportunity to challenge for leadership of student unions. We contrast our ideas to those of the right wing and build support for our campaigns.

Our approach is different to that of the careerists who often run student unions. Our manifestos put forward demands that address the real needs of students, emphasising the fight for free education as well as important local issues.

The most important thing for us is to explain our ideas and put forward a strategy for building a student movement which can defend education from cuts and privatisation.

Elections can mean there is an increase in students thinking about how the student unions are run and, on the basis of our leaflets and posters explaining what we stand for, some students will campaign with Socialist Students. We can also put pressure on the union to campaign more when they see our support.

Canvassing halls of residence can be quite scary at first, but it gives you an opportunity to discuss issues with students where they feel comfortable. Holding a public meeting on your main campaign can be useful too.

Make sure the meeting is advertised on your election materials. Hustings or candidate question times are an opportunity to challenge other candidates' ideas.


Bluenose said...

I am a student and a reader of your blog. I thought that your article pretty much hit the nail on the head re student elections.

As a mature student, I have been an active trade unionist for some time and am shocked to see the state of student politics. The lowest point was the extraordinary conference. I failed to see why this had to be called, apart from to ram through bizarrely undemocratic proposals with no debate and without a propoer consultation. The right dominate the SU and in my younger days, the people on the NEC wouldn't have even been in the Labour Party, they would have been Tories.

For all its many faults, the trade unions atleast go through the motions and pretence of limited debate. My delegation was not elected and apart from me wsas full of full-timers. Of a delegation of 8, 1 didn't show and only 1 of the rest had even read the review. One person said 'what is it we're doing today?@

The attitudes were appalling. A full-timer said that 'ordinary students' were unable to understand NUS politics and even stated that there was no need for General Meetings of students.

I am standing in our elections for NUS Conference and am hoping to persuade opponents of the review to do likewise.

One problem is that the left in student politics seems more divided than in other spheres and unity over defeating the governance review is essential. There doesn't even seem to be an effective campaign against it from the left which will lead to problems at conference

Leftwing Criminologist said...

thanks for your comment.
it is rather ironic that i've written this when we're purposefully not standing in the student elections in bangor due to the changes to the constitution that will come into effect that will mean that any large scale initiatives we would attempt to make would be blocked.

the left in student politics is dire, and to be honest most groups concentrate on stuff at NUS level rather than at individual universities - until that changes we're screwed becuase we need to get ordinary students involved and knowing how stuff to do with NUS can be used to improve our conditions. That's why I think we were right in linking NUS governance review with the education funding issue as that explains the importance of the issue to people - abstract pleas to defend democracy don't work if people don't understand why that democracy is neccessary.