Winston Churchill famously said that democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time. And so it proved with the SU elections.
With a little under 8000 votes cast in this year’s elections, a turnout of just 23.2%, there hasn’t been a smaller mandate for an elected position since, well, leader of the Conservative Party and prime minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as it turns out. It’s a similar story across the country, though, as universities struggle to get a significant turnout.
With less than one in four of us voting, it seems that the student community as a whole doesn’t even use the little democratic power the university affords us.
However, who can really blame the non-voters?
Looking back over the past year, how much change have I seen that is a direct result of the elected SU officers? Now perhaps this is my fault for not reading the officers’ blogs, or checking their progress against their manifesto pledges. My guess is that the noticeable changes we see and feel on campus would have gone ahead, regardless of who had been elected last year.
“The SU officers have very little say in university life”
This isn’t to say that the SU officers don’t do a lot of work; I’m sure they do, and I’m sure they work very hard and are very dedicated people who care very much about the University and its students. Even they would surely admit that their power has some pretty severe limits even within the SU, which is mostly made up of full-time, non-student staff members, let alone the University as a whole.
And it’s great that now we’ve got more water coolers around campus or whatever, but most students’ concerns lay in the wider issues of university life, which the SU officers have very little say in.
So come the latest round of voting, I couldn’t say I was particularly engaged or interested in the election process. And neither was the student community apparently, with various positions only having one candidate and the role of Environment and Social Justice officer not receiving any.
Despite talking to a few of the candidates during the election week, I still could only name a handful of them off the top of my head. In fact, I could only name a handful of the positions off the top of my head.
“The only policies I can remember were from Sooty and Sweep”
Nevertheless, I did try my best to research the candidates and their policies, reading through all the manifestos on the SU website. But my God, they’re always all so similar.
It is in all seriousness that I say the only policies I can explicitly remember from any of the candidates are Sooty and Sweep’s contrasting promises about Sir Clive Granger and the alien launch pads.
And after reading through the other six manifestos for President, it is not an exaggeration to say that I legitimately could not remember which of the candidates I had thought was the best, or the worst, or the one with that good idea, or the one who ended up winning.
Amongst the minority of students who voted, I would guess I was amongst a smaller minority who took the time to read the candidates’ manifestos. Most who did vote probably voted because one of the candidates was a friend of a friend, or on their course, or had the cool poster with the catchy slogan.
The SU elections are often criticised as being a popularity contest, but really there is no way to escape this for the average student. Even after reading all the manifestoes and chatting to a few of the candidates, I was still largely uninformed. Half of the time, I still resorted to voting for the person with the best marketing campaign.
Can any of us really be blamed? I mean really, what does it matter anyway? If Sooty or Sweep had been elected SU President, the change felt by the average student would likely be infinitesimal. And yes, it’s great to see people who care get elected, and it’s a great personal success for those who do. But for the tens of thousands of other students, the elections mean very little, if anything at all, apart from the fact that they represent a symbolic right to democracy and student input.
So maybe it’s time for us to scrap this faux-democracy, and go to one of those other systems we’ve tried from time to time. Students of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your debts.
Image: Impact Images