February 11, 2007

No, I Don't Understand The Democracy Here Either

What the hell happened? Let this be a lesson to me… no money will always lead to unusual adventures.

How much of Union politics is decided on the basis of personality and friendship groups? How many sabbatical officers have risen to power purely because they could get their faces into as many minds as possible? It’s such a closed environment that it’s impossible to view our Union elections as anything vaguely like real life, real world elections… even the smallest council seat would be contested by a less enclosed electorate, even if they are smaller in numbers than the electorate at Warwick. Does Union politics and elections teach us anything about the real world? A slight appearance of competence and a good number of contacts should be enough to establish victory – hell, if that’s all it took I could have run and won.

No ego polishing here citizens, I don’t want to be told I should have run to put my money (which I have rather little of) where my mouth is. You didn’t see my essay last week.

I don’t know if the people who voted now for the winners will be the ones complaining about them vigourously in nine months time. Probably not, but possibly so, the massive hypocrisy of the complainer who didn’t do enough to check what they were getting. In amongst the myriad complaints about Kat Stark there were voices noting that she laid most of her cards on the table from the outset but people still hated some (or all) of what she did. Makes me feel a little freakish for having done my homework and knowing what she stood for.

But when faced with the limited repetoire of sabb issues, students just implode with indifference and vote for the face, slogan or friend of a friend who seemed like the quickest choice on the voting form. Some of these people had as few as three issues. Those voters are going to find themselves in trouble when faced with ‘real’ politics with its millions of policies and candidates. People don’t care enough, and we all know this but the problem is we don’t care enough to do anything about it. Or we can’t.

I don’t know what the answer is, I can’t even tell if there’s anything depressing about this. Large scale indifference mostly means that we are more vulnerable to extremists on all sides but most of the time these get batted aside when they stray too far from a cosy centre ground. Witness how Damian King (lefty) and Bill Rees (righty) didn’t get anywhere. Even by having a political allegiance they were dooming themselves to defeat. So for Warwick as for the real world where most people regard Nick Griffin and George Galloway with suspicion even as they seem to grow stronger. People need a shock to be motivated. And Warwick is too simplistic a system, too obvious a routine, too content to just drink purple, to ever have the shock which would generate full on thought in these elections. And that’s why they are a popularity contest.

Now why oh why did strange things happen every time I lost my coursemates? Oh this will make even less sense tomorrow…


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  1. On a slight aside, people will always moan about what we’ve got without actually knowing the implications of what might have been if they’d chosen a different path. Dan and I were talking yesterday and he was saying that if he’d beaten Kat Stark to presidency there would be far less feminism on campus and far more baked goods. Probably true, but the union may well have become as overgrown as his hair. We just don’t know. That’s the pain in the arse where democracy is involved, you never reallly know what you’re signing up for when you put a cross in that box. I’m waffling now. Will have to start my essay!

    11 Feb 2007, 09:11

  2. The SU could have emailed those students who hardly exist except in electronic form reminding us to vote.
    I wasn’t really aware of the elections, so I didn’t vote.
    It seems to me that both the SU and the University are living in the pre-internet age as far as governance is concerned.
    Still I note that the students’ sole representative on the University Council, Brian Duggan, didn’t bother to turn up to the last meeting of council where minutes are availiable (24 Nov 06). The minutes of the University Senate don’t seem to the available.

    11 Feb 2007, 09:34

  3. The thing with union elections is, even after you’ve read all the manifestos, you aren’t that much more informed. Candidates will make claims without the planning and experience required to realise them. It’s easy to say “Freshers’ Week! The University and Union must start negotiating ways to make this possible” or “Get the University to publish the exam timetables earlier and make them available online” but when push comes to shove, those promises seem to be unachievable and hence meaningless.

    Of course, it can’t be helped that candidates lack experience; they start their jobs fresh out of university, adopting the (supposedly) highest position in the union when, at any other company, they would be adopting one of the lowest positions.

    Anyway, as you can’t judge candidates on their manifesto, you might as well use the fact you know them personally; it’s not like there’s a better way of deciding who to vote for.

    11 Feb 2007, 10:32

  4. Fully agree with that :)
    (it’s rare hence the smiley)

    11 Feb 2007, 11:57

  5. As far as I can tell it bears an uncanny resemblance to a nationwide vote – in a couple of points at least: I wonder how many people could tell the difference between politicians policies over their differing personality traits that got spun out in the tabloids.

    11 Feb 2007, 12:33

  6. The SU could have emailed those students who hardly exist except in electronic form reminding us to vote. I wasn’t really aware of the elections, so I didn’t vote.

    Anyone who buys a ticket for any union event has to go through the union website (obviously discounting door sales and the Advance outlet) and the union website has been emblazened with elections publicity over the last week or two. I’m not a current student so I couldn’t say whether an all member email was sent, but I’d be hard pushed to believe this wasn’t the case. Furthermore, elections related discussion has been all over the “Most Popular” pages of Warwick Blogs recently, so I’m led to conclude that if anyone claims to have been genuinely unaware of the elections, they have only their own selective observance to blame for their ignorance.

    11 Feb 2007, 23:39

  7. On reflection now that i’m outside the bubble, I think an idea would be actually to link a part (20%) of the sabbs pay to the success they’ve had in delivering the manifestos. But I guess only being paid if they do the job they promised to do is a step too far for politicians…

    12 Feb 2007, 01:00

  8. I think the lack of party politics in student elections plays a part here. In the national elections you know vaugely where you stand: be it Tory, Lib Dem, Labour, or one of the fringe parties. And people generally vote along party lines, even though they’re voting for a person and not a party. Whereas at Warwick for the saab elections alone you’re choosing 7 from around 30 individuals (most of whom have no distinguishable policies, other than those distinguishable by thier stupidity), and you’re asked to rate eveyrone in order of preference too. Things would be a lot easier if candidates did actually organise into ‘parties’, even if they weren’t alligned into national parties. Infact that would be an interesting thing for prospective saabs to try: get a group of seven people together, stand for one position each, run on the same slogan and the same style of posters with a connected set of policies that synergise with each other and, given student apathy, if just one of you convinces one student that they’re the best candidate for thier job, they’ll likely vote for the others too. It worked for the twins this year. And it would be much easier for students to tell people apart if they were choosing between 4 parties instead of 28 individuals (but the voting system still running on individual elections, so people can mix and match if they really want to, or if they have a particular like or dislike for a given candidate).

    I do think most students (at least none-freshers) see through the ridiculous claims too. I think a lot of Simon Lucas’ success a few years back was down to him offering a prospectus full of actual accomplishable goals that would genuinely improve quality of life on campus, ie. fixing the wobbly tables in Cholo.

    Also I don’t remember reading anything about Kat Stark’s feminist views in her prospectus, which is where much of the bitching came from. But then, most of the feminism related stuff she was involved in was done outside of her role as President (albeint with a unavoilably massively increased profile due to her role).

    12 Feb 2007, 01:59

  9. Well looks like we sometimes vote in people with entirely stupid manifesto pledges anyway… possibly because they have a good slogan. It doesn’t matter too much to me anyway, as far as I can tell, the Sabbs have been fairly invisible this year.

    12 Feb 2007, 09:53

  10. Re comment 6:

    Anyone who buys a ticket for any union event has to go through the union website

    The number of mature students who go to union events is almost zero.

    I’m not a current student so I couldn’t say whether an all member email was sent, but I’d be hard pushed to believe this wasn’t the case.

    It wasn’t the case

    Furthermore, elections related discussion has been all over the “Most Popular” pages of Warwick Blogs recently,

    But only about the publicity not about any issues. But then perhaps none of the candidates had any opinions about any issues.

    Frankly if I didn’t get round to voting I suspect 99% of the other mature students didn’t either.

    12 Feb 2007, 10:27

  11. I’m curious about how Joe Kirby will bring back Cholo food when there isn’t going to be a Cholo next year.

    13 Feb 2007, 16:43

  12. I’m curious about how you lost the election, Josephine.
    I mean, I voted for you.
    And I never lose.

    13 Feb 2007, 21:50

  13. I would have kitchen toured or lecture shouted etc, but that would have gone against the spirit of my campaign.

    14 Feb 2007, 13:25

  14. I’m curious about how Joe Kirby will bring back Cholo food when there isn’t going to be a Cholo next year.

    Haha. Interesting. Maybe there will be a “temporary” Cholo in the temporary structure? Can’t really see it happening though.

    On the back of Mr. Kirby’s election, I’m looking forward to seeing whether the promise of free Tesco Home Delivery to campus will actually happen and how well this goes down with everyone – particularly when they start blocking campus roads and car parks to unload. I’d put a sizeable amount of money on the fact this was just a vote-winning idea with little promise of it actually happening behind it.

    18 Feb 2007, 02:55

  15. ASDA does free delivery if you spend over £99. Siansbury’s does it for 99p if it’s done on Tues, Wed or Thurs and over £70 is spent.

    Distance is not the only cost in home delivery. Someone has to fill up the order and put it in the van. The delivery person also has to find the address and bring the stuff to the front door.

    The Students Union should buy some big wheeled trolleys for students to push between Tescos and the halls. Hire them out on an hourly basis to ensure that they get brought back. Free Delivery!

    18 Feb 2007, 17:13

  16. Something like this

    18 Feb 2007, 17:44

  17. Why should the Students’ Union be the one’s paying for the big wheeled trolleys? Surely it should be the university? After all, it’s the university who kick up a big fuss whenever they see students using tesco trolleys on campus and around halls of residence.

    The free Tesco home delivery will not happen, Joe Kirby was clearly either a) living in cuckoo-land or b) bullshitting his voters if he seriously thought he was going to lobby for this. Just think of the hassle and carnage it would cause. As for Cholo food, whether in the existing Cholo location or temporarily elsewhere, it shouldn’t be too hard to bring it back if a serious demand for it is anticipated.

    Just thinking about the point about mature students not voting… I know this is thinking against the grain somewhat, but mature students tend to use the Students’ Union facilities considerably less than the average for the overall student body. In which case, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things whether many of them vote or not? The idea is to give the users a chance to choose the way things evolve – if the users happen to be a bunch of first years studying Psychology and living in Jack Martin then surely it is more of an issue that they vote, rather than people who genuinely couldn’t care less anyway because they don’t use the place.

    18 Feb 2007, 18:45

  18. Er perhaps the Students Union should be more than a building?
    Perhaps representing students to the University?

    Perhaps more realistic trolleys:

    Posh trolley

    Budget trolley

    18 Feb 2007, 22:30

  19. As for paying for the trolleys… I won’t argue about that. It might be a contribution from all or some of the University, Tescos, Students Union, individual students.
    The main issue I see is ensuring that the trolleys are brought back after use.

    19 Feb 2007, 12:35

  20. Nich Young

    I think the Union elections do tell you something about elections in a wider context. They show how people vote when deprived of a political label to vote for. I also don’t think people necessarily pay any more attention to national or local elections than Union elections – some do of course, but not everyone. Given that it’s getting harder and harder to spot the differences between parties (although I still think there are very big differences there), that’s increasingly relevant to national politics. The view I take from the Union elections is that a reasonably intelligent and educated electorate is still, when deprived of an easy label, likely to vote for the most physically attractive candidate, providing they aren’t too controversial. It was interesting that in the recent sabbatical elections, a woman only won when there were no men standing and the only non-heterosexual (that I know of) to win won when there were no heterosexual people standing. Now I don’t want to suggest that a woman will always loose to a man, or a gay person will always loose to a straight person (or that the only reason those who won did was due to their gender and sexuality), but I do think that,other factors aside, in any vaguely political situation the person most close to the stereotypical politician is most likely to win – and in this country that’s a white, heterosexual male; in some elections Christianity can help too. The exception to this is that in an otherwise even contest a physically attractive woman will probably beat a physically unattractive man. None of this means that a physically attractive, white, heterosexual, protestant male can’t be the best candidate and win for that reason – it just means they are more likely to even if they aren’t the best candidate.

    Of course, something you can take from many past Union elections is that, provided they do a sufficiently good job of showing how much better they are than their opposition and the Union does a sufficiently good job of conveying why that matters, a candidate who doesn’t meet the criteria above can still win. So things aren’t all bad.

    23 Feb 2007, 19:34

  21. Nich young

    On a different note, the Union matters to all students as a result of it’s representation and welfare work. Those are more vital than anything else because there is often no other body which can do what the Union can.

    However, as a former student representative on the University Council (there is one Union rep and one student rep) I can say that attending that meeting isn’t always the most important thing a Union President can be doing. In practice, only very big decisions actually get taken in the room and most work is done by sub-committees. It’s likely there weren’t any big decisions on the table the time Brian was absent, and he could actually change something by being elsewhere.

    23 Feb 2007, 19:38

  22. “Amit Sood”: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/amitsood/ wrote

    does it really matter in the grand scheme of things whether many of them vote or not?

    Nich Young wrote

    On a different note, the Union matters to all students as a result of its representation

    Isn’t there a bit of a tension between these two views?

    Is it really too much to ask that the SU emails students informing them of the elections?

    I understand that staff get a weekly email full of links to webpages about events taking place at the University in the forthcoming week. Is it too much for this to be forwarded to students – with some info on any student led activities which have been left off the list?

    24 Feb 2007, 09:42

  23. On a different note, elections are usually just a way of choosing between candidates. They often don’t have much to do with choosing between different policies.

    For example at U.K. level, the choice between Tony Cameron & David Blair is just a choice about front-men for policies which are hammered out behind closed doors between elections. When was the electorate asked about invading Iraq? Is there any difference between the parties over nuclear power or road pricing?

    24 Feb 2007, 09:43

  24. If the union really didn’t e-mail students to tell them the elections were on I’m inclined to think that was a cock-up as they certainly always have while I was a student there. Both elections and referendums. Infact I remember one amusing e-mail from Nich Seagrave with the subject line: “Vote now or we’ll put prices up at Top B next week” with the first line below saying “Only joking!”. It certainly got people’s attention if nothing else.

    28 Feb 2007, 01:01

  25. Nic Warrington

    Sorry, I’m a bit behind on the conversation but just to clarify, as the Sabbatical Officer in charge of communication and publicising the elections, I sent out 3 all member emails notifying students how, where, when and why they should vote. If you did not receive these emails, it is probably due to your settings on the Union portal. Check that you have ticked the box to allow you to receive emails from the Union and you should start receiving info on what’s going on.
    While I’m here on the note of voting, don’t forget to vote in Union Referenda which is now open on the Union website till 9pm on Friday.

    07 Mar 2007, 04:21

  26. thanks, nic!

    07 Mar 2007, 19:54


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