Equal Opportunities and Welfare Officer Daniel Downes is set to ‘consider his position’, according to an email to the Students’ Union Elections Committee which has been leaked to Impact. The email follows a farcical display by one candidate which overshadowed Friday evening’s Presidential Debate.
The evening, which was designed to be the main showpiece of the electoral calendar before the Results Night on Friday 12th March, was being broadcast from The Den by URN, and was supposed to be an ideal opportunity for students to probe candidates about their policies and for the competitors to see what their rivals are made of. However, in a display described by Downes as “outrageous and completely degrading to the elections procedure”, candidate James Phillips raised uproar amongst listeners and the audience present.
Having made his first appearance of the campaign at a Candidate Question Time earlier in the day, Phillips – who had not submitted a manifesto and was reportedly signed up to the campaign by his friends while he was out of the country – had made it clear to Impact that “It was some mates that did it for me – I wasn’t going to do it, and then I just decided to go for it. I haven’t really thought about it yet to a great extent.”
During the day, Phillips’ principal suggestion had been to bring in a hopper bus to Ocean, while pointing out in response to the issue of a lack of female candidates for President that “I love girls”. In the evening he defended his lack of experience by referring to himself as a “lash captain”, while drinking several drinks – including shots – at the table.
Clearly there as a joke, Phillips further stirred up controversy in the audience, suggesting that anybody who didn’t drink was a “loser”, following which Downes received complaints from individuals with health issues which prevented them from drinking alcohol, along with religious groups. To quote Downes, “He completely dismissed mental health issues and dependence upon alcohol…James Phillips can not be allowed to treat Students’ Union Equal Opportunities policy or its student groups with such disdain and loathing.
“If he is not officially removed as a candidate in the election I will be considering my own position on the Exec.”
Phillips was asked to leave the event, and the Elections Committee are currently considering taking action against the candidate. With Philips silenced, the debate was able to return to a measure of normality. Topics covered included transparency and accessibility of the SU, how to achieve more funding from the University, satellite campuses, student transport and inclusion of black and ethnic minority students.
A particularly fierce debate erupted over the issue of what approach the President should adopt towards student drinking. With James Torrance advocating the lowering of drink prices in the Den and Mooch, the question was raised by the current Welfare Officer over whether a prospective President should be openly promoting increased consumption of alcohol. Will Vickers strongly attacked Torrance’s policy, arguing that student drinking is a serious welfare issue and that lowering drink prices is not the way forward. Azhar argued that there were many students who did not drink, and the Union had a responsibility to ensure that they were included in the social side of university life.
Candidates seized the opportunity to challenge and criticise their opponents. Torrance took the chance to speak out about gaps he believes exist in Ben Ingram’s manifesto, and was concerned that Will Vickers had not demonstrated involvement in the national campaign against rises in tuition fees. While Azhar felt that Mooch needed to be “the place to be” and advocated bringing more societies to hold socials there, Ingram said that he had already spoken to the manager and it was already well used for socials.
Despite such evidence of the increasingly heated competition between the candidates, by the end of the evening they seemed to have at least reached an agreement on one thing – a little friendly antagonism is a good thing. Torrance commented that a little aggression is healthy and Hannan Azhar professed that he too welcomed constructive criticism.
The question is whether students will come away from this tempestuous evening feeling better informed on their future President, or whether ‘Phillips-gate’ will overshadow the remainder of the election campaign.