Feasible or Laughable? – SU Election promises under the spotlight

You are – I assume – reading this hastily assembled article from the comfort of your free Lenton hopper bus. Sitting in a neat pile on your lap are all your essential course books for next year, bought with a hefty discount second hand from the SU second hand bookshop. Of course you didn’t go straight there – not without grabbing a one pound pint in the recently reopened Ark, fresh from acquiring a summer job from the Portland job centre, run by helpful and friendly fellow students. They reckon they can help you land a graduate job outside of the square mile too.

Later, you’re going to Ocean for the special nurses, postgrads, LGBT and wheelchair party with the ticket you printed off the SU website, after having a meeting/pre lash with your tutor – as thanks to the Union’s review of the tutor system, he is suddenly taking a much more active interest in your life.

This is utter tosh of course. Why would you think any differently? Well, if the manifestos of victorious SU Exec members past and present were to be believed, this is the sugary sweet, rainbow and unicorn infested world in which we live today.

For too long now, the SU election process has been an unvetted shambles. Manifestos are put together on the fly, with the emphasis very firmly based on slogans over substance. There is no checking progress for verifying the bold claims of experience of some candidates (charity workers, campus brand managers and real world work experience), or whether the various obscure committee positions are all padding and fluff (JCR members and SRS ‘contributors’ being amongst the most prolific repeat offenders). No doubt a more obvious lie will be caught out, but did anyone check the veracity of “Pakistan’s best Public Speaker 2006”, “RAF officer 06/08” or the “International Women’s Boxing Volunteer” when they put pen to paper (or cursor to Photoshop) and wrote what is – in essence – a job application.

Can you imagine any real world position with a £17k salary and legal responsibility for events attended by thousands to be filled without even the most basic of reference checking? Thousands of (often embittered) words have been written on the subject of elections being more of a Facebook popularity contest than a true electoral barometer of student sentiment fought on a policy battlefield. Whilst more informed voices have countered with the ready availability of manifestos, both online and in physical form, how much can we rely on these documents? Not only can experience be fabricated, but the very policies that are voted in by an unknowing student body are not subject to any formative criticism from current officers with regards to feasibility or even legality.

It seems clear that students have been seduced by idealistic soundbites never to be delivered on. When put up against the less than glamorous – but vitally important – QAA assessment, it’s entirely forgivable for John Q. Student to vote with his duvet and sweep the next private school cardboard cutout into office who promises an easier life.

The galling aspect of the whole seedy affair is not the entirely understandable policy of current and former exec members impartiality – entirely reasonable when considering the influence an endorsement might carry. No, the issue here is the complete disregard for veracity shown by the incumbent officers. Perhaps they would argue that just because policies haven’t been implemented or have failed in the past doesn’t rule out a truly dedicated and dynamic officer pushing them through. But when the policies suggested would break pre-exisiting contracts, University relations or even laws, surely it’s the job of the SU to intervene and inform the electorate this would not, and could not, happen. It’s very hard to believe that the individual candidates in question are unaware of the unfeasibility of their claims.

Being on the SU Exec not only means you are in charge of a very large and wealthy organization, but for some positions it also carries the responsibility of charity trustee. This is a position which carries with it an expectation of the utmost integrity and honesty, and is legally binding beyond their tenure of office. Should not – for the candidates’ own sake let alone ours – their credentials be investigated by not only the electorate, but by the organisation they are vying for the opportunity to run, too?

Leanne Chilcott

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3 Comments on this post.
  • Couldn’t agree more
    15 July 2010 at 07:16
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    A good article, and it brings up many of the issues that I have previously found irritating. I would have thought that Elections Committee/SU Exec should make students aware of these issues, but unfortunately it is not within the remit of Elections Committee or the SU Exec to do so as this would be seen as bias against a candidate.

    Alas it is up to the other candidates and the electorate to challenge the claims made by candidates running for an Exec position. As we can see from the underattended hustings, the general student populace wont do it, and more often than not, the other candidates wont, lest they themselves get targeted. The only possible exception is the Presidential debate, but even that is only ever seen by a small proportion of the electorate.

  • Anon
    20 July 2010 at 16:19
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    Whilst every candidate goes in to elections with the intention of bringing about big changes, it is totally unrealistic. However I perceive this to be a flaw in the system more than flaw in the candidates elected.

    No one until you have done the job will realise how difficult it is to bring about changes. One reason for this is you inherit decisions made by the previous years Exec and therefore for the first few months of your job, I can imagine you will be seeing these projects through to the end, reducing the time you have to implement the changes you want. Furthermore the autonomy the Exec actually have in their jobs is actually quiet small and therefore making large changes such as an online treasury or a new students union bar take a lot of time, resources and effort to implement.

    Perhaps the solution to this endemic problem with unfulfilled manifesto promises would be increasing Officers term of office from one to two years (obviously they would have to be re-elected for the second year)? This is already done at many unions across the country, and would give them the time, resources and scope required to make lasting positive change! Additionally this would enable candidates to bring a progressive set of manifesto pledges which are realistically plausible within the two year period in office, reducing the number of short sighted, rash decisions and promises made in order for an Officer to leave their mark.

  • Kath
    5 September 2010 at 23:35
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    I agree, a one year Office term is by far not enough for any sort of real changes to be made.

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