A Tale of Three Presidents

  • This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.

Mentions transparency in their hust.

Item on the SU-issued hustings bingo/drinking game

It’s the Students’ Union sabbatical officer election period here at the University of Lancaster, and there are three candidates running for the dubious honour of having to spend a year representing students—ungrateful oiks that they are—and taking the blame for the failures of a university system that currently serves in the best interests of anyone but students, and of anything but education.

In my own time-honoured form, having last done so for the 2014 EU Parliament Election (how long ago that all seems now), I will be going through the manifestos of each candidate armed with a fine-toothed comb and all the impotent snark I can muster. Before that, I’ll declare my own conflicts of interest: I have never met Ms Hampapur; I have nodded occasionally at Mr Woolf whilst working at the SU nightclub; and I am friends with Ms Jones and helped advise on her manifesto. That said, I am not above self-criticism and will try to hold Ms Jones to the same standard I hold the other two to. Whether or not I do so is up to the reader to decide. Also, it should go without saying that any views expressed below are my own, and not necessarily that of any of the candidates.

Rhiannon Jones: The Woman with No Chill

First up is Rhiannon Jones, who has previously served as the 2016/17 SU President and the President of the County College, and who is currently the President of the First Aid Society. In her manifesto, which clocks in at 740 words (out of a 750-word limit), she lists a handful of achievements from her previous year in office—something, subtext point out, that Mr Woolf is less able to do—including the creation of the Academic Peer Mentoring scheme and increase in voter turnout for the 2017 snap General Election. She details the five themes under which she groups her pledges, each of which are backed by a statistic to demonstrate their necessity: Academic, Extracurricular & Employability; Welfare & Community; Cost of Living; Governance & Transparency (drink); and Postgraduates. Under each of these themes comes a handful of pledges and a link to a document listing, in graphic detail, the full extent of the pledges and how she plans to achieve them.

As I said, I had a hand in writing the manifesto. I feel that even my biggest detractor would grant me some ability when it comes to command of the written word. My first suggestion to Ms Jones was that anything that wasn’t backed by a statistic had to be thrown out—the Point, Evidence, Explanation (PEE) method that we are all taught in secondary school. I can see two issues with the manifesto as it stands, however. Firstly, there is no mention of the international students who make up a huge proportion of our student body; not even a token one. Secondly, a few too many of the pledges begin with buck-passing verbs such as campaign for and lobby. What will be her issue, I think, is that Ms Jones has what the youth would call zero chill. She has poured time and effort into her manifesto far beyond that merited by her competition, as we shall see. I think she represents something of an overcompetent technocrat, and whilst she believes in the idea that students are some of the smartest people in the country, I am more pessimistic in thinking that they are the only people in the country stupid enough to be going to uni. We shall see.

Siri Hampapur: The Woman with No Clue

Siri Hampapur is currently co-Station Manager of our student TV station, LA1:TV. It is Ms Hampapur’s manifesto (which, bizarrely, clocks in 30 words over the limit at 780) that motivated me to write this critique. I can tolerate a lot of things, but laziness is rarely one of them. Ms Hampapur’s meaning-free and platitude-heavy approach to manifesto-writing is summed up exquisitely in her second paragraph: she aims to see a greater level of fairness, representation, change and transparency in the Students’ Union and with the University. Anyone playing along with the SU campaigning drinking game likely just drank themselves into a coma, but my main concern is the complete lack of any suggestions for how she plans to go about doing any of this.

Where I criticised Ms Jones’ manifesto for having a few lobby and pressure pledges, Ms Hampapur sprinkles them throughout her own with liberality. She will be vocal about the effects of rents and bus pass prices going for a hike (did she mean have been hiked rather than have hiked?) She will put pressure on [university management] to make a change. Astonishingly, she boasts that she will be present at liberation events (emphasis mine) and work […] with VP Welfare and Community and the Part Time Officers to improve representation of the liberation groups—in other words, she is pledging to do her job (see §5.2).

I don’t want to appear unduly harsh on Ms Hampapur. Her manifesto is not entirely without merit. Like Ms Jones, she recognises that postgraduate students have been underrepresented within the union. There are tantalising glimpses of worthy ideas throughout, but where it falls down is in Ms Hampapur’s incredible lack of attention to detail—generally a good quality to have when applying to be a director of a large charity. This manifests in minor ways, like the lack of proofreading that led to her misquoting speaking truth to power as holding truth the [sic] power. It also manifests in major ways, whereby many of her pledges would be revealed as unnecessary with even a modicum of research. An example: she promises landlord vetting and proper housing checks before move-in days, despite the fact that these are both already performed by the SU’s Lancaster Univeristy Homes project.

Most egregiously, for me personally, is her section about the Sugarhouse (the SU-run nightclub in town). The entire section is a trainwreck. We all love a good night out in Sugar, she writes, presumably ignoring the almost a third of students who do not drink nowadays. The Sugarhouse should be the model of a good night out – no sexual harassment, violence, or abuse in any form. Admirable goals (although, again deferring to subtext, the opposite would be to advocate for more sexual harassment), but her plans are laughable. Genius idea #1 is to [work] with Sugar to provide better training for staff and bouncers on how to handle reports of harassment. Genius idea #2 is to [push] for zero tolerance and immediate consequences to those perpetrating acts of harassment or abuse. Firstly, one must wonder what she believes the current policy to be, if not zero tolerance? Boys will be boys, perhaps? If only we could consult some sort of massive poster that’s been hanging outside the front door of Sugar, beside the queue, for months:

Ah, right then. But what about us thick-as-pigshit bouncers (we tend to prefer the term security), oblivious as we are as to how to respond to sexual assault when it occurs in our venue? During my two years of working for FGH Security Ltd I have either received, or have been offered, the following training:

  • rape and sexual awareness (mandatory for working at Sugar for at least a year now, by request of management);
  • safe physical intervention;
  • crime scene management;
  • fire safety;
  • first aid;
  • LGBTQ+ and gender awareness;
  • hospitality;
  • and even, in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing, Project Griffin counter-terror training.

I have to wonder if Ms Hampapur has any ideas of specific training that she feels could supplement all of this, or if she just couldn’t bother do the bare minimum of research before writing her manifesto. Answers on the back of a postcard, please.

Josh Woolf: The Man with No Manifesto

Josh Woolf, the re-election-seeking incumbent and former President of the Jewish Society, rocks up to a gun fight (albeit a gunfight between a 12-pounder long gun and a pellet gun pointed in the wrong direction) armed not with a knife, but with the handle of one. At 335 words, Mr Woolf presents more of a manifestette. He mentions a handful of questionably vague achievements, such as supposedly making the work of the Union more visible (despite having authored only five blog posts during his year in office), but proposes little that couldn’t reasonably be achieved in the four months he has left in office. He throws out the now-mandatory mention of mental health that all candidates are required, by law, to do every five minutes of their campaign on pain of death, and he also addresses the rising cost of living. He just forgets to do so alongside any suggestions as to how he will fight it.

In Conclusion

Vote as your conscience dictates. Whilst I have made little secret of my belief that, campaign-wise, Ms Jones is far and away the superior candidate, that is not to say there are not broader criticisms of her to be made. subtext accuse her of being having a politics-lite approach, and lament that Mr Woolf’s adoption of such has led to a docile presidency on his part. Ms Jones, for her part, did respond to these criticisms.

The election is, and will remain until voting closes on Friday, a three-horse race. It is simply that, on assessment of the evidence, one horse appears a stallion, one a bemused Shetland massively out of her depth and one has broken his leg on the course and has a tent being erected over him as I write.

Addendum: Come on, student media

I expect so little from our student media outlets, training grounds for future BBC grad. schemes that they are, and yet I am still disappointed. First, our venerable radio station Bailrigg FM managed to record an entire series of hustings without anyone realising that they were almost inaudible, and backed by a constant, distracting hissing. Our radio station failed at basic audio. Then, our student newspaper SCAN seemed to have sent its liveblog correspondent to an entirely different FTO husting than the one the LA1:TV camera crew were filming. In one instance, a question from one candidate (Ms Hampapur) was misattributed to another (Ms Jones)—compare this writeup with this video at 03:45:08. In another, Ms Hampapur’s answer to a question was written down as having been its opposite—watch Ms Hampapur suggest the use of a secret code in Sugar at 03:48:50, recorded in SCAN‘s liveblog as we need physical steps, not secret codes to call for help. Trebles all round!

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