With the Union’s finances having been made public, and the financial plan to resolve the deficit still to be entirely finalised, the next cohort of student officers will certainly need to bed in to their respective roles quickly. In view of the situation, here are some things you need to look out for in the coming week, as candidates flood social networking with publicity pages and websites, and publish manifestos brimming with ideas and innovation.
Question how your candidate expects to represent you
This should really be the first question anyone asks, because, although university is a community, a campaign relating to a specific school, or an issue that affects only a certain proportion of students, may ultimately not be of interest or concern to any other individual. It is also worth remembering that if the candidates don’t know about a particular issue, they are unlikely to campaign on it, and ultimately they aren’t looking to set the agenda. Most students have grievances about the University, the Union, and other things that at first glance may not fall under the officers’ remit. So raise your concerns, and how well your candidate reacts to this may well determine whether they get your vote or not. The officers really are the only voice most students will have in talks and negotiations with the University, and they are directly accountable to you. The Vice Chancellor is unlikely to meet a student directly, but the officers will, so make them listen to what you have to say.
Ask your candidate “how?”
It is very easy to promise the earth, but impossible to deliver it. If a pledge appears too good to be true, it probably is. So when you are approached in the Hive, or elsewhere, by a prospective candidate, don’t be afraid to grill them on exactly how they are looking to carry out their various promises. Ask for detailed plans, and test the candidate’s reaction. Looking past all the glossy posters, amusing videos and “novel” campaigning techniques, if elected these candidates will be employed for a year on your behalf. Make sure they explain how they expect to justify that year.
Question your candidate’s credentials
This is vital. Particularly in light of the recent revelations about the Union’s finances, it is essential that candidates who have the experience and skills to take on the particular role they are running for, are selected. Appearances can be deceptive, and an insular candidate whose posters and banners are somewhat more understated than others’ may well be far more qualified for the role in question. Equally they may not, but the above point still stands. Read the manifestos carefully, and quiz your candidates when they approach you. Look at how involved they have been in the Union. Will they be the sort of candidate who will devote time to talking to students, and being the visible face of the Union? Do they fully comprehend the major issues at hand?
Don’t believe the hype
Occasionally a candidate may devise a marketing strategy so ingenious and memorable that they sweep to victory in the style of Tony Blair in 1997, without actually having any relevant policies or experience. A few months down the line, when you’re arguing with your school over accusations of plagiarism, or the closure of your school is being seriously considered by the University, those funny videos, memes and brightly-coloured posters will be of little comfort if the officer chosen lacks the skills, drive and experience to represent you properly.
As tempting as it is, don’t vote for a friend
This really is the golden rule. We all want our friends to do well, after all, it’s nice to casually drop “oh my friend is the Union’s Academic officer” into conversation, but in the same way you wouldn’t vote for Dave, who incidentally can drink five pints in half an hour, to head the Bank of England, you shouldn’t assume he would be capable of taking a major supporting role in a process designed to lead to the reduction of the Union’s deficit. And if you do vote for a friend, at least read their manifesto first, or ask them a question, because otherwise they might as well be elected on a show of hands at 10:30pm on a Friday night in the Union Bar.
Don’t underestimate the officer positions
While the officers are accountable to students, sometimes there may be a perception that the power they possess is minimal. This is entirely incorrect. The officers have the power to drastically change the way the Union works. Often positively, but not always. For most students, the Union’s work isn’t particularly visible. Every time you buy a pint from the Union Bar, or the Telegraph (when free chocolate is offered as well) from the Paper Shop, you probably don’t even consider the Union as part of these simple transactions. The Union provides services, and funds the societies and sports clubs that form such an integral part of your university experience. With the current situation so precarious, changes could be made that directly impact upon your university life. So be careful who you vote for, and resist the temptation to just tick a box next to the chirpiest-looking candidate, or the one whose name you know.
With this advice in mind, keep an eye on Concrete Online for further coverage of the elections and campaigning, and visit ueastudentelections.wordpress.com for details on manifestos, voting and other election information. Concrete will bring you the full results in our next print issue, out on Tuesday 13 March.