Given the number of Union election campaign flyers that found their way underfoot last week, it is not a stretch to claim that ours is a generation disillusioned by political pageantry. The ubiquity of campaign advertisements across campus seems ironic in light of accusations that UEA students are largely apathetic towards the politics of their Union. Low voter turnouts have plagued recent elections, and there can only be two explanations: students are either unaware of the services and opportunities that the Union offers them, or they blatantly don’t care. Mass indifference is a trend with nasty implications – today’s students are set to become a key demographic in the next national election, and a passive consensus does nothing for democracy. Not to suggest that voting for new Union Officers is some sort of dress rehearsal for a performance that involves ticking boxes with names next to them, but it can’t hurt to practice raising your voice in an arena in which it can be heard. The fact is, our Student Union officers are perhaps the most transparent political figures any of us will ever encounter. Their influence can be exercised in a perceptible way, and their progress can be traced across campus. No other politicians will ever have the capacity to meet your needs on a near-personal basis. For this reason, we need not be disillusioned with Union politics, but take advantage of just how accessible our officers are.
Ultimately, the Union is a charity whose sole function is to enrich the lives of students. To ignore its existence is to disregard a wealth of resources and must, quite frankly, strike officers as a bit ungrateful. Granted, the political posturing that leads up to elections may be seen by some as gratuitous or over-the-top. Perhaps the excessive presence of flyers and posters gives students the impression that there are already an adequate number of parties involved in the world of Union politics. At university, it is easy to feel as though you have enough on your plate. Between the stresses of coursework, paid work, and extracurricular involvements, it could prove difficult to see where research into Union electoral candidates might fit into a given day. However, I am reluctant to place blame for apathy at the polls entirely on the voters. The services offered by the Union—the shop, the pub, clubs and societies, etc.—seem like such an engrained part of life at UEA that it is easy to forget that there is a democratically-elected force behind them. The Union needs to do all that it can to make students aware of its role in their lives and ensure that all available lines of communication stay open. It doesn’t matter whether dialogue is spurred by an increased physical presence in the Union offices or through online means.
If the Union comes to feel that it has exhausted all outreach opportunities and student interest is still tepid at best, then it is the student body that deserves a reprimand for its disinterest.Inquiring minds will always question what motivates a desire for power, even in those involved in small-time Union politics. There is no question that serving as an officer looks great on a CV, but those of us that condemn Union electoral candidates as career opportunists overlook their genuine desire to do good. Behind the fervent flyer-ing and campaign slogans are students with a desire to improve the lives of their peers. Winning an election will doubtlessly boost anyone’s ego, but the hard work of Union Officers truly begins once campaigns have concluded.As students, the only effort required of us is to pose pertinent questions—we must ask candidates what they intend to do for us, and once they have been elected we must ask for our officers’ help where we need it. This is the only way for our Union to be productive and mutually beneficial rather than just functional.