It is student union election season. Campuses are flooded with homemade banners, impressively laminated leaflets and really, really irritating people running around shoving things in your face.
It is, as I realized after three hours of empty promises, the season of bullshit. But although in global terms, student union politics are largely irrelevant – and as the cynics could argue, a way out of the graduate employment panic for sabbatical officers – the importance of these formative rounds of candidate hustling is hidden under the bravado.
Though the policies are insular and microscopic, only interesting to people at that individual university (and barely at that), student union politics provide a platform for prospective change. They show democracy at a basic level, the push and shove of popularity competitions and ultimately the lengths to which people will go to win. Which, by all accounts, is extremely healthy. I grant that it’s easy to be put off: candidates’ manifestos can read like an early version of Das Kapital, and sabbatical officers can quickly garner a bad reputation if they step out of line.
"How do we know you’re not just a careerist?" came a question at hustings to those running for the NUS delegate position. And it’s a good one: for a generation largely disillusioned with the political system, the integrity of candidates is important. It’s hard enough to engage young people with actual politics, let alone a system meaningless outside the student union. Even around the quad, where it’s happening, many shrug at the prospect of voting. The day before results, I asked two friends if they’d voted. "No, why?" was the response, summing up the general student population.
But as the dust settles on another year of student elections, I am hopeful. Though voting numbers at my university, Queen Mary, were up this year, nationwide the figures are still too low. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when students can’t even switch on for their union politics, where it might make a difference in real time.
I so want the tide to be turning. If you’re a finalist and you haven’t voted yet this year, then just remember all those babies coming up in September, and not about yourself, for one tiny second.
If you do something enough times it becomes a habit: this is my third and final round of student union elections, and I’m in the habit. Next year is the general election, and for Londoners, the Mayoral vote in 2016. For my year group, voting should be habitual now.