'Swaingate' and what it says about the state of student politics

The sexism scandal over a leaked video of Warwick Student Union president Nick Swain has drawn attention to how little students seem to care about their politics, claims Warwick student Duncan Hopwood

Political scientist Wallace Stanley Sayre once said that 'academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low'.

This bitterness has never been clearer than in this year’s Warwick Student Union elections, when its defending president Nick Swain was hit with scandal across the national news in the middle of his campaign for re-election. The appearance of a video that shows Swain unhooking a girl’s bra during a ski tour in 2011 went viral, and since then the response has been a wave of outrage and bewilderment in balanced mixture throughout the student body.

Many demanded for a formal apology for what they said was the offence Swain’s actions had caused, whilst many others became frustrated by how the scandal had engulfed any talk of improving the Student Union.

Meanwhile the girl seen in the video sent the following to the student newspaper: “I wish to confirm that I was not offended or objectified, any attempt to portray this as such has been misconstrued and not representative of his character.”

As the results were announced last Friday, the formerly beloved SU president went from receiving the most votes in the election’s history last year, down to a meagre fourth place out of five, losing out to the current Welfare and Campaigns officer Ben Sundell. It is unclear how well Swain would have done if the scandal had never happened, but needless to say concerns about his manifesto played second fiddle to the sensationalism around the fate of his reputation.

The dramatic events culminated this week with the revelation of the person responsible for editing the video, which was uploaded just days before the elections began. Warwick graduate David Reed took credit for editing the infamous video of Swain in a confession to the student tabloid the Warwick Tab, which then exposed his involvement.

In a fiery message to the Tab over how much publicity the video ended up receiving, Reed argues that he posted the video with 'no alternative agenda than to get someone to apologise for being sexist', although he showed active support of rival candidate Ben Frew over Facebook and Twitter during the SU campaigns. Frew has denied any personal connection with the video.

If taken as a smear campaign, the scandal was very successful in detracting the focus of the politics away from the issues in favour of the excitement of the scandal. The Union’s candidate Question Time was hijacked by questions about the allegations, and throughout the campaigning mounting press coverage of the scandal took precedent over any talk of policies and manifestos.

In the end, Swain held his head high and humble. In an emotional and lengthy post on Facebook after the event, Swain thanks family and friends in what he called 'the hardest fortnight of my life so far', which has gained over 1,800 likes. Swain commented after Sundell’s victory that he was 'relieved, given everything that's happened. The right man has won tonight'. Nevertheless, the remainder of Swain’s term as president will be haunted by the exposure his past events on ski tour.

Student politics should in theory be more pure in form than its government counterpart, relying on a democratic process that elects representatives from genuinely the same background, who have faced the same experiences and problems that come with university life. But like all of politics, the opportunity for gossip over alleged illicit behaviour becomes more interesting to the voting public than the more banal, realistic steps that go into making a difference.

To me, Swain’s actions were unacceptable, but the magnitude of indifference and the pettiness around this scandal have highlighted something much more depressing about how students approach their union and the democracy behind it.

Duncan Hopwood is a student brand ambassador for the i, and a Warwick undergraduate. Follow him on Twitter here.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
News
General Election
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Guru Careers: Marketing Compliance Assistant

£18k: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Compliance Assistant to join a ...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are a recent psychology graduate ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior / Graduate Graphic Designer

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Largest Independent Motor D...

Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders