'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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Fans hold up a scarf at West Ham vs Liverpool
footballAfter Arsenal's clear victory, focus turns to West Ham vs Liverpool
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
New Articles
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Science Technician

£7 - £8 per hour: Randstad Education Cheshire: The Job:School Science Technici...

English and Media Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: English & Media Teacher - ...

Graduate BI Consultant (Business Intelligence) - London

£24000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Graduate BI Consultant (B...

Independent Dating

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

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam