Vote with your feet and give student elections a miss this year

Elected student officials would at least be harmless - if they weren't so expensive, reckons Eleanor Doughty

It’s election season, I’m so excited - said no one ever. There’s something about student politics that makes me uneasy. I’m not sure whether it’s the insistent paper-wasting leafleting, the onslaught of cheesy, 'persuasive' posters that this year have crept into the union bar loos, or the preposterous, arrogant manifestos that promise the world, but ultimately achieve nothing.

In a frighteningly – yet completely unsurprisingly – similar vein to the national political scene, the general consensus is that the whole thing is a waste of time.

I conducted a small opinion poll with distinctly below-average results. No-one had anything positive to say, with most discarding student politics as nonsense. A measly 20 per cent voted in my university’s elections last year; a large proportion probably from the Boat Club with their president up on the stand. Openly discussing it after class, my peers know little about this year’s candidates and care even less. Many will simply not bother to vote, despite this year’s proposed one-pound cut to pints and sandwiches, something close to thousands of hearts and pockets.

In my time at university, nothing has radically changed. Sport is still underfunded and supported, the library isn’t open long enough, and food outlet prices have risen in accordance with tuition fees. The quad at lunchtime is a sorry sight this week with people uncomfortably shuffling away from overly enthusiastic candidates and their minions, before being caught by another.

And then there’s the money. The presidency outrageously pays £24,000 a year. And for what? For first years, the president is an anonymous unknown sitting in an office (now swanky as our union building was recently renovated) supposedly providing the union’s smiling media-face and student voice. If that’s the case, I’m afraid my voice – and that of everyone I know – has been misheard.

All politicians are hated by someone, and being young people, a hearty dislike comes easily. Never mind a popularity contest, student elections are a badly disguised hate-a-thon, a campaign to prove who can be disliked for the next academic year to the best of their ability. Thank goodness it’s only a year.

Regularly waiting to be seen various senior tutors for consultation has proven to be the only tactic to academic satisfaction. According to the job description of VP Education, there is supposed to be an ‘optimal academic experience’; aside from allowing premature graduation or a complete upheaval of the syllabus, there’s little that figure can do for me. If you want something doing, just do it yourself. I once asked for a specific module and – coincidence or not – it’s on the list for next year. Funny that. I’m pretty sure it’s nothing to do with the union rep.

Somewhere outside Tower Hamlets, even outside London – perish the thought – there may be an excellent union. Maybe somewhere, things actually get done. Maybe somewhere, they’re not paying in excess of four pounds for a chicken Caesar wrap. And that’s why so many people get excited about it, because they do want change and they think they can make it happen. It’s a nice thought. 

Eleanor Doughty is a second-year student at Queen Mary, University of London. Follow her on Twitter here. She won't follow you back.

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