Unless you have been bunking for the last fortnight, you will have seen posters displaying puns, slogans and plenty of flesh around campus. This week Big Debate asks, should there be regulations for candidates’ campaigns?
YES: Tess Brumwell-Gaze
A quick list of proposals would make the process more interesting, fair and fruitful
Back in 2010, ‘Cleggmania’ was a neat little portmanteau, a pun that had us beaming for the fluffy-haired man all the way to his victory. But in hindsight the Lib Dems wanted votes, the ‘Cleggstacy’ (urgh) surrounding the candidate overshadowed a man who was willing to sleep with the enemy for a taste of Westminster. Of course the LUU Exec won’t have quite as much influence, and maybe I’m being a little melodramatic, but still the question stands, should we be picking our candidates on their ability to alliterate? I feel the farce surrounding the Leadership Race is distracting and wasteful of time that could be spent having real discussion about real proposals.
Leeds is credited for having the most participation in Union votes of any university, but I see little to be proud of. There are no intellectually stimulating debates (apart from the Leadership Race Question Time, which I saw first-hand reached a proportion of the student body similar to the proportion of Britain watching Danny Dyer’s new film). I realise I’m being boring, the Scrooge of the popularity contest upon us, but I feel there needs to be a change. The University throws money at the whole scenario to uphold a claim that Leeds students are totally engaged and involved in the campaign, andyet for all the walking I have done around the poster-plagued campus, I cannot match a single policy proposal to a person.
Posters are a contest of how eye-catching, how memorable an A4 piece of paper can become. Naming no names, I have seen faces made-up for the red carpet, endless surname-related slogans and candidates playing to the advantage of their hairstyles. And maybe I’m missing the correlation between Welfare and naturism but it’s so blatantly a ploy of ‘sex-sells’ that it would make Peter Mandelson proud. Maybe if Clegg drops his kegs in the next election then he’ll stand another chance (please God no).
Restrictions on campaigns needn’t make the process a bore, but would just wade through the treacle of crap that is in the way. Sure, smile as though you’re in a primary school play, but please save space for relevant material. Just a quick list of proposals, a snippet of why they’d be good for the part, a sentence of what prompted them to go for it. All would make the process more interesting, fairer and more fruitful.
These are adults going for real paid positions, and yet the campaigning style is what I’d imagine in some sickly American sorority girls sitcom, not a serious campaign. And for those who argue these posters are the catalyst for further student engagement, often that simply isn’t the case. I speak from experience, that without being involved in the Uni in any extracurricular way – as was the case for me last year – the extent of my interest in the LUU elections was who’s face appealed to me the most.
I will seek further information and vote this year, because I’ve realised how important it is. But until then, I may have to play blind-man’s-bluff through campus, just to avoid falling for a good play on words. Sure, we should be proud of our University, proud that we can break records. But let’s break records for voting, not voting blind.
NO: Alice Smart
Even if one memorable pun does pull the wool over our eyes, there are always other ways to put the candidates to the test
Every year, just before Spring arrives, Leeds University is treated to cheesy gimmicks, hit and miss slogans, and some fairly suspect Photoshop skills. Campus gets a shiny new wallpaper spread, in the form of a thousand posters which embrace all sides of the colour wheel, even if they barely touch on policy. Inevitably, some campaigns opt for shock tactics to permanently etch themselves onto your brain. It might be annoying, maybe even offensive, but it is important that we don’t impose arbitrary limitations on what a candidate can and can’t put on their material.
A candidate’s campaign should make up the prism through which students judge them. Yes, very little policy makes it onto the posters and it’s difficult to work out what some people stand for, if anything. But that’s the point. Students do see through a lack of substance, they will see through a catchy slogan and they won’t fall for an empty, yet comical, video. You have to show you stand for more in these elections. There’s certainly nothing wrong with gimmicks and hilarious campaign stunts, as long as candidates use them to draw attention to the stuff that matters, the things they’ll change.
Even if one memorable pun does pull the wool over our eyes, there are always other ways to put the candidate to the test. Candidate Question Time, which is broadcast by Leeds Student TV and Leeds Student Radio is the perfect opportunity to get past the gimmicks and find out what they are actually going to do if they win. If you missed Question Time, there are still Facebook groups, Union website pages and the candidates themselves to approach for information. One way or another you can easily find out if the person behind the face, the one-liner and the free doughnuts has actual plans.
We must also remember that there are already strict limitations on what candidates can do. A £75 budget for the whole campaign means that no one can fall backon mum and dad’s credit card to win. And let’s face it, the effort of spending weeks in a humiliating state of frozen smiles and the creativity required for the campaigns does suggest some hardwork behind the scenes. How exactly would the campaigns be restricted? No smiles stretching further than five centimetres? No surname-related wordplay? No more than two colours? Whatever restrictions are enforced to make the posters more serious and policy-related just amount to making the whole scenario a bit dull and unappealing. Boring billboards do not inspire participation and votes, which is ultimately the point.
At Leeds, we hold the UK record for the most number of votes cast in a UK student union election ever, a record that I’d love to see kept if not beaten. By allowing candidates the freedom to use every campaign technique, the election becomes more than just another vote; it becomes an exciting event that we can all be involved in. We can show that Leeds University Union is the best and most representative student union to be involved in. And whether you’re a candidate yourself, a friend of one, a society member or a student, you’ll be able to say that you were involved in the best student organisation in the country, and that’s something we’d be foolish to restrict.