Leadership race begins in earnest with mammoth six hour live Question Time.
The LUU leadership race is well under way and, on Wednesday, the candidates running for Student Exec positions got a chance to outline their manifestos and ideas in a debate in the Union’s Riley Smith Hall. The debate was live-streamed for students who couldn’t attend in person via the LSTV YouTube account. The debate mediator, Georgia Hennessy Jackson, ensured the candidates took turns to answer questions tackling the big issues for the roles they are running for. Audience members could also put questions to the candidates via Twitter.
First up was The Gryphon debate for candidates running to become the next Editor in Chief. The event got off to a good start, with the candidates speaking about how they would develop the paper to increase its readership. Reece Parker argued for delivering the newspaper directly to halls, while Mark McDougall argued for a stronger online presence and further engagement in the community. James Candler talked of more cohesion between print and online, as well as campus outreach programmes.
The Community debate contained a lot of agreement between candidates who all want to tackle rising rent prices in both private and university owned accommodation. Ruth Wogan argued for an extension of the Housing Buddy scheme to help students house hunting and to prevent them from feeling pressured to sign for a house too early. In terms of transport, Abdi-Basit Adan argued for more busses to be running during rush hours, and George Bissett wanted a shuttle bus from the train station to the University. While candidates spoke well on the major issues, the race for Community Officer could well be decided on the small differences rather than the big similarities across their respective manifestos.
Equality and Diversity
There are just three Equality and Diversity contenders to choose from and, in line with their manifestos, the trio displayed broad agreement on their agendas of accessibility (especially during the Union upgrade) and inclusion, pledging to develop existing campaigns. However, the debate managed to tease out differences in their background and priorities. Al Lewis, who has Tourette’s syndrome, autism and is trans and bisexual placed a strong focus on support post-University. Meanwhile, Tash Mutch-Vidal emphasised cross cultural awareness and played up her work with the liberation coordinators. Khair Yacob, possibly the most flamboyant speaker of the day, called for Super Justice League style co-operation and for more attention to be given to students that are parents.
The Education debate followed with a focus on the big issues of the impending TEF, budget cuts, assessments and hidden course fees. The seven-strong panel of candidates voiced their opinions well. Zak Kaf Al-Ghazal spoke on how he wanted better mental health training for personal tutors to allow them to engage with students more effectively. However, Jack Bozson disagreed, arguing that tutors have enough on their plate already and mental health concerns should be the responsibility of dedicated staff. Dru Lawson argued for reductions in hidden course fees through schools providing money or vouchers to purchase essential books for study, alongside a fairer allocation of printer credits, sentiments that were echoed by many of the other candidates. Jess Mifsud-Bonnici argued well, asking why “my £9000 might be worth less than another student’s £9000?”
The Activities debate included discussion of inclusion of marginalised groups in societies in LUU, as well as a debate on Jess Bassett’s proposal for a loyalty card to be introduced to the union. While Jess argued it would be a great way to reward students for shopping in and engaging with the union, Harry McCagherty pointed out that the union already uses the YoYo reward system, and Ciaran Lennon suggested students shouldn’t need to be bribed to engage with the union, they should want to do so for other reasons. Following The Gryphon’s recent survey, which revealed Leeds’ Union to be on the pricey side compared with local pubs and other universities, calls to have ways of making the Union cheaper for returning students are well-timed and no doubt will be well-received.
Inclusivity formed a large part of the discussion on the panel for Union Affairs. Each candidate introduced their own ideas for getting a larger number of the student population involved in activities within the Union. Candidates were also asked about their plans to improve the Union. Charley Weldrick suggested putting on more gigs by students while Sam Andrews wanted to be able to introduce different societies to each other so international students could get more involved. Ilyas suggested introducing a quiet room in the union amidst all the bustle, citing his experience as a Muslim student and the lack of campus prayer space.
Welfare rounded off the marathon event. The candidates agreed on increased mental health support and the necessity of outreach to students and specialists outside of the University to tackle complex issues they might not have direct experience with. Masami and Yasmine saw peer led support as a primary means of engagement, prompting a challenge from Harry, who was concerned about transferring too much of the burden onto students. There was a distinct emphasis upon sexual health from Yasmine and Harry, while Chloe chose to place the spotlight on sexual assault and domestic violence.
Reception to the debate
Although the event ran smoothly and was hosted well, the format was not to everyone’s liking. Students voiced their disappointment over the lack of a roaming microphone on the event floor, which hindered dialogue with the candidates and removed the incentive for audience members to stay. The prioritisation of live streaming and social media was made more problematic by a tenuous WiFi connection which, ironically, meant that audience members struggled to be active participants in the debate.
Some controversy did mar the proceedings after a candidate for Union Affairs, Charley Weldrick, was accused by LUU’s Labour Society of reversing his views on Brexit since last year’s referendum. They suggested that this was done in an attempt to gain votes. The accusation comes after tweets by Weldrick were unearthed which appear to show support for leaving the EU prior to the referendum. While some students foresee this as potentially crippling to Weldrick’s campaign, many take the view that the controversy is but a ‘storm in a tea cup’.
Euan Hammond, Sarah Berry
(Image: Viola Luo)