Union offers free pint in return for votes, contradicting assertion it “will never serve an alcoholic drink for less than £1.50”.
Leeds University Union’s stance on alcohol has been called into question after they introduced free pints as part of a set of incentives to encourage people to vote in its Leadership Race, in contradiction to its policy on never selling a unit of alcohol for less than £1.
Earlier this year The Gryphon carried out an investigation into drinks prices in LUU compared to prices at other student unions around the country, with a Union spokesperson responding that “We [The Union] will never serve an alcoholic drink for less than £1.50 and never sell a unit of alcohol for less than £1.” This appears to contradict the union’s decision to hand out free pints in return for votes in the Leadership Race, which saw the lowest voter turnout in years.
Furthermore, following a story in The Gryphon about bottles of VK being blurred out of official photos taken at union club night Fruity by a photographer, the Union responded: “We have policy in place to promote responsible drinking and therefore we prefer not to use images that show alcohol consumption and brands. Removing part of the bottles was an odd editing choice made by our photographer and we agree it doesn’t look great!”
This year’s Leadership Race to elect the new student exec and Gryphon editor received the lowest turnout in recent years with 6561 votes cast, compared to last year’s 7744 and 8488 in 2015. In an attempt to increase voter turnout in the final days of voting, the Union introduced incentives to encourage more students to vote. These included a voucher that entitled voters to a free pint in Old Bar or Terrace, a free hot drink in Balcony or Pyramid, a free Perkier or Naked bar from Salad Box, or a free Chupa Chups lolly from Essentials. This seems to have been quite a successful technique in encouraging more students to vote, with many taking advantage of the incentives and the number of votes surging in the final days.
However, some have voiced complaints about the use of incentives. While they may have increased the voter turnout, it may not have increased voter engagement in the Leadership Race and the policies of the respective candidates, instead encouraging students to cast careless votes in exchange for complimentary Union benefits. Although other techniques were employed in an attempt to increase engagement, and Union ‘Racemakers’ worked hard throughout the week to encourage students to vote, some felt the use of incentives was the wrong course of action.
Reece Parker, the newly elected Gryphon editor, argued: “The use of incentives undoubtedly led to skewed ballots, many people simply clicking on random applications to receive their rewards. I won by a mere 300 votes; who’s to say this was not due to having an amusing haircut or a bright jacket in my candidate photo?”
Others lamented the union’s decision to resort to ‘bribing’ students in order to get more votes, and suggested it showed the lack of engagement between the student union and wider student body.
There are also reports of students abusing the system by claiming multiple vouchers by going around the various voting stations on campus, allowing them to claim up to five free pints of beer.
LUU have responded: “We’ve always had a way to say thanks to students who vote. Whether its products, parties or printer credits, we have run competitions and given away prizes and freebies for years. We see this as generating a buzz of activity and conversation around the race.
Drinks vouchers were limited to one per voter and were also redeemed against a huge range of hot and soft drinks.
We made sure that thanking voters with a complimentary drink didn’t contradict our responsible drinking policy as the choice of drink from the range of options was down to the individual, there was never an alcohol only choice and the terms included a quantity restriction of one per person.”
To discover more about The Gryphon’s coverage of the Union’s alcohol policy and the blurring out of VKs in Fruity’s Facebook photographs, visit: www.thegryphon.co.uk/category/news.
Jessica Murray, Dominic Johnson