Reece Parker, Gryphon Editor-in-cheif-elect, gives his take on the leadership race, its questionable voting incentives, and what can be done to improve future elections.
Like most of the third-year students at Leeds University, I’m currently treading water in the pool of degree classification. Failing an incredible resurgence, a first is out of my grasp, and a 2.2 is a fate I’ve almost certainly avoided. Unlike the vast majority of the Leeds student body however, I’ve embraced a new form of purgatory, that of being a winning candidate in the LUU elections. Purgatory truly is the correct description of this, being trapped between the elation of success and the creeping realisation of the task at hand. Think of it as the worst sequel to The Hangover thus far, and the lead role is now a man who mumbled through his own acceptance speech and jumped off stage before its conclusion. I’ve struggled in the last few weeks to explain quite the effect this race has upon candidates, but I hope I can express it in this article, otherwise I’m in for a long year.
I feel it is required to first address the elephant in the room. This year’s leadership elections received 6561 votes, reflecting a mere fifth of the student body. The fact that the Tab Leeds’ ‘fittest fresher’ competition drew more votes is especially troubling. I’m sure in the coming weeks our union will pick apart the reasons as to why this has happened. Nevertheless, my own personal notion is that there is a gap between the student body and the exec that undoubtedly needs bridging. Our students are not aware of their achievements, are not aware if promises are being fulfilled, are not aware if they are being represented. I will address this in my tenure as Editor-in-chief, and seek a solution.
Secondly, and attached to this, is how our union sought to correct the low voter turnout. With two days of the election week remaining, the crisis from the lack of votes meant that those who completed a ballot were told they could receive a series of rewards, from a pint in Old Bar to printer credits. This 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?
When pushing candidates to vote, the main tactic employed by the union was to suggest a completion of the ‘dream team’. Every candidate I had the pleasure of speaking to rightly condemned this questionnaire. There is no way that you can select the best candidate by answering 5 arbitrary questions, explicitly designed to be divisive. Questions such as ‘should the exec be involved politically?’ draws nuanced answers, nothing which can be encapsulated by ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’. If I had to concisely show the issue with this questionnaire, I have to say that I did not even receive myself when I completed the test.
Whilst it has been necessary to criticise the tactics to increase voter turnout, I believe congratulations are in order for the team which handled candidate mentoring, budgeting, and other admin tasks. They worked tirelessly and their professional aid was comforting. Everyone who took part in this race did so in good spirits, and I would’ve been happy for anyone involved to have picked up the coveted positions on results night. Whilst this is undoubtedly cliché, everyone who was involved is a winner: to leave your comfort zone in front of an entire university, to speak on stage in front of many, to argue for the positions you care about, these are achievements many of your peers will sadly leave University without. If there is a way to turn around the lack of student interest in the exec, it is to continue to grow the extensive support networks and sounding boards we have developed throughout this race, and for those who were elected to incorporate the promises and passions of their peers into their tenure. If we manage this, we can mean so much more to our students than a catchy video or a tacky slogan.
(Image courtesy of Leeds University Union)