Through joint research by The Gryphon and LSR, it has become clear that the union has failed to uphold their own rules in the recent Exec elections. In our role in holding the union to account, we have come across clear failings in the rules that dictate candidate spending.
Firstly, the union has failed to adhere to point 12 of their own campaign rules:
“All campaigners must submit a written list of all campaign costs with corresponding receipts to the
campaign and democracy support office within one hour of the close of voting. If candidates do not
spend any money during the course of their campaign this must be made clear on the submission”
When we obtained the candidates price declarations on Monday 12 th March, over a week after the official end of the race, many of the candidates had only returned part of their receipts or none at all. Some of these candidates were a matter of pounds away from breaking the budget limit of £80, which would result in disqualification from the race. It was clear that there had been little to no scrutiny of the candidates spending.
Secondly, a number of the pricing rules allow for multiple interpretations when examined next to each other. Take rules 14 and 15:
“14. Items freely and readily available to all campaigners can be used without itemisation.
15. Items that campaigners already own can be valued using a minimum price list available from
the Campaign and Democracy Support office. The Returning Officer will value items not on
this list within one working day of the request for an evaluation.”
It’s clear that there is no unanimous definition of what’s ‘freely and readily available’. In this campaign, three candidates launched websites, a first for the leadership race. The difference between one website and the other two is that the latter were hosted through channels which offered free hosting, whilst the other was paid for. A paid for website is considerably more marketable than a free one. There are two costs to owning a website – the domain and hosting. The owner of the paid website did not declare hosting costs, only domain. We have questioned whether website hosting is an ‘item freely and readily available’ to campaigners, or one which is ‘valued using a minimum price
Thirdly, campaigning should strictly start at 9am on the Monday 19 th February. Four separate candidates launched their page prior to this, clearly flouting campaign rules. In the interest of fair democratic processes, these rules should be followed intently, otherwise, some candidates may unfairly gain the upper hand. It’s the rules around an election that protect the democratic process.
Finally, the Union has failed to be transparent. You only have 24 hours to appeal the election results, and in this time many candidates had not declared spending. As the media societies, this makes it impossible for us to hold the union and the election to account. 24 hours after the election is also a Saturday. We requested full details into candidate spending, and it took 5 days to receive the information we wanted, which has prevented our investigation. As we have tried to raise concerns we had about spending, we feel that our criticisms have not been adequately received.
A public election should be scrutinised. It is clear that, if we hadn’t looked into the rules, these concerns would never have seen the light of day. Why have rules if we don’t uphold them? Going forward, we insist that the appeal process should be extended, that the union is stricter on the returning of receipts, and that the rules surrounding costings are revised for better clarity.
Union Affairs Officer Jack Palmer said:
“LUU is committed to running fair and transparent elections and I welcome the points and recommendations our media societies have raised in this article.
“During the Leadership Race, the Democracy team go through the budgeting process within candidate training, and are always there to provide further clarification. Budgets were examined before results night and the team were happy with the way the 2018 candidates managed them. We had no complaints regarding budgets.
“For candidates, the Leadership Race is one of the most intense and stressful periods of their time at University. They did brilliantly to inspire students to vote over two weeks and end a decline in voter turnout with well over 1000 more votes cast than the previous year and the incoming Exec and Gryphon Editor have earned their places.
” As your Union Affairs Officer, I strive to ensure to Union is as open and transparent as possible and always welcome students’ views if they feel our processes need amending. I’m pleased to say our Democracy team will be meeting with the Gryphon and LSR to discuss their proposals and make the process more transparent for next year.”
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