Features

Are University Guild Elections as Much of a Shambles as They Appear?

Perth (UWA) Guild Elections
Having never experienced the Australian style of university politics until this past fortnight, I was overwhelmed with…if I can be brutally honest…the utter ridicule of the election process, and the disenchanted nature of so many students at UWA with their guild leadership.

Of course, I have been thrown into an institution I know very little about, but from the position as an average student, I feel as though I fit into the category of the vast majority of students influenced by the decisions of the guild. You shouldn’t have to be an overly enthusiastic member of every single guild society to be influenced by their politics.

Election week has got to be the most hellish experience of my time in this country thus far. It is quite literally a stampede as you enter the (hypothetical) gates of university and attempt to escape the hundreds of harassing candidates bombarding you, to make it remotely on time to class. There are people in brightly coloured shirts screaming down the hall to you, exclaiming ‘Hey! You! You’re in my Shakespeare lecture! Can you vote for me?!’ No, you nonce, I will not. Out of sheer stubbornness. Incidentally, I have never seen you before in my life, and I’m 100% sure you don’t even know my name.

 

polling place

Photo by UWA Student Guild

What Do The Parties Stand For?
It is no secret that these campaigning activists take advantage of the naïve students; those who have absolutely no clue what is going on. Katie Rodaway, one of my fellow Leeds companions, described how she was ‘dragged into a voting booth and forced to tick specific names, completely clueless as to who any of them were, or what they were campaigning for.’ These campaigners should be aiming to target those who are aware of the need for the guild and what it would mean for different parties to be in control.

I was massively involved with the university union back home, and am aware of just how important the executive leaders are, and yet here, after grilling these harassers about what their party represented and what they were calling for in the elections, I was left none the wiser. Not one of them could explain anything more than, ‘don’t vote for those guys, they’re dirty Communists’, or ‘don’t vote for that lot, they’re rich snobs.’ By having these party structures politically aligned, ignorant voters end up merely jumping on whichever bandwagon is most convenient. It should be about the people and their policies.

By aiming for the masses in this electoral technique, it becomes a case of who you know. This therefore means that each party puts forward a vast number of candidates, to appeal to a broad range of voters. People therefore vote for who they know, rather than basing it on any solid knowledge of the policies behind each individual.

Leeds Guild Election Week
All I have to compare to this system to is what I know from my experience back in the UK. At Leeds, voting week is considered a great time to be on campus. There are flashmobs, public debates, and a general buzz around the union, which lures people into reading individuals’ manifestos and voting. There are five exec positions which individuals go for. About five or six students apply for each position; Union Affairs, Activities, Community, Welfare, and Equality & Diversity. None of the individuals are politically aligned, and it is entirely down to them, as people, to campaign for themselves throughout the time of the Leadership Race. They talk to societies and students about their plans for the union, and the university then votes accordingly.

I discussed the issue with Tom Dixon, current Education Officer of Leeds University Union, and he said that the biggest factor in winning an election in Leeds ‘is word of mouth’. That’s not to say you need to be a massive BNOC (a wonderful English abbreviation for ‘Big Name on Campus’) to win, but you do need people who are going to get out there and tell their friends about your campaigns. This parallels some of UWA’s techniques, of attempting to ‘spread the word’, however it is not shoved down your throat to the extent that it is here. Moreover, they don’t waste the thousands of trees UWA must have chopped down this year in printing pointless leaflets that give no useful information besides a list of names. The comparative voting figures speak for themselves. UWA’s population of 20,000 had only 4,000 voters, whereas Leeds had 10,250 votes cast out of a population of 30,000. Also worth noting is that seemingly a large proportion of UWA voters vote merely to get irksome candidates off their back.

olly

Photo by Olly McCauley

Eat, Sleep, Dave, Repeat
My favourite moment of this year’s UWA elections has to have been when Dave Thomson got voted in as an Ordinary Guild Counsellor. After ironically forming the ‘DAVE Party’, Dave campaigned under the slogan: ‘Eat, Sleep, Dave, Repeat.’ I would implore you to check out his ‘party’s’ Facebook page for further details. But you get the jist. His opening campaigning words were ‘There are many people that attend the University of Western Australia named Dave and Dave Thomson is one of them. The newly formed DAVE party has brought together the finest Daves that could be found to work for you. For after all, it is not about the name on your birth certificate but the name on your heart.’ The fact that this hilarious jibe at student politics led to victory says it all. Props to Dave, who followed his victory up simply with: ‘we are all in shock at the result.’

photo

Photo by UWA Guild (who failed to even spell his name correctly – top marks)

 

 

I have no doubt that with a greater understanding of the parties involved, you could make a better judgment call and vote accordingly, but the fact that they give ordinary students no opportunity to learn, and then force them into having an opinion, is utter baloney. At the very least, on the (absolutely gargantuan A1 sized) voting sheets, they should have a brief overview of the manifestos of each party. Even attempting to find the candidates’ broadsheets online was a challenge of epic proportions.

University student politics need to stop ignoring the student masses and then expect to rely on them for votes. It shouldn’t be that we only hear of their doings when something goes awry, or during the hideous experience of voting week.

 

Words by: Freya Parr