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It would be a mistake to presume that Michael Payne’s message for this campaign is ‘more of the same’. Payne’s standing ground this year as a LUSU Presidential candidate is all about “policies, proactivism and participation”.
Candidate Payne’s reasons for running again for the position of LUSU President are simple. “I’ve got the experience … and I’ve still got the drive,” he said. “I still want to represent students and it would seem right to give them another opportunity to elect me as their President.”
There have been those who have criticised Payne for standing in this election. To them his response is “free and fair elections in the student union: anyone has the right to stand, all members have the right to vote.” He elaborated: “The elections are about issues and students. They’re not about me or my ego or anyone else’s ego. I’m here to talk about issues and that’s what I will be doing.”
Payne spoke thoroughly on what he believed these issues are. When asked he cited more engagement with “disenfranchised groups” – such as Graduates and International students – “massive engagement” with this year’s higher-education bill, a review of the Union’s non-sabbatical officer structure and the “Achilles’ heel” of the University, graduate employability.
“It’s wrong to just sit here and criticise the University [on graduate employability]. I’ll criticise the University’s strategy but we should be coming forward with a constructive solution,” Payne said. Outlining what his solution would be, Payne said he would aim to get more students involved in the project side of the Union, “teaching them skills”, “getting them involved” and “giving them employability”. One example he offered would be employing students to dip sample postgraduates to find out why they aren’t engaging in the Union. “Not only are we providing an employment opportunity,” he said, “we’re finding stuff out for the Union as well. So students are benefiting in more than one way.”
Another avenue Payne said he would like to explore is communication between LUSU and those it represents, something which he feels the Union has been failing in for the last few years. Having been asked about the recent student/LUSU perception survey, he spoke of the need for a review on how the Union is “representing our students and championing their needs to the University.
“Are we relying as a Student Union on [communication] channels we’ve relied on for ten years?” he asked. “There are people out there who aren’t activists and we shouldn’t be ignoring their opinion … It’s simply not good enough to sit there and say we only care about people with purple cards or have signed up to be members of sports clubs.”
Payne spoke great praise of the college JCRs and the work they do with the Union, saying this year the Union’s relationship with them has been more “open, honest and mature” than ever before. He was however at pains to point out “this year we’ve not been a Union that holds peoples’ hands and spoons feeds them, but rather gives people the opportunity – the springboard – to get involved in the Student Union, to take from the Union what they want”.
One particular springboard students often want is campaigns, and Payne claims he is “ready to be campaigner in chief from day one”.
“I think often there’s a chance that people think a campaign should be something where there’s a student protest outside,” he explains. “Actually it’s not. It’s about a furtherance of your own agenda to secure something for students.” Pointing to the Sabb review and the colleges campaigns as examples of where he’s been actively involved, Payne explained that there are also a number. perceivably smaller issues, such as more space for societies which also need campaigning on. “You’ve got two things: you’ve got the very visible campaigns which are posters and protests, and then underneath you’ve got the day to day work which you do in order to secure the best possible student experience,” he said. By providing the best student experience Payne feels he can make sure the Union is “relevant, representing and sustainable”.
“The direction of the Student Union doesn’t sit with me,” he added. “It sits with the membership … People are trusting me to make a decision on their behalf. It’s about communication and collaboration … A melding of minds will achieve much more than one individual banging a drum in the corner.”
Pete MacMillan acknowledges that he could be seen as “just another student officer going for Sabb role” but he hopes to show the student electorate that he is more than that. “I feel as though I’m not just any student officer,” he said. “I feel as though I’m still in touch with the students and that I’ll benefit from this as LUSU President.”
MacMillan currently stands as the Union’s Welfare Campaigns Non-sabbatical officer. He cities his involvement in the pharmacy campaign as his most noteworthy experience from the role as it “got me more involved with how the University itself works and as President you need to know that.”
One thing he says he aims to do is rebuild the bond between students and Union. “You look at the positions that we have as a Student Union and the wide and vast [student body],” he said, “and everyone at this University has the capabilities to fulfil at least one of those roles. So we should be able to have contested elections. We shouldn’t really have that kind of situation [uncontested elections] happening.”
Listing off his policies, MacMillan pointed to the on-going debate about the colleges. For him, campaigning for this “all starts from Fresher’s week, where people are new and seeing what the University’s all about. We need to tell them ‘look, the University’s trying to destroy the college space to the detriment of your colleges’. The vast majority of students will have chosen Lancaster University because of the college system and if we say the University is threatening then most students will say ‘well, I don’t want to lose my college identity. Let’s get behind it’.”
He added: “Also I keep hearing that student want a leader on the issue of college bar space. I would be quite willing to take up that role.” He added that he felt during the recent campaign, “there was no one figurehead saying ‘right I’m going to lead this’. We needed one main figurehead who could lead and then we could follow. I’ll step up to the plate.” On the college working group, recently set up by the Union and Senior Management, MacMillan agreed that “obviously the best way to get your ultimate aims is through negotiation and that’s an excellent way to do it. But if we don’t do it that way we have to make sure we get the students behind us and make sure the University hears them.”
As well as the position he holds within the Union, MacMillan was also the Vice Chair of Lancaster’s Labour Club. He admits that it had crossed his mind that this may put off potential voters of different political persuasions, but reasoned: “I’m not a Labour Club pin-up.” One area in which this may raise concern is in MacMillan’s own admission that the society has been “blacklisted” by the University. He felt confident however that this connection would not hamper his relationship with the University. “The society itself was blacklisted but I personally wasn’t blacklisted. I like to see myself as personable and friendly and quite diplomatic, and I’m not extremely militant like quite a few people in Labour club can be. Maybe that side of me would be seen quite well by the University.”
Another area of negotiation would be tuition fees, on which MacMillan he pledged to take a “tough stance”. He said he will “make sure that the University hears us and that we’re very vocal. We need to keep the cap on tuition fees otherwise we’ll lose quite a large demographic of our students.”
Carrying on the theme of finance he said he would be supporting the NUS’s ‘Broke and Broken’ campaign, as “we’re [LUSU] an affiliated body to that [the NUS] and if they’ve got a very good campaign – and I do think it is a very good campaign – I don’t see much point to try something new. I’d just stick with the NUS campaign and maybe try our own little variation of it at LUSU.”
Talking about postgraduate engagement with the Union, MacMillan was keen to stress what a large part he feels postgraduates play in the University. He said he would consider looking at setting up a postgraduate Sabbatical position to give the group better representation. “It’s hard because I’m not myself a postgraduate, but I’d like to think that a postgrad would be able to come to me with any issue they have and I would take it higher.” He also hopes to have regular officer hours for any student to come and talk about issues they are concerned about. There was also talk of rehashing JCR training so it better reflects what students want and need from their college representatives.