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“People look at me and they see a second year Politics student with the audacity to run for the Presidency of their students union,” said Pete Macmillan, introducing himself to his audience at Sabbatical Hustings on Monday. “…But until the the last polling station closes this Thursday coming, I will fight for the right to be your President.”
Macmillan’s hust to the 150 or so students in the audience at Hustings, during his campaign to be LUSU President, focused on what he saw as LUSU’s role as leading campaigns and “fighting for students best interests,” and how LUSU was not matching up to this expectation. “Where was LUSU last week when nearly every students Union was gathering in London to campaign against raising the cap on tuition fees? Where was LUSU last year when people were having organised drink-ins in college bars? Nowhere to be seen is where they were.”
He pledged unconditional support to every campaign or protest held on campus or organised by NUS, saying: “There would be no campaign or protest on campus or run by NUS that wouldn’t have LUSU backing,” and listing the causes for which he has campaigned. “[I] have taken part in nearly every campaign or protest put on by a society with which I have an interest: the Peace Fest, the ‘Die-in’ in Alex Square for Gaza, Save the College Bars campaign, even when LUSU wasn’t interested.”
“Petty in-fighting between petty factions” in LUSU was to blame for its supposed inertia, in Macmillan’s view. “Every student comes to Lancaster University with an endless horzon of possibility, but yet we see the same political careerists dominating the agenda of Union Council,” he said, which was later elaborated to be meant as a plague upon both the houses of the Labour Club and the “Labour Sabbs.”
His opponent, Michael Payne, took a different view of the role of LUSU, implicitly accusing Macmillan’s ideas as outdated and unrealistic: “Some people may tell you that we need to return to the 1960s style of student activism: banging drums, holding rallies and organising disruptive demonstrations.
“[But] we should be absolutely clear: campaigns aren’t just about posters and protests, they are about informed policies, constructive communication and realistic aims.”
The ‘policy slab’ of his speech focussed, unlike Macmillan’s, not on campaigns and protests, but on new ways of communicating with students online, pledging to keep LUSU’s members up to date with his activities through blogging on the LUSU website. He also spoke of how new digital membership systems could help LUSU communicate with members without purple cards, and of an online directory of student officers “to make sure we are effectively harnessing and utilising the tremendous work that our JCR and Union officers put in.”
He warned against populist approaches to student politics, or attempts to please everybody, saying: “It would be all too easy to stand here or in President’s office and say ‘yes’ to every request or to promise to satisfy everyone all of the time. But by stating policies which are ill-founded or unsupported by finances, reasonable justification or a real student need, we would make a mockery of this union.”
He closed by pledging to represent all students, not just those who know how to get their voices heard. He said: “Whilst realising that not all students will engage with LUSU to the same degree as we would hope, it simply will not suffice to ignore them… I promise not just to be the voice of those who can speak for themselves, but of those who do not feel confident enough to speak for themselves.