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An exciting period of campaigning and voting will soon be upon Lancaster, as Students’ Union elections get underway in Week Eight. The elections are an integral part of student life on campus, giving students the opportunity to shape their college lives for the year ahead. There have been some changes to the rules and processes brought in this year, which, it is hoped, will simplify the campaigning process. Student reaction to the elections is generally positive, although there are some signs of apathy around campus.
LUSU Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies) Matt Windsor, outlined a few changes which have been made to election rules this year. These have been brought in to change previous rules which “were very specific, throttled campaign efforts and were overly complicated”, he says.
Perhaps the most important change is that candidates can now “critically assess” each other, a relaxation of the rules which previously meant candidates were not allowed to critise each other’s policies or experience. Here Windsor rejects the term negative campaigning, which he says “implies that you are purposely trying to derail someone else’s campaign for no particular reason”. Critical campaigning is defined as “any statement or implication, written or verbal that mentions another candidate’s election manifesto, policy, ideas or strategy, in a critical way”, and is allowed so long as it adheres to rules surrounding personal comments and discrimination.
Candidates no longer require other students to nominate and second them. Under the new rules they just need to sign up as described. It is also now the case that “a single position [is] for a single Officer”, which puts an end to candidates running in pairs as has previously happened. “It was ludicrous to have an individual, [who] would like to run for the JCR, not being able to because they didn’t have someone to run with”, Windsor said.
Windsor also outlined changes and clarifications to campaigning rules. There are no longer any rules surrounding campaign teams, other than that these people must abide by general election rules and must not help candidates financially. Rules on where campaigning can take place have also been relaxed, says Windsor. “Campaigning can now take place in bars, both on and off campus, as long as the candidate has permission. Campaigning in academic areas or areas of study is not permitted. Nor is it permitted in the Sugarhouse.”
Elections are highly significant given the integral nature of Lancaster’s College System. ‘Elections are vitally important because they solely dictate how the Union is run’, says Winsor, emphasising the benefits to be gained from standing for and holding a position. “Becoming a LUSU Officer means that you get a year of experience in a whole range of areas that wouldn’t previously be open to you. This experience, I guarantee, will affect your life in a positive way. It goes on your degree transcript, it teaches you valuable skills and it’s exactly the kind of thing that employers are looking for”, he adds.
Current County College Social Secretary Lorna Owen feels the experience has been hugely worthwhile. “I have gained confidence, belief in myself and knowledge of running social events. I have also learnt how the collegiate system works and is run”, she says. She does admit that the campaign period was stressful, “I put up a selection of posters and handed out flyers but because I was running against five other people, I didn’t really know my chances against them.” Despite this, Owen does describe her hustings speech as a “brilliant experience”.
“Being on the JCR has been a brilliant experience and as long as you are willing to put your time and effort into it, it is well worth doing,” she concludes.
Students are generally positive towards the elections, who see them as “a good way for the students to have a say in who they want to represent their college”, as one student says.
Despite the high regard in which these elections are widely held, there is still a degree of apathy towards them from some students, many of whom don’t see running for positions as worthwhile. One concern is a sense of exclusivity which seems to be a barrier to many students. One Bowland College Fourth Year says the college is “too cliquey”, which makes him “feel quite distant from my college”.
Windsor also feels that this apathy comes from the fact that the Students’ Union is associated with student politics with “a capital p”, which is seen as “a typically dull subject that students today are generally more apathetic toward”’. He refutes this association, contending that many students aren’t aware enough of LUSU’s role, and thus underestimate the importance of elections.
“We don’t expect students to get involved with everything, nor do we strive to force people in to doing anything against their will, but we are trying to make students realise that LUSU is one of the best opportunities to improve yourself as a person and drastically improve your job prospects”, he insists.
The election process begins with nominations opening on Monday of Week Seven; candidates have until Friday of the same week to sign themselves up. A period of campaigning will then begin on Monday, Week Eight. Candidates have five days to convince students to vote for them. Voting opens on Thursday of Week Eight, although candidates may continue campaigning until voting closes 24 hours later, at 4pm on Friday. Results will then be announced shortly after.