Christmas is coming, and the relaxed mood had spread to Union Council as we began the last meeting of term. Councillors wandered in late, became confused over where observers were to sit (many had brought their newly-elected successors along) and lacked the nice neat namecards they’d displayed proudly throughout previous meetings.
Just as well, then, that it took 40 minutes to get down to the real business of the evening. We had a rather extended Information and Questions session and a couple of presentations – Matt Windsor, Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy & Societies) and Emily Blanchard, Chair of Elections, on the reasons behind Election Fail the Fourth or whatever number it is we’re up to now and Lizzie Houghton, Vice President (Media & Communications), on LUSU’s ‘unintrusive’ rebranding project. (Houghton was as fond of the word ‘unintrusive’ as her colleague Robbie Pickles was of the word ‘positive’ in Week One’s discussion of updated bylaws.)
These matters over, the debate could begin. A proposal had been made by Windsor and Marc Handley, Vice President (Sports), that their respective roles be altered to a Vice President (Events & Democracy) and a Vice President (Student Activities), to cover sports and societies.
In December 2008 the Sabbatical Review – the proposal to change the Sabbs into Full Time Executive Officers of the Union, five Vice Presidents and a President – was passed at a General Meeting of over 500 students. The review was surrounded by controversy: not only did it removed the guaranteed women-only post of Women’s Officer, it put sports and societies together under a VP (Student Activities), exactly as Windsor and Handley proposed now. On that occasion, the sports clubs objected so strongly they turned out in force to vote for an amendment.
Times have changed, however. Introducing the proposal, Handley criticised the “cloak and dagger” way sports clubs had been presented with justification for the change two years ago. No such move for him; he’d been to every single sports club to ask their opinions, and Windsor had done the same with societies. The verdict had been overwhelmingly favourable.
Or had it? Equality Campaigns Officer Aidan Williams didn’t think so. Societies Council had disagreed with the proposal, he said, and it ought to go to a General Meeting.
A forest of hands shot up as everyone was desperate to disagree with Williams – including the supposedly objective Union Council Chair George Gardiner. For a while confusion reigned, as councillors seemed keen to introduce new points before old ones had been finished with. No one, apart from Windsor, followed procedure correctly and announced when they were making a point of information.
Windsor pointed out that Societies Council had not in fact disagreed, they had merely raised concerns. He also stated that it was no longer necessary for such proposals to go to General Meetings after former LUSU President Michael Payne changed the rules to allow Union Council the power to pass changes. This was later contradicted by current President Robbie Pickles, who said that actually there had been a referendum on the matter, though forestalled the inevitable comeback by remarking that undoubtedly the majority of those who voted for it hadn’t paid the slightest bit of attention to what it was they were voting for.
Pickles, however, agreed with both Handley and Williams on the secrecy surrounding the operations of the Students’ Union in the past.
“I was as sick as you have been about the cloak and dagger way the Students’ Union used to operate – decisions were made in shadowy rooms, behind doors and dark corners,” he said, his voice growing more lugubrious with every word.
Pickles agreed with most comments, in fact. His series of agreements was so close to a summing-up one might have thought he was chairing the meeting himself. Accordingly, he was succeeded by Jess Horsfield, Vice President of Cartmel JCR, who proposed that we move to a vote. After barely 20 minutes of debate the motion passed with an overwhelming majority. Two years on and Lancaster has a Student Activities officer after all.
Editorial clarification: It should be noted that when conducting the original Sabbatical Review in 2008, then LUSU President Michael Payne strived to hold consultation with the whole student body. This was through two general meetings with societies, two general meetings with the then Athletic Union, a Societies Council meeting, two Union Council meetings, an online discussion and a general meeting of the whole Students’ Union. This was all before the review was voted on at the referendum in November 2008.
It should also be noted that a second referendum took place, which passed new rules to allow changes to be made to bylaws in Union Council, if they were consequential to the charity registration process.
A complaint was made about this article by Michael Payne. This has now been rectified.