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A campaign run by the group Lancaster University Against Cuts (LUAC) encouraging students to vote to Re-open nominations (RON) in the run up to LUSU’s Full Time Officer Elections sparked campus-wide debate.
The campaign was run separately to LUSU’s own RON campaign, which the Union is constitutionally bound to run at every election.
This year 402 students voted RON in the LUSU President election, accounting for 15% of the votes cast. Last year’s figure, when current LUSU President Robbie Pickles ran uncontested, was 306 votes cast for RON though a lower turnout meant that RON received 17% of the vote. In the 2009 President election RON recieved just 7.2% of the vote.
LUAC, who campaign against the rise in university tuition fees and cuts to Higher Education funding, received staunch criticism for some of their alleged campaign methods. Throughout the campaign they have been accused of drawing indecent images on other candidates posters and of actively ripping down other candidates’ campaign material.
The debate has been largely played out over LUAC’s Facebook page, where a document featuring a dialogue between LUSU’s Vice President (Finance, Events, Democracy and Societies), Matt Windsor and a member of LUAC in response to SCAN’s enquiries has attracted over 50 comments.
LUAC maintain that they are an autonomous group of various-minded individuals, and as such no one member speaks for the whole group. However, those who have spoken to SCAN on this issue have made broadly similar points. “RON is about demonstrating that there is an appetite for a real political alternative in the midst of a political culture of enforced monotony,” said LUAC member Chris Witter.
Witter particularly opposed the candidates for LUSU President, but was critical of the LUSU elections system as a whole. This campaign, he said, “is about questioning the fact that none of the candidates running have [any] political agenda whatsoever; they do not seem to recognise the seismic transformation of Higher Education that is occurring before their eyes”.
Another member, Nickie Wareing, corroborated this view, saying that the campaign was in part “to show that we want a president that does not accept [or] welcome the £9000 tuition fee.” This reflects the view that LUAC feel that neither presidential candidate promised a tough enough stance against tuition fee rises.
Windsor refuted these views and criticised LUAC. Regarding the appropriateness of the candidates, he said: “The point to be made here is that actually they [the candidates] do have a political agenda; they just don’t have [LUAC’s] agenda.
“With regards to the seismic transformation of Higher Education that is occurring I know that both presidential candidates, and the other candidates, are very well aware of the situation.”
As part of the Vote RON campaign LUAC have put up posters across campus, sometimes covering those of other candidates. The words RON for LUSU President have also been written across some posters. Notionally a RON campaign does not contravene LUSU election rules, and the Students’ Union would have been able to help to fund LUAC’s campaign if they had applied for funding.
“I’d happily fund a structure, performance or solidified plan for a RON campaign, I would have even invited [them] on college block runs so [they] could have had a chance to promote RON to the students directly,” said Windsor.
The reaction against the campaign has stemmed from the way in which the LUAC have gone about it, in not working through LUSU in the way described by Windsor. Witter argues that the reason for this is that the group oppose the workings and “current trajectory of LUSU”, and so a RON campaign in line with LUSU regulations would undermine itself.
“We reject the claims that LUSU is democratic and represents students”, he said, adding: “We’re using and abusing the system tactically as we see fit; we don’t condone it and don’t want to belong to it unless we can first transform what it is”.
Despite showing support for the idea of a RON campaign, LUSU President Robbie Pickles criticised the way this one has been run. “I think it is good for students to engage in our democratic processes on any level, even if that engagement is to reject them. […] However, a RON campaign which spreads misinformation and lies is far from helpful. Their latest bout of posters contains some remarkably inaccurate information about LUSU and the student movement. More importantly, whilst rejecting LUSU and the views of the presidential candidates, they offer no viable alternative or leadership of their own.”
This last view represents suggestions which have been made that LUAC might have entered their own candidate in the FTO elections. Witter, however, does not believe that would have been effective. He said: “Because we reject LUSU as it is, and see little point in simply managing to sneak into office one or two ‘inside men’”.
There is perception within LUSU that the disillusioned views of LUAC are not representative of the student body as a whole.
“The ideology of this group is extremely distant from the direction students want LUSU to take,” concluded Pickles.