The myth of representation & making the best of a bad situation

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The annual popularity contest is in full swing, and we are once again on the search for Lancaster’s six most popular students to serve on our Students’ Union. Because let’s be honest, that’s really what this is all about, isn’t it?

Regardless of the petty personal politics, passive-aggressive comments, and usual in-jokes that will inevitably plague campus throughout the campaigning period, I’d like to think that the best candidates for the job will end up in the top seats. But we can never be sure that this will happen, because it’s not what you know on this campus, but it’s who you know. Candidates are reaching out for endorsements, welcoming friends onto their “campaign teams” with open arms, and spamming Facebook like there’s no tomorrow. It would be naive to suggest that anyone can be LUSU President, because it will continue to be sustained by an in-group of people who have, quite literally, grown up in that area of university life.

When we take a step back and look at the larger context, it becomes clear just how unrepresentative our representatives actually are. In last year’s FTO Election, 2,616 students out of roughly 12,000 decided to place their vote. A voter turnout of around 22% seems fair enough, until we realise that 1,059 of those 12,000 actually voted for our current LUSU President. Therefore, in the first round of voting, around 9% of the student population listed our current President as their first choice. And whilst that may be worrying, it’s just the norm. 9% of students place their trust in these six figureheads to act on our behalf, but they take actions that affect the remaining 91% too.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do about it, and once we get over the myth of representation, we need to make the best of a bad situation. We need to get a bloody good bunch of people who genuinely care about this university (and its students) in the six top positions on our Students’ Union. We need people who stand out from the crowd – not councillors who put up with the status quo, but true unionists who not only challenge authority and the institution, but challenge the Students’ Union too. That doesn’t mean being radical for the sake of being radical, and it certainly doesn’t mean damaging the university’s reputation. It means that FTOs should stimulate debate on campus, get people talking, and get people tuned in to campus life.

That’s exactly what has been happening over the past couple of months. There’s been a number of occasions recently where I’ve been pleasantly surprised by FTO-initiated campaigns. The campaigning around the rent and tuition fee increase, for example, has been excellent. For once, students are engaging and getting involved. It is more than just gossip this time; it’s genuine disapproval and anger at university management’s decisions, and it’s good to see progress, however slight it may be. Mental Health awareness campaigns this year have also been commendable, and I’m noticing a real shift in attitude towards how people view this form of illness.

The momentum that has been gathering over the past few months needs to continue with the next FTO team, and I worry the evident progress that has been sustained for so long will be wasted. In order to be engaged, students need to feel represented; and in order to be represented, they need a proactive, solid, and enthusiastic FTO team who lead by example.

May the best candidates win.

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