Jessica Brown</strong Politics Editor
Anyone who has made the disproportionately epic journey from Piccadilly bus station down Oxford road will have undoubtedly noticed MMU’s ‘Elexions’ campaign, clothed in word play, yet, ready to embrace the changing tides of student politics. Behind the slightly odd word play – and my own grammatical snobbery is something much more serious – the embarkation of the student body on this year’s academic electoral proceedings. The University of Manchester Students’ Union’s hustings occurred last Monday, a defining episode in the academic term encompassing the lengthily campaigning season, the tawdry Facebook groups and the eventual selection of new students for office. The process indeed spans much of second semester, hopeful candidates stand, full of promise, of hope and of inspiration for the coming year. They arrive, perhaps overly optimistic, yet encouraged to produce an exceptional Union body, a union that will work harder and better in future semesters.
Among many of my contemporaries, over the course of my degree programme I have often noted a very cynical attitude towards such elections. Some have branded them internally pre-destined, petty, party political and even pointless, a small scale and needless political exercise designed merely to bolster the already strong position of those already keenly involved with the Union and its politics. True, there are the stalwarts of the Union, some of whom have been intrinsically connected to UMSU from their very first day of university life at the. Those that have grown through the union, participating in Fuse FM, working tirelessly in the Mancunion office or campaigning heavily for reduced tuition fees, for women’s rights or perhaps even as continual members of the bar staff.
Fundamentally, these elections should generally be regarded as incredibly positive for the development of the student body in two key and unwavering instances, in the process of electing a new union, and in the benefits the process itself has on individual political aspiration and the promotion and progression of political activity that is personal and representative. The benefits of electing a new set of Union representatives are incredibly apparent. Those who are chosen will form the basis and foundations of the new academic cycle will become the people that work tirelessly hard to make sure the Union functions effectively and in the interests of the voting electorate. Whether it be as Mancunion Editor or as General Secretary, the influence and impact the Union Executive have is first hand and undeniable.
However, the course of my dialogue is not to reciprocate the point of voting in the guise that you will be setting forth a new, exciting and inspirational executive, not that you should vote for the benefit of your fellow students or that they will revolutionise your experience of University, even though undoubtedly the above are all true. My perspective on the forthcoming elections is that they have an importance that is incredibly personal and can be seen as a pillar for an individual political development and progression. Most of the students currently at the University will have been gifted with the opportunity to vote in the recent General elections. However, over the course of a term in parliament, there will be a large sector of the student electorate who, due to age constraints will have been unable to cast their decisions in such ways. I would like to proffer that the importance of the Students’ Union elections is hence vital in providing a bridge, a link between personal belief systems and the utilisation of political voice in a national environment. Even though the actual system of voting is incredibly different (who in their right mind would actually choose FPTP as a coherent voting structure? Oh yes, the British government) the practises and template remain incredibly similar. Voting is all about being informed about your choice and making a reliable and educated decision.
The Students’ Union voting system, like all elections, allows the experience of the vote to be experienced and participated in by all those eligible. One can dance carelessly through the manifestos, jovially attend the hustings; proffering questions on financial management or Union policy and skip down the halls of knowledge, branding in ones hand the gift of the student vote. For Union elections, just like a general election require the same process, the same experience. Educate yourself on the candidate pledges, experience the thrill of the political campaign and finally, cast that vote. In a dismal era where generally only half those eligible to vote in a general election actually manage to turnout, the Students’ Union elections and other more localised instances of political interaction offer a reliable and intrinsic pathway to political development. It is this small scale, perhaps grass roots involvement that needs to be instituted within the frameworks of national political discourse, if there should ever be the possibility of increasing and expanding the community of informed voters in this country. Even if you don’t agree with Union politics or you don’t feel like you are currently informed enough to make a decision, as students of this University, you have a certain duty to make your opinions heard. Yes, the Students’ Union elections may represent a hypothetical bridge between personal belief and national participation, but ultimately, it is an individual choice to take the opportunity, to participate in the localised process, to extend one limb aloft and cross the gulf to embrace union life.