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19th March 2014

A response to the ‘crisis of apathy’

General secretary Grace Skelton responds to last week’s elections criticism, reminding you why you should vote

As General Secretary of the Students’ Union, I’d like to start by saying how extremely disappointed I’ve been to read only negative stories about elections in the last couple of editions of The Mancunion. I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to put forward an alternative viewpoint this week.

Firstly, the Students’ Union elections are not suffering from a crisis of apathy. All eight positions are very hotly contested this year, and you only need to walk up and down Oxford Road or ask students with lectures in University Place to know that the candidates this year are everywhere! One can’t help but feel that we could have Sky News doing a live feed of the elections, and The Mancunion would still say there was no hype.

To make the point that there is a crisis of apathy surrounding the Students’ Union, and to base that point solely on elections is ludicrous and lacking in evidence. I say this not just as someone who is passionate about elections and democracy, but because I think it misses the point of Students’ Unions completely.

There are many reasons why I think the elections are brilliant. The main one being that they genuinely get students thinking about the change they would like to see, whether that’s in the Union, University or the wider community. Via the Students’ Union we see students taking an active role in the Manchester community every single day. By Christmas, our students had recorded 2,045 hours of volunteering, and raised a staggering £150,000 for charity. Without the Union to bring all this together, it wouldn’t have been possible.

The extra engagement around election time is so crucial; with the University putting increasing emphasis on the “student experience”, it is vital that students are shaping this agenda. Elections not only make sure that those with the most popular policies get elected, but they give current officers who have four months left even more to be lobbying the University for.

In the article last week there was blatant hypocrisy and factual inaccuracies that featured throughout. The piece claimed that the exec officers “can’t really claim a mandate from students” because turnout is so low and only getting worse. I have a newsflash: turnout last year was higher than ever before and was the fourth highest in the United Kingdom. The author blamed this so-called apathy on exec not implementing popular policies like the full-time salaried Mancunion editor. This is ridiculous. I got 1,945 votes, the All Student Vote on a paid Mancunion editor got 224. If I’m unpopular, what does that make the Editor of the Mancunion?

Regardless, what the article failed to recognise was that the value of the Students’ Union is so much more than how many people run in elections and how many people vote.

The value is the 24,530 individual society memberships, which is up 20 per cent on this time last year. These societies are the lifeblood of the Students’ Union and some of the activities and events they organise are truly remarkable.

The value is the £1.2 million of bursaries that was put back into students’ pockets due to exec officers and students working with and lobbying the University to understand the real value of that money.

The value is the estimated 20,000 students that might read this article in the Opinion section of The Mancunion, and that it might make them think again about whether they choose to vote in this year’s elections or not.

All of these things, and so many more, are made possible by the Students’ Union. The idea of having a space that is led by students for the benefit of students is something actually quite remarkable and I can’t tell you how proud I am to lead such an organisation.

It was disappointing to see that last week’s author believes the role of General Secretary to be one faced with so much negativity and political infighting. I can assure readers that nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, there is political disagreement among the exec, but we have a 40,000 strong diverse membership and it would be an injustice to them if that diversity wasn’t reflected in the exec team year on year.

Personally, I can’t wait to see who the eight lucky people are that are elected on Thursday to lead such a large, vibrant and exciting organisation in 2014/15. I can only hope that they enjoy it at least half as much as I have!

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