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20th March 2017

Student elections and ongoing contradictions

Elliott Mills illustrates how continued low voter turnout in Student Union elections is widening the gap between students and those representing them

I planned to write an article where you think it’s about one thing, but it turns out to be satirising something else. It was going to start off being about how it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find Haribo Super Mix in the shops these days, and then be about something else, because obviously I’m not that bothered about the first issue. I don’t even eat Haribo Super Mix. Unfortunately, I could not think about what the initial Haribo issue would end up satirising. So it would have just been about Haribo.

I am going to write instead about the student elections, but the problem of the unsolved Haribo article has not left my mind. On the contrary, I find that part of me is still fixating on it. The point is that I don’t care about Super Mix at all, yet, this has already become an origin from which proceeds my obsession on the unsolvable nature of an increasingly confusing issue.

The obsession heightened such that, although it is still true to say that I essentially do not care about Haribo, it must be said that I simultaneously care about it a great deal. These two positions are antagonistic and damaging, but nevertheless exist together. An unhappy state of play this contradictory double-bind has turned out to be.

Well anyway, you probably have noticed that the student executive elections have once again come and gone. Signs were hanging up everywhere you turned. Walk to a lecture and someone would stop you to talk about improving students’ experiences of education. Go to the toilet and, from a poster on the cubicle door, urgently benevolent eyes would stare into yours. Whilst you are attending to the most basic welfare concern, the half-smiling face of the potential student representative tells you how they understand your concerns and care about your welfare. If they really did, you think, then they wouldn’t be trying to score political points when you are at your most defenceless.

All of this seems superfluous, each year nothing seems to change. This is why I didn’t vote and why only 16 per cent of students did. So, are the student executives who were elected really representing the student body? At this stage I don’t much care, nothing ever changes so it doesn’t really matter.

It seems as though young, predominantly middle class people with a good liberal education, many of whom are from London and the South East of England, are feeling politically disenfranchised. The representatives don’t seem to care about us, or, rather, it seems there is a cycle of mutually informing lack of care between the two parties.

The politically disenfranchised have more important things to contend with, like working out why on earth everyone voted wrong, leading to Brexit and Trump. The matter of student elections therefore takes a back seat. Yet I feel the need to go on, for something about it rankles, something unknown or undecidable.

It has been a long time coming and, having arrived at this point of rupture, we should be able to understand that all of the signs were there. The repetitious nature of identical campaigns failing to engage potential voters could only lead to a separation between the students and those who represent them.

Given this rupture between those who influence decisions and the people that these decisions may affect, you have to think about why it is that these executives are allowed control. Yes, sure, I initially made the point that nothing ever changes, but, on the other hand, what about all those obtrusive changes?

I don’t even read the Daily Star, but I am angry that the Student Union Senate banned the paper from the campus. Could the representatives not have done better to direct this decision in the Union and represent my opinion? Yes, sure, I initially made the point that they don’t represent me because I didn’t vote, but I still think they ought to.

So, to recap: there are some elections that are not going to change anything. So no one ever votes. The student representatives then don’t seem to represent the students. This creates a rupture between the political body and the disengaged majority. We then end up not caring and imagine that they too must not care because of the gulf between us. We then wonder how it is that university life is run without the will of the people.

From this, we begin to care a little. As I said, we begin to think about the unfairness of the operation. More than just think about it, though, we think about it angrily. We fixate, even. The increasingly difficult, unsolved issues surrounding this unfair process proliferates. Some might contend that, with violent and severe change, the whole system needs a shake-up.

Does this mean that we should lash out against the system in all situations like this? I cannot confirm nor deny. Does one’s indignation at the state of play validate bursting the ball so that there is no more play of which there might even be a state? Possibly, possibly not. Perhaps submitting this complex interplay to a yes or no framework does not do the matter justice.

But what a damaging, unhappy and confusing state it is that we now find ourselves ineluctably within.

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