Sunday, 2 March 2014

(Student) Politics: University of Birmingham Officer Elections

I'm going to start off this blog very clearly, I do not want Poppy Wilkinson to be re-elected as Guild President. Her response and subsequent handling of the Defend Education protest was appalling, one of the main functions of the Guild of Students should be to represent, and protect students in times like this. Students were illegally arrested for refusing to give their details to leave a kettle - as the word illegal implies the police are not allowed to do this, and Poppy chose to overlook this fact to condemn the actions of students whilst completely ignoring every other aspect of what went on that day. She failed in her role as President, and I do not want to see her back.

So it's a shame that she's one of the only two candidates who support The Living Wage. She obviously has the advantage of having a history in the position, managing to fulfill all of her election pledges - and the longer library hours have benefitted many students. She's also got the slightly more wishy-washy policies to 'Reform Guild politics' and have 'More big campus events'. She was the only one to really push the other candidates during the debate, and was visibly frustrated with Ben - and got more annoyed when people started criticising Guild Departments, I guess being the acting President makes it hard to condemn 'your' staff.

There was an incredibly average Guild TV Presidential 'debate' with the candidates where they were asked the tough questions like, "Will you take your two free fab tickets" - all the (actual) candidates answered no. Not sure why, I don't think anybody's going to cause a massive fuss if they did. Most probably because I doubt anybody actually watched the presidential debate.

The most entertaining candidate was certainly Benjamin Puusta and his unique brand of scepticism. I didn't expect Guild Elections to be prestigious enough to have frivolous candidates, but apparently I was misguided. Alongside his pledges of free jam and devising a defence strategy for the zombie apocalypse he actually made some decent points during the the hour and just seemed angry at the structure and bureaucracy in other areas of the Guild. He also managed to annoy Poppy to the max, so that was nice.

Maximilian Shapiro's drawl is slightly off-putting at first, seeming just as suspicious of the Guild as Ben, but his policies are solid. The second of the candidates to support the Living Wage and also has an ambitious plan to consolidate all the liberation officers into a single 'Inclusion and Diversity Officer' - as, according to him, siphoning people off into separate groups doesn't help. He was pushed about the point though, and did concede that maybe he'd have to rethink due to other people's concerns. I like his policies, but do think that he'll alienate some people, and I doubt that's a great trait to have in a President.

Then there's the two main candidates that I think would make the best replacement for Ms Wilkinson, at least in terms of personality, and those are George Derbyshire and Edward Sainsbury. Neither of them have particularly spectacular policies but they dealt with the questions well and seemed knowledgeable about Guild Politics. I'm not sure how plausible the latter's desire to negotiate a higher block grant is, but a campaign encouraging students to vote in general elections is easily achievable, and building the reputation as an entertainment venue is definitely plausible. It's got more than enough space to be used as music venues and although not the same, Manchester University's model is probably quite a good one to follow - especially for 'popular music'. His "I don't want to run the Guild, I want to be part of the Guild" made for a good soundbite, and heavily contrasted with Maximilian's strong leadership, who most definitely wants to run the Guild.

'Curious' George's aims aren't much. Better events that students actually want, raising awareness on Liberation, working toward a carbon free university, and making out of term library book recalls fairer.  I'm pretty sure the library's a fairly manageable task for President's to handle because they all seem to do it. He actually managed to come across a lot better in the debate than in his election manifesto, but that might be because there was an "I agree with George" moment for all of the candidates.

One of the only decent questions in the 'debate' was whether they agree with protest or discussion to get things done. Most of the candidates said that it was a combination of both rather than just one or the other, but I found a nice quote from Maximilian in a Guardian article from last month, "Occupation as a tactic does not force the university to listen. Only through the use of legitimate and accepted institutions, such as the Guild Council, can Defend Education ensure that their grievances are addressed." That's a strong line to take, and he backed it up with his rhetoric during the debate. I'm just disappointed that nobody pressed Poppy on her reaction to earlier protests, especially because Defend Education was brought up and a question was asked to Poppy. Oh well!

Personally I really like Edward's 'entertainment venue' idea, but it needs dedication and knowledge beyond what I think the Guild will have. If it was me I'd probably spend more time pushing Joe's as a legitimate 'pub', it's cheaper than anywhere in Selly Oak with a student card and is quite a lot nicer than most of them too.

What I think will be most interesting next year is Bethan Dovey's promise to scrap the Guild Council after last year's electoral fraud. That's a fairly major reshuffle, and with nobody running against her it has to - hypothetically - happen. Also, Joe Armer is trying to roll out lecture podcasts, which - I think most students know - would be a huge help, alongside trying to assess timetables to stop 'deadline loading'; I'm not sure how plausible playing with the timetables is, due to the sheer size of operation at the University but I'd like to see him try.

Obviously, at the end of the day the amount of change that a committee can do in one year is minimal, and there are bigger forces at play behind the scenes, but they can try! Voting is always good, sometimes. Vote!

Edit 04.03.14 - The Guild have today finally released a statement in support of the suspended students Good to see.

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