A call for more increasing voter turnout and more substantiated campaigning in future elections
By Hari Prabu
In preparing to watch Lent Term elections unfold for a fourth time, cynicism was very much at the forefront of my mind. I calmly rattled through the names of the winners to come whenever people sought the insight of a wearied electioneer. There were certain votes which mattered more than others, I explained, and I spoke of meticulously getting out the vote strategies driven by spreadsheets and in-group loyalty. Block votes among the left in LSESU is a common narrative, and one in which I had come to believe in heavily; it was so refreshing that the results shook me from my fixations.
I strongly commend groups of people who organise together and win a position because they believe important action needs to be taken within and by our Union. As I said at a UGM in my first year, “I am proud to self-identify as a British Indian, but I am also more proud to self-identify as a student hack.” I believe that those who take part heavily in the activities of the SU over the years of their degree do a great service for all students. It is only through people giving up their time to organise campaigns, run societies, and speak at Union General Meetings, that a considerable part of student life is maintained and improved. Yet, it has seemed that for a long time those who have served our Union in other ways, or who have good ideas but lack the right political connections, have been excluded from a fair chance at leading it.
This academic year has changed that status quo for the better. Although of course I did not feel as such at the time, having lost the postgraduate officer election to a new student with bright ideas and strong qualifications, leaves me very satisfied. Until Thursday, I had doubted whether this shift in electoral dynamics would continue, but I was gladly proven wrong.
The results for Activities and Development, Community and Welfare, and Women’s Officer flew in the face of conventional pundit wisdom and, looking at the endorsements won, perhaps signal the establishment of the AU as a powerful voting block itself. Indeed, even the outcome of the General Secretary race, which many predicted to be a near certainty, was held back to a record-breaking narrow margin of six votes. The political landscape of student politics is now more evenly contested than it has been since former General Secretary Peters-Day first won six years ago.
This is an important step forward for our Union’s democracy but it is not the end goal. While it is clear that there are now counter-forces to Union stalwarts in our elections, there remain many students who are not engaged with the Union’s political process and would not be able to succeed in it, despite being strongly suited for a role and having a vision to take the Union forward. This is a problem that would be quickly solved if we were to go beyond our peak of 30% turnout and reach more representative levels. The simplest way of achieving this would be for there to be dedicated time during large lectures, taking place when voting is open, for students to cast their ballots. If just five minutes is taken (in the same way as is taken for students’ feedback forms to be filled in) for voting to be explained, and an opportunity given for the sea of MacBook Airs to visit lsesu.com/vote, we could permanently solve the Union’s democratic crisis. The question of asking the Union to lobby the school to introduce such a time will be submitted for debate at a UGM before the year is out.
However, even in a scenario with much higher turnout there remains the question of what those elected can achieve. Too often in Student Union elections, there is a tendency to make pledges that either cannot be fulfilled or are empty without any tangible goals set. While it is of course important that candidates talk about: the BME attainment gap, the cost of living in London, or the need for liberation of oppressed groups; they ought to spend more time thinking of what realistic steps they will take to get closer to such end goals. How would they restructure classes in ways which improve the performance of BME students, which businesses do they think they can do deals with for LSE students to save, and in which areas are minorities being let down and how would a campaign led by a new set of individuals, fix these issues? Students need future candidates to answer more questions like these so they can make an informed choice with their vote. LSESU democracy is maturing to include even more students yet it must also grow to become more thoughtful and effective.