The nominations for the next batch of LUSU Sabbatical Officers have closed, and it has the potential to be historic. The winners will have been announced by the time subtext’s next issue is out, and readers can expect a full analysis of LUSU’s new lineup. For now, we will focus on the Presidential race, which is a 3 way dance between Josh Woolf, Rhiannon Jones, and Siri Hampapur.
It is not unheard of for a sitting officer to re-run, and while Vice-Presidents have re-run for the same positions with varying degrees of success, Josh Woolf is the first sitting LUSU President to re-run for his position in nine years (the last being Michael Payne, who was successfully re-elected for a 2nd term as LUSU President in 2009). Rhiannon Jones, on the other hand, is the first former LUSU sabbatical officer (not just President) to complete a term of office, return to their studies, and then re-run for office after a year out.
It is already an unusual election, but what can we expect from the candidates? Last year we criticised current President Josh Woolf for his non-committal, light-on-policy manifesto which, as we predicted, translated into a docile Presidency. It hasn’t gone down well with students – even the Lancaster Labour club, many of whose members backed his candidacy, have publicly spoken out against Woolf’s unwillingness to pick a side during the strike action.
But Rhiannon Jones cannot reasonably claim to offer an antidote, given her similar politics-lite approach that Woolf inherited and built upon. Siri Hampapur, meanwhile, is lacking in any kind of representative experience, aside from having led LA1 TV, the student television station. So much for the talent, now let’s turn to their manifestos.
Hampapur promises to address soaring rents, fees, and parking costs. With no political experience within LUSU, and no evidence that she knows how to engage with the university’s structures to effect change in these areas, we have little confidence in her ability to deliver this – current President Josh Woolf was similarly inexperienced when he ran on the same promises, and his record speaks for itself. She also promises to ‘hold truth the power’, which we assume is her way of saying ‘speak truth to power’ – we admire the attempt to invoke George Fox’s famous phrase, at least. She goes on to promise greater consultation with PG students (we’ll believe that when we see it). In particular, she wishes to lobby for the option for postgrad students to stay in their undergrad college, an option which has already existed since the official College review of 2015. The rest of it is perfectly honourable – less sexual harassment, better mental health provision, and being available to students are fine things, but when the opposite would be to advocate for more sexual harassment, worse mental health provision, and being less available to students, you have to wonder if there’s much substance here.
Woolf’s manifesto opens by telling us how hard he’s been fighting to keep down the cost of living, improve communication, and speed up the completion of the Spine refurbishment. What he doesn’t mention is any of his successes in these battles. Woolf is very proud of how visible and approachable his officers have been since he took office, and how he wants to introduce more structures to hold LUSU to account. Since he hasn’t even effectively wielded the existing structures (see above) , and has presided over a very opaque year for LUSU, we struggle to see why he should be trusted to deliver on these promises. People reading his manifesto (the thinnest of the three on offer) might also ask why he can’t achieve any of these things in the four months he has left in office. His (lack of) stance on the strike action has also not done him many favours with a group of students that is quite large and well mobilised at the moment. But then, the sitting President always has the steepest climb, we’re sure.
Jones’ manifesto is the only one to focus on achievements. While she is quick to highlight the high voter turnout in the 2017 General Election, she doesn’t mention the December 2016 council by-election, and its glorious turnout of 7.12%. Furthermore, while she illuminates LUSU’s lobbying over the 2017 Higher Education Bill being mentioned by members of the House of Lords, she was less willing to support an NSS boycott – an NUS-endorsed act of disobedience which would have have a far more palpable effect on lawmaking if more institutions had got on board. The most promising part of Jones’ manifesto is a pledge to address its appalling democratic structures(discussed elsewhere in this issue of subtext.) That she failed to discard them in her first year of office, when it was already clear that they were destined for failure, doesn’t fill us with confidence that she’ll be any more willing this time around.
Candidate hustings take place at 6.00 pm on Monday 5th March in Barker House Farm. Voting opens on Wednesday 7th March and closes Friday 9th March.