CUSU elections – A sceptic’s tale

5 March 2013

It is that time of year again when the ‘Cambridge Bubble’ reaches the point of bursting. We have just reached that short-lived eruption of intense heat that defines the election period of CUSU, whereby faces appear, dominate and instruct us, the student populace, to vote, before they disappear back into their degrees, or into the corners of Cambridge from whence they came.

We must, in such a moment of nuclear heatedness, turn to the recent past to provide us with perspective: ‘Hi, my name’s Inanimate Carbon Rod, and I’m running to be your next President of your National Union of Students’. The opening of the Presidential manifesto of an inanimate rod was a reference to the inanimate nature of the NUS leadership. ‘Rod’, at the very least, stood out. He had links to The Simpson’s, credentials that other candidates lack, who have in common only the ability to induce shotgun-like bursts of deadly laughter at pivotal moments.

It is undeniable that student elections are important. As students of Cambridge we are all apparently ‘intelligent and articulate’; thus ‘when we take a side, we can and do change the University and the wider world’ states Vicky Hudson, CUSU Returning Officer, in an eager plea for ‘thousands of you’ to enact change. But as with the Union and Le Pen, it is tempting to exaggerate the wider impact of what happens in Cambridge. Extending the Inanimate Rod analogy – just as nuclear power plants in 2012 provided only about 5.7% of the world’s energy, CUSU elections make only a marginal difference even to the ‘world’ of Cambridge, despite this city being a university town and administrative centre of the county of Cambridgeshire, not so much a part of this ‘world’ as it might seem. The notion of the ‘Cambridge Bubble’ is as absurd as certain cartoon episodes. The manifestos of candidates, however, mark this similarity to The Simpsons more disturbingly; Cambridge is also a rather good university, yet James White, candidate for NUS delegate, proclaims Homer-esque beauties as: ‘I am Classics Fresher at Robinson College’. Homer J. Simpson, that is.

Low voter turnout reveals the joke that is these elections. Last year, in all, 4,364 students voted in the CUSU elections – a turn-out of 20.4%. And student turnout is on the decrease. This does not have to reflect the relatively low turnout in national elections, as has oft been illogically commented, for the two are not necessarily connected. CUSU is not a direct replica of Parliament, despite the prevalence of such assumptions. One forgets that Parliament is a large body, larger than CUSU and with greater powers and influence. The campaigns of a few keen students simply cannot be of the same level; if one votes in a CUSU election but not in a general election, one only proves the existence of the disease which blights the small-minded: Cambridge-centralism. In relative terms, a CUSU election is not as big a deal as it is made out to be.

It would also be too easy to connect low turnout with the prevalently low opinions of student leaders. One can note that many of the candidates for Presidency simply take themselves too seriously. Their manifestos are as generic as the Rod’s, who states that: ‘As President, I will represent all students, regardless of politics, and without sarcasm or aggression or inaccessible language and behaviour, because as an inanimate rod, I am incapable of having or displaying emotions’; however, theirs’ lack the same nuclear glow of energy. CUSU wannabe-President George Bangham called for a ‘depoliticised Women’s Officer’, seemingly adverse to ‘political’ action, while it is the Rod’s campaign which suggests the potential for revolution, speaking of building the ‘bomb’ needed to destroy ‘the parasitic classes that are destroying our society and our Student Union’. The vague promises of these manifestos can only give a vagueness to any future actions. Bangham’s manifesto, on the other hand, implodes, stating that the ‘normal CUSU machine’, as a negative thing, is an issue of the day – but nobody knows what this means. It can only be suggested that the ‘normal CUSU machine’ is essentially a group of career politicians disconnected from real student concerns. In this context, voting for an inanimate rod would seem to make more sense.

One may comment that the views I am expressing are cynical, and detrimental to the whole process of student democracy. May I state that Arsalan ‘Call-me-Honourable-President’ Ghani of the GU was followed by the Bryon-without-poetry figure of Xin ‘Bruno’ Jin, currently under investigation by the police for violent assault (and also disqualified from proceedings due to breaking election rules). He crafted a manifesto as vague as the rest, claiming that he would be ‘friendly’ and that he would ‘work closely with fellow GU members’. These promises are simply not notable; they are to be taken for granted in a President. They only serve one function and that would appear to be a certain potential for joke-making. It would seem that some candidates are unintentionally confirming my cynicism.

The failings of previous student leaders, and the failings within the present candidate manifestos, indicate that low turnout is inevitably connected with lacklustre campaigning. Opponents of nuclear power such as Greenpeace International and NIRS believe that the energy form poses many threats to people and the environment, and I feel inclined to state that the same dangers are present in vague or irresponsible manifestos. The only difference is that, unlike nuclear power, the upcoming CUSU elections are not really worth the bother, taking place on a very small, rather than international, stage. In fact, while The Simpsons at the very least has millions of viewers; the inanimate nuclear rod is an energy source with the potential to save the ‘wider world’; but the votes for this overexcited election are being counted in a small building at the Graduate Union on the 6th of March. See you there then?

Sky Holmes is a first-year English student at Homerton.