Priscilla elected CUSU president with highest turnout in over 10 years

Image credit: Jack May

Priscilla Mensah won a landslide election for CUSU president in CUSU’s most exciting election in years. Turnout was double that of last year with over 4,000 students voting. Priscilla beat controversial candidate Milo Edwards to the post with 2,077 votes, compared to Milo’s 1,520.

Priscilla pledged to retrain existing tutors on top of the current training for incoming tutors, reduce the 50% disparity in contact time among colleges and rank colleges according to welfare provisions. Priscilla was previously the Black Minority Ethnic (BME) Women’s Representative for the CUSU Women’s Campaign and is a co-founder of ‘Fly’, the Cambridge University BME Women’s Network.

She commented to The Cambridge Student:  “I’m genuinely delighted. I've really, really wanted this, and I have an incredible machine to thank. I'm overwhelmed by their support." On the turnout: “it's been fantastic, and made the candidates galvanise their campaigns.”

She defeated Milo Edwards, a candidate who has been surrounded by controversy throughout the campaign. His initial campaign video, which offered students jam sandwiches, subsidised freddos and proposed a Reading Week in which all students would be obligated to travel to Reading, led many to believe that he was a “joke candidate”. Milo was keen to clarify in the Presidential debate that he was “not a joke candidate”.

A later anonymous blogpost inspired more controversy after accusing Milo of making an insensitive joke about domestic violence at a fundraiser for the Cambridge Rape Crisis Centre.

One of Edwards' supporters commented: “Whatever happened, Milo galvanised the electorate. More people voted. We always wanted a campaign where CUSU engaged with people. Priscilla now has a mandate, that is fantastic and therefore CUSU is a more representative body, which has always been its purpose.”

The two other candidates Leo Kellaway and Katie Akers received 336 and 552 votes respectively. Leo and Katie both looked to address the issue of student engagement with CUSU. Leo took a single-issue approach to the campaign, focusing mainly on getting a student union building, whereas Katie felt that the answer lay in a “peripatetic” system, whereby each college would in turn host College Council.

CUSU Women’s Officer went to Charlie Chorley with 878 votes in the third round of voting out of a possible 1,785 valid ballots. Charlie campaigned to make the Women’s campaign more inclusive, rather than what she described as a “narrow, exclusive brand of feminism”. Her proposals included running leadership/public speaking workshops for female students in Fresher’s Week and creating a report on inequality in gender attainment at Cambridge. She beat ‘Whose University?’ founding member Daisy Hughes and Amy Reddington, who received 659 and 462 respectively.

One third-year historian said: “Charlie’s victory is something of a blow to the current Women’s Campaign. Women’s Campaign as it stands is far left of the general student opinion, and Charlie’s election acts as a referendum on this position”.

Helena Blair was re-elected to serve as CUSU Access & Funding Officer, beating the two other candidates (Eireann Attridge and Melanie Etherton) with 1,507 votes. Her campaign focused on A-Level Reform discussion and formulating a new CUSU alternative prospectus and website, for which she had already acquired £30,000 of funding. Commenting on her win, Helena said she was “so happy, I might cry”.

However, not everyone was overjoyed at the news. One student, who wished to remain anonymous, commented: “It is disappointing to see that Helena was re-elected this year after her limited deliverance on her previous manifesto… I hope that despite the limited fruition of her plans this year, namely the alternative prospectus, real progress will finally be seen in her second year.”

The role of CUSU Welfare Officer went to Poppy Logan, who saw off a challenge from one anonymous prospective candidate calling on students to vote to re-open nominations. The prospective candidate  asked students to reopen nominations so that they would be able to contest the position following initial difficulties in relation to a graduate job.

Jemma Stewart was closely re-elected for a second term as CUSU Coordinator. She defeated Ivan Tchernev, otherwise known as the “flag bearer of Sidgwick” with 1,164 votes compared to Ivan’s 1,092. Jemma pledged to change the nature of the role from administration to support of CUSU campaigns and services.

Jemma commented to TCS: “This year has been one of the most tumultuous years of my life, I have loved and hated this job.  There’s been times I wanted to quit and times I wanted to go on with the job, and it is not until recently that I realised that this job could be seen as being a vital part of the team and genuinely improving CUSU. As much as this role is about administration, it is also so much more than that.”

In other news, Rob Cashman, Cornelius Roemer and Tiantian Chen were all successful in their uncontested bids to be CUSU Education Officer, University Councillor and Ethical Affairs Chair respectively.

Meanwhile, the turnout for the Graduate Union was one of the lowest of the night with just 689 votes cast. Eric Lybeck was narrowly elected with just four votes more than the second-place candidate Kate Crowhurst.

Eric also beat the previous GU President for 2013/2014 Richard Jones, who campaigned partly on the basis of his work putting the GU “back together after its near collapse in 2012”. He asked for a second term from GU students, so that he “can finish what [he] started”. The voters appear not to have agreed.

In his manifesto, Eric spoke of the lack of training and adequate mentorship for graduate students undertaking a supervisor role. He also criticised the pay-scale for supervisions. 

Eric spoke to TCS with some optimism about the low turnout for the Graduate Union Presidential elections: “I haven’t seen the full run down, but I understand that more people have voted in the Graduate Union election than last year”.

Overall, however, turnout for CUSU elections was one of the highest in years with over 4,000 students voting. This is a significant increase on last year's 2,675 votes cast. 

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