Spoiling the Ballot: CUSU Elections Blog 9 – Pembroke & Emma Hustings

Click here to read the previous Blog entry 26 February 2010

The hustings on 24th February were overshadowed by an Elections Committee ruling that The Cambridge Student Newspaper (TCS) which is published by Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) was initially not allowed to report on.

Elections Committee threatened to disqualify Chris Lillycrop if he continued to suggest the idea that the position of Union Development Manager should be scrapped and had refused to seek legal advice.

The CUSU Board of Trustees then prevented TCS from reporting the story. TCS refused to go to print until the Board of Trustees had sought proper legal advice, which subsequently ruled in TCS’s favour.

This follows a string of failings of Elections Committee. First they changed the rules such that two candidates who broke the rules were found retrospectively not to have broken the rules and then they issued Chris Lillycrop with a formal warning despite not breaking the rules.

On the instruction of a member of Elections Committee, he made his Facebook group “Building a CUSU that works” public before the close of nominations, even though it did not mention his candidacy in accordance with the rules. I’ve spent the last 48 hours following up this complaint and enquiring about why it has not been made public despite a requirement in the standing orders for all ruling to be published. Elections Committee have promised me an answer five times, but are yet to reply.

After the referendum on National Union of Students (NUS) affiliation and despite the ongoing investigation into Tom Chigbo’s conduct, Gerard Tully announced by email to CUSU Council that there were ‘no outstanding electoral complaints’. This was announced without the support of Elections Committee and prompted some dissent from within Elections Committee. In the same email, Tully said that he was ‘satisfied that the vote has been free and fair’ despite Clare Tyson, another member of Elections Committee, reprimanding Tom Chigbo for cheating in the referendum. It’s disappointing that the incompetence of the Returning Officer is overshadowing these uninteresting elections.

I’m delighted to announce that Rahul Mansigani now has some firm policies, but unfortunately none of them is more than superficial dribble. Mansigani has the potential to be a fantastic President, but he is not giving the electorate the respect they deserve. Mansigani either has no clue how CUSU works or is trying to pull the wool over the eyes of the voters. I’ve been to far more CUSU Councils then Mansigani and Talmy, so I know what would work and what wouldn’t, but to be honest it doesn’t take a genius.

At both Pembroke College and Emmanuel College (Emma), Mansigani announced that he wants sabbatical officers spending time around faculties and colleges; ‘a different one each week’. If a CUSU sabbatical officer were sitting in your buttery, would you talk to them about what CUSU should be doing better? Would you even recognise them? CUSU Officers would spend half their working week sitting in a college or faculty alone, despite already being pushed to the limits of their time.

Mansigani’s second policy to make CUSU more useful is to have a blog. The world is CUSU is wonderfully complicated; in fact the current sabb team have not bothered to inform CUSU Council of a lot of what is going on. A blog would take precious hours of time and would be read by nobody. Does the average student really care about the inner workings of SACSM (Standing Advisory Committee on Student Matters) and will they ever? This has been tried elsewhere and usually fails.

CUSU is an unusual students’ union and Mansigani is not the first to criticise CUSU for not engaging.  Last year Tom Chigbo in his manifesto promised a new interactive website, a double size and double frequency CUSU newsletter, regular blogs and online polls.

Upon election, Chigbo realised like many presidents before him that this was unfeasible.  One year on and we’ve got the same old website, no CUSU newsletter at all this term and not a single blog or online poll. The decision to scrap the newsletter this term was taken by the Common Room Support team consisting of Chigbo and Mansigani; a decision I agree with.

I gave the issue of how CUSU should operate a lot of thought as a JCR President when I was considering running for the top job myself. CUSU should not see this as a competition and should work through common rooms. CUSU is never going to engage with students effectively itself, but JCR and MCR committees are generally approachable and can pass on that feedback to CUSU. As long as CUSU is there and students know where to find it in a time of need, students can leave it to their representatives to carry out the necessary bureaucracy.

The most worrying of Mansigani’s policies is his intention for CUSU to intervene in college issues. CUSU is there to assist JCRs and MCRs, not to replace them. Mansigani should not intervene with politics at a college level. Finally, the CUSU ID card already contains 38 discounts at many local shops, but Mansigani seems oblivious of this and continues to publicise his policy to arrange discounts. The CUSU Card is also the responsibility of the Coordinator, not the President.

Both Mansigani and Talmy have jumped on Andy McGowan’s bandwagon. At Pembroke and Emmanuel both devoted significant portions of their speech talking about how wonderful access schemes are. We all know that – tell us something we don’t know. My vote is still to be won in the presidential battle. Mansigani was an accomplished JCR President at Robinson and is a real warm-hearted and diplomatic guy.

Grayden Webb

The views expressed in this article are not the opinions of CUSU. Comments expressed in this article are the opinions of individuals, and not of The Cambridge Student.

Click here to read the previous Blog entry