Spoiling the Ballot

  3 March 2011

A sideways look at the Cambridge University Students’ Union elections

This is it. After weeks of nail-biting anticipation (or should that be antipathy?), manifestos are finally out: (Click here and see Centre Pages)

This is about as exciting as it gets.

Most manifestos are full of the usual vague promises and fluff. Access candidates tout their state school credentials, Student Support candidates try desperately to look approachable and caring in photographs (or give up, and opt for ghastly death rictus instead), Coordinator hopefuls brag about their corporate work experience, and so on.

Part of the problem is a lack of space. Candidates get so little room to work with, it’s hardly surprising that vague statements like “I will work with and support JCR Access officers and provide resources, training and guidance” occasionally slip in.

The thorough reader might think: ‘of course you will work with and support JCR Access Officers – that’s the vast majority of what your job is.’ But from the candidate’s point of view, the bland and the hesitant serve a useful purpose. They show voters the person standing knows How the System Works. Or thinks they do.

The Coordinator manifestoes are a case in point: Harriet Flower is chasing the University Centre, which currently loses about £500,000 per year and serves as little more than a room for dusty academics to dry out in. She wants “the University to let CUSU take it over.” There’s no doubt the Centre would make an excellent venue for students: it hosts several bars and cafes, including a vast and normally almost unoccupied downstairs cafeteria that is begging to be turned into a dance floor. All good, you might think. However, Flower fails to explain exactly how she would go about getting hold of the University Centre. The sad truth is that successive Coordinators have been trying for years to get their hands on its keys, and the University absolutely refuses to budge. Unless Flower has a dramatically different plan, she will fail just like the rest of them. Certainly there is nothing in her manifesto to suggest she has a developed strategy. The voter is left in the dark.

The same is true of Flower’s rival, Charlotte Lawes, who is after a ‘block grant’, money from the University to fund CUSU’s work. Current sabbatical officers have told me they believe a grant is coming soon, but so did last year’s lot, and aside from saying she will “maintain pressure” Lawes does little to set out a battle plan.

None of the Coordinator candidates really address the most important part of their role: making CUSU money. The fact is, cash is tight at the moment. Campaigning for a block grant is all well and good, but more needs to be done, right at the start of the year. The current budget requires CUSU to spend £19,000 of reserves just to balance the books.

Worryingly, when I asked candidates in hustings what they would do to generate extra income, all I got were vague platitudes about investing funds ethically.

As predicted last week, Welfare candidates do indeed include Faye Rolfe, who writes that she has “effectively represented the student interest… on the TCS Board of Directors” (when she bothers turning up instead of going to choir practice). Rolfe’s election website is interesting, to say the least, featuring cringeworthy games like “do you dare kiss geeky Faye?” where players shoot a glasses-sporting Rolfe with a gun that fires hearts.

We love unusual campaign techniques here at Spoiling the Ballot, so in honour of Rolfe’s bluesky thinking, we have come up with some games of our own…

Tomb Raider – Faye Rolfe desecrates a series of ancient graves.

Snake – Watch Faye eat until she fills the screen.

Grand Theft- Auto – Guide Faye around Cambridge, stealing bikes, harassing tourists, and beating up prostitutes with a baseball bat for no reason.

Resident Evil – Faye convinces zombies to give up human flesh and turn their (un)lives around.

Tetris – Build a welfare wall. Watch as layer after layer of poorly though-out initiatives disappear completely from view.

Halo – Ever wondered who was behind Masterchief’s helmet? Now you know.

Now for the big one.

Spoiling the Ballot guessed right on Presidents. Adam Booth is running on an unashamedly le-ft-wing platform, pitted against Sam Wakeford and Gerard Tully, both more centrist candidates. Wakeford’s experience in university committees lets him off the hook a bit when it comes to manifesto policies. Assertions like “I’ll fight to protect students’ education” (again, what serious Presidential candidate wouldn’t do that?) are more easily accepted when you remember he has already been Education Officer and probably knows how the game is played, even if he doesn’t have the space to explain it. Wakeford does find room for one slightly silly crowd-pleaser: a campaign for returning hobs to student kitchens. It’s good to know that at least one Presidential candidate is focused on the vital fight for your right to cook lukewarm tomato soup.

Talking of gratuitous policies, Tully has decided to drag up the old ‘student safety’ issue, something at least one presidential candidate tries every year in a desperate attempt to win over voters. Listening to Tully’s speech at Tuesday night’s hustings, you would be forgiven for thinking we were all in downtown Baltimore. This is not an episode of The Wire, and his time would perhaps be better spent worrying about education cuts than playing the role of caped crusader. The occasional poorly lit street is by no means the biggest challenge we face at the moment.

Adam Booth has been refreshingly upfront about his policies. Most hard le- candidates tend to hide their light under a bushel for fear of attracting the moths of condemnation, but Booth has made no attempt to disguise what he believes in: no to cuts. All cuts.This policy sets him apart from the other Presidential candidates, but so far he has been able to inject a bit of humour into his hard left message. It is unlikely to be enough to win the election, but as one candidate told me, “Adam is likely to have a wider appeal than anyone expected.”

James Burton

Views & Comments expressed are the opinions of individuals and not necessarily the opinions of Cambridge University Students’ Union or The Cambridge Student Newspaper. Any views of potential candidates expressed in this column are not necessarily the views they would hold if elected. In all cases, elected candidates would respect due process in the totality of their interactions with staff.

Spoiling the ballot will now be running regularly online for the remainder of the election: Click here for the next update