With nominations having been announced on Friday, the race to the OUSU crown in 2013 is well and truly underway. With the first blows having been dealt, and candidates engaging for the first time in Sunday’s JCR hustings, it’s time to look at the way things have fallen early on.
Policy is not of any particular importance in OUSU elections. The majority of the electorate will never even flick through the candidates’ manifestos, and, even if they did, they’re pretty united in their left-leaning thoughts. Jane4Change’s primary commitment is exploring a new student union building. It’s a bold move, because very few Oxford students have ever shown a desire to get more involved with OUSU. But an SU building would have a bar, cafe and student organisation spaces, so it’d almost certainly be appreciated if/when it arrives. It’ll be a 5 to 10 year process though, so your vote for Jane isn’t going to get you much in the short term.
Team Alex’s policies are even more banal and focus on things like ‘fees’ and ‘accommodation’. In the absence of a marquee policy, Team Alex and Reclaim OUSU have more to do in terms of defining their campaign for the electorate. A new SU building and a petting zoo aren’t the strongest manifesto pledges we’ve ever seen, but at least they’re quotable. Reclaim OUSU’s ‘Achieve Equality’, ‘Strengthen Communities’ and ‘Stand Up for Students’ seem, by those standards, particularly trite.
The cult of personality is the basis of an OUSU election. Izzy Westbury lost last year partly because of people’s perception of her as a Union hack, and, equally, Tom Rutland won because he seemed like a nice guy and looks like an angelic choirboy. The four presidential candidates this year seem less divisive still: Cahill is popular within PresCom, OULC and various OUSU projects; Bartram has the backing of many of the current PresCom and is the editor of the Oxymoron which is disarmingly popular; Akehurst seems to have a following amongst the radical left, despite little by the way of actual charisma; and Louis Trup will, presumably, get the votes of those people who enjoy joke candidates and can actually be bothered to vote.
If there’s going to be a clash, it’ll involve Cahill. Cahill/Bartram offers a tasty division within the players of JCR politics, with a number of JCR Presidents (Ed Nickell and Ianthe Greenwood) pledging for Bartram’s slate in minor roles. Cahill/Akehurst also has potential for a bust-up, especially, after rumours emerged that members of Reclaim OUSU had been less than flattering about the former Queen’s JCR-President.
As with any election, OUSU’s elections are as much a matter of marketing as anything else. The candidates have all launched Facebook pages (Cahill is currently leading from Trup, followed by Akehurst, Bartram and the independents), websites, Twitters and videos.
Batram has opted to use Nation Builder, a webpage designer favoured by political parties due to its ability to access visitors email and phone information. Whether he manages to utilise it properly, only time will tell, but it’s a powerful resource and one that Jane4Change were rumoured to be considering. Bartram has yet to release a video but is likely to do so, especially after the Jane4Change campaign video which was, at best, largely meaningless. Reclaim OUSU’s video, on the other hand, was barely audible over wind noise, which might be a suitable metaphor for their entire campaign.
Engagement otherwise seems to be pretty low. Essay Crisis launched a bitchy GIF on the subject, but outside the typically political circles there’s little to suggest that this campaign will improve on the standard sub-20% turnout of OUSU elections. Time, and a Cherwell live-blog, will tell.
Of the independent candidates, Ruth Meredith seems to have made the clearest charge. C&C has, for the past couple of years, been a VP position held by independent candidates and it’s looking that way again. The CU will get out in force for Meredith, as they did for Dan Tomlinson, and that’ll probably swing it (especially as her only opponent is Reclaim OUSU’s Angie Normandale who appears to have done nothing for either charities or communities during her time at Oxford).
Anna Bradshaw also seems a firm bet for VP Women. Team Alex have made the unorthodox move of slating a VP Women candidate in Corpus JCR President Trish Stephenson, but her manifesto is a lot of bluster and a few errors (OUSU already has a women in leadership programme). Bradshaw’s campaign is being masterminded by Max McGenity who did some impressive work for Dan Tomlinson last time out.
It’s hard to say, at this point, what will swing the vote. The most important element of any OUSU campaign is activism. Jane4Change have the activist advantage, as their agents – Helena Dollimore, Henry Zeffman and Will Brown – have all been committed OULC members and understand how to doorknock. Bartram’s team is mostly fronted by Balliol students, led by Angus Hawkins, which doesn’t necessarily bode well for their ability to get footsoldiers. But time will tell on that front, and if JCR Presidents pull for Bartram then that may improve his odds- we certainly don’t envy the NUS delegate on Jane4Change’s slate, an Exeter fresher, who has to go up against Ed Nickell.
The impact of a joke candidate like Louis Trup may have some effect, especially if it takes away a significant number of votes in Brasenose that would otherwise go to Cahill who is lined with JCR President James Blythe. The possibility, one that Cahill will be banking on, is Trup’s voters choosing Cahill as their second preference, which will mean that his votes are transferred to her when he inevitably comes last (or perhaps Akehurst will pip her to that post).
If voters for Trup and Akehurst, in general, either decide not to select a second preference, or second preference Bartram, then that could be dangerous to Cahill. But, at the moment, even with a fancy website tracking system, it’s Cahill’s to lose.
Stay tuned for more news on the OUSU elections, including interviews with candidates and a 72-hour live blog of the voting period.