I’ve been a member of the University of Oxford for 6 terms and 6 weeks. During that time I’ve seen the £9k freshers arrive, complained about the inordinate number of three course dinners, ignored two boat race victories, failed to be elected JCR VP, and watched three different OUSU Presidents come along. And through the incredibly varied experiences of Oxford, there has always been one constant: what does OUSU do and why should we care?
And why should we? OUSU has little to no impact on our lives as students. Its offices are hidden away behind the Combibos garbage, and the only interaction it has with most students is a weekly spam email. Not to mention that it sounds more like a crew date venue than a student union.
So we are left in a place where most people A) don’t care about OUSU, and B) think it does nothing. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the OUSU elections stir up all those inevitable feelings about our student representatives.
If you genuinely don’t care about the student union, then don’t vote. Your right to be apathetic is just that: a right. Turnout for our elections is, generally, abysmal, not because we’re a bunch of uninterested, Russell Brand acolytes who can’t think clearly enough – or operate a computer – to actually vote for a candidate, but because we work hard and think independently, and our independent thought often makes it difficult to join a ‘group’ of thinkers.
So the consequence is that most of you won’t vote and I don’t blame you. But I will vote, because I’ve come to weirdly care about OUSU. I don’t know if it was Martha Mackenzie’s emails, which I automatically binned in my first year, or DJT’s Wolverinesque mutton chops (and bizarre insistence on remembering the ‘J’ in any newspaper reference to him), but I find myself genuinely caring, and worried, about the result of this election.
First things first, Alex Bartram is not a bad candidate and we would by no means be damaging ourselves if we elected him. Likewise, I think it’s fantastic that Nathan Akehurst has managed to organise a proper left-wing slate, and many of the issues that he highlights are things that I wish were brought up more often. But their campaigns are fixed on the trite adage of ‘OUSU doesn’t connect with the people’, which is boring and repetitious. If they really thought that nobody cares about OUSU, they wouldn’t be running for President. In the same way that I didn’t bother going to my Oliver Wyman numeracy test this morning; if they felt that OUSU wasn’t an effective employer, they wouldn’t be applying to work there.
Jane Cahill’s campaign has hit road bump after road bump, and the undercarriage of their election vehicle is hanging by a thread. But stupid electoral marketing shouldn’t make a difference to your choice of OUSU President. Frankly, I could find out that the entire OUSU website had been plagiarised from Facebook and it wouldn’t make a piss-inch of difference to the way I think.
Jane4Change are calling for the student union to have a bigger impact on student lives, not by undermining its previous achievements because they ‘don’t care’, but by developing it into something more accessible to the average student.
If you try and pop in for a drink at the OUSU offices on Wellington Square at the moment, you’ll be greeted by a stern receptionist and the disapproving, albeit moustachioed, face of Tom Rutland. If you try and organise a society meeting on their premises, you better pray your society is about as popular Lonely Nerd Soc, because there is about 20 cubic inches of conference space available. Jane is going to start the process towards a proper student union building, with cheaper drinks than the Purtle Turtle and more bureaucratic looking corridors than the SSL.
Yes, they’re student politicians (a weird charge to level against them in a student political election) and yes, James Blythe does look like he’s involved in a body-swap comedy with Peter O’Toole, but their vision for OUSU involves building on an existing infrastructure. And if you think that existing infrastructure is insufficient, then you’re probably just not understanding the difficulty of being an effective student union at a collegiate university. It’s fucking hard.
Voting in the OUSU elections is about as exciting (and difficult) as shopping at Ocado. About 25% of the student body will probably just ‘forget’ to vote, whilst another 25% are probably too wrapped up in their three-piece management consultancy circle jerk to bother worrying about ‘that ouzo thing’.
But if you’re someone who has the required two minutes to vote, and vaguely cares about the way we’re campaigned for, then I’d like to recommend voting for Jane Cahill. Her campaign management might make you think that she’s about as transparent as a piece of felt, but she’s the only candidate who talks in positive terms about what we can achieve at OUSU, and that’s the least disingenuous way of approaching a student union that suffers from a chronic lack of involvement.
It’s not cool to like OUSU (hence why I was accused of ‘rimming’ them) and I’m sure that, if I post this on my Facebook, I’ll get the usual barrage of ‘nobody cares!’, ‘*yawn*’, and ‘fuck off Nick u stupid hacking cunt’, but I feel like it’s worth writing anyway.
Even though I’ll be gone – unless you give me a Masters (please give me a Masters) – I still find myself, somewhat inexplicably, caring who becomes President of our student union.
Editor of Cherwell and President of Lonely Nerd Soc