The curious case of the missing candidates

Last year’s OUSU elections were a joke — lit-erally. In a moment of collective disdain at our student union, we elected a man who promised us world peace, a monorail service, and to eliminate Fifth Week. All scrawled on a “personifesto” using crayons.

Whilst I’m still waiting on the monorail, and the world seems distinctly unpeaceful, the election of someone who was originally a joke candidate did have a serious message behind it. Oxford students (or at least the plurality of those who voted) signalled that they did not take the institution that represents them seriously.

We can now look back and laugh. Louis Trup turned out to be a reasonable student leader. But OUSU still feels like an outsider institution in the ‘Oxford bubble’, removed from normal student life. The upcoming election’s severe lack of candidates only reinforces that idea.

So what is wrong with OUSU? Why are there so few candidates in this election? Why are we so dismissive of a type of institution that flourishes on other campuses across the country?

I had hoped that a year after Trup’s election we might have seen some changes: that OUSU would have rebranded itself, reached out to show us how important it was, and played a more visible role in university life. I’d hoped elections this time round would have been highly contested and therefore interesting.

But with a week to go, that fervour and debate is nowhere to be seen. Last year we blamed the calibre and intentions of those running — a predictable medley of slates and personalities. But we can’t say that this year. Those that are running have serious intentions — there just aren’t enough of them.

This lack of candidates is damaging to the student population of the University. It makes us look uninterested, ignorant of real student issues, and detached from students elsewhere in the country. And internally, a lack of candidates and competition makes OUSU uninspiring and dissuades those who could really bring about change from running.

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Only through participation will this cycle of uninteresting elections producing a lack of candidates year-on-year be broken. Only when the student population starts to take part in the process will others be incentivised to run and inject some much-needed energy into OUSU. And with a R.O.N. option, we’re fully able to signal that none of the candidates are suitable and that we want more choice.

Of course, OUSU has to respond too. We have to be shown the importance of student lobby- ing, a presence in university committees, and representation at NUS. We need to know what OUSU could do for us in the future. But the more engaged people are with these issues, and the more students run, the more we’re likely to hear.

We can’t change the number of candidates running this year now. But rather than shrugging our shoulders come election day, we need to let OUSU know what we want and that we do care. Unless we turn out and cast our vote, nothing will change next year.