It’s November and ’tis nearly the season to be jolly. However, in the meantime, ’tis the season for pointless elections. America has finally chosen between two men whose enormous election spending will be surpassed in magnitude only by the winner’s inability to push anything past a hostile Congress. Meanwhile we Brits will soon vote for (or rather refrain en masse from voting for) new police and crime commissioners. Once again we’re told to vote purely to keep out the racists – clearly the primary motivation in any healthy democratic election.
Ever keen to outdo the rest of the country, we in Oxford have two even vainer elections coming up. This week campaigning reached full flow for our utterly pointless OUSU President. And, in a couple of weeks, those of us persuaded into forking out 200 quid for front seats to Kerry Katona will elect the President of the Oxford Union.
The Union is a strange institution. Those frantic imps in black tie running about at the start of the no-confidence debate are the first giveaway. By the end of your first term at Oxford the calls will roll in from former friends transformed into embarrassed hacks, desperately chasing a place on Seccy’s committee. Finally you realise that this ‘debating society’ is merely an elaborate front for a cult of self-promotion.
At the end of my second term at Oxford I was invited out for coffee by some bloke I hardly knew. At first I feared the floppy hairstyle I had affected over the term may have sparked a case of mistaken sexuality. Keen to clarify that this would be a purely platonic liaison I turned down his kind offer of cake and coffee.
When the conversation’s rapid turn towards his Union ambitions made the meeting’s true purpose plain, I felt strangely disappointed. “Actually, come to think of it,” I interrupted, “I’ll have a slice of Victoria sponge…”
The union is politics minus electioneering. After all, how can ideas or policies play a part in an election where campaigning is banned? Here’s my system: first I vote for my friends, then for the positions left over I pick the female with the most ethnic-sounding name.
Countless degrees have been lost on the Union election gamble. The winners are awarded prime networking opportunities and the glowing self-importance that comes from getting sloshed with the famous and influential. The losers are left broken and friendless. As your vote-wrangling alienates you from everyone outside the Union, your dependence upon it quickly increases. It is the port-swilling, tuxedo-clad equivalent of smoking crack behind Asda. But with better career prospects.
OUSU elections are also infamously inconsequential. OUSU meetings are a passionless yawn-a-thon, devoid of the defiant spirit and niche politics that characterise other student unions. The reason for this is simple: the elec- tion of representatives is essentially a constituency system.
Whereas at other universities the socialist- environmentalist-dock-workers and free-Palestine-and-pizza clubs may be able to muster enough support to win representation, a candidate with such unorthodox views will never win a majority in a college election. As such we have a neutered student union filled with the popular kids from each college. Instead of socialists and libertarians we get boring self- promoters. I should know: my successful hust for college OUSU rep focused on my having the least stuff on my CV and hence most needing the position.
If there is ever a place for radical politics, it is university. It is tragic that one as influential as Oxford should be so politically inactive. If we want a strong anarcho-feminist contingent in OUSU, and we do, then what we need is a mixed- member system, with some assembly members elected at a university rather than college level.
This would be a radical change that would reflect the fact that Oxford students are members of the university as a whole, not just individual colleges. At least the rainbow-flag-meets-hammer-and-sickle t-shirts would make sweeter eye-candy than the current reign of blue college hoodie and brown tweed.
Vote if you need the exercise, but don’t feel obliged to give any legitimacy to these self-important clubs. Instead, be thankful that you’re not in an institution where you have to spend the last week of each term begging your Facebook friends to vote for you.
Then again, that CV is looking a bit empty, isn’t it?