In the past couple of weeks we have witnessed a tremendous tightening of the race for OUSU President, with Alex Bartram slipping into something similar to pole position following a series of blunders by his closest rival.
Ignoring the faults with their website and other campaign mistakes, Jane4Change seem, superficially, to be the best prepared team. But that is undermined by the fact that Jane4Change’s campaign is centred on a flawed policy, one which hasn’t exactly set the student body alight during hustings. The ‘student hub’ seems to be dead-weight and the team would be well advised to start focusing on things that are more important to the average OUSU voter (who is likely to care, primarily, about fees, accommodation and welfare). With OULC somewhat divided, the activist base that was once presumed to be a given is somewhat weakened, but Jane4Change must expect to have the highest number of doorknockers and, without them, their campaign is very much on the rocks.
Team Alex have done an excellent job of manouvering their campaign into a politically neutral zone. Lead agent David Bagg is no stranger to the machinations of OUSU elections and has rigorously upheld the rules (perhaps helped by his friendship with returning officer Nick Cooper) leading to a situation where Team Alex appears to have run the cleanest, and slickest, of the OUSU campaigns. What Team Alex still lacks, however, are a cogent set of policies to bring to the doorstep. Exam feedback is a lost cause and the rest of their policies can be seen as a little tokenistic, meaning that, like Jane, he needs to narrow his campaigning focus to the prime concerns of the average voter. Bartram needs to be able to get a lot of people out and about over the next few days, because his strong current position could still be undermined by lack of activists.
Nathan Akehurst and his team have pitched a gazebo in Radcliffe Square for the past few days, in a move that is reminiscent of the crazy old days of party political campaigning. Subtle treating and tackly t-shirts aside, Reclaim OUSU appears to be struggling to attract a broader student base. Their primary policies are far too dry for the average student, who isn’t going to sit down for a few minutes to find out what exactly a ‘general assembly’ entails. Their fining policy, on the other hand, is a genuine people pleaser and something they need to push on the doorsteps. The focus of the next few days, therefore, ought to be on getting a high turnout for its part-time exec, student trustee and NUS delegate candidates. There are elections to be won there, whereas the sabbatical positions already seem like a lost cause.
The real surprise has been the emergence of Louis J Trup as a serious candidate. After weeks of self-promotion via so-so humour, LJT has stepped out in The OxStu and declared himself to be a realistic antidote to OUSU hacks. It’s a somewhat dubious declaration and one that is build on the foundation of being a joke candidate. Many of his ‘real’ policies are among the most reasonable and well thought out of any candidate, but his decision not to run as a serious candidate from the start has undermined his credibility. LJT has manipulated the Oxford electorate in a more cynical way than any of the conventional ‘hacks’, but if his voters don’t recognise that, he looks on course to take a few hundred votes. Provided, of course, he can get people to turn out which, without any activists to speak of, might be a stretch.
Ultimately, the election will be decided by which slate can get the most people to knock on your doors and drag you to your computer. The top job is a straight fight between Cahill and Bartram that gets bitterer by the day, and it’s not at all clear who’s going to win. Both teams have policy problems, but the organisational problems within the Jane4Change hierarchy could tip the scales in Bartram’s favour. Unless, that is, there’s a heavy turn-out by Labour supporting leafleters, in which case it’s still hers to lose.