The Guild needs to clean up its act
The Guild doth trivialise too much, methinks
Among the fresh-faced first years here at Birmingham, many will have have been surprised to find a long, foreboding shadow cast over campus this week.
Formerly a place for reflection – with its green spaces and grand architecture (bar the abhorrent University Centre) – University Square now resembles something of a landfill site, littered with terrible cardboard manifestos, and loud, slightly unhinged people wearing obscene meerkat costumes.
Unfortunately, as the rest of us have come to learn, this is not Defend Education’s latest strategy to bring down the “evil” university management, but rather the Guild’s own election campaign.
And rest assured, it will only continue to grow more forlorn and cringier as the days roll on.
This desecration ritual is now a time-old tradition as, year-on-year, future Guild hopefuls try to secure your loyalty with a barrage of tacky cardboard boxes – with the occasional hint of policy just legible beneath the mud and broken bamboo sticks.
For two weeks, they will bribe with doughnuts, pester in lectures, and hurl meaningless flyers, all until you finally vote for them – or suffocate under the pile of never-ending nonsense about the “consistency of representation”.
But behind all the fuss and quirky characters with stupid hats, the real problem remains – does anyone actually know what they’re voting for? Call me a cynic, but should we really be treated like such simpletons? And doesn’t the popular appeal of a joke candidate rest on the fact there’s only one of them?
With all the meerkats and Marvel heroes running around campus like a scene out of Not Another Teen Movie, I’m struggling to find my sense of humour – or my inclination to vote.
No one wants a second year dressed as a jumped-up Clark Kent shouting about his fool-proof plan for “never-ending study space”: we want someone with a degree of maturity telling us about their well thought-out policies.
“Study spaces for everyone… universal equality… I will single-handedly abolish tuition fees.”
Please – be realistic. You don’t have the resources or capacity to save humanity, so please just give us something tangible.
While it’s important candidates do all they can to engage students in the time allotted for campaigning, the blunt truth is that behind all the hullabaloo, the majority is meaningless jargon. There is far too much time spent on coercing students with bright colours and silly names, and not enough thought or information on how these promises are converted into reality.
Perhaps this wouldn’t be such an issue if there hadn’t been problems in previous years with a handful of officers.
Behind the rosy-faced, popular appeal of silly costumes and vague, vote-winning policies, were a handful of people who had no intention of giving students what they wanted. A case in point would be the controversy surrounding Sombrerogate – when one officer’s policy denied students access to the Guild for their fancy dress attire. Or last year, when another VP took unauthorised absence from their Guild duties to organise the Defend Education protest, which resulted in multiple arrests and graffiti smeared across campus and Old Joe.
It is worth noting the former quit his role half way through his term and the latter was subject to a serious disciplinary, from both the Guild and the University. Whether or not these students would have been voted in regardless is difficult to say. But I’d like to think that had students known what these people really stood for, they would not have voted for them.
But is it really any surprise toilet roll is draped over the entrance to the library, when the Guild gives candidates a meagre £100 and a few bamboo sticks for good measure?
Give us something more. We don’t want a meerkat mis-selling car insurance, anymore than women voters want Harriet Harman’s pink barbie bus. Cheap gimmicks are meaningless, and we should treat them as such.
These people – our peers – are payed £17,500 to make our university experience the best it can be. It is only right they get the publicity they deserve, through means that do not leave campus looking like a reenactment of Benefits Street. Give them proper banners, not Selly Oak door frames. Organise proper radio and media interviews, rather than one-to-ones with Spiderman.
It isn’t just for the student voters: it will encourage candidates to spend more time thinking about how they can improve the university, rather than mulling over which popular character is going to make us gooey-eyed.
This doesn’t require taking the fun out of the campaigns. Continue to project the personalities, but inject something we can actually engage with. The outgoing President Poppy is a good example of this. She combined both without degrading herself to the level of a lycra-clad telly tubby, and clearly, it didn’t count against her.
And this doesn’t mean students should be deterred from voting this year. But instead of pointing at Mario or the Morphsuit as the obvious choice, go and give him/her a grilling. See if their policies measure up to their appearance.
The Guild will never engage with every student, but making elections more respectable and less of a personality contest will certainly draw more in, and put far less off.
It’s time to stop dragging Guild elections down into the mud, and start making it into something more fitting of a university.