If this year has taught us anything, it’s that CUSU elections can actually matter
Cast your minds back to the heady days of Lent 2015
The last Presidential election was everything CUSU usually isn’t. It was exciting.
There was a cast of characters fit for a US Republican campaign. BNOC #2 Priscilla faced off against Milo Edwards, the comedian and former Tab columnist who campaigned on jam, intermitting processes, and Wednesday afternoons off for sport, Katie Akers, a former JCR President of Newnham who believed the University should provide CUSU with ‘unrestricted funding’, and Leo Kellaway, a King’s Student who argued that only by forcing through a central Student Union building that would be a centre of Cambridge social life would CUSU truly engage people.
(Full disclosure: I was a Milo4Jam partisan).
The very fact there was, in fact, more than one candidate for the leadership of the Student Union was in itself progress. There were real differences between the candidates on areas of actual policy rather than a choice of platitudes. 4500 people voted in the Presidential election. In a close-fought Women’s Officer campaign Charlotte Chorley triumphed over Daisy Hughes after a campaign built on a sense that WomCam vitriol was leading to a feeling that “only a small minority of women engage with the Campaign”.
I was at the count last year when the results were announced and it was clear that for a small, committed group of students, the CUSU election meant a very great deal. There was elation and deep disappointment at the results. There was jumping up and down and cheering and crying. There was swearing of a most unsavoury manner. But I do feel that for much of the university the next day there was a collective shrug. Some people had found the election itself a good distraction with its cast of characters and jam, but then everyone got back on with business as usual.
It is often said that the problem CUSU has with ‘engagement’, a buzzword that I can assure you will be ubiquitous amongst all candidates in the next few weeks, is that so much of the work is behind the scenes. It is argued that it is in large part (but not wholly) thankless administrative work, or that while you may not notice CUSU, if you are in need of their help they will be there for you. This is certainly true, but the one aspect of CUSU positions that can draw attention from all students is their authority as a bully pulpit, from which the sabbatical officers can condemn, praise, or drawn attention to events and issues.
This is the bully pulpit that Chorley hoped to make softer in tone last year, and from which Priscilla launched a full-scale campaign against the Tompkins Table on the grounds of academic equality.
Debate on the issue raged for days before eventually fizzling out. Personally, I thought the demand to abolish the Tompkins Table an absurd distraction from much more pressing issues, most Tab readers, it seemed, agreed with me. To be fair to Priscilla, her campaign for more equality between colleges has also focussed on rent inequality, something we can surely all support. But the lesson stands, even issues few argued were serious problems before can become high-profile when highlighted by a CUSU official.
CUSU officers haven’t been giving comment to the Tab all that much recently, but when they do comment on student issues their opinions carry weight. Used correctly, and not to excess or too far from mainstream student views (hint, hint) the CUSU sabbs have a moral authority that is unmatched by other high-profile students. Even if they find it difficult to radically change this 800-year old university in the space of a year-long term, they still have that power, that influence, that ability to shape debate.
Voting is from 29th February (11.59) to the 2nd March (18:59). You should probably vote even if you’re apathetic or disillusioned with CUSU. It takes just a minute and gives you a small say in people who will claim to speak for you next year.