UNION ELECTION: The Tab talks to the candidates
Once you go hack, there’s no going back
For the the first time in a while, the Cambridge Union is seeing a contested election for the Presidency.
The Tab caught up with the candidates Jonah Surkes, Seun Adekoya and Alastair Donovan to discuss policy, politics and running through fields of wheat.
What is your vision for your Presidential term?
My vision is the best speakers you could ever imagine in a Union term, the speakers that make you want to go to the Union every day of the week. As the Union becomes the centre of student life and discussion, it should also become the centre of the social scene. I want there to be activity around the Union as a nightclub and as a career service. I want to make sure it isn’t a club for the very wealthy.
I think vision is a really good word, because that’s what the President provides. As President, I want to bring one of the most representative and inclusive terms the Union has ever had. I speak to my friends back at college and they are disappointed with the way the Union has gone in that they don’t feel it is inclusive enough or represents the issues they want to talk about. I want my term to be the term where every member can find something they can enjoy.
I don’t want to impose my personal vision, given that most of the undergraduate body of Cambridge are members, and each one of them has paid a fairly substantial sum for that membership – I want to deliver a term which will cater to and reflect their interests, not my personal ones, and through looking at ways we could overhaul our feedback process I think that this can be achieved.
Why are you, and not your opponents, the right person for the job?
I have complete respect for Alastair and Jonah. There’s no doubt they will also do a great job. But from my perspective I have concrete plans I want to put in place. It’s not just rhetoric, there are concrete consitutional changes that I want to make. A lot of people who run for office say they want to make diversity more prominent, but nothing actually happens. Sitting here now I can say there will be a standing committee officer who represents women, diversity and access officers. It will be a fundamental change in the way the Union is run.
In all honesty I think all three of us would be good at the job. Seun and Alastair are both great candidates and great guys. Why me? I think over the last term as Speaker’s Officer I’ve shown that by doing things differently I can get results. The way I approached the Speakers role has never been done before. I created a list of 150 people I really wanted- 80 women and 70 men. Rather than going for mass emailing, I went for a targeted approach by contacting their spouse or their brother or sister either through handwritten letters or social media.
First of all, I feel I should say that I think both Seun and Jonah are brilliant and that they would do an excellent job if elected. I think when it comes to delivering a term I have a huge amount of experience with most aspects of the Union having served for over a year on Standing Committee. I have been involved in running all manner of events: working closely with the Union’s permanent staff, being responsible for an independent budget and I have spoken in our main debates. I think I am in the best position to work out how we organise ourselves and to deliver terms.
One of the criticisms of the Union is that it is inaccessible. How would you ensure your term did not become cliquey?
Several ways. Like Seun says, I want to make constitutional changes. We both have a commitment to creating a standing committee position for women, diversity and access officers. I want to see the case where these officers get absolute control over invitations and control who they would like to invite to debates. One of the cliquiest aspects of the Union is the committee itself.
The committee is seen as a very black tie orientated social club who have these socials and hang around with each other. That shouldn’t be the case. By ensuring a higher Ents budget in cutting down on lavish committee dinners, we could ensure we give members more for their membership. The idea that the Union is cliquy is a fair criticism at times, but if you bring in the best speakers, you are going to get more people coming.
That’s a really good point, because when I was first appointed to committee it felt impenetrable at times because there was a very strong friendship group at the top of the Union. It was very hard for other people to feel included and that they were getting the same out of the Union as they were. I want to increase engagement with members through things like the podcast where members will be able to submit questions directly.
I also want to reach out to other students, it can feel like a very History/HSPS kind of place. Using a design committee I want to move into the more technological/science areas. Also putting more money behind the bar so we can get cheaper pints.
I think that the best steps to take are to try and make the process of getting involved at the lowest levels as transparent and clear as possible. If it remains obtuse then it will only ever be cliques and friends of committee members who will be able to find a place.
When it comes to the running of the term itself, I think that the only things that can be done are to be as approachable as possible, and ensure that if anyone has problems, they are listened to and addressed.
Who is your dream speaker?
My dream speaker is Emma Watson and I will do everything in my power to bring her to the Union. I think she is inspirational to men and women, young and old and she has used her platform of talent to spread a very important message.
I’ve made no secret that my dream speaker would be Kanye West. I think I may have mentioned this Jonah on many occasion. I love Kanye to the bottom of my heart- he is a really inspirational figure. He’s got so much to say. I better stop now or else I will be gushing for the next ten minutes.
Dara O’Briain; as distressingly nerdy as this will sound I saw him speak in a public debate in Trinity College Dublin when I was about twelve. I have yet to see a more entertaining or engaging speaker.
What do you value more: Power or fame?
Power – What can you change without it?
Power, because fame is less in your hands. With power you can control your own fame and destiny.
I don’t think I’m one for fame. I don’t think anyone wants to see my face in bright lights. But it’s also about who you want to share that power with, that’s important.
What is your morning routine?
Well, I am the opposite of the morning person. Have you seen the Walking Dead? That’s me as I rise from bed. I am really, really bad with mornings. It’s pretty hard to shake life into me.
I wake up at 8, lie in bed for a little bit, I open the curtains, see the light and shut it again. I then eat one cookie- Maryland (it has to be Maryland.) I then go and get my glass of water and go to the fridge and get my milk. I then turn on Family Guy, I pour out my milk into my bowl of Shreddies (It has to be a flat bowl- I don’t like deep bowls.) I then brush my teeth, check my phone, check news and then I’m on my way. I shower in the evening. I’m an evening shower person.
Apart from this interview, I literally cannot remember the last time I was willingly awake before 12.
What is the naughtiest thing you have ever done?
A really hard one. It’s one of those your friends know for you. In Fresher’s Week I was in Revs and I got given a shot glass and smashed the glass on the table. I decided to drunkenly walk behind the bar and I was kicked out. A bit of a rogue Fresher’s week.
I’ll be totally honest. In first year I was at a Halloween party and for some reason I stripped completely naked and ran outside the window of my college and streaked around the entirety of the quad and the UL. Got back to the gate to my College and I realised I hadn’t got my Uni Card. So I had to ring the buzzer and get someone to let me in. I ran back into college to a guard of honour.
I foolishly participated in what became a public debate about my sex life in the chamber against Julian Huppert.
Voting opens at 8am on Monday 19th June and closes at 6pm on the same day. To vote, click this link.