Union Presidential Elections: Charlotte Gamble talks to rivals Daniel and Adam

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While tensions rise between Johnson and Corbyn in Westminster as the general election looms, Union presidential candidates Daniel McKinnon and Adam Davies are also vying for votes here in Cambridge. The Tab has spoken to both of them about their vision for the Union in Easter term

What is your vision for the Union in Easter term?

Daniel: My tag line for the campaign is ‘Make the Union Fun Again’. I want the union to be an escape from the perils of Easter term – exams, stress and revision. When there are no longer any college bops to go to, I think parties, quizzes and Mario-kart tournaments at the union can fill that hole. I also think we could do with less speaker events and more combative debates.

Adam: There are very few places in the world where you have this incredible access and exposure to powerful people. For example, when Trump’s Environmental Administrator came to the union last year it was extraordinary – he doesn’t usually do Q and A’s with students. I want to focus on using this brand to continue to deliver high quality events. But I think it’s also important that we open up the brand to the broader community. The Union has a reputation for being elitist and inward looking and whilst there has been a drive to change this, the work isn’t done yet. I want to focus on expanding programmes such as debate training with kids from state schools.

Why are you the best candidate for the job?

Daniel: Not only do I have experience in creating fun as Social Events Officer, I think I have a better vision of fun for everyone because I’m not your regular union hack. I’ve had experience doing everything on the union and have had roles across the various committees. I’ve been one of the most present members on standing committee this term and we managed to get one of the biggest memberships pushes in 40 years.

Adam: I have the experience of being Speakers Officer and I invited 700 people to the union. This is a role which is core to the union as it involves inviting, interviewing and running events. Aside from that, I’ve spent the last few weeks speaking to people on the streets of Cambridge, including people who don’t like the Union, and have tried to understand what kind of change they want to see.

Do you think it’s important that the Union provides a platform for controversial speakers?

Daniel: Yes. I wouldn’t hold a conspiracy theorist because I don’t believe in controversy for the sake of controversy. I also wouldn’t provide a platform for anyone if I didn’t believe they strongly held their opinion or no one else agrees with them. But I think it’s important that the union doesn’t become an echo chamber because otherwise no one will expand their opinion. If the union hosts someone and you don’t want to come because you don’t agree with them, then don’t come. Or come along and maybe challenge them.

Adam: The union has a moral obligation to hold important conversations. I think you can make the mistake of elevating people who aren’t actually important by virtue of invitation. For example, if you google ‘Tommy Robinson’ and look at latest tweets, far-right white nationalists consistently cite a video of his talk at the Oxford Union from five years ago. On the other hand, we held an event with the Prime Minister of Malaysia which was controversial. However, our invitation didn’t make him anymore powerful and allowed us to engage with conversations that are already happening in a broader context.

You’ve just been told you’ve won the election: what’s the first thing you’re going to do?

Daniel: Get dinner with my girlfriend.

Adam: I’m going to the Magdalene Bridgemas bop.

If you had an unlimited budget for your campaign, what would you have done?

Daniel: I would try to increase the reach of my campaign through social media advertising, a TV ad and maybe skywriting? Just because I feel like the problem with union campaigns is if two candidates have the exact same vision for the union, they’re going to know a different number of people who are willing to share your event. Lots of people complain about the union and the toxic nature of the committee but don’t vote or do anything to change it.

Adam: I think it’s a bit inauthentic to do it in a student context. Maybe I could hire a giant billboard or projector? I wouldn’t vote for anyone on that basis though.

Why is the Cambridge Union better than the Oxford Union?

Daniel: Partially because the universities are different. Oxford has a reputation for people going to do the PPE course to become the Oxford Union President and the next Prime Minister. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of people in Cambridge who want to become politicians. But I feel like it’s less toxic, friendlier and not bloody Oxford.

Adam: Quite frankly, the recent few weeks show the areas where we’re better. In regard to the security staff manhandling the blind student, they allowed the issue to fester and used it as ammunition in their campaigns against each other. If anything like that happened here people would have immediately challenged the presidency on it – not for political reasons but because it’s the right thing to do.

Who’s your dream Union speaker and what would you ask them?

Daniel: Mohammed. I’d ask him ‘when did you start hearing the voices in your head?’

Adam: I think Shakespeare because he’s the right mix of being a popular figure, like a modern-day celebrity, but also an interesting thinker. In my manifesto, one of my ideas is to bring in professional interviewers so I would consult a Shakespeare scholar to do the interview.


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