SUSU Elections 2011: An interview with Charles Torrible

The Soton Tab, The National Student and the Dolphin’s Blowhole bring you these exclusive interviews with seven of the eight Presidential Candidates of the SUSU 2011 Elections.  The writer is […]

The Soton Tab, The National Student and the Dolphin’s Blowhole bring you these exclusive interviews with seven of the eight Presidential Candidates of the SUSU 2011 Elections.  The writer is an avid writer in student media and believes strongly in media independence; especially when it comes down to promoting student talent and encouraging transparency within our institutions. To encourage fairness, every candidate was given an opportunity to participate and were asked questions on their manifestos, experience and election activity. Brought to you by Jonathan Bates.

Charles Torrible introduces himself stating that he comes from a position knowing how SUSU has directly benefitted him. He describes to me he wants to help others through the position of SUSU president by giving strong leadership; strong leadership which is dedicated to providing an “inclusive community for as many students as possible with an exceptional experience for everyone”.  One of the first examples of that “exceptional experience” is of Charles’ work on the latest – and successful, cube night called “Rubix”.

“Doing one night every week requires a large amount of momentum, so I have to credit Shane for his work with Twisted every week. There were some things about Saturday which were slightly disappointing, but others which made it a great success. I’ve learnt so much from that one to make it even better”.

So how does Charles want to make it even better? In his manifesto, Charles mentions his extensive contacts from his time in music which is a passion of his. Events though he says, aren’t all about music, there are many things which make events successful and I am told his contacts with the BBC among others will help make this nights the success he wants. Alongside this, Charles tells me that after learning from the success of Rubix, he can keep drink prices low and door entry even cheaper.

I follow this answer up with another question related to door fees – surely the union needs to make money somewhere? It is here that Charles displays his knowledge of the structure of the union and how events work, and I am put at ease.  What does he think of the charge however that the idea to improve seating and the web computers on the top level of the cube seems to be more of an “add-on” idea rather than a main manifesto point?

“A manifesto has to be things that have affected me personally…but the potential of that space is huge, to make it a great space rather than an insanely average space is big”.

Another manifesto point that makes society committee members like myself think “ABOUT TIME” is the idea for a society hand over. Charles elaborates how inspiration for this idea came about.

“My inspiration was coming into the physics society as president and taking three weeks to fully understand the workings of the society and various departments of the union – especially what they could offer. Contact lists, proper introductions and training are things from my experience which would have helped. Any committee can benefit from it, because it is about maintaining the momentum a society has”

The issue of 2010, 2011 and 2012 will be the increase in tuition fees. I question Charles here how he will be able to realistically achieve his manifesto point of pushing the students union and the university to improve services and give real quality to students; even in the wider context of a reduced budget from central government.

CT: “I think its essential you achieve it really. Again, from my own personal experience, we have constantly had a comparison to Oxford and Cambridge – without providing the same level of support. If we want to be Oxford and Cambridge, we have to demand that support to make it comparable.”

JB:”Should we be like Oxford and Cambridge?”

CT:”I don’t see why not – the student experience is different, but when you’re doing academia, there is a point of trying to be the best”.

At this point, I try to be devious and trip Charles up with the simple question – why the moustache? With a smile, Charles responds simply with “marketing”. To Charles, “brand recognition” and being visible is important, especially when you’re in a leadership position.

“Creating a personal relationship with a community is important, and if that [community] knows that I’m the guy with a moustache they can come and talk to me”.

Being recognizable is important, especially when during a student election such as this one where you have so many candidates wanting to get the attention of voters. A criticism of student elections is that they are usually described as nothing more than “glorified popularity contests”. I ask Charles what he thinks of this.

CT: “I have to give a shout out to Derek Mallison (another presidential candidate) because of what he said in hustings. He made a point that really made me change my thinking – why is everyone dressed up blue…”

JB: “With white condoms on their head?”

CT: “Yeh. Yeh. That. This is my first experience of being involved in a Sabbatical campaign, and so when I saw what they were doing in previous years I assumed that this was what you had to do to get attention. After he said that, I wanted to present myself in a way that showed me as a leader, and not some kind of gimmick, and hopefully provide people with some great things”.

More on campaigning. How does Charles think the NUS referendum went? While Charles shared sympathies with the “Yes” campaign, he tells me that its important to let the such discussions take place, and this is something he would want from a referendum or any other student issue.

CT: “With hindsight, the discussion was a little too fast. From both sides, I think the arguments were quite frustrating as they were classic appeal to emotions and traditions

JB: “They were too partisan?”

CT: “Yeh, they were too partisan. From the NO team, the campaign slogan “50k No way” was definitely out of context of what it would cost, but then from the YES team, these huge increases in budget weren’t really considered.”

A question from the Dolphin’s Blowhole on the subject of student democracy. Are the democratic reforms for SUSU and Union Council being put forward by the current sabbaticals more than just superficial rebranding?

CT: “No. Because I sit on multiple committees and there is a genuine motivation for getting efficiency, such as the efficiency savings we are making at rubix, the more we can save the more we can get done..”

JB: “Is democracy just about saving money then?”

CT: “No, it’s about effectively compromising the voices of 25,000 people into effective action which so hard to do, but it can be done”.

Green credentials and a drive for sustainability has also been a theme of this campaign. Another question from the Dolphin’s Blowhole is related to the “transition University initiative” – a scheme designed to help organizations and unions to be forward thinking in their sustainability. Charles tells me he does support this initiative, but thinks that the environment and ethics committee should have met more to discuss ideas in the drive to be “Green”.

Housing – a huge issue which effects pretty much every student in Southampton. Does Charles have any ideas for housing?

“After sitting on a welfare committee, I would say that this is more of a welfare and communities area but I am very keen on it. My very first step would be to approach the marketing aspect – you need to make it clear to freshers that you don’t have to sort out housing until after January”.

Candidates in all positions have mentioned Winchester or other satellite sites to some degree. Visits, consultation, advertising – all buzzwords, but does anyone really have a clue what to do with Winchester and sites?

“This is one thing which I had a grilling about at hustings actually. With my events, I was asked if whether this was really student led and I would have to say it was. A student led media presence on Winchester should help to cut the distance between these sites and highfield.”

In these interviews, I have asked candidates what they think of media independence, which has been mentioned multiple times during this election period. The question I put forward was:

JB: The Wessex Scene has not been allowed to report details of the candidate’s manifestos or provide impartial commentary for students who want more scrutiny of the candidates or the union. Do you think this is an effective way to promote student talent and a more transparent union?

CT: No. I think when it comes to issues like this you need to lead by example. With a media outlet, you can get noticed by publishing a story which then attracts attention. The Wessex Scene can only publish what we [as writers] say, what we [sabbaticals?] tell them to.  As long as a media is strictly bound to not produce libelous or slanderous material you should be given a stronger remit on what you can cover.

So, should Charles Torrible have your vote? Here is what he had to say in his final sales pitch:

“If I was given the opportunity to lead and be a part of this union to give something back I would be so grateful, and I would be so excited to dedicate all my time and energy to improve the union any way I can”

More interviews to come! Would you have voted differently if interviews and scrutiny would have happened sooner? Leave your comments below!