INTERVIEW: SUSU Presidential Candidates
They’re looking to trump the others
The fight for the position of SUSU President, arguably the most important SUSU sabb position, is going to be a tightly fought battle this year. With five competitors for the SUSU throne, including some familiar faces, this fight is not going to be a neat one.
Of course, such a nail-biting time would not be complete without the customary Soton Tab interview. Fear not, as we bring you the hopes, dreams and fears of the five candidates: Sam Bailey, Zehong Au, Thomas Gravatt, Alex Hovden and Liibaan Mohamed.
We posed some important questions to provide you with insight into their personalities and policies, to help you decide who is worthy of your vote on February 29th.
The Soton Tab also reached out to Liibaan Mohamed for comment but received no response.
Explain the role of SUSU President in your own words.
Sam: The Union President leads the Union and the Sabbs – setting the direction for the year and putting the Union in a good place for the future. I’ve been a trustee for two years, so I know how important it is for the President to chair Trustee Board and be responsible for the whole organisation. The President has a big role in maintaining a strong link with the University, working closely for the benefit of students but not being afraid to stand up to them when students interests aren’t being put first.
Zehong: Well, besides leading SUSU in the direction that its members want it to go, the President is responsible for finance because he chairs the Trustee Board. SUSU money is every student’s money. Student voters want someone who can manage money well so everyone gets a fair share of products and services. I am ready to cut unnecessary spending and add products and services so SUSU members get the most out of their money.
Thomas: To me, the role of SUSU president is primarily to support the other Sabbatical officers in doing their roles. It is also important for the president to focus on what students want. That’s why I have shied away from big manifesto commitments as instead I intend to focus on student ideas for change.
Alex: The role of Union President, in my opinion is very similar to that of both the Captain and figurehead of a ship. The Captain sets the general destination, and the figurehead is the part of the ship that people see first. In Union terms, this means that the President plays a key role in setting and implementing the long term goals of the organisation. The flip side of being the figurehead is that if the ship crashes it also has to deal with the worst of the damage. Errors of judgement happen and making sure that there is an honest response to that is vital to ensure that those problems don’t happen again.
Why did you apply for the role?
Sam: I’ve been Vice President Welfare and Deputy President this year, so I’ve experienced some of the areas where the Union needs to do better for students but also the massive potential out there. We have the right resources and students with amazing ideas – it’s now just the case of bringing them together in a Union that puts you first and celebrates the things you do.
Zehong: Of course for the fun and experience in addition to changing the norms. In the past years I see candidates promised a lot but nothing gravitates towards money. I want to empower SUSU members to make their decisions without financial limitations. Judging from the financials of SUSU, I believe SUSU cannot be the best Student’s Union in the country without making changes. SUSU members have to pay a massive sum of money to join activities and events, and this has to change to increase participation.
Thomas: I applied because it was something that I felt that I could do really well based on a few projects I have done before. The whole thing was also slightly out of my comfort zone so I kind of pushed myself to submit a nomination at the last minute after hesitating for days. I’m glad I did as the process so far has been great.
Alex: I first had the idea last May. I felt hugely inspired by Ben Franklin’s election last year. I was well aware though that the first step towards winning any election is believing in yourself and your ability to make a difference. I came to realise that the Union has an incredible amount of potential to positively impact the lives of each Student. That has inspired my belief that I can ensure the organisation is achieving its own potential, through impact focussed ideas, and by pushing the limits of what is possible.
If you win, what will be your main objective for the year?
Sam: I want to create a culture where everyone is working towards the same goals and priorities. Better communication, making it easier to do what you want to do and more student involvement. From making sure you know how to get your voice heard to celebrating some of the amazing things students are doing in Southampton, I want to create a Union you can be proud of.
Zehong: To cut unnecessary spending in SUSU and increase allocations for student activities so students are empowered to enrich their university lives.
Thomas: My main focus would be on implementing ideas from students on how to change the union, and supporting the other sabbatical officers. I think by not having a main objective/project I’m focusing my time on, I can more efficiently run the union and spend more time working with students on their ideas.
Alex: A proper break before the start of Semester 2, decentralising Union activities across sites, a Union app for mobile devices, a high-profile political speaker series, and making sure that we give as much space to Students, whilst minimising bureaucracy.
What problems do you see in SUSU that need to be solved, and how will you solve them?
Sam: There’s a perception that your opinions and views don’t really matter and that no one listens to them. That’s got to change. It doesn’t matter if it’s something in The Stags’ you don’t like or you have an awesome campaign idea, there should be a way to put you in touch with someone who can help you make it happen. This year Kerry (Vice President Democracy and Creative Industries) has done great work on proposals to change the way you make decisions. I want to establish this throughout the Union, from commercial venues to the way we work with clubs and societies.
Zehong: There are no huge problems in SUSU, only monetary problems. Presidents in the past tried to repair SUSU’s image by dumping a lot of money into improving / perfecting SUSU-member relationship. However, that is a superficial fix and cannot yield sustainable results. The underlying problem is the cost of participation. The right tool is a Union president who is innovative and will make smart decisions and invest in low-cost yet effective tools to implement the principles of transparency, collaboration, and participation. As an engineer, I am trained to offer sustainable solutions – solutions that last.
Thomas: Well I think SUSU is actually pretty functional. I suppose the main problem would be that many students do not know what SUSU does or why it exists. The brand review happening at the moment will help with that and if it continues into my term I will keep that going. I think it would be best to run the union on a case by case basis, so when problems come up, or when someone suggests an idea or gives a complaint, then I should deal with it then.
Alex: The Union isn’t very united. There’s a large amount of cynicism among students about the way in which the Union goes about its’ business. I will push for more transparency, as well as a President’s communication plan to make the role and work entailed more accessible than ever before. I will keep students in the loop and allow opportunities for questions. I want to ensure that all officers are open to scrutiny, so we have an honest approach to democracy. Another challenge that the Union has is its finances. I will look at having a long term financial plan, for the next 4-5 years, to secure the future of the Union.
With five candidates for the presidential role this year, the competition is going to be tight. How will you ensure you stand out?
Sam: I’ve gained so much experience this year as a Sabbatical Officer and I really want to show how I can use it to make this a Union to be proud of, one that puts students first. I know where we can do better and I know how we can achieve it. From day one I can start working on changing things for you. I want to show students how my plans will help them to have the best possible time in Southampton.
Zehong: You will see.
Thomas: Well I’ve spent the weekend designing some interesting adverts that definitely stand out – perhaps too much in some cases. I think if people look into the points I’m putting across I should stand out as a candidate who’s focus is on student ideas and not my own projects. Also I have a 2 ft long ponytail, so that always helps.
Alex: In terms of how I can stand out, there is a slight issue there – I can’t stand… I can sit out however. In all seriousness though, I want to show students how little I take myself seriously. Many people have said to me in the last few weeks that my open attitude to my disability and general situation will win me some support. I want to show that I am just a normal person with a slightly politically incorrect sense of humour, taking each day as it comes, but with ambitious plans to transform the Union for the better. I do have some ‘unique’ ideas in that respect that I won’t reveal just yet, but keep an eye out!
What are you currently binge watching on Netflix?
Sam: The refresh screen waiting for the next season of House of Cards.
Zehong: I don’t have a Netflix account.
Thomas: My girlfriend and I are watching Agents of Shield at the moment and she made me binge watch Gossip Girl when she was sick (which I weirdly enjoyed watching). All time favourites have to be the Avatar Legend of Aang and Legend of Korra. Now I’m just waiting for Game of Thrones to come back.
Alex: I don’t actually use Netflix! At the moment the TV shows that I’m most into are The Big Bang Theory (the Physicist in me coming out there – if I had to liken myself to a character I’d say I’m a mixture of Sheldon and Leonard) and also How I Met Your Mother. I only discovered it this time last year, but Ted Mosby’s situation is quite similar to mine in many ways!
Where’s the best place to go on a night out in Southampton?
Sam: Sprinkles. Jesters. Manzils.
Zehong: I refuse to endorse any business and brands, but a night out with friends is a good night out.
Thomas: I enjoyed the grime of jesters last year but I’ve never liked clubbing that much. For me it’s definitely the Hobbit, and I have more T-shirts than I’m proud of.
Alex: The best place I would say has to be Oceana for two main reasons – firstly they are one of very few clubs with proper disabled access, and secondly because I’m a huge fan of Disco room! Most of the music in there was music that I grew up listening to – I get huge amounts of nostalgia every time I’m there!
Snog, Marry, Avoid: David Cameron, Jeremy Corbyn, Natalie Bennett?
Sam: Can’t I just avoid them all?
Zehong: All of them.
Thomas: Snog Bennett, marry Corbyn and exile Cameron. I think you’ve actually created a political ideology tester there, brilliant.
Alex: Definitely avoiding David Cameron. I don’t like the work that some of his colleagues are doing with respect to the NHS, disabled people, and students. Jeremy Corbyn – I’m going to have to avoid him too. Some of his ideas are too drastic. Natalie Bennett – again, she’s another avoid. To be honest, the only current politician that I would consider snogging would be Mhairi Black!