This past Tuesday, I was given the great ‘honour’ of being asked to DJ at Babylove. As usual, I arrived about an hour early to get a drink and set up. However, unlike times I have done this before, I was greeted by one of the oddest welcoming committees I have ever come across. Almost every person running for an OUSU position was huddled around the weird window in the floor in the upstairs bit. You, like me, have probably wondered who these people are and where they can be found – now we know.
Over the past two weeks or so, I have had an insight into the surreal, insular world of OUSU politics and elections and quite frankly, I don’t like it.
I decided to run for two reasons: Primarily because it is funny. Simples. Secondly, because I was pissed off. And now I’m even more pissed off.
Unless there is some kind of mass awakening in the coming days, the next OUSU president will be from the same political bubble as the past however-many. This political bubble in Oxford is why the Labour slate wins these elections. About 50 people, normally from OULC gets behind a slate, knocks on doors, steals website designs, and the little army of people chanting slogans like ‘change’ march right up to your door and either piss you off or steal your tea. Slates are undemocratic. The team with the most number of people willing to knock on doors wins, not the individuals with the best policies. I didn’t know any better last year, and was one of the many who fell for this and voted for the seemingly ‘obvious’ option.
I’m here to say that you shouldn’t.
There are a few main reasons why people don’t care about OUSU (and why I didn’t until recently). Firstly, because it is led by a little group of OUSUites who are insular and very much separate from the student body – this is the bubble. Secondly, because OUSU doesn’t do new or interesting things, it’s just the same as always – this is because those within the bubble can’t see the changing needs of those outside it. Thirdly, because JCRs and MCRs are better – thousands of people turn up to JCR/MCR meetings every week. Maybe 100 will make it to OUSU council. Why is the power with the hundred, not the thousands?
I am not from within the bubble. The next OUSU president needs to be aware of the needs of the thesp, the journo, the Iffley gym keeno, the part-time scholar, the full time Park Ender – that’s what I wanted to show with my campaign. I wanted to burst the bubble. I wanted to show how the other candidates are not rethinking OUSU, but perpetuating the irrelevant OUSU of today. We need honest thinking. I will show this with a serious issue that I care about – mental health.
Certain slates have proposed bringing welfare into an even bigger OUSU. This would inevitably lead to the focus moving away from colleges. This is bloody ridiculous. I have volunteered with mental health charities since I was 14 and I know that the fundamental aspect of mental health support is face-to-face contact, especially when dealing with students. With only the hundred engaging in OUSU and the thousands engaging with colleges, how can we take the closeness away from welfare, purely to give those running OUSU a greater sense of purpose? OUSU should be spending money on hiring more university councillors, sending them to every college, and creating ‘admiral welfares’ to look after the peer-supporters and welfare reps, not infantilising welfare with petting zoos and mug painting. I still can’t believe people call me the ‘joke candidate’.
OUSU is never going to be like the other university student unions, and it doesn’t need to be – we have college bars, we have representation through departments, we have representation through college. OUSU should be there to support department representatives, JCRs, and MCRs, not stepping over them. OUSU should only be stepping in at the times when we need to pull together – be it for Sky TV, fees, or something similar – not for the day to day things which JCRs and MCRs have more of a democratic right to be sorting.
I am clearly not a careerist – a quick Google search of my name will show how unlikely I am to ever get a job anywhere where there is widely available internet access. That’s good. OUSU positions should not be seen as stepping stones. We should have fun students working for fun students, not un-fun student politicians working towards a cosy Labour seat in 20 years.
I urge you to think carefully about these upcoming elections – they will make a difference to every student. I don’t want to leave Oxford knowing that there will be another year of mediocrity. Read what candidates are saying and interrogate them. Look for someone who might add a bit of life into your weekly emails. Don’t let the campaigning get in the way of policies, and if you really aren’t happy, vote RON. If I wasn’t running myself, I probably would.
Check out my song from central hustings which sums it all up here: