The more things change, the more they stay the same…

Student politics goes into overdrive for the next few months, as election fever takes hold. Luke P. Field gives us a rundown of what to expect.

As we begin a new term, and a new year, we enter another season of Students’ Union elections; it may be an opportune time to cast a critical eye over the various comings and goings, to-ings and fro-ings, happenings and non-happenings that often make up the charming morass that is student politics. A few months back, whilst nursing a pint in the Old College Bar (wherein all conversations of truly important philosophical worth take place) it was put to me that student politics is the most conservative of all politics. I was a little taken aback at this comment, but I found myself nodding as my friend went on to explain the reasoning: there is no long-term thinking in student politics because of the short mandate; the modus operandi of student bodies never changes, even when new people are elected; and the issues rarely change significantly.

I suppose all those points are worth taking a look at, but it’s the third bit that I always find most interesting. Every year, pretty much the same pattern repeats itself, to the point where one can almost guess at the start of the year exactly what the major moments will prove to be. From the moment the new SU takes office in June, we can say with a decent amount of certainty that there will be a national march against fees/grant cuts/whatever you’re having yourself (in the cold); a local march against fees/grant cuts/raptor attacks/Bear Patrol tax (in even more cold); an attempt to rewrite the SU Constitution from the ground up; several rumours of resignations; and of course, a barrage of sneering complaints from all corners of the university through whatever means are available.

Then you have the elections, which are even more predictable than the rest of the year’s events. Rumours fly hither, thither, and yon, and won’t cease until close of nominations. Eventually, the real candidates start to emerge, and there’s usually a few “old reliable” clichés to make up the numbers: the Bill Cullen wannabe, who wants to run the SU as practice for building his business empire; the budding national politician, who views the SU as a stepping-stone; the SU-hater, who wants to become President so that he can eventually replace the Union with a giant bowl of custard; the aging hack, who desperately wants a sabbatical position so he/she doesn’t have to leave their comfort zone; the female candidate who says she’s running “to make the SU less sexist” and then proceeds to sexualise images of herself in her campaign posters; and of course, the self-styled anti-establishmentarian that will “break down the clique culture in the SU” (plenty of these candidates have come and gone, the culture remains).

At this point, I may be sounding just a little bit jaded… Rest assured, this is not the case. The Students’ Union is an incredibly important institution that does very good work; it’s just that, well, one election is often much like another and one Union year much the same as that which preceded it. The question that is rarely asked, though, is “why”? What causes this homogeny and, indeed, monotony from year to year? Perhaps the issue is external; after all, it’s hardly the college community that’s to blame if the national government repeatedly looks to make savings from third-level students by raising registration fees and cutting grants, and it is the role of the SU to protect students from these attacks (assuming that the majority of voting students want to be protected from these attacks).

And by extension, if the issues we have to deal with are often the same, so too may be the means by which we deal with them; after all, there’s very little in the SU weapon locker aside from mass demonstration to add weight to our side of the negotiating table. On the other hand, a strong case could be made for the issue being internal, something in the psychology of the college student. After all, most electoral candidates are either “hacks” or “anti-establishment”; the hacks are conditioned by their environment and culture to behave in much the same way that their predecessors did, while the anti-establishment crowd tend to just moan about “deh clicks” – not much scope for variety in either camp. Perhaps the emergence of a candidate who does not fit either description comfortably may bring some new flavour to the buffet, if such a candidate does indeed exist.

But put that to one side for there is little you can do about it – unless you may be lured to run for one of the many full-time, part-time or voluntary positions on offer? I wish you the best of luck, if you are one of the brave and bold few who make that leap. If you are not, then it’s time to get comfortable in that armchair and grab your popcorn; the greatest show available on campus is about to begin, and soon we’ll see just How the West is Won. This year.

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