Student politics is a very different ball game to its Westminster counterpart. No one is expecting the delegates we elect this week to successfully pacify the South China Sea, and likewise Theresa May’s list of priorities extends beyond the introduction of a lecture free fresher’s week. The two are linked by a few important factors however; the importance of debate, the enthusiasm of those campaigning, and the role of ideology in our politics.
It is easy to see why ideology is a dirty word in student politics. After all, our Student Union surely exists to protect our specific interests. Do we need to view these elections as clashes between the left, right and centre? I would argue that this is unavoidable, and furthermore that it doesn’t have to be detrimental.
The truth is that political beliefs shape the way people respond to all issues, and contemporary national issues regularly overlap with student politics. Take tuition fees for example. Limits are determined in Parliament, but we still expect our representatives at Warwick to take a stance on this issue and others; the wider world affects our university life and there is no escaping that.
Do we need to view these elections as clashes between the left, right and centre?
In an ideal world we would vote for the policies we agreed with, then sit back and watch as our representatives implemented everything in their manifestos. Back on earth, this seems an unlikely scenario. Times and plans change. The grand promises of election campaigns have to be reworked. The reality of representative democracy is that we are choosing someone to make decisions for us, not simply rubber stamping a list of changes.
When voting for someone, I want to know how they see the world. Are they a progressive or a traditionalist? Do they value inclusivity, or does modern society terrify them? Regardless of whether they want to represent me as my Prime Minister or as my NUS delegate, I think I deserve to know.
When voting for someone, I want to know how they see the world.
Of course there are dangers and here at Warwick the system is flawed. Elections are often dominated by nationwide issues that in reality we have little control over; satirical candidates mock our current officers as focusing so much on the destruction of capitalism that they overlook the concerns of students wanting to get on with their everyday lives.
If anything though, the public face of these elections has been too trivial. It is only by trawling through manifestos online or attending events that we can identify any major differences between candidates. The rest is all just signs, logos and sound bites.
If anything though, the public face of these elections has been too trivial.
We need to have the bigger debates, and whilst over politicisation could erode the local issues at stake, I invite you to consider the alternative; we pressure candidates into brushing their political beliefs aside, no questions asked. This is already the case for some candidates standing this week.
Despite usually being outspoken members of political parties, election time reduces them to mutterings about how they are standing on ‘their own platform’. This is at best a pretence and at worst a misleading way of sweeping ideology under the rug. Candidates still have their political views; they’ve simply found a convenient way of dodging questions about them.
This is at best a pretence and at worst a misleading way of sweeping ideology under the rug.
People can’t shrug off their beliefs to participate in student politics, but then we shouldn’t be encouraging them to do that anyway. Without undermining the importance of practical policies, university should be a forum to debate more pressing and controversial issues than the opening hours of our library. Ideology can’t be extracted from student politics, and our elections would be far more meaningful if we learned to embrace that.