Keep personality out of politics

In the midst of the Hackwood-Taylor showdown, we would do well to realise that emotive and indignant speeches are not the way to objectively handle the situation

Matthew Severn argues that emotive and indignant speeches are not the way to objectively handle the situation.

There are two ways to handle what can be called personal crisis. The first way is to coolly, dispassionately deal with the issue as it stands, regardless of personalities or irrelevant factors. The second method is to delve into raging anger and weepy emotionalism devoid of logic or sense. No prizes for guessing what happened at the UGM on Thursday, when too many speakers, including the two principals in the matter of Fletcher-Hackwood v Taylor, descended into nasty arguments rather than reasoned debate.

Dan Taylor, a man about whom far too much is said and who politically stands to the right of Genghis Khan, attempted to escalate the tone of indignation to new levels. He was loudly cheered on by his supporters, who clearly see this vote in terms of their wider campaign against YUSU, and the NUS in general: the poor deluded things.

Grace Fletcher-Hackwood made a heartfelt speech in response, including a list of reasons why she was a great welfare officer (you can trust her with your urine), claiming to be the victim in a wider campaign of vilification, and stating that this vilification is punishment enough.

The debate stretched on, with some speakers offering genuinely useful comments and others…failing to do so.

The problem with the debate was that it largely failed to recognise the issue at stake. It does not matter how indignant Taylor is, or shocked, or offended. It equally does not matter how upset, or apologetic, Fletcher-Hackwood is. We are not to be swayed by those, on either side, who see this in terms of a crusade or vendetta.

The issue here is that the elected, paid (and therefore professional) individual who is responsible for the welfare of all students, regardless of how they feel about her, struck a student in the course of a drunken argument. If the student had struck her, he would have been in deep trouble. As the position was reversed, the Academic and Welfare officer should be in no less serious trouble. Given the role of the position in promoting safer drinking and behaviour, it is arguable that the matter is even more serious.

It is my opinion, which I stated at the UGM (a disconcerting experience, to be on the wrong end of a microphone in front of 200 people) that the conduct of the Academic and Welfare officer in this one incident damages her reputation and makes it impossible for her to continue in the position. The no-confidence motion should therefore be passed. Personalities and practicalities are unimportant when compared to the question of how an act of violence by a sabbatical officer against a student should be treated.

I felt bad for saying what I said, I feel even worse for writing it now. If I wanted to be noticed, I would jump in the lake or roll naked down Clifford’s Tower. I am just a student, like you. I have never met Fletcher-Hackwood and I have only met Taylor once. I just feel that we students, who are served by the sabbatical officers, deserve a say. So I am having mine, entirely free of axes to grind.

There is also the question of future implications. Certainly whatever happens from now on, sabbatical officers are going to watch their behaviour on campus very closely, which is no bad thing. There are going to be some awkward silences in the YUSU office this week and there is proof that we need to start thinking about the future: providing in the constitution more recourses than a choice between a slap on the wrist and a sacking. We must also come up with a provision for replacing full time sabbatical officers with full time equivalents, so that if any future executive member has a lapse of self-control they don’t leave the Union with a probable vacancy.

Regardless, it’s now up to you, the voting student, the average man or woman about campus, to have your say. So go! Run to a computer and vote!

5 comments

  1. The article makes some good points but the idea of keeping personality out of politics is essentially a normative one, or idealistic one, the question which isn’t raised is whether this is or not possible? We need only look to the bitching of the Obama vs Clinton battle to see that even when two sides are essentially on the same side, personality becomes a fundamental tool and liability in politics.

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  2. Steve,

    That may be very well, but I think it is safe to say that in this case the two are most definitely NOT on the same side, therefore it is only right and proper to keep personality out of the debate.

    Matthew,

    I completely agree with you.

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  3. I welcome this blog and I can say honestly that to a large extent, I personally have kept personalities out of this, most certainly in the public forum. There is no secret to the politcal rivalry between Grace and myself- people all have varying political views but none of these should detract from the incident itself- a YUSU Sab. hitting a student. This is my last word on the matter, and voting finishes at noon tomorrow. It is in the hands of no-one but the students of York.

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  4. Matthew,

    I would be intrigued to know your suggestions about “providing in the constitution more recourses than a choice between a slap on the wrist and a sacking. We must also come up with a provision for replacing full time sabbatical officers with full time equivalents, so that if any future executive member has a lapse of self-control they don’t leave the Union with a probable vacancy”. I appreciate that you have written it in discursive and not aggresive way however.

    The problem comes is that there really isn’t too many solutions to the problem. The most common reason for vacant sabbatical positions nationally is resignation, not no-confidence. York is fortunate in that it doesn’t suffer from this in the same way Unions at what would be classed as ‘lesser’ institutions do (not meaning to sound snobby). Unless it happens right at the start of the year it doesn’t allow much room for manouvre.

    It is indeed a weakness of the Students’ Union system currently that this can happen. There are other clear weaknesses but if the desire is to have officer representation, rather than staff, which is the very foundations of Students’ Unions, Guilds and Associations it is a neccesary evil.

    I appreciate that there is also more to it than just replacing the officer – discussions about penalties/warnings etc can come into it. But unless it is a violation of employment law (such as sexual harrassment etc inside a working environment) then the students remain the ‘boss’ of the officer. A fining system would be innappropriate, as it does little more than a censure.

    It is a good question but sadly one the I feel doesn’t have an answer at the moment.

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  5. 7 Feb ’08 at 7:32 pm

    Matthew Severn

    Rich,

    I think one possible way would be to have a fund set up to cover the possibility of officer absences, deaths, illnesses etc. by hiring a temporary replacement or financially compensating the other sabbs for the extra work. Obviously this would be a diversion from money for student resources, but it could be thought of as insurance.

    Another change must be the creation of another disciplinary procedure, such as the docking of pay or removal of the individual from the executive commitee without firing them.

    If you can give me some ideas, I might submit a motion to the next UGM to this effect.

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