The campaigners behind the candidates

You have all undoubtedly witnessed the election commotion on campus this week. The countless posters, the live blogs, the t-shirts, the hats, the wigs, the videos, the chats, the charm, the cheers… as this week draws to an end and voting draws nearer, it becomes questionable whether we realise what we are actually voting for: the candidate or the campaign?

There are undeniable merits behind running a successful and meaningful campaign. It displays a capacity for time management, tenacity and enthusiasm, in addition to an ability to engage with the general student electorate. Such propensities are all requisites to the success of any YUSU Sabb.

But how far is it really necessary for those who have already proven themselves in office? It makes one wonder whether the superficialities of copious fly-outs and monolithic placards are more appealing to the student populace than a capable and hard-working Sabb. For example, incumbent YUSU President, Tim Ngwena, who is running for a second term this year, has received some criticism for failing to capitalise on campaigning week. Despite his inauspicious presence across campus this week, Ngwena’s powerful yet calm approach to speech and debate in hustings and Nouse and YSTV’s Presidential Debate has proven incomparable.

A day has not gone by this week when I haven’t seen a candidate faithfully accompanied by a member of his or her campaign team. Whether tirelessly standing barely hip and shoulders apart, mirroring every mention of a campaign policy to whatever prey they have managed to find, or quietly sitting in the corner of The Courtyard clicking away on a laptop, pretending that they are less-than-noticeable when actually they are all-too-obvious, they have been there. This overbearing presence can become more damaging than advantageous for some candidates.

Of course, a campaign team is necessary for any candidate who wishes to lodge their passion and viability in the student mindset and the student media. But this has to be done with careful equilibrium: a candidate does not want to damage their chances by becoming overwhelmed by their committed comrade(s). Candidates have to ensure that, whilst having a popular set of campaigners supporting them opens up priceless opportunities, they establish themselves as autonomous and credible figures. After all, they will not be taking office with these people, and these people will never be answerable to the student population in the same way.

I remember writing a comment piece this time last year, labelling the Presidential race as a perpetuation of ‘the popularity contest,’ which very clearly echoes dubious Welfare Candidate Andrew McIlwraith’s comment regarding his opinion of elections this week. Whilst I do not wholly agree and do not think that these campaigners’ efforts and passion should be undermined, David Levene’s wonderful ‘fingers in pies’ analogy is so sharply accurate in this context. We have to remember that we should be voting for these people’s policies and personalities and promises; not the enormity or excitement of their campaign.

Paint, posters, cardboard cut-outs and campus celebrities will not carry these people through a year in office: integrity and capability will.

15 comments

  1. Says the girl who wanted to be part of a campaign!

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  2. This is a really good article, and something that’s definitely been more prevalent this year than any other that I can remember. A great idea for a comment piece.

    I think a number of points are slightly missed tho. Firstly, the size of this year’s campaigns are unprecedented, meaning a campaign team is more important than it ever has been in a YUSU election. Painting banners, cutting out flyers etc all takes an awful lot of time. If one candidate does it, all will inevitably follow in fear of their campaign being lost.

    Secondly, candidates with strong campaign teams should be applauded. You need to think about *why* they are able to draw upon this support in the first place. As someone who has been involved in helping a campaign this year, I know for my sake that there are very few people I would have wanted to put my time and effort into supporting. There are reasons for this other than a close personal friendship: it’s because I believe they are the best candidate, and I want them to win in order to enact their policies.

    Thirdly, campaigning is not the same as taking office – something that both Rhianna and Lewis have experienced this year. Whilst generic skills like time management, organisation etc are indeed important and transfer to the job role; a number of equally important ones simply do not. To get elected, for example, you need to have a bit of design skill to create an eye catching poster. The Students’ Union has a paid staff member to do this, so a Sabbatical Officer will never need this skill in office. What is then wrong with them asking a friend to fulfill this role in the campaign? The same can be said for painting, postering, or even scavenging in bins for cardboard….

    Finally, drawing upon experience of doing a bit of personal campaigning last year – only the candidate can ever truly change someone’s mind on who to vote for, or in many cases, whether to vote at all. This, above anything, will decide who wins the election – especially in close races with a number of good candidates. With this in mind, I still think the election process acts as a good testing ground for candidates and their policies.

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  3. “We should be voting for these people’s policies and personalities and promises; not the enormity or excitement of their campaign” – Brava, Laura.

    Certain candidates appear to have been spoon-fed answers and policies by their campaign teams, while others are clearly able to function strongly without such rigorous backing.

    It is my opinion that the individual should be able to stand alone in their role, with the ability to draw on others on the YUSU team as needs be. Are campaign teams really necessary when candidates are required to operate as individuals?

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  4. I’m sure a disappointingly low number of students even bother to find out much more about candidates than their name and campaign posters. If they did they might cast their vote in a totally different way… As it is, those who shout loudest or have the biggest gimmick usually win.

    The fact that so much effort (by Nouse, YSTV, URY…etc) goes into trying to get candidates’ messages across to students makes this reality even more saddening.

    Watching candidates’ husting speeches as well as the 60 second manifestos (at the very least!) would inform students who’s behind the name, whether that turns out to be a good thing or a bad one!

    Union politics shouldn’t be seen as a meaningless popularity contest but a real chance to make our voice heard within this democratic organisation.

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  5. 8 Mar ’10 at 12:21 pm

    Tony Richards

    “Paint, posters, cardboard cut-outs and campus celebrities will not carry these people through a year in office: integrity and capability will.”

    MASSIVE LIKE

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  6. In my opinion Tony, you have neither a high profile campaign or the ability to have integrity or capability in office. If you somehow don’t manage to get RONned, I certainly am looking forward to your first event – “CO2 presents: * faces in the courtyard”.

    * Comment edited by a moderator

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  7. You would like this article Tom- it’s about you, your type, you ‘campaigners’. Let go of Nick’s hand and let him win the election himself, I’m sure he’s more than capable.

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  8. I think Tom’s hit the nail bang on the head there.

    The campaigns and their tactics change year on year. This year campaign teams and managers have become far more prevalent than previously, but this might all change next year. Who knows?

    The need for a single candidate to reach out to all of campus is incredibly demanding, and a dedicated campaign team can run around, postering and writing on blackboards, which leaves the candidate that bit fresher when actually meeting the people who they will be representing the next year.

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  9. @ crikey

    It’s a great article because of the points that it raises, not because who it’s about. If you knew anything about Nick’s campaign you’d actually know I’ve had very little input this last week – as I’ve had my own work to do!

    Peter – stop using the term ‘campaign manager’. It’s not a general election for gods sake, and in fact is the total opposite to the point I was making!

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  10. Tom, lot’s of candidates have, as you call “Campaign Managers”. If you have a team of campaigners, then there is no problem having someone to oragnise them in order to take some responsibility off the candidate to allow them the maximum possible time to meet students and spend their time doing that rather than running round sticking up posters, which anyone can do.

    Don’t be patronising, I think we’re all aware that it’s not a general election. The YUSU elections will have a massive effect on students here, and taking them seriously shows that you take the issues that matter to students seriously.

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  11. Peter,

    I’m not saying candidates don’t have campaign *teams*! I’m saying when you constantly refer to yourself as a “campaign manager” or “tsar” as you did on Foy’s blog (after he used the term satirically) – you overshadow the candidate and fall into the trap that Laura is discussing. This is further exacerbated by having things like an ‘officer title’ in the facebook group….

    Also, pointing out this is not a general election does not imply I don’t realise that the outcome of YUSU elections are important. It’s called having a but of perspective mate.

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  12. I was aware that the term Tsar was used satirically, and the only time that I have used it was self-mockingly in a comment on the same blog post.

    I refer to myself as that [campaign manager] because Chris asked me to be his campaign manager, and I agreed. I don’t feel that I overshadow Chris at all, as he is the one running for the position, and the one who has the experience to bring to the job! All I do is what I can to help him get elected, because I think that he’s the best person for the job.

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  13. Peter & Tom – whilst I don’t object to the way either of you have assisted in YUSU election campaigns, do you not realise that by having this back and forth you are doing what neither of you want: drawing attention away from your respective candidates and placing it on to you.

    Not an attack, just a thought.

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  14. 8 Mar ’10 at 11:17 pm

    Confusion.com

    I’m sorry Peter, can you just clarify. Are you the one with the rainbow waterproof or the neo sunglasses and coat? I just find it so damn hard to tell the difference..

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  15. Didn’t Tom Flynn start all this ‘campaign manager’ silliness anyway?

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