Russian forces approached Crimea in the early hours of the morning of February 28. Reports indicate that 2,000 troops were sent from the motherland into the troubled region, while another 150,000 were waiting in reserve on the Ukrainian border.
International tensions have escalated following King of Russia Vladimir Putin’s two-fingered salute to the rest of the West, as he proceeds with a plan he seems to be making up as he goes along. European leaders did their best to diffuse the situation by tweeting photographs of themselves making phone calls. But alas, Crimea was lost.
Meanwhile, on a minute and largely irrelevant university campus in East London, a different sort of battle was raging.
Student politics (or rather the pathetic, tit-for-tat, bitchy precursor to student politics – student elections) did its best to grip the attention of nobody. For several weeks, the Mile End campus played host to an incubating political virus, with the students’ union taking up the traditional part of trying to convince its students they should care about voting after completely ignoring them for seven months.
While Independence Square saw thousands of citizens revolt against their elected government, Library Square saw hundreds of students scoff at the opportunity to choose their own. But the elections had a deeper, more worrying, transformational effect on everybody.
Candidates morphed from politically-abject nothings into animatronic salespersons, relentlessly finding increasingly annoying ways to broadcast their flimsy ideals. Voters, meanwhile, took it upon themselves to impersonate rodents, scurrying away at the nearest whiff of an oncoming predatory campaigner.
But the people decided, at the end of it all, that the four students’ union poster men and women for 2014/15 would be Dola Osilaja, Sam Rowles, Carolina Mantzalos and Mashalle Asim. The quartet stood victorious in a sticky Drapers Bar & Kitchen, trouncing their competitors to win the four paid desk jobs on offer. But not without having to put up a battle first.
RECAP | And so it begins…
The Candidates Meeting was an awkward shambles of an event, in which politicians-to-be were made to stand in line, and register their candidacy while myself and the rest of the media cohort were impatiently twiddling our thumbs, wondering whether we really needed to be there for this queueing extravaganza; and more importantly why they hadn’t provided any
The event gave us the first bitter taste of what to expect. But it was rather inappropriately timed, as the university broke for reading week only one day later. This meant the first round of warfare would’ve had to be fought online.
The slates made themselves known one by one. People’s people Uni ON, more interconnected with one another than the Na’vi, took the initiative in being the first slate to put themselves forward. They were followed by the harbinger of the left, Unity, who marked their arrival by painting Facebook orange, and harking suspiciously over-compensatory messages of.. erm.. Unity.
GASP | Breaking down the slates
Meanwhile ‘rebels without a clue’ Maverick, a photoshopped conglomeration of self-righteous revolutionaries, released their promotive material as late as they possibly could, bucking the rather passée trend of slates trying to win elections. The additional contenders included dark horses Act Now, and the relatively obscure Your Union, a band of small-time minor candidates resembling a West Side Story tribute act.
While the ordinary student opted to spend their reading week ignoring the work they hadn’t done, candidates were ‘tooling up’ for the inevitable campaigning onslaught which began the following Monday, mostly by assembling cheap arts & crafts banners and cardboard cut-outs.
The run-up to the first Hustings event saw Uni ON run an electric (I can make puns too) campaign; by making random students awkwardly pose in front of a camera holding a chalkboard, while Unity campaigners donned bright orange safety jackets, re-enforcing their ‘safety’ policy. Maverick, on the other hand, evaded Library Square almost entirely (like the mavericks they are) storming Hail Mary with T-shirts and face paint instead.
The Whitechapel Hustings played out a bit like Question Time, if it were allowed to run for four hours and if the BBC replaced David Dimbelby with a Donald Duck impersonator. Embarrassing chair Dom Anderson guided those who had bothered to turn up on a cringe-worthy path, constantly interfering with the questions, making terrible jokes, and making terrible jokes, again. The night provided some of the election’s finest moments, however, including Ozzy Amir’s assertion that the NUS is run by “bullshit politician wannabe hacks,” and the bizarre revelation that was Daniel Ong, Master of Puns.
The weekend which followed saw candidates take a much-needed weekend rest ahead the second week of campaigning, famously a time during which all pleasantries would be forgotten, smear attempts would surface, and former militants would unshackle themselves from their constraints, and rise again – as was the case with Sam Doherty at the Mile End Hustings.
If it weren’t for Sam Doherty’s outburst during the VP Welfare candidate’s debate – in which he scrutinised Uni ON rival for tactically borrowing his policies, and failing to think through her own – the event would have been mostly forgettable, and more of a waste of time than anything else.
Nobody did particularly well to impress, least of all the eight candidates who stood forward for the four “conference junkie” NUS Delegates positions. When they weren’t failing to solve global-scale problems, like the “crisis of capitalism” they bickered over why it was them who should be chosen over the others to go to the annual NUS weekend piss up.
The night, and the buzzword-bleating candidates, were so markedly unimpressive that the Twitter crowd deemed it more of a priority to discuss the bizarre temperature disparity (between the lowest and most upper rows of seating), as well as productively develop the only viable solution to the ‘longer library opening hours’ conundrum beyond “you know, maybe we might get some money for it, who knows.”
But – unfortunately – that was it for the real hard-hitting questioning (if you’d go so far as to call it that) and the electoral candidates would be left to their own devices; once again turning on the propaganda machine; from then on till the final whistle on Thursday.
The more time I spent covering the elections, the clearer it became to me how much of a farce the entire ‘campaigning’ process was.
Individual candidates were only given a total of forty minutes (at most) to actually explain their badly-thought-through policies, and face questioning over their over-idealistic promises, while the rest of their time, and a seemingly limitless budget, was spent on little more than shameless self-promotion.
And while candidates were seen desperately begging for votes in Library Square, waving flags, and making lecture ‘shout outs’, the real war was being fought behind-the-scenes. Slates, especially, were partaking in dubious closed-doors meetings with the presidents of huge societies and sports clubs, pitifully bartering for their (heavily sought-after) endorsements. Anybody who wasn’t doing so was either running uncontested, or a fool.
Not only did this grovel-fest make a mockery of the laws preventing media coverage, but relied on an assumption that society underlings would blindly follow their overlords like mindless sheep (an assumption which, unfortunately, I am yet to be convinced is untrue).
Nonetheless, the Thursday 4pm deadline passed, and the whole ordeal was finally over – once and for all – over and done with. Except that it wasn’t. And everybody was asked to reconvene that same night at Drapers Bar & Kitchen to give the maligned season the final, grotty send-off it barely deserved.
The mood was tense. Candidates were on edge, and so was I, having spent three weeks ruthlessly scrutinising scores of people (most of whom I hadn’t met) only to find myself in a small room surrounded by them.
REGURGITATE YOUR LUNCH | Drapers Results Party Match Report
I wrote, at the very beginning, that we should expect “the same blind idealism and backstabbing of the US Primaries with absolutely none of the glamour – stupid/unfeasible policies, a fully-oiled rumourmill, and smear campaigns aplenty,” – and weren’t my prayers answered with gusto?
But the season of bullshit ultimately (and thankfully) came to an end. While King Vlad the Insaner is busy confusing the West by playing a game of Russian Roulette with himself, it might be a nice idea to consign the previous few weeks to the past (where it belongs) and focus on something a little less utterly pointless from now.
Most Successful Slate | Uni ON, 87.5% candidates elected
By far the most popular slate in QM Elections history, Uni ON dominated the campaign with an energetic arts & crafts rally, which was unrivalled. Campaigning tools included hanging light bulbs from trees (ideas grow on trees – get it? Neither do I) and releasing a delightfully chirpy human light bulb into the wild. It was a stunning effort, which paid off.
keumars.com Most Valuable Player (MVP) | Sarah Power (Maverick)
The VP Education hopeful outlined targeted core, solvable issues in her manifesto, and offered practical solutions. She was the only contestant to initially recognise Gaby Dale Leal’s space audit, and refused to be drawn into the Library hours “debate”. To top it off, both of her Hustings performances were outstanding. The Maverick would have been a real asset to any slate.
Cleanest Campaign | Act Now
The students’ union newcomers became the least embroiled with any of the petty, behind-the-scenes, inter-slate politics throughout. While big accusations and smear attempts were freely made in Week Two, both Courtney Cross and Megan Morrison-Sloan somehow evaded the mess, and dedicated far more of their time to propagating their policies. And their videos weren’t terrible.
Best Video | Maverick Slate Video
What mavericks; releasing their video so late (two hours before polls closed) that it barely had a lasting impression on the electorate whatsoever. Yet, their slate video was arguably the finest of the entire campaign – featuring rolling clouds, high-speed establishing shots, their actual policies, and convincing performances. They didn’t take themselves too seriously either. I urge you to watch it now.
Best Tweeter | @PresidentQMSU
The President in-waiting-to-leave Sarah Sarwar used the QM Elections as an opportunity to discharge the finest of witticisms from what was (rather amusingly) not her personal account. To complement the satirical #votesarwar/#openuinon campaign (presumably born from QMSU disillusionment), she also provided the most insightful analysis on the electoral candidates over the course of both hustings.
Most memorable moment | Daniel Ong’s Whitechapel speech
A moment that will live with us forever. Daniel Ong mesmerised the Whitechapel crowd with a satirical speech that left serial tweeters unable to comprehend what had just happened, let alone relay the information in 140 characters of fewer. Bordering on terrifying, his opening minute managed to shock, and inform. (He actually made a number of very astute points about the elections themselves).
Quotes of the Season | The Best Sound Bites
The NUS is run by “bullshit politician wannabe hacks.”
Ozzy Amir, Maverick candidate for President/NUS Delegate.
“He’s like a less good Paddy McGuinness, if that’s even possible.”
Eleanor Doughty, on Whitechapel chair Dom Anderson.
“I’ve got that power in education.”
Sarah Power, Maverick candidate for VP Education.
“I am not a politician. I don’t do politics.”
Dola, Uni ON candidate for President.
“How do you know I won’t screw over Barts? No confidence me. That’s how our democracy works.”
Ozzy Amir, Maverick candidate for President/NUS Delegate.
“I like to see myself as the joker of the pack.”
Daniel Ong, candidate for VP Barts & The London.
“I don’t want to stand here and mug you off, spouting ill-thought out policies about kettles. Empty populism is not my cup of tea.”
Sam Doherty, Maverick candidate for VP Welfare/NUS Delegate
“They’re all conference junkies,”
Issy Leach, tweetophiliac, on the NUS delegates
“I am not in Labour students. I am more left than that”
Sam Doherty, Maverick candidate for VP Welfare/NUS Delegates
“If I can control a group of hockey players, I can run the students union.”
Sarah Power, Maverick candidate for VP Education
“Have you heard about hot potato? Or is it just another half-baked idea.”
Daniel Ong, candidate for VP Barts & The London
“I love free speech. God bless America.”
Courtney Cross, Act Now candidate for President
“I used to be disengaged. Then I voted Lib Dems. And I got pissed off.”
Ozzy Amir, Maverick candidate for President/NUS Delegate
“Can we have quiet in Drapers?”
QMSU President Sarah Sarwar
“The muppet has won.”
President-elect Dola Osilaja
Thank you for following my vague attempt at covering the QM Elections 2014, with help from Fazal Karimi, Issy Leach, Eleanor Doughty, QMessenger, and the entire Maverick slate (because I live with donchyaknow).
Congratulations to all those who were elected, and an even bigger congratulations to those who didn’t make it; sitting on Council is a poisoned chalice of a job that you would have kicked yourself for taking.
The voting turnout was up 5% this year (from 16% to 21%), and I’d like to think we made some sort of contribution to that, even if it was ever-so-slight.