Union elections are called bullshit, and it’s really easy to see why. Every year we elect some well-intentioned and (usually) popular people who strap on their £24,500 Sabbatical helmets and run full pelt at the university and union, expecting to make a dent in the way things are done. Usually they leave the job a year or two later, a little concussed and wondering if they’ve made a difference.
It’s a difficult time for candidates, their teams and poor sorry students who are accosted with leaflets, added as friends and signed up to groups for people they’ll probably never hear from again. I went down Library Square today to mosey around and have a chat with a few of them. One candidate I questioned prompted me to write this article.
That candidate is Hassan Rasheid and he’s running for Vice President Welfare. There’s been a lot of guff on twitter between him and some other commentators. Something I’m not going to get into here. I feel it’s important to say now that this isn’t some anonymous hack job, or a personal attack on a guy who I don’t know personally, rather an evaluation of his merits as a candidate.
The most shocking thing is his policy of “supporting minorities and liberation groups”. I don’t mind when students bullshit on their manifestos. Its par for the course and to be expected really – but running for VP Welfare and having no mention of actual liberation campaigns and policies is an insult to everyone who actually supports those groups.
Let me take that one step further. Hassan Rasheid’s entire liberation and minority agenda starts and ends with Muslim students on campus. As a Muslim student I have to say, this isn’t an entirely terrible thing. With Islamophobia on the rise its important to ensure nobody is discriminated against because of their religion, like toddlers for example. But when you don’t even know what liberation groups are – you’re taking the piss. When I asked Hassan today to give me some examples his only answer was ‘Muslims’. Nope. An integral part of the Queen Mary community? Sure. Brilliant campaigners who raise bucket loads of money for charity? Absolutely. But a liberation group we aren’t.
In case anyone is wondering the four groups are: Women, Disabled, and Ethnic Minority and LGBT students.
These are the four liberation groups of which Hassan couldn’t name a single one. This is the candidate running for VP Welfare. A candidate expected to represent the most vulnerable and marginalised students on campus and be paid more than 20 grand a year for the pleasure. This is the candidate that, when asked what he will do for LGBT students, said ‘he hadn’t really thought about it’ and that he ‘didn’t really consider part of his job until recently’. No seriously, he thought that the LGBT society deals with ‘all that.’ My own masochism prompted me to ask for his stance on gay marriage. I was met with an uncomfortable silence and ‘no comment’.
See this wouldn’t be a problem normally. I have enough faith that the student body can smell bullshit a mile off and candidates like Hassan are usually sent packing on results night. The problem is this candidate has the endorsement of one of the biggest societies on campus, ISOC.
For those not in Union circles, let me explain. Candidates or slates can get endorsements from societies and sports clubs during the election period. The theory goes that most of their members will vote according to how the committee has decided.
Usually the impact is little more than a much-needed morale boost for the campaigners and some popularity points to measure against your opponents. In reality people vote for whomever they want – usually their friends – and committee decisions hold little sway.
Except for when ISOC endorses a candidate. When that happens you’re guaranteed to see a few hundred votes pour in; a big responsibility for any society, least of all one as popular and as influential as ISOC, especially in a year where there is money up for grabs for whoever can pull in the most voters.
Urgent questions need to be asked about how societies and student groups like ISOC decide who to endorse and how this election isn’t being turned into a contest of ‘who you know’.
As if that isn’t bad enough, his other policies show a similar level of thought. Here are the headlines.
“An open and transparent Union for all.” Ah, that old chestnut. It’s a nice sentiment but that’s it. Rasheid wants to create a system of checks and balances where elected students detail what they’ve done on the Union website. Problem: the Union already does that. Sure it isn’t pretty or accessible, but there are bigger problems with openness and transparency, like how we engage people in the first place. When I questioned Rasheid on how he’d improve engagement he didn’t really have an answer for me.
The same goes for his policy: “International students matter/Greater access to accommodation” and “More affordable and accessible food and water”
Really, its all a bunch of vague ideas that sound nice but have no practical plan whatsoever. The biggest thing we can expect? Rasheid will “encourage the development of a greater number of student halls”. Sounds good. How will he do that? Don’t worry about it. We can also expect some “synergistic goals” to be achieved with local retailers whilst somehow reducing the price of food on campus. It’s clear he hasn’t researched the business side of QMSU or paid any attention to London property prices.
We’ve got four days to go and a lot can happen in that time. The bigger question we should ask ourselves is: do we really want to move towards an election norm where certain societies, and by extension the few individuals who run their committees, hold so much sway that a candidate like Rasheid is in a position where he can win? Are we turning this into an election where instead of chasing after the ‘average’ student voter we’d rather hoover up as many committee members as we can?
Voting is open, results are days away and all that remains to be seen, but for this voter, I’ll be looking elsewhere for my VP Welfare, no matter who’s endorsing them.
Ozzy Amir is a freelance visual artist, campaigner and loves describing himself in short sentences. You can follow Ozzy on Twitter @ozzyamir