First, I would like to offer my congratulations to the newly-elected SO, Rory Hughes and the returning officers.
If there was a sentiment that could capture this past week’s melodrama, it would be John Lydgate’s pithy statement: “you can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time.”
However, one can’t begrudge one for following the idiom, faint heart never won fair lady. Thus, the policy of “some sort of quota for women in our SU elections” comes into focus. The foundation for which lies on the premise that “… quotas are necessary to reset the inherent imbalance of patriarchal society.” Let’s grant that SU elections are subject to the baleful nature of the patriarchy. Are quotas the right answer?
No. For three reasons: statistics, meritocracy, and they are ultimately patronising.
An analogy can be drawn between parliament and SO officers. Of the 650 MPs elected on 7 May, 191 are female or 29.4 per cent. That compares with 22.6 per cent after the 2010 election. Labour is the most gender-balanced party, with 42.7 per cent of its MPs being female. However, the Labour party, despite having all women shortlists have failed to turn out a woman as leader of the party. Thus, as it stands, the current government (Bullingdon club central) have turned out two female prime ministers. There is no doubt that different explanations will come from this evidence. One explanation may be that Thatcher was and May are part of the patriarchy. However, surely in some instances, it may just be the case that people didn’t like the candidate offered? In elections, whether it be SU elections or parliament, sometimes it might be down to whether the offered candidate has any merit.
A concept loosely defined as those who have the merit for the role in question ought to get it. Whether this actually applies in SU elections is a different matter, the façade is there. However, there is equality of opportunity which ensures meritocracy! Another problem arises, as illustrated by economist the Ha-Joon Chang: “equality of opportunity is not enough. Unless we create an environment where everyone is guaranteed some minimum capabilities through some guarantee of minimum income, education, and healthcare, we cannot say that we have fair competition. When some people have to run a 100 metre race with sandbags on their legs, the fact that no one is allowed to have a head start does not make the race fair. Equality of opportunity is absolutely necessary but not sufficient in building a genuinely fair and efficient society.”
Applied to an SU election, this would no doubt entail: everyone having the same number of people on their campaign team, the same number of friends who will definitely vote for them, the same number of people who will actually vote reached etc. What should be obvious is that this would be notoriously hard to achieve, and various factors need to be accounted for. Nevertheless, in one of the possible worlds where these stipulations are met. What would occur if all the posts for SO were filled by women? Would this be a cause for concern?
Quotas are patronising
Labour MP Barbara Castle, one of the longest woman serving MPs in History, was not elevated to her position on all women’s shortlist. Neither was Theresa May, Margaret Thatcher, or Nicola Sturgeon. In essence, the point is simply that it is patronising to assume that female students need some sort of assistance to get into a position of responsibility.
Previous women SO’s such as Yasmin Gasimova, Emma Sims and Rosie O’Donnell were all elected on the basis that every male SO has been elected. The basis is that people chose to elect them.
A final thought is that choice is sometimes viewed as wanting. Take the 2016 elections in America and the United Kingdom. People choose a course of action, which some view as uninformed or misled. Thus, it is surely the case that a more pressing matter for an SO is information distribution. Particularly in reference to the following two questions. How can the patriarchy be defeated by all women shortlists? Why did women who voted in this election vote for candidates who happened to be male?