In light of the scandal about the gender representation at the recent Guild Student Officer elections, Rory Hughes, the new-comer, has this to say:
There has been some (justified) anger and sadness at the results of the recent Guild Officer elections. As the only new person elected to that position I wanted to address some of issues that have been raised (or haven’t been) and lay out my position. These include incumbency, women’s representation and mental health. I promised to write regular blogs as a way of being held accountable as a Guild Officer so here is the first.
It is notoriously hard to unseat incumbent Student Union Officers at elections. There are several factors as to why this is. Incumbents have of course already won a student election and thus have experience in how to succeed, how to handle the pressure of campaign week etc. They also have the greatest exposure amongst all candidates by virtue of their post over the previous year. Furthermore, they can often build upon what they have done in office, giving concrete examples of their previous success. In the results, we see how incumbency is borne out. Sean Turner won on almost double the first preferences he did the previous year. The three incumbent’s votes were well in excess of myself in fourth and all the other candidates. I am unsure how anybody who was not an incumbent could have reached these heady heights. Indeed, although we had a substantially larger turnout, my first preference votes were roughly the same as Sean’s in his first term win as president. Just to hammer this home, 3033/6406 first preference votes went to the 3 incumbents.
Unfortunately, the only woman on the team (Yasmin Gasimova) did not wish to run for re-election this year. Again, as an incumbent she would have had an extremely good chance of being re-elected. This has left us with 3 out of 4 of the positions being almost inevitably filled by men. This election was unfortunately always a contest between the 11 other candidates (4 men and 7 women) for the final spot. Without incumbents, the top 4 would of have been equally divided over gender (Myself, Beth Meadows, Scott Johnston and Grace Farnham). Now, this is not a personal attack on any of the incumbent officers. It is their right to re-run and I send a formal and personal congratulations on their second victory. However, this year was particularly skewed in terms of gender parity due to the incumbents all being male.
Taking this into account I still am very supportive of some sort of quota for women in our SU elections. Regardless of the circumstances, at a university (and planet) that is predominantly female it is self-evidently ridiculous that the 4 elected representatives are all men. Indeed, in my LSradio interview immediately after being elected I voiced all of this strongly. I’m well aware that if we had one in place this year I would not have been elected despite receiving 70 first preference votes more than Beth Meadows finishing with 26 “other preference” votes between us (as 2nd,3rd,4th… preference votes are not full votes it’s many more than 26 individual people). Alongside this, Liberation Officers (Women’s, BAME, LGBT and Disabilities) are a great idea and function well at other universities. Currently, my good friend Yasmin is doing the hard work of trying to implement said structures for future elections.
Personally, I see that quotas are necessary to reset the inherent imbalances of our patriarchal society. Men already have an informal quota inbuilt in to social structures making them more likely to be elevated to positions of power. Yet, as a man it is not my place to lecture or lead women on this question (as some others have recently been doing). If Yasmin cannot get the plans through before her tenure ends (most likely for bureaucratic reasons) than I will make sure it is finished as your elected officer. I wish to simply and supportively implement the quotas/positions that Yasmin and women on campus are designing and asking for — to ensure our current predicament does not occur again. I will also make sure that I work closely with groups such as FemSoc and the Pro-Choice Society (whom many of my closest friends are very involved with) to make sure women are represented as best as possible in the coming year. I did not wish to be in this position and as a man I am limited in the representation I can give to women. However, I can provide the platform, and will try to do this as much as possible.
I have also seen many people criticising the fact that no students were elected who discussed the mental health crises amongst students in their manifestos. I am saddened and frankly angry at the response to the election on this issue. Through my policy on our campus-gym facilities I discussed mental health when talking to students in my campaign, in my manifesto, video and all my literature. That policy was specifically about this. Our counselling service currently offers students free access to the campus gym as a method of alleviating their difficulties. Exercise aids our mental health — it keeps us busy, active, social and it releases serotonin and endorphins, helps us sleep etc.
The reason I did not run on a more substantial mental health platform was because I simply did not know what else could be done. Yasmin ran on such a platform last year and has been working incredibly hard to find solutions within our limited power as Guild Officers to a general, national and international crisis. I was wary of promising too much as I simply had not done the necessary research. I commend other candidates for perhaps seeking more holistic solutions and platforming the issue a little more than myself.
However, the reason I knew and was passionate about the campus gym and its results for mental health was because I spent several months accessing counselling and using that gym pass here at Liverpool. It helped me and thus I was passionate about it. Indeed, I have utilised multiple mental health facilities for several years and it is an issue close to my life experience, my heart and my politics. To exclaim that nothing will now be done or that it is an issue that has been ignored I think is unfair and unjustified. I look forward to learning from Yasmin as much as possible about the state of mental health services on our campus and what else I can do to help alleviate those strains. I feel that students have been far too assumptive towards my election regarding this issue and should be more careful in future.
Finally, student’s mental health issues do not exist in a vacuum. The debt, the privatisation and marketisation of our universities has all increased the likelihood of student’s experiencing such issues. Whilst UoL posts millions of pounds in profits our counselling service is still under-funded. If the economic strain of being a student, particularly one from a working-class background, is not factored in to the mental health crises then we are not analysing the problem correctly. I want to address issues of cost and fight as best as I can for a free and liberated education as a human right and social good. I made this clear in my campaign.
I believe that I ran a clean, positive and exciting campaign on issues that resonated with students. I had a fantastic campaign team and base in Labour Society (itself growing from 20 or so members to over 120 this year) that won it for me. However, an all-male incumbency meant that there was only 1 spot available and not 4. The resultant lack of women’s representation is clearly obscene. I am keen to implement whatever plans for women’s representation in our SU that Yasmin and women on our campus design, if it is not completed this year. But I will not try to lead or lecture women about it. Students should be more careful about accusations around not caring or not seeking to do anything about the mental health crisis on our campus. Let’s go in to next year together, positive and ready to implement as much radical change as we can to help students in Liverpool and fight for social justice everywhere we can.