I am writing this currently sitting on the fire escape staircase of the library leading from the ground floor up to the first floor. Tucked away slightly from the madness of the Parade, where candidates are hassling passers-by for votes and sharing their manifestos with the student population. The weather is sunny, sunnier than it should be for this early in March, and the consistent upbeat tunes coming from a ‘Wonderboom’ in the middle of this exhibit adds to the general political atmosphere. But, is this political event something that the students of Bath actually want, or rather something they put up with as a brief distraction as they walk to their next lecture?

I am surprised to see so many candidates; the SU Officer Roles aren’t necessarily something I would think people would take seriously. However, there is not only a steady flow of candidates, but also a large number of supporters stood in solidarity with a candidate, proudly showing their ‘Vote4soandso’ shirts to the student body. A particular favourite slogan of a candidate is Martyna and her ‘Martini for Community’ poster. You can always trust that university students will follow the booze!

University elections are a tricky business. The student body is a young crowd and very few of us would have had the opportunity to actually vote in real elections, making this our first taste of the political world. But do the students take stuff like this seriously? Campaigning can be emotionally draining. I felt exhausted watching the candidates continually have to go up to people and encourage them to not just vote for them, but also vote in general. One candidate, Benjamin ‘Benji’ Thompson running for Community Officer, described this feeling further, saying “Getting people to care is the issue” because “they don’t see elections creating meaningful change.”. He feels that the “SU is not visible enough to see meaningful change” for many students. In other words, why vote when you feel it isn’t going to do anything? It sort of reminds me of the module feedback questionnaire that is all over my (mostly unread) email inbox, why bother when you don’t feel it will make much of a difference? 

So, my question is, should you bother? Can these candidates actually fulfil the promises they make? Or, like actual politicians, are they all bullshitting us?

An interesting point I would like to consider is how the student body decides who to vote for. The manifestos can be found on the SU website; however, it would probably take over an hour to read each one and form a choice based on this. Instead, the amount of effort each candidate puts into the campaigning process seems more likely to encourage people to vote for you than what you actually stand for. I am getting the sense that the amount of change elected committee members can achieve is actually very limited and therefore, voting can become more of a popularity contest rather than based upon the policies in manifestos. A bystander of the election campaign in the SU even joked that people cast their votes over who is the “best looking” rather than the actual policies of each person. But in fairness, with a lack of political diversity amongst the candidates, the manifestos are all incredibly similar, so how are you supposed to differentiate and decide who is best?

I’ve read a couple of the manifestos at this exact point of this article, and to be honest I feel a little like I am reading a wish list rather than a political strategy. In my opinion, the manifestos need to not only have the ideas but also a plan on how you will achieve them – or else they become more of a pipedream rather than a policy declaration. Words like ‘more’ and ‘improve’ feel like empty promises especially when they lack specificity on how the ideas will be achieved. There were only a few manifestos I actually liked where instead of asking for more of something, they showed their strategy on what they would introduce on campus to achieve their goal and mentioned ‘stakeholders like Bath Spa’ whom they would be using to help rethink the student housing dilemma. You see the differences between promises of better and actions for change. This really is the difference between amateur and professional politics.

The campaign work of the candidates is also incredibly influential when it comes to who to vote for. In the hour I spent observing the parade, I saw someone dressed as a green leaf monster, a dinosaur, and a blow-up shark – more of a ‘Bath’ nightmare than a ‘Bath’ dream. It seems the idea of campaigning at university is definitely ‘go big or go home’, with each candidate trying to out-dress up the other, not something I would immediately think of as a strong political strategy. For those that have yet to visit the Parade this week, the candidates have moved picnic tables to the centre of the Parade to run their campaigns from and are offering sweets to students whilst wearing their ‘vote for me’ t-shirts – luckily for them it has been good weather this week. 

However, in all honesty, their campaign tops remind me of the leaver’s t-shirts where everyone would scribble their name on a shirt and from an outside perspective, it looked more like they were trying to convince you to enter a wet t-shirt competition, than vote for a serious university committee election. At one point a speakerphone was used, which only seemed to aggravate and intimidate the students who very obviously would speed up their walk as they approached the election tables.

By the time this will be published, voting will be over or at least nearly over. And honestly, a majority of people will not be voting for these SU elections how they run currently. I think it is important to rethink the powers of the candidates and realistically outline the changes they can actually make. You can’t make people care about something if they don’t feel any attachment to the issue. The chaos of the Parade can actually be a bit off-putting to the election cause and it’s become more of a nuisance than a political event. Instead of asking people to vote for them, the candidates should perhaps ask the students why they won’t be voting for the SU elections and go from there. In simple economics, there is no point of supply without releasing how to access the demand. 

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