Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Democracy Rebooted

It's quite rare that I write more than a blog post a month recently, never mind two on consecutive days but there we go. I had the rather joyful experience of receiving an email from the President of the Politics Society telling his members that "It has come to my attention that although none of the committee positions were contested, we are still able to hold an election though the 'Re-open Nominations' (RON) system." Though I am more than a little bit concerned that the President of the Politics Society was not aware of the possibility of running against RON, I am glad that an election is being run. However it seems to be that the President and current committee had no intention of letting the candidates display or justify their manifestos to us and just expected that we would vote for them regardless. Luckily the guy running for Academic Officer seems to be keen on getting stuff organised, hustings and the like, with an admirable commitment to democracy not usually found in a member of Labour Students.
Another issue I have is that the election isn't going to be conducted anonymously, we have to email our votes to the Politics Society. The anonymity of an election booth wasn't something I'd given much thought to before now, some votes that are conducted by secret ballot at Union Parliament don't really require the secrecy in my opinion, but I'm really put off by the idea that someone will see my votes and it will be blatantly obvious that it's me. I'd consider voting RON for some of the categories but I don't really want to do that knowing that someone will see it and probably imagine I am being unduly petty in doing so.

Whilst today may have improved my view of societies I can't say it has been a fantastic day for democracy either!

Monday, 12 March 2012

Democracy Fail

I'm writing this blog in anger. It's something I say I'm going to do a lot and I often write drafts of posts when I'm first mad but run out of stream quite quickly and come back to them a few days later to rewrite them more calmly. However about an hour ago I happened to check Facebook in my lecture and saw that the current President of the University of Leicester Politics Society had posted a message saying that the nominations were now closed for positions on next years committee. Reading past the lists of nominees I found this comment:

"Since none of the positions have been contested, I am delighted to announce that the above nominees are the Politics Society Committee 2012/13!"

Now I'm not sure I, were I the President, would feel comfortable in announcing my 'delight' at having to tell people that a society with just shy of 250 members, couldn't find more than seven people willing to run for the committee. Especially if that committee were a politics one that claimed to be "a group for all who are studying politics at UoL and for those who are generally interested in politics." People might want to point out that you can't make people run (indeed as I type, the current treasurer has commented on my Facebook status saying "If people don't bother to get involved that's what happens" which has further fuelled my anger) but you can do a better job of explaining to people what the committee does and why it is so important, you can certainly extend the nominations period. I'm sure someone will eventually point out to be that I didn't run and if I'm so bothered about it then why didn't I but I'm currently in the process of setting up a Liberal Youth society and I don't think it would be appropriate for me to sit on that committee whilst also sitting on the non-partisan Politics Society one, but maybe that's just me. 

What annoys me most is that the members of the Politics Society, who supposedly have an interest in Politics and therefore I assume the majority of them would agree that democracy and free and fair elections are important, are being denied a right to vote. Whilst people would question the point of voting when no positions are contested and no doubt turn out would be low, there should still be an opportunity to reopen nominations. At least then the committee would have a modicum of legitimacy, small as it would be. I mean FIFA elected Sepp Blatter when he had no opposition and pretty much the entire footballing world accepts that he is corrupt!

Having spent the weekend at the Lib Dem Conference in Gateshead I understand some peoples confusion at the concept of letting the grass roots membership have a vote. In today's Telegraph Graeme Archer suggests that Liberal Democrats cannot be trusted to govern because of our insistence on it, I mean how dare we give out grass roots a vote?! Why aren't we like the other two parties who take the views of the elites within the party and enforce it on the rest with an iron will? He also suggests the voting reps are 'unelected activists' when they aren't, they're chosen by their local parties and that they act on 'whims'. They do no such thing. I may disagree with the way the NHS vote went yesterday but I know that members have been debating the future of this bill for over a year and no-one will have arrived at the decision not to back it lightly. (Although any suggestion that they did act on a whim, however jokingly tweeted, will be followed by a barrage of abuse, just ask @aaemmerson).

Unfortunately my university (and I suspect many others around the country) have a problem with elections and democracy. Whilst our recent executive elections had a turnout of over 3,700 (the highest ever) we have a student body of roughly 21,000 students. That's a turnout of roughly 17%, local council elections manage more than that. I am on our Student Union's Union Parliament which elected members to represent the University's four Colleges proportionally. As a member of the largest College (Social Sciences) I am in theory one of thirty students representing that section of the student body but I'm not, I am one of 15. This is because there is an overwhelming apathy amongst students towards these elections, I imagine because very few people actual know what Union Parliament does. It's the job of the SU executive to increase awareness and turnout but given that our newly elected Campaigns and Involvements Sabb (the position under which this directly falls) responded to my anger when vented on Twitter by saying "haven't people had enough of elections anyway" (though he later confirmed to me that this was meant as a joke) I don't hold out much hope for the future of democracy at the University of Leicester.