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.

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