Last month an outbreak of protest against the results of the general election posed an interesting moral question. Is it right to put up with, or even be part of, an organisation with at least some democratic legitimacy, but that you believe to be pure evil? In answer to this, over the holiday I am opting out of the Lancaster University Students’ Union.
When I came to Lancaster, I was automatically signed up to an organisation that has endorsed dangerous and arbitrary protests, has blatantly mishandled its finances, and has genuinely hurt some of its own members. I am on record as a paying member of this ideologically mystifying, bureaucratically self-flagellating private youth parliament. I am the anonymous student whose interests they claim to be representing when they pick up their pay checks, and I am the student whose modest works they take credit for when they update their CVs. Incidentally, so are you. But this is not what I had in mind for university.
I’ve spent years scrutinising LUSU, at first trying to figure out precisely what it was, then joining in a bit, and ultimately giving advice on where it’s gone wrong. At one point I even drew up a list of policies in anticipation of the FTO nominations in February. The system draws you in like that. Anyone who tries to comment on the Union from the outside (and gets uncomfortably close to the truth) is said to “sit back and criticise”, as if a sound opinion has only ever come from behind a desk in Bowland Main.
I imagine a lot of student politicians entered LUSU that way. Of course, to paraphrase one NUS candidate, many students pursue a sabbatical year as a kind of elective tryout for their bright future in management consultancy, or because a friend said they should and didn’t make it obvious enough that it was a joke about their stupidity, but some students must have put themselves forward thinking they could cure our wretched political system from the inside. It’s clear to me now that enlisting in student politics won’t help when, at least as far as the rest of LUSU is concerned, elected student politics is the problem.
And my decision to leave is, as ever, a judgement only of LUSU’s political wing. I have no problems with groups like Nightline or the Helpdesk – groups that the politicians of LUSU are no doubt more than prepared to hide behind. I would even go so far as to say there are parts of the Union which I’m going to mourn over the coming months, particularly in student media, and the members of these groups don’t deserve to be subjected to the regular humiliations of our student politics.
Regular is the word. I’ve watched FTOs brag about turning up to Union Council drunk. I’ve watched representatives spend 10 minutes arguing over the name of a new student position and not say a word on its actual powers or purpose. I’ve watched student politicians propose a lengthy vote of no confidence in a representative one day from retirement, just to spite him.
I’ve heard more rumours of verbal abuse than I’ve heard new policies enforced. I’ve stared open-mouthed as FTOs have insulted student voters through a microphone and then pretended that 20% election turnout is workable. I’ve waited politely as CCOs have torn each other to pieces over personal comments in a four-month-old set of minutes, and then long-windedly apologised to one another.
I’ve watched representatives snipe at students, students shout at representatives, and representatives threaten to ban other representatives, and I’ve watched good people at Lancaster, whom I looked up to in my first year, come through forums like Union Council to sincerely hate each other’s guts. These are not singular mistakes punctuating a record of broad achievement; these are the daily rituals of LUSU politics. It is, quite simply, bad for our health, and it can continue as long as it has a monopoly on the tacit consent of young people who don’t care enough to opt out.
Unlike the general election protestors, I’m not going to try to overthrow a potential tyranny, but neither am I going to pay and defend it for another year. If you dislike student politics half as much as you say you do, then you might like to consider doing the same.