Since 2015, I have had it on the cards to run for Students’ Union President. The day I first met the President of the SU, I said to myself, ‘that is where I want to be’. While I did not get there, this is still an interesting tale, and I have a lot of things to get off of my chest. This is the story of what happened when Ben Attwood ran for President.
During this blog post, I will be sharing a lot of opinions on things, people, and ideas that I didn’t like at the time. Some of them I still dislike now, some of them I have changed my mind on, so if you’re offended, then drop me a line.
September 2017 was when I began a lot of planning for the elections, to be held during March 2018. My friend and former President of the SU had lost his election to be reelected for a second term. He was a great guy and did a lot for me and others. He was the first of the Presidents I felt got out of just being a ‘sports guy’. Not that I think his successor was bad in any way, but a friend is a friend. September was also a time where I had a lot of angst towards the SU. They had held an event in the SU Bar with N Dubz singer, Dappy. Dappy should not have been on campus.
The singer was basically a danger to the students, with criminal charges including hitting women, drugs, and all other stuff. With that, I went to war, basically. I stood for what I believed in, and I believed the SU failed to protect students. This actually led to the SU holding an emergency meeting, and it led to me getting called into the President’s office, to talk about how I called out the situation. Basically, he gave me a bollocking. I won’t lie, I probably deserved it, but it was justified for me to attack what I felt was an injustice. Frankly, there was so much to attack the SU on, the fact that another sports guy was in power again. That someone who was censoring free speech was in power again. I believe that this was not a good way to go. The Uni may praise them as being the best SU we’ve had, but I personally disagree.
The other thing I do not like about our SU is that there is a culture of forced political correctness. I regard myself as a level-headed man, I am an ally to LGBT+ causes, I treat people as I would like to be treated, and if I use the wrong terminology, I would ask people to correct me on certain nomenclature. But some of the people, a certain group, in fact, exhibit an almost social justice-esque ideology that I think is bad. I think there are some careerists within the SU, who are using it to further their own careers, and if you are a current student you will know who I mean. I wanted to break away from that, and actually make a good change on the inside, including removing those policies and working on more constructive ways of protecting our students. My philosophy is that you can’t protect yourself forever, but you don’t have to be a victim, and that is what I wanted to do for my University.
During November 2017, I had begun to work on my policies for the elections. I had a strong campaign in my last election for Disabled Students’ Officer, only losing by 32 votes. I also had the know-how, as I had become a Society Rep in the Societies’ Council, and open rep for the Disabled Students’ Committee. My golden policy was the Northern Students’ Guild. I have had this idea for many years, uniting colleges and universities in the North to better represent our region, and with the tools that the SU has, I could have probably done it. The University wants to bring in Varsity, so its a natural progression for better collaboration with our neighbouring universities.
The main problem I had with the campaign at this point was that my policies were, admittedly, not very appealing to the wider student population. Some of the ex-Presidents loved them, my campaign team loved them, but they didn’t have a wide appeal. So I decided to ask around. I made a survey and asked around. This survey was perhaps the best decision I made, as those 16 people gave me the tools I needed to create some great policies…
- Rather than just improve parking, let’s improve buses too, and have more bike sheds.
- Let’s work more with the council to improve the uni’s relations.
- More funding for societies, which is desperately needed.
- More lighting on Ruff Lane
- Faster repairs on campus, and why not deal with landlords too.
I had, by November, begun to assemble my campaign team. My friend Jack, who was Politics Society treasurer, had decided to join my team. Over time, I also recruited the president of the Labour Society, Callum, as well as Charlotte, who was involved in both societies. It also helped that I already had a campaign page online, amassing over 100 likes, which was an easy way to get policy out. I cannot tell you how good Facebook is as a campaigning tool. Through it, I was able to find a lot of emails for societies, to discuss meeting membership and the likes. I needed to. This was a big campaign.
This was a big campaign, the most high profile one I have ever done, and the tools given by my team, my fellow students, and my previous endeavours, were all beginning to come together. But it almost never happened. That December, my Grandad passed away, due to complications regarding pneumonia, and other things. He was 80.
When I lost my Grandad, the day of his death and for a good time afterwards, I put all my plans on hold. I looked at myself in the mirror and was prepared to give up then and there I had even drafted a message to my team:
‘ I am really sorry, everyone. I have given a lot of thought and I have decided not to nominate myself. I need to heal.’
My Grandad had been, and still is, the major influencer in my life, I’d say more so than my parents. His principle shaped my principle. I was a man of values because I felt he was a man of values. Thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that I should go on. My Grandad would not like me to have given up. I had to put on a brave face. So I did.
By January, I was nominated, and I had begun to draft emails to contact societies and sports teams to get support. Had all gone to plan, I actually would have run on a slate with the VP Activities and VP Academic Representation, as well as the Postgraduate Officer, who was running for VP Welfare. My rationale was that I felt I couldn’t do it on my own. I am normally confident, but I need encouragement, and my morale was fairly low then. With the right team, and the right support, I felt that I could pull it off. At least in theory.
It wasn’t meant to be, my friend didn’t want to join in, and the others felt it best to have separate campaigns. They didn’t want a slate. They didn’t want one with me. I soon found out that they were working with one of my rival campaigns; and the eventual winner of the election. You claim you don’t want a slate, but you form one with a rival campaign. I think that is pretty hypocritical, but politics is politics. I think; however, that gave me the confidence to run this campaign on my own, with my team.
In hindsight, I felt those guys wanted to run with someone less independently minded, so they chose someone who had a large support base; a rugby lad no less, to forward their campaigns. See what I meant by the careerist element?
In February, things were set. I had my policies, and I had ordered my leaflets, and I had filmed a campaign video. The video was pretty last minute, though. We managed to get my friend’s flatmate’s boyfriend, who came up from Norfolk, to film and edit it, and he did it in a day. I have nothing but respect for that person. We were able to put it up 2 days before campaigning started. This wasn’t easy though, as there were a lot of problems. The snowy weather had delayed my leaflets until Monday the 5th of March (the day of the voting opening), and the banner couldn’t be hung up on the day that on-campus campaigning started. Fortunately, our online campaign was already up and running. I benefitted from a loophole in SU rules (that I helped expose) that allowed online campaigns to be up before the election. All I had to do was announce my candidacy, submit my nomination, and I was fine.
And campaigning this year was different. We were allowed to have our online campaigns up before the elections started (I’ve used the same one since my first election), though posters weren’t allowed until Saturday evening. And for the first time, voting was open Monday to Friday, ending at 2pm.
I wasn’t on campus that Saturday. I was at home visiting the family, as promised. Fortunately, I had a team of people to help put my posters up, so one of my campaign team put them up for me. On Monday, I had left my house exceptionally early (for me, anyway) to begin my campaign. I got to Ormskirk and was greeted by my leaflets, and I opened them while eating Lunch. That same day, I had hustings, so I changed shirts, and went to the campus to begin my campaign; putting extra posters up, and handing out leaflets. By the time I got to Hustings, I saw my rival candidates in person for the first time. There were 7 of them, out of 8 people. This was going to be a hard one.
It was the first time I had met the eventual winner too, who struck me as a little passive aggressive towards me. Perhaps it was just me, but he came across in that way to me. As for the others, there was a mix of people, and a few great people running. The woman who beat me for DSO, the first mother candidate, the first Jewish international candidate. Lots of people from different walks of life. I had favourites, mind, but that is plural.
I did well at hustings. I tried to answer all the questions as best I could, in front of an audience I knew were probably supporting someone else. I have never had a problem talking, ever. The hustings, being filmed live, was no exception. I spoke to my Dad after it happened, and he believed that I was the most passionate person speaking that night. That is what I aimed for. In an election, people need to know 3 things: that you’re skilled, you’re slick, and you are charismatic. That is what I tried to do, and people congratulated me on my delivery and policies.
The election had barely started, and there was already controversy over the number of posters up on campus by my fairweather friends, VP Activities and Academics, days after a sustainability campaign headed by the former. I used my online presence to kick up a fuss and lambast it. I believed it was very hypocritical to place so many posters around campus and claim you ‘care about the waste’. People attacked me for calling it out, but I was not wrong. Another tip: Kick up a fuss, you will get attention and publicity.
Kicking up a fuss actually worked, as quite a few people messaged me about my campaign, asking for my stance on certain situations and policies. It was throught that I spoke to a number of people who wanted me as a reserve choice. This surprised me, as I felt that my campaign wasn’t the most popular with certain groups, but I respect that they wanted to talk with me.
The election became increasingly controversial over the next few days, as posters were ripped down during the election, as well as one of the candidates being accused of being a sexual harasser and for unfair tactics during elections, namely poster ripping, and plagiarising policies. I can’t say whether or not they did it, but I had nothing against the person. Then there was the situation regarding posters in one of the local clubs in Ormskirk. I had leaflets in Bargain Booze and A&B Cabs. It was fair game, and I took advantage of it.
I also noticed a lot of different approaches to campaigns. Guerilla marketing was used by some of the candidates; slapping up posters hit and run style. The slate campaign ambushed students in the hub, with tablets and commanding them to vote. This was effective, but it was interfering in people’s breaks, meals, and socialising, and focussing your entire campaign in one area just seemed weak to me.
For me, I used a lot of multimedia. Social media, some posters, emailing societies, and going around campus with my leaflets and actually talking to people. I don’t have the sex appeal of a rugby lad, but I don’t need a personality or a gimmick. My policies, my record, and my way of talking to people was probably the best move I could make. Speaking to different people in different areas of the campus allowed me to gauge policies, see what people wanted, to see what people liked or disliked, or what they wanted to know. I was able to talk to lots of people, and I tried to be as nice and respectful as possible.
Wednesday was the most traditional of the campaigning days. I wandered campus with my team, handing out leaflets and putting up posters. I did that for 3 hours, and I met lots of folks doing it. I quite enjoyed Wednesday. It was the first spring day this spring, and it was good to see the sunshine, and the ground dry.
Thursday was lost due to the snow, and Friday was the last stand. I basically spent that day frantically wandering around campus, handing out my last leaflets, going to every building on campus, and pleaded for last minute votes. It worked. I went to the Health Building, and no one there had voted, while everyone in Education had. That made me laugh to myself. I found that somewhat amusing, considering both buildings were adjacent to one another, but it highlighted how their ways of getting votes weren’t the most efficient, despite its effectiveness. It also surprised me how people who just voted were willing to use their limited window to change their minds to vote for me. It showed that they didn’t vote for the people who they wanted. I spoke to them, and I got them to see I was better, because of my policies.
And that was it. I lost, but I came second, so I must have done something right. What went right? My online campaign was on point, it hit all the main points. I got my policies out there, explained them, and was able to reach a large audience. Having so many leaflets, and not bombarding people with tablets in the hub allowed me to have more natural interactions with people, and if you want to be President, that’s what you need. Meeting people in other buildings meant that I earned votes. I tried my best to avoid drama too, and I managed to get out largely unscathed. What went wrong was the tactics of the winning slate. They bombarded people by lurking in the hub with tablets and forcing people to vote. Many of them didn’t read their policies.
The main reason I failed was the reason others had failed. I went up against the sports teams and lost. Those guys are the biggest influencers on campus, which kills off everything else. My loss was not unique, but it led to someone winning who I feel had a weak set of rehashed policies. I don’t think they were good, and if the election was as close as people have told me, then I assume that’s how many others felt too. Things are changing, but no revolution. Not yet.
The fact that people from the sports teams messaged me to ask me what I’d do for them led me to believe that things were beginning to change, and maybe they are. I came second in the election, which means I will try again. And maybe next time, I will win.