The presidential candidates battle it out at hustingsLucas Chebib

Candidates are making their last bids for votes around the University in the final hours of the CUSU/GU elections which began last week.

The campaigning period officially opened at 9am on Friday, by which time one candidate had already thrown in the towel: University Councillor hopeful Peter Juhasz decided half an hour before the window opened to suspend his campaign.

Immediately the focus of the campaign fell on the presidency, not least because it was one of only two roles – the other being University Councillor – to be contested by multiple candidates.

In interviews with Varsity, the three presidential contenders set out their pitches. Daisy Eyre emerged as the experienced, safe pair of hands, stressing her past roles on Jesus College Student Union as Welfare Officer and President, and her current position on the CUSU Union Development Team. Though she was eager to deny that she is a CUSU insider, her claim was somewhat belied by her enthusiasm for the constitutional reforms which CUSU was attempting to ratify in a referendum running at the same time as the other elections.

Jack Drury cast himself from the start as an insurgent outsider, adopting a pledge of “making CUSU work” and castigating what he perceives as the organisation’s incompetence and inefficiency. He prided himself on what he considered to be coherent and achievable policy proposals, and emphasised his civic virtue with a commitment to a 45-hour working week, which he promised to document and publish for students to follow.

Keir Murison, dubbed the ‘Welfare candidate’, has stressed his experience running Student Minds Cambridge as evidence that he is capable of co-ordinating a university-wide organisation – an apparent dig at Eyre’s origins in Jesus JCR, though Murison himself was Male Welfare Officer at his own college, Emmanuel. His agenda of ‘equalise, engage, encourage’ was very much influenced by his background in mental health: he raised the importance of communicating with students, particularly those in need of help. He also uses the phrase ‘college lottery’ to describe the disparities in welfare provision between colleges.

Alongside the presidential contenders was a raft of sabbatical officer candidates from various backgrounds. Lola Olufemi’s decision to run to be Women’s Officer made waves thanks to her impressive record in student politics: she was the inaugural holder of the position of BME Officer on Selwyn College JCR, having campaigned vigorously to persuade the JCR to create the position. Welfare and Rights Officer candidate Micha Frazer-Carroll also attracted attention with her focus on, and embodiment of, intersectionality.

The candidates for University Councillor: Khandelwal, Jackson and PasquinaSid Neelson/Dandidates

The only other contested position, University Councillor, showed early promise of drama as it transpired that three of the four candidates – incumbent Umang Khandelwal, Josh Jackson, and Juhasz – had stood for the role the previous year, with Khandelwal vanquishing Jackson by more than two hundred votes. Jackson and the fourth candidate, Marcel Llavero Pasquina, focused heavily on specific aims: both are passionate about divestment, and Jackson’s pledge to defend the interests of EU students mirrors Pasquina’s concern to fight racism in Cambridge. Khandelwal heavily stressed her experience, claiming that she has established the relationships and networks necessary to pass policies.

The campaign picked up on Sunday when the three presidential contenders went head-to-head in an unexpectedly confrontational discussion on the Varsity Sunday Review, in which presenter Peter Chappell’s prompts were barely needed to spur the candidates to criticise each other’s platforms. Drury sought to demonstrate his outsider credentials by lambasting CUSU, highlighting CUSU Council in particular as “a mind-numbing joke”. Eyre and Murison responded with less emphatic critiques, calling it bureaucratic and suggesting that it failed adequately to consult students before making its decisions.

However, Drury was soon put on the defensive by a hostile audience question asking about his links with the “toxic” Cambridge University Conservative Association. Drury defended the association, but the moment gave Eyre, who has described herself as left-wing, and Murison the opportunity to probe Drury’s manifesto, suggesting that his conservative leanings led him to neglect access and mental health when formulating his policies.

However, this spirited but nonetheless broadly substantive exchange was quickly eclipsed by the appearance of major controversy in the University Councillor race, as Jackson put out a statement accusing Khandelwal of “a massive lack of transparency and accountability”. Khandelwal hit back immediately, defending her record and saying that it was “profoundly disappointing” that Jackson had resorted to such attacks.

Drury’s continued attacks on the CUSU status quo briefly threatened to land him in hot water on Monday when incumbent Welfare Officer Sophie Buck made a pointed reference in a Facebook post to candidates “highlighting things to crowd-please” in what was interpreted as a rebuke to Drury, who had criticised CUSU on his campaign page for wrapping up a scheme to provide minibuses to sports teams. In the post, Buck claimed that CUSU had attempted to reintroduce the scheme but been thwarted by lack of funding and new regulations, and suggested that candidates ought to consult incumbent sabbatical officers about issues before formulating policy on them. However, it was Buck who earned the greater embarrassment after the elections committee asked her to remove the post, saying that it violated the requirement that sabbatical officers remain impartial in the election.

Most hustings took place on Monday evening, with the three presidential candidates in notably more subdued form than they had been the previous day more or less repeating their talking points. In some cases, the candidates were almost completing each other’s thoughts, though disagreement did emerge between Murison and Drury over transparency.

The uncontested candidates for the five non-presidential sabb rolesCandidates/Louis Ashworth/Johannes Hjorth

Voting opened on Tuesday morning, while the candidates took to the Sidgwick Site to distribute leaflets to students on their way to and from lectures. In one of the more unexpected twists of the campaign, the Master of Gonville and Caius College, Professor Sir Alan Fersht, endorsed Drury in a singular YouTube video released by the candidate’s campaign, calling him “a nice chappy” and discussing his apparently morbid fear of Drury’s organisational and negotiating skills.

Once again, however, the contest for University Councillor stole the spotlight with an excruciating hustings the same evening, in which Jackson repeatedly attacked Khandelwal in much the same terms as he had on Sunday and she replied with increasing vigour, with Pasquina adopting a more emollient tone when he could get a word in edgeways. At one particularly tense moment, Khandelwal corrected Jackson’s pronunciation of her name and accused him of “defaming or slandering” her, only to be interrupted by chair Jon Wall, who judged that he had not been defaming her but merely criticising her record. Jackson was also asked by an audience member to lower his voice whilst speaking, which he did not do.

The following day, Elections Committee called Jackson to a disciplinary meeting after deciding that his campaign had grown “unacceptably aggressive, and therefore disrespectful.” The Jackson contention was, however, overshadowed by a sudden controversy in the presidential contest, as Eyre was handed a provisional 12-hour campaigning ban after one of her leaflets was found with the words ‘Jack Drury is a lying Tory’ and a mock-up of a ballot showing Eyre as the top preference written on it in red pen. After Eyre condemned the incident Elections Committee slightly relented and shortened her ban to nine hours, but Eyre nonetheless put a shot across its bows as she returned to campaigning at 8pm on Wednesday, accusing it of having “behaved in a political fashion, undermining my campaign and threatening the democratic process.”

Loosened election rules continue to catch out candidates

In previous years, much of the coverage of CUSU/GU election campaigns focused on candidates’ violations of provisions in the labyrinthine elections rulebook.

While there are various rules regulating campaigning practice, including a ban on fly-posting and graffiti, most difficulty has been caused for candidates this year the rule that the Elections Committee (EC) is allowed to define who is a campaigner for a candidate. Since they usually classify anyone engaging in campaigning as a campaigner, this means that candidates can be held accountable for the actions of people of whose existence they were not even aware.

The other major pitfall for the candidates is the rule that campaigners may not use pre-existing social media groups to publicise campaign material - including comment sections of student media outlets.

Ambiguity over the interpretation of a rule against “Referring to your opponents/other candidates” led to tension in the contest to be Welfare and Rights Officer last year, as eventual winner Sophie Buck criticised the record of her rival, and the incumbent, Poppy Ellis Logan, to the other’s chagrin.

As such, the EC has relaxed the rules this year to allow candidates to question each other’s platforms more freely and to criticise the records of incumbents. The new régime was put on dramatic display during University Councillor hustings on Tuesday, when chair and EC member Jon Wall contradicted Umang Khandelwal after she accused rival Josh Jackson of defaming her, saying that he had only been criticising her record. However, the tolerance of the reformed rules is not absolute. The following day, Jackson himself was hauled in front of a disciplinary meeting to be told that his campaign had become “unacceptably aggressive”.

For all the efforts of the EC, in fact, campaign rules have featured as prominently as ever in this contest. By Sunday, two complaints had already been upheld against Eyre after some of her campaigners apparently used the comment sections of articles in the Tab to publicise her material. One complaint was upheld against Drury in that time.

On Wednesday the full extent of the regulations was tested when an Eyre leaflet with an attack on Drury scrawled across it was reported to the EC, which promptly handed Eyre a 12-hour campaigning ban, later shortened to nine hours. This decision was taken, according to the candidate, without an investigation and initially without a consultation with Eyre, provoking fury from the candidate when she was permitted to recommence her campaign that evening. While Eyre’s appeal to the Junior Proctor resulted in a partial condemnation of the official ruling, she has still lost nine hours’ valuable campaigning time and risks being tarnished by the controversy, demonstrating the power of even neutral election rules to damage a campaign which falls foul of them

Elections 2017

Comprehensive elections coverage

The latest news and analysis on the CUSU Elections, all in one place.
Visit Varsity’s Elections 2017 hub.

Sponsored links