With voting closing today, Andy Peck reflects on limp campaigning and calls for something more real.
There is much to remark on the Guild elections, and even some things to lament. The cliquishness of it all, the idea it's so much harder to run if you're not a Big Name On Campus - or at least big into societies - and the ultimate powerlessness of the positions they're fighting for, are three. The biggest lament I have, however, is how sterile the campaigning is. It's all so squeaky clean and harmless.
A cursory glance at guild legislation mentions nothing about 'playing nice' aside from not actively blocking or destroying opponents posters. I imagine it has just become custom to do so, and to engage in anything more than fluctuating between derivative or outlandish policies, with colourful signs and a clever gimmick, is to be frowned upon from all directions as a perceived wrongdoing.
Why? Negative campaigning has an understandably bad press, but it can open up the debate and stir interest in an election in ways purely positive campaigning cannot. By making it possible for opponents to openly call into question a candidate's pledge or record, it enters it into the collective consciousness and voters become privy to greater information about their potential candidates.
Say, for instance, candidate A makes a certain pledge, to keep it impartial I'll make it nonsensical, to introduce a barter system on campus next year. Candidate B should be able to claim the guild is already bringing in such a policy, so A is essentially free-loading on last year’s efforts while Candidate C could add that A has a home-brewing kit and would do very well out of a campus-wide barter system. The placing of signs stating these facts would inform the voters who could then quiz the candidates or their campaigners. By asking for verification or explanation it opens up the discourse beyond the limited and, frankly, dry and predictable, stated manifestos.
A sound rebuttal would discredit B and C, while a verifiable attack would expose A for the dishonest candidate they are. This would not have happened had all three candidates campaigned solely on their own issues. The providing of some information too, on how a candidate has acted in the past, who they associate with and which societies they are part of would go a long way to help inform voters on what they would do and who they would support if elected, more so than going just on their manifesto pledges.
Such talk already goes on within certain circles; guild insiders who know the candidates personally or professionally discuss candidates on another level to those who only know the candidates formally. Opening the scope of campaigning will bring the rest of us in on such information. We'd all be a little more informed, and candidates would have less control on the information we are given to make a decision.
The downside I would imagine would be the personal attacks, or the spurious or untruthful claims about a candidate and their policies. Therein lies the need for one regulation, and one regulation only: every claim must be approved by a candidate. Every attack should have a name behind it so it can be sourced. Nobody should be able to attack anonymously to escape the scorn of the voters if they are too economical with the truth, or too harsh in their attack.
We're all adults here and by putting on kid gloves when it comes to Guild Elections, we are mollycoddling adults running for positions of real responsibility. If the campaigns get more aggressive it might scare off potential candidates too timid to fight their corner for fear of awkward attacks from other candidates. But if their campaign is so homogeneous, derivative, unprepared, misguided or wrong-headed that it cannot stand up to peer scrutiny, or they do not have the courage to stand up for their positions, except in the most sanitised conditions, their potential election as a Sabbatical Officer would do the guild and the students it represents few favours in the long run.