I’m going to keep this short: shut up about factions and independents. A lot of the USU campaigning cycle, as well as post-USU commentary, has gone back into the faction vs. independent debate, with a lot of vitriol directed both ways. I think both sides have a point, but both sides sometimes seem to be talking over each other without speaking on the same level. I’m going to explore this mess. Often I’m caught in between factions and independents, and it is kind of annoying. For full disclosure, I’m a member of the grassroots left at Sydney University, but you probably knew that if you’re reading a blogpost about student politics written by me. This is me trying to find consensus (hah!) between both sides of the campaign, and why I have issues about well pretty much everything to do with student politics.
First thing: not all ‘factions’ are the same. What does ‘faction’ even mean? Different groups that identify or are commonly referred to as factions (Student Unity, NLS, Grassroots, Liberals, etc.) don’t all work in the same way. Is it binding? Well, Grassroots doesn’t bind. Is it caucusing? Unity has drinks, I guess. Not sure what the Libs do. Is it left-wing ideology? Non-independent identifying Liberals don’t even pretend they are left-wing, although some of the Whigs (Independents) do.
Is it having a political ideology? Because I’m sure there are many people who, if they run independently, could be super political if they wanted to be. They aren’t related.
On to independents, or The Independents. Not all independents are the same. When people talk about independents, they may mean Independents, kinda like how in the UK they have Organised Independents. Big-I ‘independents’, or Whigs, are generally considered the independents of this campus. But if you look at the SRC, you could say that people from the Get Macked. ticket, Peta from Zoo, Nathan and Ian from Shout!, etc. etc. are independent candidates, but they aren’t seen as Independent.
Being an independent isn’t a bad thing. My group was referred to in early stages as the Independent Left, and Grassroots was just an SRC name. But afterwards it changed to becoming the name of the group, and started being perceived as a faction, even though we don’t bind. Being independent is an important aspect of a board director, but I think by itself it means nothing. Being independent means being independent from tacky populist campaign strategies, and it means being honest. That’s what independent means to me, at least.
The reason why honesty is important is because there’s no point electing someone in a popularity contest who is running on vacant policies just so they can then let their ideologies slowly seep into how they act on board (will they support the continuance of AA or not? will they support Fair Trade or not? will they support a sustainable union or not?). What is better is to be honest about your politics so if the person gets elected, they got elected by people who knowingly voted for someone with a certain political background. They know what to expect. There’s no point voters voting for someone because of Free Access or outdoor cinemas or whatever if they don’t know why they support this, what their priorities are, what their vision is, and how they will achieve this, considering that these often require compromises.
I agree – fuck party politics. But personal politics is very important for any leadership position.
But being independent seems to mean having a lot of friends these days. That isn’t a bad thing, and is totally something that if people have, they should utilise. But just because you have lots of friends including people who sit on Board or SRC doesn’t mean you’re totally independent. And if you are, people shouldn’t have to rely on it when running for election.
Here’s the thing. To run for election, you need two things really: campaigners and money. Lots of recent USU reform, such as capping money to $700, a cap on t-shirts, a cap on posters, etc. go a long way to making sure that it isn’t all about campaigners and money. But sometimes candidates have more of it. People shouldn’t have to rely on having loads of friends with free time (benefits Arts students, fact) and having lots of money to run for election. That is true independence. That is why people get support of political factions: it means they’re dedicated to a cause, which is why they want you up, and why they want to donate money. I’m not saying this is how it always pans out, but that was the initial point – in a sense, factions are to student politics what unions were to workers before they started getting corrupted.
What this means is that this benefits candidates from higher SES backgrounds. It also benefits people who just have loads of networks (e.g. college, political affiliations, stacked out clubs, etc.). It also benefits people who are hot.
Like I said before, the USU has done a lot of electoral reform to make elections fairer. But I think there needs to be more done. One idea I think is good is to fund elections in kinda the same was the AEC does. That is, loan candidates the $700 they need to run for election – if they get x% of the vote, that money does not need to be paid back (unless there is stuff left over). If they get below it, they do. This is to make sure only serious candidates run who actually want votes. This means they can’t act as feeder tickets because they’ll have to repay the money anyway, and they can’t do it for the money because a good chance is they’ll have to pay it back in the end.
Anyway, that’s my rant for today. I love people with ideologies, and I love people who are independent. Sadly, not every person who identifies as independent really is independent. Sometimes they’re tied into some people from the Independents (and despite what people may think, I love a lot of Indies, but dislike others, much like any other group on campus), sometimes they’re secretly being backed by another political group, etc. Also, sometimes to be an independent it means being rich. We need to make sure money isn’t that important in elections, and that poor students can run in elections.
P.S. I’ve seriously got to add, no single board director can represent the entire student population. Not a single person running, and this even includes Tom who I was campaigning for, was going to be able to represent people like, oh, Engineering students, Indigenous students, International students, etc. etc. I wish people would stop saying they do, because they don’t. Be honest about who your base is and who you’re appealing to. There’s no point saying you represent all students when you want, say, more alcohol on campus because frankly a lot of people don’t drink. Don’t say you represent all students so you want more parties, because a lot of people don’t feel comfortable going to random USU parties.
P.P.S. ‘Yeah, keep this short eh.’ Just a final point to the people that kept saying our (Tom’s) campaign had the ‘wrong idea of the USU board’, I hope they understand that the culture and ‘discourse’ of the union board changes depending on the composition, the board, and the staff. It can change. There’s not only one way of doing things.