What does the pirate’s campaign tell us about the Guild?
Comment Editor, Jamie Speka, critiques the 12.3 per cent voter turnout and second-place win of a pirate during the Guild Elections as a failure of the institution to engage its own students.
Donning a pirate’s cap and standing outside the forum is Trey ‘Captain’ Hook Tallon running for Guild President. Usually identifiable from across campus with a mighty “Yarrrrrrrrrrr”, Captain Tallon’s campaign has proven far more successful than one would gauge despite being strictly satirical. Tallon left the election having earned more votes than four other serious candidates coming second behind Emma De Saram. Such a victory in a serious election paints a rather detailed picture of the University of Exeter’s representation. The Guild, with a focus on carrying the demand of the student, is striving to keep its mission alive–despite student recognition floundering. Some students have commented that they do not know what the Guild does, with others stating that “they don’t do anything, so surely it’s not important.”
How is this institution accurately going to meet the complex demands of a student when only 12.3 per cent of the student body votes? If Tallon’s satirical campaign brought a majority of these voters in, what does this say about a Guild’s mission to embody the majority of its students?
“For a joke candidate to beat four other serious campaigns is shocking, and a fundamental damnation for the Guild’s failures to engage the interest of its students.”
The second-place win of Captain Hook Tallon is mirroring students’ attitudes towards the Guild which is dangerously restructuring how the Guild works for students. Tallon is tremendously self-aware of this. He states in an interview with Exeposé that “second place was genuinely surprising. For a joke candidate to beat four other serious campaigns is shocking, and a fundamental damnation for the Guild’s failures to engage the interest of its students.”
Tallon believes he should not have done as well as he did. Using the entirety of his campaign as not only a bit of fun but an experiment–of sorts–to investigate student voting patterns. Amidst this interview, Tallon recollects on the Guild of the past, exploring how, the last few years have seen “a cutting of opportunities for student engagement and leadership from a fully elected student council, to now just five officers.”
A cut of student leadership positions is no doubt an unwanted side-effect of a lack of popularity. In a 2017 article for Exeposé announcing election results, 44 per cent of the student body had voted. While this still falters at less than half, it is demonstrably more successful than a measly 12.3 per cent of student turnout. Other past election cycles saw extending the election period by a week in order to maximise the student voting outcome. Snowfall and UCU strikes of the 2018 Guild elections saw to extend the voting period. Never mind that this year, UCU strikes and a reading week must have been signals that there would be a low voter turnout–yet, my supposition is perhaps not shared by members of staff. Tallon, on the contrary, shared this view: “We are asked to vote just once a year for our elected officers, in campaigns that don’t even have manifestos (and this year was held during a reading week)”, he comments. “The rest of the year most students have zero engagement with the union that they are meant to be a part of, so it’s no wonder apathy is so prevalent.”
If an independent student is willing to put in more work to solve voter turnout than the institution itself, no wonder the pirate got second place.
With abysmal turnout in elections, the Guild can not perform its main purpose. In this landscape, what even is the purpose of the Guild? Is this simply a performance to give prospective students and university supporters a glimpse at how “democratic” the institution is? The predominant area of concern for the Guild at this stage must be advocating for better voter turnout. If an independent student is willing to put in more work to solve voter turnout than the institution itself, no wonder the pirate got second place.
“If students are going to vote, the newly elected officers and the rest of the trustee board need to enact a policy of radical democratisation, and a true return of policy direction to the hands of students, not bureaucrats like the Chief Executive,” says Tallon.
Practical solutions that the Guild can enact such as using its brain power to figure out when the best time for students to vote would be (i.e not during a reading week); the removal of fallen initiatives such as a Vote Goat that rings in empty benefits; and, for the university to recognize that not all students are intertwined with societies enough to understand the benefits of voting. Further, a completely digital landscape to promote elections (barring the obligatory election week where candidates do make appearances on campus) is not working in the Guild’s favour. Predominantly, there should be more holistic changes to student life–such as Emma De Saram’s 2-pound meal deals–that will welcome appreciation for the institution and inspire more students to vote.
So, to the 2023-24 elected representatives, I recommend this task to you. Let’s not have another pirate win over serious candidates next year.