By Ben Wilson
In just the latest of a string of protests and outcries regarding the election of next year’s editor of The London Student newspaper, a campaign has begun calling on students of the University of London to vote RON (Re-Open Nominations) in ballots which are to be held from June 5th to June 7th.
According to the group’s Facebook page, the aims it hopes to achieve are “free and fair elections in the autumn term, where any candidate can stand”, to “support democracy, transparency and participation”, to “prevent hegemony at the top of ULU” and to create “a London Student that holds the ULU officers to account”, arguing that “an Editor orchestrated and deployed by ULU officers is not independent enough of them”.
It also goes on to claim the campaign was created with the intention of “opposing ULU’s history of uncontested elections and lack of consulting students when it comes to elections”.
The growing feeling of discontentment has arisen over the fact that sole candidate for the position of editor of London Student, Oscar Webb, stands unopposed (aside from his worthy adversary RON). This situation comes as the result of his former opponent, Katie Lathan, withdrawing from the contest in the wake of allegations that her campaign was handled inappropriately.
Yet as many have pointed out, there were several other individuals who have expressed an interest in running for the position of London Student Editor, who were denied from doing so by the decision on the part of the University of London Union that this would lead to the process becoming a whole new election, rather than a re-run of the failed attempt in March of this year.
In response, editor of Roar! and advocate of the RON Campaign Ben Jackson has stated, “Our opponents argue that this is a re-election, rather than a new one. However I believe that the events and the scandals that have occurred this year necessitate a fresh race, giving others a chance to run and providing the electorate with a greater choice. “
Indeed, it would seem that hearsay, conjecture and political rivalries have greatly affected any possibility of this election being regarded as due procedure. The repression of the results from the initial ballots in March has led to a great deal of conspiracy, with current London Student editor Jennifer Izaakson claiming publicly that leaked information revealed Katie Lathan had in fact taken 75% of votes in the annulled election.
However, what must be made strenuously clear is that these are unconfirmed reports, with word of mouth (and in some cases, admittedly intoxicated word of mouth) being cited as the only evidence.
Instead, ULU President Michael Chessum claims that this protest movement has in fact become a personal political attack, questioning on the campaign’s Facebook page “why is an (in essence legitimate) RON campaign being conflated with a ‘Michael Chessum is a bastard’ line?”
Chessum and Izaakson’s history of antipathy clearly has become a defining factor of the long-running saga of the London Student editor elections, with ULU going to great lengths in failed attempts to remove Izaakson from her position.
Meanwhile, what was perceived by many as over-zealous and inapposite endorsement of Katie Lathan’s campaign by Izaakson became one of the major factor’s in forcing Ms Lathan’s withdrawal.
Chessum also has asserted that the RON movement in its current form could potentially contribute to the closure of ULU as a political entity, calling on voters to “bear in mind the impact of this campaign on the future of ULU and the #saveULU campaign”.
He also argued that “if you take the position that ‘this is a stitch up by the ULU leadership and ULU doesn’t understand what democracy is’, that harms ULU (as well as being not true)”.
Nonetheless, this does not mean that RON is simply a means of carrying out an attack on the institution of ULU. Speaking in support, incoming KCLSU president Sebastiaan Debrouwere argued that “The campaign for Re-Opening the nominations of the London Student Editor is not a campaign for or against any candidate – it’s a campaign for democracy, for accountability, and for a credible University of London that can fight to represent the interests of students”.
“We need a fully contested election, which engages students in real debate over the future of their representation, captivates their attention, galvanizes the student movement and empowers it by establishing its legitimacy as a representative of the student voice and of student interests.”
It seems hard to argue with the logic that inspiring confidence in the representative nature of student politics requires a real election with a wide range of candidates, rather than a formality with only one possible outcome.
Since it is undeniable that the current election has become almost farcical in nature, perhaps a whole new election in the autumn term really is the answer. RON to the rescue?