Da don’t RON RON: why a ‘Re-Open Nominations’ vote won’t help The London Student

By Samuel Spencer –

It’s June 2013, and yet there’s more talk about RON from London students now than at the peak of Pottermania. However, rather than being about everyone’s favourite ginger wizard, this is a campaign urging those eligible to vote to ‘re-open nominations’ for the role of the editor of The London Student, which is staging an emergency election this week following the previous elections which frankly made omnishambles seem like an inadequately strong superlative – metashambles or übershambles would be better. After all the recriminations of this gigashambles (there’s another one for you) only one candidate remains, who received under a quarter of votes in the first round. This, and a general desire to kick ULU while it’s down, has led to the RON campaign, which would see the election declared void and an open nominations process to begin again which any London student could nominate themselves for, even if they did not do so the first time.

However, amid the rabid campaigning of the RON group, with their videos exclaiming ‘what happens when the press loses it’s freedom?’ like a YouTube Generation version of a man wandering around in a ‘THE END IS NIGH’ sandwich board, a question suggests itself. Leaving aside the arguably questionable motives of some of the campaigners, why is The London Student (LS) editor position decided by election in the first place?

It makes sense that, say, a student union president should be elected by the people the represent, much as a nation’s president is voted for by the people of that nation – in this case, the student world directly corresponds with the outside world. But it’s not as if there has ever been any need for the people to elect, say, the chairman of the BBC or the editor of The Guardian, and there are reasons for this.

Of these reasons, the principle is that the most popular candidates don’t necessarily make the best editors. Take this year’s LS for an example of this. Despite a democratically-nominated editor, I would argue the newspaper has taken a nosedive in terms of quality this year and was often in this writer’s view an insult to the generally excellent writers, whose work was presented in lacklustre ways, with layouts jarring with each other from page to page, so the overall effect was less Europe’s biggest student-run publication and more like a hastily-produced parish newsletter.

This is particularly a problem in student politics, which can often be more about who can muster the most friends on the day or be the most memorable candidate. But popularity and memorability  do not a good editor make. For a newspaper with such a high print-run, I’m sorry to say a plucky popular amateur just isn’t good enough – there are plenty of great publications across the University of London where you can learn the trade (which tellingly to my knowledge don’t require election) before tackling the big guns with your armies of social-media savvy friends and gaudy posters. What I would suggest is not a complete scrapping of the elections, but rather a closed election, which could only be entered by those who already hold an editor’s post in any London student publication, preventing the shoddier aspects of this year’s newspaper and allowing us to make a more informed decision.

So this is this writer hoping that a vote for RON becomes a vote for real change, and a vote for a publication we can all be proud of again.