The Hood is the Gown’s anonymous whistleblower cum satirist. Founded in 1976 by a generous donation from the Sir Humphrey Hood Foundation, the Hood has consistently broken news of wrongdoing in the elected officials of the Students’ Union, as well as the wider student movement and the university itself. Loved by people who care too much about SU politics and despised by officers who should care more, the Hood delivers the news and the schmooze on those who waste your union dues.
A friend once advised me that when casting a wager, the optimum stake is between £5-10, it being enough to make things interesting, but not so much that the bowels are filled with squirty dread. In many ways, the SU Elections are similar, the office is an important enough bauble to be worth the interest (Unlike NUS-USI rep elections), but the existence of a permanent and well staffed bureaucracy ensures that the role is not so important that the prospect of wasting it on an over-filled sports jersey is unthinkable. Although the elections are generally as formulaic as an Easter pageant, every so often a dab of mustard appears among the limp cabbage. Some of these dabs add delightful flavour, like electing a pirate and others fly into the nostrils causing much agony, like ‘Super Seven’ campaign of last year.
The first major change in electoral practice is the absence of seven person tickets. They had become a major part of the electoral landscape over the last number of years, but the large number of RON votes and uncontested positions last year may have caused an epiphany among the incumbent officers that victory under such conditions is like a diet made exclusively of Easter Eggs, initially satisfying but ultimately hollow and certainly less than healthy. Hopefully, a few well placed toecaps could ensure that the beast remains dormant, but we daren’t hold our collective breath.
In place of the usual seven person behemoths, two mid-sized tickets are intent on having a square go. The first might loosely be termed ‘the Nationalist Ticket’, consisting of incumbent VP Equality Caoimhe McNeill (for President), Chariteer Paul Loughran (for Community) and Sinn Fein mouthpieces Oisin Hassan and Sean Fearon (For Equality & Diversity and Campaigns, respectively). Although they’re well known among union hacks, one is left wondering to what extent they can rely on the famously quicksilver goodwill of the council, especially given the controversial nature of these menfolk on the ticket.
Incumbent officers Hannah Niblock and Chloe Patterson are also looking to stay in the glass office under the menacing title ‘We Deliver’, with Hannah seeking re-election and Patterson slinking out of Community and into Welfare. Although the girls from the office enjoy a good working relationship, they are not running alongside the others, possibly due to partisan disagreements with Hassan & Fearon, differences which came to the fore during their abortive October plebiscite. That said, the nationalist ticket aren’t putting up any rivals to the deliverance’s on any of their positions, and with good reason: If the ticket candidates were to win, the atmosphere in the office would be comparable to a uranium sauna for the rest of the term, whereas if Niblock/Patterson were victorious, it would be so for the next year-and-some.
Opposing the ‘Nationalist Ticket’ is the ‘Sports Team’, a throwback to ancient electoral practices. This ticket boasts Hurler Sean Searle (President), incumbent Niall McKenna (Clubs & Socs), Cheerleader Catriona Keenan (Campaigns) and (until very recently) VP Patrick Sally (sublimating into VP Community). Sally, unfortunately, recently dropped out, but fair play to him, there’s many an officer stuck in for the sake of the CV and delivered a lacklustre performance. McKenna has proved very capable of holding his own in the inhospitable environment of C & S, and between him and Searle they can certainly secure a lot of the GAA vote, but whether this can be leveraged when their traditional turf is uncontested is an unknown.
Which leaves the Independents; those essential folks at the bottom of the electoral food chain on whom the eco-system of democracy is nevertheless dependent. Engineer Raymond Dillon (President), LGBTQ* petitioner Dervla McGaughey (Equality and Diversity), mature post-grad Nicole Quinn (Equality & Diversity), geographer Ellen Haveron (Welfare), raggie Connor Malone (Community) and blogger Tori Watson (Community) all have a difficult fight on their hands, but thankfully not an impossible one: although independent candidates winning are as anomalous as albino crows, they do exist, as proven by incumbent and lame duck president Ciaran Gallagher (who is not seeking re-election, to the despair of the ground floor). Both Quinn and McGaughey would prove a welcome break from the usual rotation of ‘straight, undergrad, woman’ and ‘gay, undergrad, man’ Equality and Diversity incumbents, but the usual question involving the extent to which they can be truly ‘representative’ will surely raise its head.
Although nowhere near the abysses of apathy plumbed last year, there are still two uncontested positions: the ones occupied by Niblock and McKenna. Although this could be construed as a sign of their competence (they do the job so well that nobody is willing to put in the work to try to be better than them), their having served the maximum number of terms in office without having had to compete an actual election shows what a trifle the whole game is. Interestingly, we are also faced with two candidates for VP Campaigns who have never actually won a political campaign at QUB, although the prospect of having a dyed -in-the-wool Shinner in office during the centenary of The Easter Rising might set a few nerves on edge.
With three candidates in the running, the post of VP Community is as hotly contested as the presidency: an interesting development given that the community role consists mostly of weathering the spittle of the residents. And an especially interesting idea in light of the council decision that it was better to throw the role under the bus than countenance a slight pay cut for the other officers (given the number of officer hopefuls in the room, this came as no surprise). Perhaps people want to be the last incumbent of the role, or maybe its near extermination brought the existence of the role to public attention, like a panda.
My only advice for vote casting is to ignore the manifesto pledges, they don’t mean a thing. Any policies which come to pass are likely to have been under discussion for months before the incumbent takes office (especially those promises made by union insiders and hacks), and all the rest are suggestion box fodder and idle vapour. In any case, it’s not my place to tell you how to vote, other than advising you to vote cinematically: demand surprising results, vote for the plucky-yet-incompetent underdogs, if you don’t like a candidate, tell them to re-open nominations, if you don’t like the results, throw cake at the winner until a new election is called: it’s your union too, by the gods!