More female candidates is welcome, but the engagement problem is ever present

It is apparent that engagement problems and a perception of a “hack culture” will continue to plague the SU

“Uncontested races may signify that running for the SU has become the preserve of those who are already embedded in its architecture.”

This year’s SU leadership race makes an important break from last year, most importantly marking a return of a healthy number of female candidates to the race. Nonetheless it is apparent that engagement problems and a perception of a “hack culture” will continue to plague the SU as a number of races remain uncontested. Candidates this year should expect to be answerable to these concerns, as the legitimacy of the SU itself is more readily being called into question by both students and even officers of the SU itself, as Trinity News has reported.

The number of female candidates has risen sharply; the lineup of last year’s race entirely consisted of men, with only two female candidates in uncontested races. A female Presidential candidate has not been seen since Lynn Ruane in 2015. Students from a wider range of identities and class backgrounds are generally not evident in the hierarchy of the SU. That the Presidential race is contested with at least one woman, Laura Beston, is undoubtedly a step forward.

In total, six women and four men are running for officer positions. We will have a female Welfare, Education, and Communications and Marketing Officer, unless nominations are reopened for those races, resulting in a more balanced and representative TCDSU.

Balance and diversity may mean little, however, if the SU continues to lose favour amongst students who rightly identify it as having glaring organisational and legitimacy problems. The race for Communications and Marketing, Welfare and, once again, the University Times Editor position are uncontested. Given the paid nature of the positions, money that mostly comes from students, and the fact that election season is one of the few clear-cut chances for the average student to make a difference in its structure and aims via voting, this is disappointing.

Uncontested races may signify that running for the SU has become the preserve of those who are already embedded in its architecture. Rather than an opportunity for students to have their say, the SU simply reproduces itself each year, largely the result of internal decisions about who is going to run that year based on who has positioned themselves socially over the last few years to do so.

Internal decisions are not external democratic ones about who may actually be the best person to lead campaigns or run a newspaper paid for by students’ money. This is the “hack culture” critique that can no longer be ignored. Most of us are aware that an uncontested race is largely pointless. It is extremely unlikely that RON will gain foothold in any of those races, unless we see a real surge of anger in the coming weeks.

It is also a pity that certain races are less contested, particularly the Presidency. This year’s Presidential race is automatically a “two horse” one. Last year’s race at least saw four candidates forced to articulate their visions in greater competition with one another. Unusually, the Ents race is the most hotly contested with three candidates. Unfortunately this position is perhaps less politically charged than others, though Ents continues to be one of the most successful Officer positions.

Candidates may face a real challenge during the actual campaign period if students do make their dissatisfaction heard. This was one way in which the race last year, via joke candidates and more serious internal conflicts, produced some interesting debates. The University Times candidate will face questions surrounding the very sustainability of an Officer position for that role; it is remarkable that this role is again uncontested. However, it doesn’t look like the SU is going to be shaken up in any way this year, which doesn’t bode well for it’s image. Debates won’t be much good in the face of a 70,000 deficit, which looms large over the legacy of the current SU.

Alice Whelan

Alice Whelan is a former Comment Editor and Deputy Comment Editor of Trinity News. She is a Sociology and Political Science graduate.