NUS Pre-Conference Campaigning – Evil or Necessity?


The elections for the NUS Executive posts involve voting delegates from all corners of the UK, so unlike our beloved LSU Exec Elections, there are far fewer campus flashmobs and far more inventive long-range campaigning ideas.

The election for President of the National Union of Students and the 5 Vice President positions take place on the Wednesday of the annual National Conference (this year 22nd April), with delegates selecting their preferences in a secret ballot. Campaigning starts early, with some candidates making known their intentions to run publicly weeks before delegate lists are announced. Once Constituent Member delegates are known (people who’ve won elections at various Unions up and down the country), however, candidates make full use of them, to try win over support of as many as possible before anyone has step foot in Liverpool for the 3 day conference.

While at conference there is an official Informal Hustings for the President, much of the campaigning goes on outside the 4 walls of the conference hall. Many candidates bring campaign teams, many of whom aren’t delegates, who line the walls and exterior of the conference venue, typically with the campaign color. As well as events hosted by groups such as the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, each of the conference evenings sees candidates host parties across town. Last year, we had the pleasure of a night out to the well loved Conference Square for Raechel Mattey’s party (then the incumbent), who went on to gain reelection.

While at conference, you know you’re there representing the members of your Students’ Union or, like my boss Bryn Wilkes who’s there as a member of the Press, you’re there for direct involvement with the conference in some capacity or other. You don’t mind the flyers, well-meaning campaign teams and sometimes tedious speeches filled with that year’s buzzwords. Should that level of intimate campaigning be accepted before conference? Below, I’ll assess a few of the methods used and critique their effectiveness and degree to which I find them a nuisance.

Hey, can we be Facebook friends?

One of our delegates this year has had 24 friend requests since the beginning of the NUS ‘campaigning season’. These were not just from candidates, but from campaign team members too. That’s enough notifications to slightly raise a few questions. As a general rule I don’t accept friend requests from people I don’t know in person, so find this behavior somewhat anti-social.

Then comes the generic (but named) message along the lines of:

Hey Dan. I’m so sorry you must be bored to death about people getting in touch about NUS shiz. I’m running for POSITION and here’s my manifesto. Like my page, and feel free to get in touch with any questions. Feel free to call me. Can’t wait to see you at conference. Love yas

Although the last bit might be a quote from my favorite Mean Girls, the rest is totally legitimate. For those I did respond to, many gave strong, detailed answers to my questions that sometimes amounted to 500 words. However for those that didn’t give a strong answer, their initial chatty message welcoming questions relegated the candidate to a level below those candidates who didn’t message me at all. For one particular candidate, I messaged him first and was blown away with not only a personal reply, but one that addressed issues beyond those I’d mentioned in my question but had hinted at on Twitter.

Before moving on, another favorite message kick off that sums the entire issue up for me was:

I don’t think we’ve met yet…so don’t worry if you’re thinking ‘who on earth is this girl?!’

The Twittersphere

Twitter is a far more public space than Facebook in general, however the service has a policy whereby one cannot private message another without the recipient following you. Therefore unlike Facebook, candidates have to rely on people following back before any message and the rest of their ‘advertising’ is seen. This leads many candidates to use the hashtag #NUSNC15, in a hope that delegates will trawl the hashtag for information relating to the conference, and their comments along with profile pictures covered in #Name4Position banners will be seen.

Student Celebrity Endorsement

Facebook and Twitter has seen an explosion of on-brand images with photos of Big names in student politics (BNISP won’t catch on) singing their praises for our candidates. How many current SU Presidents or members of the NUS Exec can you get to say nice things about you or your campaign? Danger lies within both having quality over quantity and the potential risk aligning with any unsavoury characters.

I suggest a few key quotes from people well respected across the board will do a campaign better service than a whole host of second-rate wannabe sabbatical officers saying they enjoyed having a beer with you that time it was your round. Anyone on the Free Education demo band-waggon will have gripes with the current NUS President Toni Pearce for her handling of the unsupported demonstration last year. Are they willing to back a candidate who’s been endorsed by the very premiership they are disgruntled with?

A selection of these are below for your pleasure:

Going that step further

However, nothing can be as good as an old-fashioned meeting in person, and that’s just what we had with Poppy Wilkinson. Poppy is currently in her second term of office as President at the University of Birmingham Guild of Students and is running for the position of NUS VP: Higher Education at conference. Her trip across the midlands was to visit the delegates at Loughborough and to hear from us, as well as to be shown around our award winning Student Union building, and of course meet some of our incredible sabbatical officer team. I’ve written an opinion piece on her campaign for Label which can be found here.

The all important speech

At the beginning of NUS Conference 2014, most people hadn’t heard the name Piers Telemacque, but by the end of his speech there was an un-NUS like standing ovation, and here’s why:

He won the election in a landslide and will be attempting to secure a second year as VP: Society and Citizenship. Many delegates will never have personal contact with Exec candidates and many won’t read manifestos. What many delegates will base their precious vote on is how well each candidate can come across in the crucial five minute speech to the NUS Conference floor.

There’s only one stat that matters

I love a good club night, a long Facebook message debating the finer details of the philosophy behind institutionalized career focused NUS Exec members and, as anyone will know from last year, you’ll be hearing a lot of me via Twitter – yet all this can count for nothing if you don’t get my vote or the vote of the delegates at conference.

I’ve enjoyed having direct access to the candidates and their individual accountability to me has been beyond reasonable at times. Most candidates have clear manifestos which either focus on their past achievements and condemn the Government, or press for progressive ideas and challenge the NUS to represent the students more and the NUS Exec team less.

For those who want direct involvement with the election pre-conference campaigning is a chance to really put questions to the heart of candidates and get a solid understanding of who student celebrities support. However for you who don’t, there is always the option to ignore all the message, just like one member of our delegate team has, and focus on manifestos and their personal interaction with each of the candidates come conference.


About Author

This is Dan's 5th year involved with LSU Media. The LSUTV Station Manager 2014-15, Dan focused on live productions and restarted LSU Live, hosted multiple live sports matches, a General Election hustings debate and was on the core team for the most audacious TV multicast ever, Big BUCS Wednesday.

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