Back in 2019, former The Print contributor, Liam Pape, reported that only 13% of the Queen Mary student body had voted in the Student Union elections. It was the lowest turn-out in more than five years, and a drop of more than 2,000 votes compared to 2018.
This came in spite of the Union’s efforts to increase student engagement, with the introduction of the new BBC-style ‘Candidates Question Time’, a live-streamed public debate between the candidates running for executive positions, designed to allow contenders to flesh out the details of their manifestos while also taking impromptu questions from a live audience.
The tide may well be changing in 2020, however. Initial reports indicate that the Facebook livestream of the Whitechapel candidates’ debate on Thursday performed relatively well, racking up more than 1.4k views (as of Saturday afternoon), and the ever-controversial ‘Queen Mary Confessions’ Facebook page has seen a number of posts commenting on the upcoming election – for better or worse.
One 2nd year student explained why he feels this year might be different: “Last year, the reason I didn’t vote was because I hardly saw any posters around, half the candidates didn’t submit a photo of themselves, nor their manifesto… it seemed like, if the SU and the candidates didn’t seem to care, why should we?
“This year, with more posters being put up around campus, I feel there’s more of an election ‘drive’. People just seem a bit more engaged. Overall, I hope that Queen Mary, in the coming years, has a more vibrant and friendly campus in general, as I felt like that’s what it lacked when I was a ‘Fresher’”.
Though some look to the future with the hope that 2020 marks a shift from the downward trend of recent years, speaking to one of the SU election candidates (anonymous in the interest of impartiality), it is clear that the sense of pessimism surrounding the previous elections has yet to be completely shaken off: “More people are running this year, but that changes year to year anyway. You will always have some years where students are more engaged. But other than these campaigning students and their friends, most people don’t even know an election is taking place. And, to be honest, they don’t really care.”
There is, as always, no way to reliably predict the future. The vote opens at 10am on Monday morning, and later that evening, the Mile End candidates will face each other in their own Question Time debate (livestreamed from the QMSU Facebook page, 18:15-21:30). Perhaps then, we will be able to better judge the trajectory of this year’s election, and if Queen Mary students have had a change of heart after all.
However, in the midst of the UCU strikes and against a backdrop of typically cold and brisk British weather, the election is up against a decidedly glum and disenchanted electorate.
Find out more about the elections here: https://www.qmsu.org/elections/