Wednesday 01-03-2017 - 09:57
As the Chief Returning Officer at National Conference, it’s my job to work closely with my fellow Returning Officers and with NUS staff to make sure our elections are fair and inclusive for all our candidates.
I still remember standing in elections at my union and in NUS, and all the excitement and nerves which came part and parcel of it.
I now have the privilege of overseeing these elections. But I am less pleased that talented students are turning away from standing for election because of fear around the online abuse that they will face.
In students’ unions, associations and guilds across colleges and campuses, students are weighing up a big decision: whether to stand for election to lead their unions, both locally and with NUS.
Those decisions should be based on what it is they want to achieve if elected, and on the campaign they want to run. Instead, they’re worrying about the unrelenting personal attacks they could find themselves open to.
As the voice of seven million students – NUS has always made time for healthy, passionate debate. Debate where different matters of substance can be discussed without disrespecting our opponents.
I want to be crystal clear as your Chief Returning Officer – that I do not condone online shaming, threats and abuse to candidates. I will take steps to minimise this and keep our spaces inclusive.
There’s no doubt that the internet has transformed the way we do democracy for the better, but we’re at a crossroads. Do we want to normalise the serious online harassment experienced by candidates - or be part of a movement which encourages diversity to have a positive impact on the lives of the students we represent?
Sadly, social media can threaten our freedom to learn and instead become a breeding-ground for bullies. We all owe it upon ourselves to stop and think about our behaviours both on and offline. This applies to candidates and their supporters, and such activity may result in candidates being withdrawn from elections.
I’m keen that delegates have a choice of candidates to choose from, and that our elections are accessible. But we’ll fall short of that if talented candidates are deciding not to stand.
Everyone in our movement has a role in this, but If you’re a member of the NEC especially, you all have a responsibility in helping me, my deputies, and NUS staff, ensure that elections are fair and accessible and inclusive. I’m asking all of you to play your part in tackling this behaviour.
That’s why I’m using this platform to call on you to tackle this serious issue at this year’s National Conference.
Chief Returning Officer