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Live! - Opinion

This article is an opinion piece and should be taken as such. It is highly likely to be biased, but either the article itself or the ensuing discussion will probably be entertaining. Live! takes no editorial line on opinion pieces.

An End to Democracy?

Dec 15 2004 11:16
Chris Jackson
Union Council's democracy is destroyed by an outburst of swearing and officer intimidation.
Now not the only political forum where outbursts have stopped debate...

Tuesday 14th of December saw the 3rd meeting of Council with a paper on behalf of the ?Free Babar Ahmad? campaign which was proposed by Kareem Osman and seconded by many others. From the outset this paper looked like it was going to cause controversy and the high turnout of supporters confirmed that passions might be running high on the issue, and indeed, a lively debate followed with many amendments proposed. Some amendments were passed, some not and the debate rattled on for about two hours.

At this point I would like to make it clear that I fully support debate on issues that provide interest and it made a pleasant change to see so many ordinary students offering their views.

A member of Council then proposed that Council votes on whether it should be voting on the issue at all due to its overly political nature. The usual show of hands from the elected members was taken and the vast majority voted that council should not be setting policy either way on the paper and thus that Council should not vote on the paper. As Council appeared to be voting in favour of this procedural motion, Colin Smith (Welfare Campaigns Officer and seconder to the paper) shouted out a string of expletives and abuse aimed at Council and was thus asked to leave by Council Chair Danny Sharpe. Mr Smith refused to leave and thus Council was adjourned before the votes had been counted. Following intervention by several security guards and various intimidation of officers including myself by some of the supporters of this paper, the meeting recommenced without Mr Smith and some of the union officers who had left in the confusion believing the meeting to be over for the evening.

Following several small discussions on the constitution and due to technical reasons, Council reconvened under the umbrella of an emergency meeting which was only just quorate. This emergency meeting classed as being separate from the original meeting and thus proxy votes, of which there were several on this particular issue, could not be included which along with the members who had left led to a very different turnout when it came to voting with the procedural motion rejected, 15 votes to 13. The paper was then passed, although the majority of voters actually abstained.

This result is clearly directly the opposite of the original vote and is a direct result of Mr Smith?s outburst disrupting the running of Council, allowing intimidation outside of the debate to take place for which there is no justification. The adjournment and reconvening as an emergency meeting, which was the only action the chair could take, directly affected who was able to vote and thus the result is not the will of the Council.

The Student Union is a democracy with elected members to represent the students, and where every member has the right to go to Council and question the officers on what they are doing and to raise points. We cannot allow it to become a forum where he who swears the loudest wins as was the case at this meeting and then where officers are intimidated from representing the students that have elected them to do the job.

It is particularly unforgivable that Mr Smith, who is an elected member of Council, should be responsible for such an outburst and failure of democracy. Mr Smith will now be given the chance to apologise and Council will be given the opportunity to readmit him to the sovereign body at the next meeting. To allow this to happen would be a travesty for democracy. If it were to occur how can we know that such an occurrence will not happen again lumbering the Union with policies that are not the view of the majority of members of the body elected to set policy?

I therefore plan to vote against readmitting anyone who disrupts meetings in such a way, regardless of the cause, in order that the democracy of the union is upheld.

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Discussion about “An End to Democracy?”

The comments below are unmoderated submissions by Live! readers. The Editor accepts no liability for their content, nor for any offence caused by them. Any complaints should be directed to the Editor.
Dec 15 2004 12:23

I think I speak for the silent majority when I say that the vulgar behaviour displayed by Mr Smith last night was intimidating, thuggish and utterly unacceptable in any democratic forum.

Council should move to ban him from attending all future meetings.

2. voter   
Dec 15 2004 12:36

Surely the whole point of Council is that decisions are not made on the force of numbers able to show up and shout? Just because there were a few dozen more of the motion's supporters in that room does not mean they are the majority of the 12000 students at Imperial.

Dec 15 2004 12:47

Now that this motion has been passed, I hope that for our sake it does not turn out that the aforesaid Mr Ahmed is found guilty by trial as this will be a PR nightmare for our union. I hope that everyone also realises that precedent has now been set to make the union support people who are (potentially) members of a terrorist organisation.

I hope that the council understands the implications of this motion fully...

...does this mean the Union can now be asked to support *any* ex student who is arrested under the terrorism laws? That is a bad line to have to go down...

4. n/a   
Dec 15 2004 13:15

I think it's time that a certain reality is acknowledged: Nothing the union does is the democratic will of its students. Union democracy is nothing but a farce. Elections usually have a turnout around the 10% mark, Council meetings are attended by hardly anyone at all, etc.

In short, this episode is unlikely to have been any more undemocratic than the union already inherently is. Student Union politics - at any union and any university - are nothing more but a farce of people taking themselves too seriously. Most students want no part of it, and rightly so. To suggest that this particular incident was undemocratic is hypocritic, coming from an organization that is undemocratic by nature.

If someone suggested to me that all sabbatical positions except the president should be cancelled (at all universities), the union venues and clubs/socs funds run by university staff and the union president's only role be to be a member of college council, I'd vote for it, to end the ridiculous nonsense that student unions are.

I was not there. I cannot comment upon the specifics. I am quite happy, however, that the motion has passed.

Does this mean the union should stand up for every IC member accused under terrorist laws? Well, it should certainly consider it. Couple the principle "innocent until proven guilty" with the unfair nature of the anti-terror laws, and you're in a situation where the likelihood is that any such campaign would be justified. That is what current anti-terror legislation does. It imprisons innocent people, in the vast majority of cases, and delays any chance of a fair trial almost indefinitely. I believe it is the duty of the union to fight on behalf of any member of Imperial who by some accident ends up accused under those laws - and fully assume their innocence unless there really is strong evidence against them.

5. Sid   
Dec 15 2004 13:29

As far as the motion is concerned, there was some confusion as to what it hoped to achieve. There were two points of views:

1. This was a political motion, which fostered some sort of agenda for its proposers, and it played on the sentiments of all the muslims at Imperial and those in the room, by highlighting words such as Islamaphobia.

Most in the room were against this hence the procedural motion was brought forward - to not vote on the motion.

2. This was a general motion which required the union to formulate a strategy which would deal with infringement of Human rights of any of Imperial College's students.

For the second point, Mr. Rorke made valid points that college policy is already there to ensure that no discrimination or infringement of human rights occurs, to which the proposers did say at one point that this motion would reiterate that.

Unfortunately, having Mr. Colin Smith at the head of an issue, brings with it some prejudices and his bad behaviour, yet fortunately the motion still passed with the ammendment of removing all references to Islamaphobia.

But I guess the best thing to come out of all this, was the more people were interested in the council and its working than before, albeit briefly.

Dec 15 2004 14:06

"Nothing the union does is the democratic will of its students."

That's why it is wrong for the Union to take a stance on controversial/political issues unless there is any overriding case of relevance to its members AS STUDENTS.

If any students want to join this campaign with the clubs involved,we can't stop them. If anyone prefers for this campaign not to be in their name, we shouldn't stop that either.

In Adacemic matters, representation must come from ICU as they are in a position to talk to the College. But if students can associate with a campaign individually, eg by supporting Amnesty International, then I do not see what overrides the right of students to make that choice for themselves.

Dec 15 2004 14:57

I don't want ICU to become political.

The paper submitted supports the trial of Mr Babar in the UK. This is something that should be his right and in my opinion the British people should support this for any Brit convicted in the UK. This paragraph does not mean that ICU should support it though.

If Mr Babar was a member of ICU the question of whether ICU should support this would be clear-cut, but I assume he wasn't a current member? Technically I guess that means that we shouldn't support it but; I have to AGREE with council for supporting this point.

I don't know what ammendments they made to the rest of the paper though, there are other points which I don't support but hopefully they've been removed.

As I understand it, council are not proclaiming that Mr Babar is innocent, but they are supporting a fair trial which is a good thing.

Dec 15 2004 17:25

This article is neither about the rights or wrongs of supporting the Babar Ahmed motion nor whether or not ICU should be explicitly political. This article is about the freedom of elected Council members to meet and discuss policy in a civilised manner - free from intimidation, free from unnecessary interruption, and free from abuse from the likes of Mr Smith.

Mr Smith should be sent to a behavioural psychologist or back home to his mother where he can learn some basic, decent manners that he clearly didn't pick up when he was at primary school. He certainly should *not* be sitting on ICU Council.

9. stoic   
Dec 15 2004 20:00

Footage from the Babar Ahmad debate is now available on stoic's website.

Dec 16 2004 02:02

Further to my article I read on Felix "Mr Smith later called the decision to campaign for Mr Ahmad's release "a victory for democracy"." This is c**p, it was a victory for he who shouts f**k the loudest. This is not the way democracy opperates, a victory for democracy would have being the orriginal council vote, whatever the result may have being, being allowed to be counted and adopted as policy. Not an outburst of abusive language and subsequent intimidation of officers relating to how they voted. If Mr Smith is allowed back onto council it will be a disgrace to the democracy of this union. He is entitled to his oppinions and he has a right to express them in an appropriate manor, but not a right to disrupt procedings in the thugish manor that was displayed at this meeting.

Dec 16 2004 02:13

Thank you 'Another Voter', you have grasped the point ofthe article 100%, and very possibly put it better than I ever could have!

Dec 16 2004 03:20

Another cup of tea then Chris?

13. C!   
Dec 16 2004 07:14

I thought that the debating of non student issues was one of the reasons for not being in the NUS... ICU looks like it's as bad as the NUS then

Dec 16 2004 10:57

If your making it Sanjeev, I'd love a cup of tea, milk, 1 sugar.

Dec 16 2004 13:09

I fail to see how behaving in a fascist mannor can be a triumph for democracy. This is not the first time either, I believe.

Dec 16 2004 13:23

Manner, even.

17. Sid   
Dec 16 2004 14:37

thumbs up to STOIC for covering some preety interesting viewing material

Go Guildsheet!!

Dec 17 2004 13:47

Has anyone pointed Mr Smith in the direction of this debate? Surely its about time we had some comment from the man.

Dec 18 2004 00:23

Mr Smith

There is a proper legal channel to make your voice heard at the national level. There are a number of human rights organisations which actively campaigned for the Belmarsh detainee already. The recent judgment from the Law Lords has already declared incompatibility of Anti-terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 with the Human Rights Act 1998. The House of Parliament will act according to the highest judicial opinion.

Likewise, the pro-Hunting group is challenging the legality of the Parliament Act 1911, 1949 which could see a fundamental shift in our constitution.

I do not see your activities in a higher education environment can achieve any significance in the UK. I hope you can concentrate your human rights efforts in the national domain.

I look forward to meeting you at the House of Lords.


20. ...   
Dec 18 2004 13:06

How does one go about opting out of the union. I don't want this campaign in my name

Dec 18 2004 13:17

I believe you send the request in writing to the Academic Registrar (Vernon McClure). Mustafa should know this better though. Your thoughts?

22. Nia   
Dec 18 2004 14:37

I think Page Not Found will be able to give some guidence on opting out once it's been 'found' again. I have a vaugue inkling its in the Memorandum Of Understanding.

23. tom t   
Dec 18 2004 17:02

yes nia, talking of which, there are only a few days left before Council Chair will have broken his commitment to restore the useful documents to the website within a week of passing the motion..... I wonder how we might go about disciplining him should he fail in his duty to Council ?????

24. tom t   
Dec 18 2004 17:04

PS anyone with a name as stupid as ... oughtn't be allowed to be a member of the Union in the first place. I bet his/her bank doesn't tolerate non-names!

25. Chris   
Dec 18 2004 20:26

Just don't email Tafa to find out, now that he's claiming to be busier than ever I wonder what his auto reply says now.

Jul 25 2005 22:06

Did anyone watch The New Al'Quida program just on BBC2? Good section on Babar Ahmed...

Jul 27 2005 08:56

Missed that but certainly looked interesting. Could someone who saw it kindly give a summary of what was said (objectively if possible) ?

29. ?*+   
Oct 01 2005 21:51

the normal propaganda

Closed This discussion is closed.

Please contact the Live! Editor if you would like this discussion topic re-opened.


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