Having run in various Sabbatical Elections since the dawn of humanity I claim to have unenviable experience in the chosen topic for this ?How to?? Guide. If you are intending to run in a Sabbatical Election or support a candidate in their campaign I suggest you listen very hard. Sabbatical Elections have grown to such proportions that simple posters, Felix ads and Live! Banners are no longer enough to secure election victory.
Every year the usual combination of electioneering tactics and manifesto buzzwords are used and contestants are often left bemused as to what it is that actually woos voters? hearts. Well the answer is very simple, but first here is a run down of some of the most commonly used election tricks:
Manifestos are the candidates chance to get across in 250 words or less why they are ?the best of the best of the best, sir? and what they are going to do if you vote for them. This usually results in the mundane repetition of ?friendly face?, ?approachability? and the inevitable ?lower bar prices?, ?more money for clubs? and ?a better personal tutor system?. The less naïve candidate will promise to do precisely nothing while filling up their manifesto with pointless witter about how great they are or will precede every promise they make with ?try very hard to??, ?lobby for?? or, if they are very clever, ?where practicable??. The Union, in its wisdom, has got fed up with every candidates promise to have an ?open door policy? and decided that in Phase 2 of the Redevelopment the Deputy Presidents will have no doors to leave closed. Of course not all manifestos are boring or contain more plagiarism than a dissertation from Liverpool John Moores ?University?. You do occasionally get the enlightened candidate who realises no one is going to read the damn thing anyway so promises Flamingos and a Boating Lake in Beit Quad or a Jimmy Choo Shoe Shop on the Walkway. This ?joke candidate? is usually the only reprise from the yearly battle between ?Mr. Experience? and new-kid-on-the-block ?Fresh Ideas?.
The Union provides its very own bribery to try and keep voter turnout at a democratic level. Candidates can easily use this to their advantage as more than half the students at Imperial are members of at least one Club or Society and this is a great way to break the ice when on the campaign trail:
- Candidate: ?Are you a member of a club or society??
- Unsuspecting student: ?Yes?
- Candidate: ?Cool, which one??
- Suspecting student: ?Linux Users Group?
- Candidate: ?Oh. Wow. Well if you vote for me in the Sabbatical Elections then you can nominate the Linux Users Group to receive 50p. Isn?t that great??
- Student: ?Sod off!?
At first glance this may not seem like a very constructive conversation but in comparison to Candidate: ?Vote for?? Student: ?Sod off!? it is approaching a decent level of communication.
The alternative is to hand out some sort of food or drink. To the candidate this may be as demoralising as it is for the guys from Deloitte desperately trying to thrust a flyer into greedy students hands as they make off with the complete stock of free smoothies from their Graduate Recruitment stands but, when it comes to voting, voters may not have listened to anything you said but will remember ?Hey, that?s the guy who gave me a free chocolate bar!?. Be warned not to fall into the trap of ?Hey, that?s the guy who gave me a free chocolate bar! It was out of date and I got food poisoning!? as this usually has the reverse effect to what you were trying to achieve.
Having spoken to upwards of 2,000 uninterested and unwilling Imperial Students what is the likelihood that they will remember your name at the end of two weeks campaigning and vote for you? Well, almost or precisely zero. The likelihood that they have remembered your name when they bumped into your opponent two metres further down the walkway is also fairly slim so you need something hard hitting and memorable to keep you in people?s minds.
Giant fluffy animal costumes can do the trick. John Collins, ICU President 06-07, was a particular fan of this method, winning his sabbatical campaign with a gesticulating giant monkey and, later during his term, employing the services of a band of irate penguins to argue the toss with the A-NUS campaign during the NUS Referendum.
Other gimmicks have played on well known brands to advertise a name or an aspect of a campaign. James Devine, Presidential Candidate 05, spent his entire elections budget on cans of baked beans which were re-covered in the style of Heinz to advertise ?Devine Baked Beans?. This is a great way to get a ?take-home? copy of your manifesto out to the masses and a similar method was used by the NUS Yes Campaign to give out ?100 Reasons to Vote Yes to the NUS? wrapped around cartons of fruit juice. Unsuccessful DPCS Candidate, John James, designed his entire campaign around Barrett?s Fizzy Refreshers Sweets this year with matching posters, adverts and a giant Refresher?s Tube. The aim of this was to advertise not only his own ?brand? but to put across his main manifesto point of wanting to introduce a ?Refresher?s Fair? in the Spring Term, a practice already common at many other UK Universities.
With the level of geekery at Imperial College at an accepted and respected high it is little wonder that Candidates decide to use the Internet as a medium to advertise themselves. With most candidates being of the opinion that 250 words is not sufficient information to elect a sabbatical team on you can often find the keenest candidates writing extended manifestos on their own websites. The advent of social utility sites, such as facebook and blogspot, have made internet advertising so much easier with candidates competing to show who has the best grasp of internet features. Online manifestos also provide a good way to keep an eye on your sabbatical team with John Collins being picked up on Live! last year for how much of his manifesto he had, or had not, completed.
Facebook has grown to a point that is now one of the most noteworthy weapons in a candidate?s campaign tool box. Facebook Groups allow you to invite your friends, and your friend?s friends and your friend?s friend?s friends to intimidate your opponents in what is the ultimate form of popularity contest. They also allow you to mass message supporters without being disqualified, which is a considerable bonus. Facebook Pages is a new application for this years elections which allowed Candidates to list themselves as ?politicians? and invite people to ?Become a fan of??. The advantage of this is that it gives you up to date stats on the performance of your campaign and the number of visits to your page: a statistical heaven for most Imperial Students. You can also launch advertising campaigns by bidding against other companies for space in the side bar or the news feed to further your cause. This is a very cheap way of bombarding tens of thousands of students every day and is particularly useful if you have a strong advertising brand.
Election tactics aside, many people will still be wondering ?what does it finally come down to??
I myself am a huge fan of the ?experience? card with no candidate having as much experience in elections as I. However, this clearly does not win elections with experience bowing out many a time to a less well known or well practised candidate. I also like to see a candidate promise something. A clear vision of a better Union is outlined through changes they want to see and bring about and this is the sort of passion that really should win elections. But again, ideas are not the things that win through in this sort of contest. I would like to say it is the strength of a candidate?s campaign. But sadly, I have seen many of the most ingenious and well planned campaigns fall by the wayside to what is the only sure election winner.
The answer to the $64,000 question is this: If you don?t have the right set of chromosomes to give you a waist and a non-beer induced cleavage then you simply don?t stand a chance. The only way to secure election success is being female. It is a sad fact that at Imperial, with a male dominated population, the female Candidate will always win through without having to raise a finger.
Next year I should run as Rona or Rowena and I could stand a better chance of beating someone more than once in a blue moon.
N.B. This ?How to?? Guide does not apply to Felix Editor where the male dominated population would prefer to see a fellow man in charge of their Page 3 entertainment.