Many years ago when I was a Sabbatical Officer (last century), hustings were something to be approached with dread. If any of you saw the previous Medical School bar at St Mary's Hospital, you'd understand what I mean. Gladys's was a dark cold oppressive place, down in a basement and hustings was touted within the Medical School as "come taunt the IC gimps!". They were held on a Wednesday night, and the Sports Teams were rampant. In one corner the ICSM Rugby team were clamouring to know why hiring a minibus was so hard, in the other ICSM Football were shouting questions about BUSA Entry.
That year there were something like 8 presidential candidates, and they were universally hated. The least popular was Richard Taylor (aka. MishMash, aka. Kevin) who was liberally doused in pint after pint of beer, thrown (often heinously inaccurately) from all points in the room. Competitions to down pints of free ale (supplied by those generous guys at Imperial Medicals Rugby Football Club) were rife, and questions were deliberately planted to cause the most damage. Candidates were systematically ripped to shreds.
I attended last night's hustings at Charing Cross and was visibly shocked. Turnout was incredibly low, with "Union Hacks" being the predominant social grouping. Looking around the bar the small number of normal students there were simply drinking quietly in the far corner, with little interest being shown in what the candidates were saying. The token ICSM Rugby player I noticed simply popped in to say hi (to me...a non medic...), having just finished an essay. (he's teetotal anyway...)
So why this downturn? Is it because Medics don't care? Was hustings badly advertised, badly timed or just not worth it? Well judging from what I've heard it's a combination of many factors:
- Only half of the 1st and 2nd year medics are at Charing Cross on any one day, with the other half at South Ken. The rest of the medical school is distributed in small chunks around any one of the 19 hospitals that make up this sprawling faculty.
- The event was publicised by email. Unless you have email at home, you could be forced to vie with every other student in the hospital for the 1 or 2 open PCs in some of the smaller, more distant hospitals. ICU has never discovered how to effectively communicate with such a diverse and far flung electorate.
- No one cares. The Medical School has long since integrated with Imperial College. There are very few (a single year) Medical Students who did not apply to Imperial College School of Medicine. The topics have all been covered, everyone's relatively happy. Politics is a little less contentious so generally turnouts at Hustings are declining.
So does all this matter? What exactly are Hustings for anyway?
The answer is yes it does matter. Hustings are the only opportunity you, the students, have to question a candidate about what is important to you. You can read their felix manifestos, watch the interviews on Stoic or listen to them on IC Radio but where else can you meet them in the flesh and cross question them on a range of issues?
To sum up, integration has diminished one of the greatest institutions we have: the right to hold our representatives to account. IC Students are now too busy studying, socialising and generally doing what they do best; being students. They care less about Sabbatical Elections simply because it doesn't affect them. How many "average students" have met a sabbatical? What have the Sabbatical Officers done for you this week? And here's a question for homework... What should they be doing?