Campaigning in the elections began at 9am on Friday, with all eyes on the three presidential candidates
The three candidates for the CUSU Presidency: Daisy Eyre, Keir Murison and Jack DruryLucas Chebib
Three students have put themselves forward to become the next president of Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU), in an election sure to be notable for the candidacy of a rarely-seen figure in student union politics: a conservative who stands a chance.
Students will vote next week to choose next year’s six sabbatical officers – who will take on paid, full-time positions in the student union. There will also be a vote held on the role of University Council representative, and two referendums on updating CUSU’s Constitution and Standing Orders. The vote for a new president of the Graduate Union (GU) will be delayed until a by-election, after no candidates put themselves forward. Voting will open on Tuesday, and close next Friday, with hustings on Monday night.
Out of the six sabbatical officer roles, five – Women’s, Welfare, Access and Funding, Disabled and Education – will be uncontested, with just one student running for each. With their results likely a foregone conclusion, all eyes will be on the candidates running for the student union’s top role: President.
The position will be contested by three students this year: seasoned campaigner Jack Drury, from Gonville & Caius; CUSU insider and experienced JCR president Daisy Eyre, from Jesus; and ebullient advocate of protecting student welfare Keir Murison, from Emmanuel.
Drury will stand out among the candidates. A prominent member of the Conservative Association (CUCA), outspoken defender of Class Lists, and in preparation for training to become a priest, he does not fit the mould of a conventional student union politician.
Despite his outsider status, he is not following the comedic path to candidacy favoured by unconventional presidential hopefuls, such as 2015’s notorious Milo Edwards, in the past. Instead, he is campaigning on a platform of practical change, arguing that clear and realistic goals are the best route to a successful tenure. Under the slogan ‘Making CUSU Work For You’, his policies include updating sexual assault policies, encouraging employers to seek Cambridge graduates, and coordinating a bid for University-wide sports funding. He will also seek to lead rent negotiations, following a tenure as Housing Officer in Gonville & Caius Student Union.
Churchill student Nicholas Taylor, also a CUCA member, co-led the victorious ‘Save The Class List’ campaign with Drury last year. Now a member of his campaign team, Taylor said that Drury offered a chance for real change in the students’ union.
“CUSU is irrelevant to most of our lives and out of touch,” Taylor told Varsity. “I want better and he’ll deliver it. Jack’s the sort of chap who’ll do what he promises, and will work bloody hard. Making CUSU work is exactly the sort of Herculean challenge he revels in. It’s worth giving him a shot because at the end of the day if he can’t change anything, the same other candidates will stand next year.”
Drury’s opponents will offer tough competition. Eyre, the former president of Jesus College Student Union (JCSU), has the most student leadership experience of the group. During her presidency, she steered JCSU through several controversies, including a debate over whether Jesus College should repatriate a Benin bronze cockerel, the okukor, to Nigeria.
Eyre is firmly a CUSU insider: as part of the Union Development Team, she has helped develop new proposals for its Constitution and Standing Orders, which will be put to students at the same time as the elections next week. In an interesting quirk, she is also the college daughter of CUSU’s current president, Amatey Doku.
Popular and experienced, she is campaigning on a platform focused on student workloads, welfare and access. George Thompson, Eyre’s college husband, worked with her as JCSU Communications Officer last year. He told Varsity that Eyre isn’t afraid to put her foot down.
“Although she’s ‘nice’ and isn’t the type to get angry or confrontational, she was firm and took a stand on issues where needed,” said Thompson.
“She stood up to the college when it came to situations like Caesarian Sunday and caff-gate, and handled the media firestorm surrounding the Benin Bronze case well. I think she cares a lot about people, but also has the organisation and determination to make that meaningful.”
The final candidate, Keir Murison, is an experienced campaigner on mental health issues. As former President of Student Minds Cambridge (SMC), he advocated for a flexible approach to welfare, promoted self-care, and campaigned against a counterproductive overemphasis on ‘Week 5 Blues’. Murison was also previously Welfare Officer on Emmanuel College Students’ Union, where he advocated for the creation of a Disabilities Officer role.
As may be expected, Murison’s policy platform exhibits a particular focus on welfare issues. His key manifesto pledges include introducing mandatory welfare training for Directors of Study and Tutors, and addressing college-based disparities in the intermission system, a problem highlighted by a Varsity investigation last term. He has also proposed increasing student engagement via online consultation.
Alice Chilcott, Communications Officer for SMC, has joined Murison’s campaign team. She spoke about his continued contribution to the mental welfare group.
“Keir was a wonderful president and is still a dedicated and creative member of the team,” Chilcott said. “He’s a good leader because he’s a great listener – he cares about people and takes time to understand and consider their perspectives.”
There is no required quoracy for CUSU elections, but the two referendums will require pass by simple majority if 10 per cent of students vote in favour. The total turnout for sabbatical roles last year was 15.7 per cent, a fall from 2015’s election, in which Priscilla Mensah became president.
The number of students who can potentially be engaged however, is demonstrably higher. 2016 saw three record turnouts for CUSU referendums – the votes on Class Lists and the creation of a Disabled Students’ Officer role saw around 20 per cent of students voting, while the narrow referendum on CUSU’s membership of the NUS saw a record turnout of 28 per cent. Sabbatical role elections may lack the heat of a referendum debate, but it seems there is a potential voter base for a candidate who can appeal to currently apathetic voters.
Building on these foundations, CUSU’s next president has the potential to consolidate the student union’s activities, and address a question which has lain beneath much of its interactions with students and the University: ‘What should CUSU be for?’Whoever takes up the role of presidency seems likely to inherit a stable and relatively strong student union. In the wake of a controversial year, in which CUSU faced several financial hurdles, Doku’s tenure has been a comparatively smooth affair. Though the credibility of CUSU Council took a hit after a student referendum overturned its anti-Class Lists stance, Doku has been able to push for one of his main policy pledges: updating CUSU’s funding model to be based on block grants rather than a per-student contribution, though proposed changes are no closer to passing the Bursars’ Committee.
Four candidates will battle for University Councillor with all other positions uncontested Candidates/Louis Ashworth/Johannes Hjorth/Sid Neelson
While all eyes will be on the presidential vote, there are six other sabbatical officer positions and one part-time role also up for grabs in these elections. Varsity looks at what these roles do for students, and who’s in contention to take them.