Liberation is about speaking for those who have no voice. At LSE we do this by creating representative officers – a Women’s Officer, Mature/Part Time Officer, LGBT Officer and International Students’ Officer. Yet presently the communities not in need of liberation have decisive control over the election of our liberation officers. This must change.
Consider our LGBT Officer. He represents a community of a few hundred students at the most. Yet the LGBT election is open to the whole campus. If every single LGBT person voted against a certain candidate, that candidate could still win – and win handily – on the support of straight voters. If every single LGBT person wanted to remove an officer on the grounds of incompetence or malice, they would require the consent of straight students on campus to bring this about.
The same holds true for our other officers. The Women’s Officer must campaign for male votes, the Postgraduate Officer must campaign for undergraduate votes and the International Officer must campaign for the British vote. And yet, when they are elected, these officers work with, speak for, and are solely concerned with their own communities, who often formed a minority of those who voted for them.
If we are to have a Women’s Officer, the officer is on the Executive Committee to represent women. They ought, therefore, to be elected by women. Men cannot attend the Women’s Assembly and men cannot stand as Women’s Officer. So why on earth are we allowed to vote – decisively – for such a position? The very existence of a Women’s Officer requires that such an officer be elected by women.
On a related vein, the Athletics Union President is elected by every single student on campus, including lots of students who have nothing whatsoever to do with the AU. Wait, what? I can think of no good reason for this bizarre inconsistency. Why elect a liberation officer – or an AU President, or the Postgraduate Officer – who cannot be said to speak for those who they seek to represent?
One might well respond that an officer of the Union must reach out beyond a narrow base and appeal to the “majority” of the campus. This is certainly important for, say, the General Secretary, our elected leader, who speaks with one voice on behalf of all students.
But surely if we’re not going to allow a non-international student to run for International Students’ Officer and if we’re only going to allow them to speak on behalf of the international student community rather than “all students,” why do we insist nonetheless that they reach out to a community that by definition doesn’t share their platform? Why should the AU President, whose administration will only impact AU members, be elected in such a fashion that the student body can override the decision of the community he or she will preside over?
And imagine if a candidate who is clearly not the choice of their constituency but has a powerful campaign organisation wins his or her election. They enter office with no legitimacy. Their platform – if they even had one – will be stymied. The community will fight back, in its own creative way. And a year of potential progress will be lost.
Moreover, one might object to the very idea of liberation officers or special representatives – but when every one of our Sabbatical Officers is elected on a cross-campus ballot, and every one of our trustees is elected on a cross-campus ballot, and every one of our policies is decided on a cross-campus ballot, it seems to me that our minority communities might at least be allowed to choose their own representatives rather than being subject to the whims of the unoppressed majority.
As far as I can tell, the only reason the LSE Students’ Union has not adopted liberation voting is the perceived technical and logistical difficulties in establishing such a system. This is bollocks. For some positions – Postgraduate Officer, AU President, Women’s Officer, International Students’ Officer – the system already has the data needed to make this work. The Union knows the gender of their students and they know if you’re affiliated with the AU; so far, so good.
This leaves, to my reckoning, only the LGBT Officer and possibly the Disabled Students’ Officer. Here, the solution is simple: self-identification. Voters when they reach the ballot will be asked whether they identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered, or whether they view themselves as having a disability when voting for the Disabled Students’ Officer. Where voters answer in the negative, they will be prevented from voting.
You might well respond that such a system is vulnerable to gaming. I would answer that the vast bulk of non-community voters would respond with “no” to such a question; perhaps a few votes would get through, but these would hardly be decisive. And, of course, our Democracy Committee should ensure that encouraging this kind of gaming is a violation of election rules.
Community-based voting would not only ensure that our liberation and other representatives truly represented the communities on whose behalf they were elected; such elections would bring communities closer together. LGBT Officer candidates, for instance, would campaign only to LGBT people, and in the process learn more about their community’s needs and issues. As a result, the LGBT community would be more engaged with the Union. This would hold true for all of our communities on the LSE campus.
Community-based voting is fairer, more democratic, and simply makes sense. When the Union comes to vote on this topic later this term, every student who cares about LSE’s various communities should vote “Yes.”
I write as a gay man tired of having to get the consent of straight people to campaign on the issues I care about. I think it is totally right that most of our Union is directly elected by everyone but, in the case of the LGBT Officer, the LGBT community deserves to have its voice heard. Our officer, our voice, our choice.