This article was originally published in Cherwell newspaper. It was written after LJ Trup, a ‘joke candidate,’ was elected as President of the Oxford University Student Union (OUSU). The story made national news, and received attention from the Daily Mail and Independent.
You’ve got to admire LJ Trup. He’s landed a speculated £20,000 salary, as well as the CV points that come with being president of the student union of one of the best universities in the country. And he managed it all without giving a single thought to a policy that could improve the lives of Oxford students.
The result shocked many, but will have consequences beyond the student community. OUSU serves as our only direct method of negotiation with the University, and it will now be rendered ineffectual by Trup’s leadership. The Vice Chancellor, who recently recommended increasing tuition fees to £16,000, must feel a greater degree of freedom to speak against students’ wishes in the knowledge that students care less now about representation than ever before.
Yet the effect of the election has even wider scale consequences. We’re all aware of the influence the University has – the Daily Mail has already reported on the result – and Trup’s victory will send a clear message about students’ growing apathy towards decisions that affect their lives. It seems clear that students are more eager to see a joke election than representation. When considering this, is it really a surprise that the government is so happy to break promises on tuition fees and go ahead with the privatisation of student loans? If we care so little about voicing our concerns, we cannot expect them to be considered in government policy about higher education funding.
However this isn’t just about university and national policy. OUSU does some excellent work, it’s just that a lot of this is targeted towards the most vulnerable. Consider a few of OUSU’s campaigns; ‘It Happens Here’ raising awareness of sexual assault, ‘Mind Your Head’ supporting students with mental health problems, WomCam, the Campaign for Racial Awareness and Equality, the Disabled Students campaign and the LGBTQ campaign. Instead of working on raising awareness on these real and serious issues we’re left with a president who has promised us a collection of crayon-scribbled joke policies.
I’m shocked at the arrogance of students who, just because they are free of mental health problems or financial difficulties, are happy to undermine our entire student union. One student’s tweet summarised it perfectly; ‘I can’t help but feel that Trup’s victory is a spit in the face of people who genuinely need OUSU’s help by those who don’t.’ Perhaps if we had the empathy to realise that OUSU’s work is important to students in positions that are different to ourselves, then maybe we would’ve taken the election more seriously.
Of course, the election wasn’t a complete disaster. The humour added some much needed relief to the elections, and Trup’s stunts meant that voter turnout increased. It is also promising to see an unorthodox candidate win, especially since candidates are so frequently written off – hopefully in future elections students will no longer need backing by OULC or Prescom before being considered a contender.
It seemed Trup even surprised himself with his popularity, with a confused article in The Oxford Student to try and justify his campaign. He wrote of how he was fed up of student politicians dominating OUSU, which allegedly overshadowed progressive ideas that could improve students’ lives. A bizarre claim, given that he ran a campaign that was fixated with charisma, extroversion and personality, without a single achievable policy on his manifesto.
He also criticised slates of being ‘undemocratic.’ However we are now in a situation where our OUSU president is free to choose whatever serious policy he decides on after winning the election, since he was busy planning cheap attention-seeking stunts beforehand. We lack any policies to hold Trup accountable to – is this not the most undemocratic option of them all?
As the joke wears off, students must feel a little deceived. ‘Read what candidates are saying and interrogate them’ his article suggested, whilst conveniently making himself immune from such interrogation by suggesting policies as ludicrous as building monorails. It seems that LJ Trup is the quintessential student politician, with neither policies nor proposals of how to improve OUSU.
Trup wants OUSU to be run by ‘fun students’, but we must remember what OUSU is for. There is nothing comical about mental health problems, sexual assault or homophobia; OUSU’s purpose is not to make students laugh. It’s there to represent our views and to work on issues which affect students. Maybe you’re lucky enough to not need a lot of the support it provides. But that’s not a reason to render it useless for those who rely on its services. Turning OUSU into a joke is arrogant and immature; it deprives vulnerable students of essential support and leaves the entire student body without a voice.