This is (basically) the article Steve didn’t want you to read last week. Despite page after page of news articles about the A-Team with scarcely any mention of the ludicrous promises or dirty tricks campaigns of their opponents, Steve felt this article was too “partisan” to be included in last week’s issue.
[ED: This article was intended for the week before last. Chris declined our offer to print it last week, when the results of the election were in. ]
The A-Team got thumped in the VUWSA elections. It wasn’t even a contest in most of the positions they contested. But whatever your political affiliations, I think it’s worth pondering just what the A-Team has done for student politics at Vic. In my opinion they have fundamentally changed the way elections are, and will be, fought from now on.
They have invigorated a moribund students’ association where turn-out in elections had fallen to less than 4 per cent of all students. Most importantly, they have fundamentally challenged the political framework that VUWSA has long-operated under. With their policies on clubs and rep groups, the A-Team have started an important, and long overdue debate at Victoria about the proper role and function of a students’ association in a user-pays world.
Think about their campaigning. The A-Team have totally redefined the concept of what it means to campaign in student elections at Vic. In the past, prospective student politicians would attempt to solicit your votes using hastily-thrown together posters, some chalked signs somewhere, and fliers left lying around lecture theatres.
The A-Team had chalk – and lots of it – along with well-designed posters, handbills, and fliers. But it’s the additional things they did that are so impressive: a website with FAQs, a regularly-updated blog, candidate profiles, copies of all their posters, and much more. A “meet the candidates” launch party at MVP. Barbecues in the quad with free sausages. And they spoke to lecture after lecture during the campaign, and played their very funny DVD. It was a slick, professional, and well- organised campaign.
The A-Team had a full slate of candidates for every position on the executive. They had a manifesto and a clear programme of action for what they would do if they won. When was the last time you saw candidates publish an alternative budget for the forthcoming year? Most candidates don’t even stop to consider the cost of their own promises. Ask Joel Cosgrove how much his “free internet and printing” promise is going to cost. (And, how he’s going to deliver on it – there is, of course, no such thing as a free lunch).
The A-Team made the election exciting and got people interested in it. Turnout was around 12 per cent of all eligible students, the highest in years. I overheard numerous conversations around the university about the election – and apathetic friends of mine who wouldn’t normally give two shits about the campaign were asking me about it. Partly that’s because the A-Team campaign was so in your face, but also because the policies the A-Team were promulgating were so different to what’s usually seen in VUWSA elections.
This is the most important effect of the A-Team. VUWSA elections have long operated under the assumption that clubs and rep group funding are like sacred cows that should not be touched. The A-Team argued that all students should not be forced to fund clubs which only a minority participates in – and that they may actively disagree with (e.g. a youth wing of a political party). Opponents claimed that some clubs will die without VUWSA funding. One has to ask though – how valuable and important is a club if the only way it can survive is through the forced redistribution of wealth to it by VUWSA? If clubs are valued by their members; they would survive and thrive. If they don’t, then VUWSA money shouldn’t save them anyway.
You have to admire the A-Team’s courage. They knew that by slashing clubs and rep group funding to the bone, they would lose a lot of votes. The clubs and rep groups mobilised against them. So did the VUWSA staff. So did Salient. The forces of The Establishment stood against them, in every sense of the word. Yet they stuck to their guns and refused to make stupid promises like “halving their Presidential salary if elected”. They didn’t put posters around Kelburn calling their opponents “whores” and “arseholes”. They stuck to their principles.
With their clubs policy, the A-Team opened up an important debate about the role (some might say the very existence) of VUWSA. It is long past time that students at Vic had this debate, which has already occurred at other campuses around the country. Students here have been stuck in an ideological straitjacket about VUWSA for far too long. In a user-pays world, and the prospect of a National-led government after 2008 committed to freedom of association, we all need to be debating the existence, functions, and activities of our students association.
This was my 5th VUWSA election. I’ve never seen one like it, and that’s all due to the A-Team. Even if you didn’t vote for them, you should thank them anyway – you can expect more professional campaigns from now on, renewed interest in student politics, and the continuation of a debate about just what VUWSA should do.
Christopher Bishop was not a member of the A-Team. He had a minor involvement with their campaign. He was elected as the University Council representative