Students pass motion to stop democracy

Students pass motion to stop democracy

Abandon hope all ye who enter Logan Hall.

For many of us, tonight was our first, and almost certainly last, chance to witness a UCLU General Assembly – and a somewhat bitter one it turned out to be. The Union Chair, Mohamad Fahed, had the unenviable task of keeping the peace, as the newly merged Institute of Education’s Logan Hall filled up with 533 union members, eager for the much-hyped General Assembly. And what may have sounded like a rather dry exercise in student democracy, quickly became the scene of a satire fit for the pages of one of UCL’s other student publications.

The two-hour long kerfuffle began with nearly an hour of procedural motions, designed to switch around the agenda for political purposes.

Impassioned speeches were made, booing ensued, and an already apathetic-looking Fahed was forced to ask everyone to calm down on several occasions.

With the real debate over, the the one concerning the roles of the sabbaticals finally began, and was fought passionately by both sides. In the end, the main issues arose over two key positions: Postgraduate Student’s Officer and Women’s Officer (WO).

On behalf of the latter, current WO, Annie Tidbury, made a heartfelt speech over the current inequality faced by women at UCL. In response, Sam Inkersole, President of UCLU Boat Club and the person who proposed the amendment, pointed out that his proposed Gender Equalities Officer would only be the leader of a team, and that team could provide the same quality of care.

Fighting on behalf of postgraduate students, Ben Towse, PhD student and last year’s full-time Postgraduate Students’ Officer, stressed that postgraduates and medical students are two very different beasts, and that it would be ridiculous to think that one person could cover both positions.

But, while the debaters on both sides seemed ready for the long haul – particularly David Dalhborn, Halls and Accommodation Officer, whose challenges to the chair brought about the most entertaining outburst of the evening, “I am the chair!” – some of Amendment 3’s backers had other ideas.

Just when we thought we’d escaped the procedural motions, another was raised – to hold an immediate vote. Despite resistance by those who felt we should maybe talk about chucking four sabbatical officers and those who disagreed with the idea of voting on whether to vote, it passed. Sadly, this coincidentally was when the voting pads threw in the towel, and we had a long break trying to make them work again.

voting pad problems

Raise your voting pads if democracy isn’t working out. Image credit: Mimi Launder

In the end, 304 voted in favour of Amendment 3, with 225 against and just 10 abstaining. Since it didn’t achieve the necessary 75% to pass, the motion will be passed to the Trustee Board.

On the simply majority, but not outright win, Inkersole mused that it was a “shame it wasn’t 75%, I know there are still more people to turn up, but it’s just a matter of us mobilising our societies fully, we’ve got 10,000 members and this is something that needs to be recognised as well…”

From among the frustrated supporters of Amendment 3, many of whom were already streaming out the hall, one called for yet another procedural motion to adjourn the meeting, arguing that the votes showed the Union was out-of-touch, must change, and they “will be back” with more people – everyone gasped in surprise. This too passed, a move which Hannah Sketchley, (UCLU Democracy and Communications Officer) described as both “unwise and undemocratic”, adding that it was a “massive shame not to hear the motions of other people who had worked so hard on their campaigns.” Commenting on the adjournment, Dahlborn concluded that: “it was unfair that he blocked the democratic decisions that were going to be taken on the other issues that were on the agenda.”

On the issues of the unfinished agenda the chair commented that he “was not happy that it [the agenda] was not covered because we wasted so much time at the beginning”, an observation that most of those around us seemed to agree with.

And so, while UCLU heads towards the uncharted waters of merged sabbatical officers, we can all rest easy knowing that at least for now, democracy has kind-of-somewhat-maybe-but-probably-not taken place.

And last, but not least, Luke Blackett – who proposed the motion ‘Dialogue, not Division’ – commented on the evening as a whole. He said it was “a fairly unmitigated travesty, and a sign of how childish we can be as a student body. And now, we head into a dangerous free fall without a proper structure for resolving two obviously irreconcilable sides, which just need to sit down and work out their differences in a more collaborative way that recognises their legitimate concerns and interests.”

While the meeting was adjourned, it appears procedure was not followed through. If an adjournment is called, then the proposer must specify when the meeting is to happen again. As this doesn’t seem to have happened, it is unclear what happens now. But, based on the way the assembly went, nothing much will.

existential crisis

Some students faced an existential crisis after the ridiculous nature of the meeting. Image credit: Mimi Launder

Featured image credit: Ben Monteith


  1. Nah, You?
    December 10, 2014 / 7:30 am

    This just absolutely misses the point.

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