Opinion: Kent Union President Debate 2020

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Kent Media

Image courtesy of KTV

If you are genuinely interested in watching one of these debates, this is definitely the one I would recommend spending an hour of your time watching. This was a genuine debate, the responsibility of grilling the candidates did not fall exclusively on moderator Amitesh Das, they actually called up and challenged each other. But if you watch this hoping that someone will inspire you to vote for them, you will be sorely disappointed. I came out of the debate with even less of an idea of who I’ll be voting for, not because anyone particularly impressed me, but because everyone went down in my estimations.

I’m pretty sure Aarish came into this debate thinking that everyone would be dazzled by his experience with student government, and that would carry him to victory. In his opening statement he whirred on about a “culture” that he never properly defined, even when prompted. Early on in the debate each candidate was asked their opinion on Kent Union in its current form, and as a current union member, Aarish was hardly going to be critical on the work they’re doing. He decided to give the Union praise for the things that can be expected of a student union, namely the presence of a café and shop. An odd decision by Aarish was to not tell us most of what he wanted to do, simply asking students to trust him, which hardly feels like a sound campaigning strategy when most students will not be aware of the work he has done previously. The best part of my night was the two traps that Aarish set up and promptly stepped into, the first of which was saying that he would be constantly available for students to speak to, but also that his idea of the role of president is that he would be in meetings all day. Then, having provided an example of him working with the NUS to do good work for international students, and then advocating leaving the NUS, this may have shown him that he was not as prepared as he might have thought. Finally, I would like to mention for any Medway-based readers that Aarish thinks your accommodation is too far away from central campus and wants it to be moved closer, but didn’t say any real way that that could be changed; so look out for him to physically drag the buildings closer next year, as I can’t think of another way that that particular problem gets solved.

It says a lot about this crop of candidates that Daniel came out of this debate looking like the most electable of them. Daniel openly said at the start that he was running as a joke because his friend bet him £5 to do so, having complained about the price of beer. And it is that very reason that makes up his manifesto as he pledges giving away about half a million pints of beer (don’t worry lovers of other drinks, this morphed mid-debate to incorporate just being a general bar tab with the £1.1 million he has found in the budget.) He obviously had some glaring holes in his knowledge of what he would be doing next year, but for somebody who is campaigning exclusively on giving out drinks, I don’t think him not knowing what the president actually does is going to stop someone from voting for him. This point is supported when recognising the poor performances from those around him. If he does get elected then he may have to adopt a realpolitikapproach of coming up with his policies on the fly, but if his thinking on his feet is as good as it was during this debate, then I have more faith in him than anybody else on the ballot.

In my opinion, Ethan is a bit more likeable version of Aarish. His opening statement was rather bland and vague and the only thing new about his platform is that he was advocating is his green initiatives, which I personally felt were woefully underdeveloped. He pointed out that other universities like Canterbury Christ Church had been able to make the switch, but he did not enlighten us as to how this would be achieved. I very much think that he does know the answer to the question, he just felt that we didn’t need to know. This felt like a bit of a trend among the candidates that merely having the idea would be enough. Ethan is probably the most electable person of them all in terms of credentials on paper, but I think he struggled to really connect with and captivate the audience. Ethan wins the prize for the most pointless counter of the evening, when the candidates were talking about how students report things to the union and Joshua Frost referenced “Kent Inform”, Ethan was quick to point out that it was, in fact, “Inform.Kent”. Something that he could have corrected without drawing attention to the fact that he was doing so.

For three quarters of this debate, I was sceptical Joshua. He complained about Kent Union and previous candidates for not bringing about and advocating for big enough change, but very little of his manifesto is overly inspired. His ideas are largely similar to Ethan’s, aside from he wants a 24-hour gym on campus. A policy which, incidentally, he has not thought about deeply enough given he was quickly stumped by his rivals when questioned about how it would be operated and then how students would be kept safe with his proposed limited staffing in the early hours of the morning. He generally lacked charisma, however, all that changed right at the end when he was asked about whether or not he had been to Medway campus. He answered that he hadn’t, before quite rightly naming the question a “gotcha” trap for those who had not visited, saying that it isn’t like Centre Parcs and that he had no real need to go there. Aarish felt there was scope to question Joshua here and countered that running for union president would be a good reason. Joshua, without hesitation, pointed out that he had spoken with plenty of Medway students using the internet, and that Kent Union should consider doing that more often as well. Arguably, this was the best exchange of the night and showed that if nothing else, Joshua has a bit of fight in him.

It seemed Sarah started the strongest of all of the candidates, but just failed to kick on. Her opening ideas were strong; improving communication and improving the union website is definitely something that I think needs to happen and her ideas that the union should be an extension of the student body and not separate from it is genuinely promising. However, I think she was criminally underprepared, even for basic stuff that she should have seen coming, like questions about her being a first year and being asked her opinions on the NUS referendum. For things like this she simply did not have an answer and decided instead to speak for long enough so that people would just forget the question. Her answers after the opening statement were rambling and never really answered the question and it all descended into meaningless platitudes which do not inspire confidence. She is clearly a very insightful person, her time at UKC is better measured in months rather than years and she saw some clear places for improvement in Kent Union, but she never actually fixed one of these problems, just stated that they existed. Overall, I think she may have just jumped the gun in running for president. If she spent another year or so figuring out ways of combatting the problems she has identified then she could be president soon, but on the basis of what I saw, she would struggle heavily if elected. In a crisis scenario, she could identify what is wrong, but the solutions would have to come from elsewhere and that has to be a bad sign for a president.

I really can’t call which way the presidential election is going to go; nobody is a stand-out candidate. As many people who will be attracted Daniel’s comedic approach, just as many will also be put off by it. I don’t see anyone standing out from the crowd of grey policies and bland speakers.

If you'd like your own opinion on the debate, you can watch it here

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First published in 1965, InQuire is the University of Kent student newspaper.

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