Dan Lonsdale is a self-identified working-class second-year student who knew Durham very well before he became part of the university community – he grew up here. As a result, he is not your typical Durham student. He is a second year with no real SU experience. However, he doesn’t think that this inhibits him from winning the presidency and implementing his ‘Northern New Deal’ amongst other policies.
Speaking to Palatinate, Lonsdale was open about his “heavily working class, mining background”. The “best of both worlds” is how he described the fact that he has witnessed the University as both a local and now as a student. He doesn’t believe that there has been enough of seeing the other side’s point of view in Durham.
Lonsdale has worked with the 93% Club, but has not embroiled himself into the affairs of the SU: “I have not been involved for a reason and experience can go both ways.” Lonsdale argues that his “fresh blood” is an attribute and that he has “the desire, I haven’t been worn down, I haven’t been abused… I have the conviction to do it.”
He acknowledged his lack of experience but tells me that he has “stood in the shadows for too long”. For Lonsdale, this campaign is at least partly about standing up and putting yourself forward for the things that you claim to believe in. “I wouldn’t stand if I didn’t think I could do a better job than everyone else. I think it’s sort of the whole reason why we do this”.
On improvements to the University, he explained: “I think the balance between the community, the students and the university could be the key to all of it”. He argued that the community wants to help, whilst the University needs a push in the right direction to help and redeem themselves from past mistakes.
Lonsdale was quick to point out that “There’s always been this sort of forced rivalry between JCRs, colleges and the Student Union itself.” This was in response to a question surrounding the lack of student engagement with the SU. As for solutions, he discussed a possible “return to a more objective perspective of the SU, drawn back a bit”.
On the current SU team, Lonsdale was complimentary of how “they’ve certainly defended us” and explained how when one is a part of the SU “you’re wanting to deal with Durham, you’re not wanting to deal with the entire national press.” He admired Seun Twin’s work with the culture commission.
As for where the SU had missed the mark and what needed to be improved, Lonsdale first said that “it’s quite muddy as to where the lines between what the media is telling us what we’re being told and what students actually feel.” “There’s not always a direct line to students” so “making sure we are standing for what the students actually believe in”.
He agreed with the SU in support of strikes. When it was put to him that some international students pay (what works out to be) upwards of £100 per contact hour, he called out the University and asked for them to give into the UCU’s demands but also commented “I think generally, the communication around strikes, the incentive for students, has been diabolical. I mean, throwing statistics at students is irrelevant, it really isn’t going to help in that regard, when there isn’t a direct incentive.”
The question was asked of Lonsdale what would he want to be remembered for, should he become the next SU President? “Uniting the city, uniting the students and ending this sort of odd antagonism we have between the University and the city, the students and the University and therefore the students and the city as well. Really I couldn’t leave this place without feeling the slightest bit guilty had I not done something.”
Lonsdale isn’t just a keen advocate of pushing for diversity of all different types, ethnic and class to name just two. He has backed up some of these thoughts and ideas in writing. Specifically, when he wrote an article for The Pluralist. He spoke of evaluating what social mobility is and applies “to an extent a Marxist lens”. He speaks of what Thatcherism meant for social mobility to the North, such as the removal of services and a lack of replacement for an industry that was so key.
Despite his lack of experience at this level, Lonsdale was not afraid to explain the workings of the SU “SU Presidents have a role in the board of governors” and that is “real power”.
As for his landmark policy: “The Northern New Deal plays into more recently the bid for City of Culture. It draws on that; the University has a role in that. That’s the moment to provide pressure in which we can push for change. It also links in with Covid, coming out of Covid. And it essentially, as I say, involves building on the network that the 93% Club plan to start and that, by virtue of my position in the region, I’ll be able to help with, by getting them into most of the schools.”
On this topic, he also commented that “there are not enough guarantees regarding admissions, there are too many ifs, buts and maybes”.
Lonsdale said that he would do his best “that nothing else is sacrificed” in order to fund sanitary products in all toilets. “We don’t compromise”. “We all know that the University have money”, he explained, citing the more than a million pounds put towards deferrals as an example of how the University can find money when it needs to.
On lighting the river walkway, a manifesto pledge, Lonsdale said “this will then touch on the community, we look to Durham County Council for that kind of thing because they’ve waited long enough to do it. And it’s not just students at risk”. He pointed out the fact that it would make everyone safer. This is even though river lighting has previously been rejected in certain areas by local authorities over fears lighting could make people more likley to take the route at night Regardless of this fact, Lonsdale argues “If we’re going to be a City of Culture, we need to be safe… the incentive is there.”
Questions were put to Lonsdale to gauge his view on some of the big events that occurred last term. “The students that were at South College are inspirational.” “Tim Luckhurst has to go. There is no ifs buts or maybes, he has to go… It’s not an issue of free speech or cancel culture.” As for the university’s response, Lonsdale argues we should “forgive but not forget”.
Image Credit – Dan Lonsdale via Facebook