Durham SU Presidential election: Meet the three candidates vying for your votes

By Tania Chakraborti and Cameron McIntosh

With campaigning underway and voting open for the election of Durham’s next Students’ Union President, Palatinate talks to the three candidates about their aims, ideas and policies.


Josh Cavendish

(3rd Year Liberal Arts)

Why do you want to be elected?

Because I think I would do a good job. I think the last five presidents have been from JCRs, but I think that I represent the voice of a lot wider group of students over the course of my time at Durham. I play Music for DUOS and some other bands, I’ve represented Team Durham in Water Polo and Fives, I currently ballroom dance for BALADS, that’s a student union affiliated society. I was the president of Chess, part of the exec of Bridge as well and I’ve also done academic related activities in the Business school…So in terms of being a representation of wider student culture and understanding the needs of, I would hope, the majority of the student population, I fit the bill and I think I’d understand them more and represent them were I to be elected president.

What are your main priorities?

I’m standing on three things. Transparency, synergy with colleges and more engagement from students in terms of the DSU’s own societies.

I think I’m standing on a platform that’s almost the same as what Megan stood on last year. I’ve read her manifesto and she’s saying a lot of similar things to me, but I don’t think she’s publicising well enough what those changes are. If you go through Charlie Walker’s sort of… he posted something on Facebook last week, ‘this is what I’ve done in the last month’ and most of it is ‘I attended x meeting’, ‘I attended y meeting’, there’s no substance as to what those meetings were.

The Students’ Union needs to be more honest with its students about the changes that it is going to be able to effectuate

He just attended the meetings on students’ behalf. So, at the end of my presidency, the one thing that I’d like to do is say ‘this is what I’ve done, I’ve failed here but this is why, I’ve passed here but this is why’. I think the Students’ Union needs to be more honest with its students about the changes that it is going to be able to effectuate and point out bureaucracy, or people who are getting in the way of that, and they need to make more noise in that area if students are going to get engaged.

What are your views on the NUS and Durham SU’s position within it?

I think an organisation like the NUS is important to represent students in the same way that lecturers are currently striking, and teachers as well have striked in the past, because we’re more effective as a united body as opposed to a disparate one. But the NUS at the moment, as Tom Harwood highlighted, has a really awful image.

Instead of postulating about laws in their fake parliament, it’s about lobbying for reforms that actually matter to students

Instead of postulating about laws in their fake parliament, it’s about lobbying for reforms that actually matter to students and representing the wider student. Not just the ones that are pro-Palestine. Every student has needs, general needs, irrespective of their political views, their sexual orientation or what welfare they need, they want support, they don’t want to pay that much and they want to come out of their University with a decent degree. I think the NUS just needs to refocus its values to what the everyday student needs.

What are your views on the planned lecturers’ strikes?

I read the statement Megan submitted two weeks ago (30th January) and it was sort of neither here nor there.

I was on pensions last summer, I worked as an intern for Aon Hewitt, so I understand why lecturers are striking and I sympathise with them and support their striking…I think it’s unfair and terrible.

You need to ask the question – how many lecturers are supporting student strikes on accommodation fees?

But then you need to ask the question – how many lecturers are supporting student strikes on accommodation fees?  None have come out. So I think it would be, I understand why lecturers have decided to strike in the biggest way possible because if they affect the student population, they’re going to get students behind them. You see all the frames on facebook ‘solidarity with lecturers’ – I understand that – and, if I was the Students’ Union President, I would support them. But I regret the fact they haven’t come up with a way to strike administratively. They could have refused to mark exams, refused to respond to emails, or something that would have less directly affected students’ education.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The familiarity between students

What’s your favourite film?

At the moment it’s Cabaret, I went through a musical phase last year and I haven’t quite been able to shake it

See the Video of Josh Cavendish speaking at the Durham Union Society last Friday HERE


Josh Butterworth

(Fourth Year Mathematics)

Why do you want to be elected?

I want to be elected because I think I’m the best person for the role, and as to why I want to run, I look at how the university is changing at the minute and it’s just started this 10 year estate plan and I think it’s been very badly thought out. I think it’s very unsustainable. I don’t think it’s been well thought out in terms of what the consequences are going to be of bringing this amount of students at such an increased rate. I think there’s going to be a lot of overcrowding in Durham and I think that you need a strong student voice in University meetings to tell them exactly what the impact it’ll have. It’s not like the university staff are unreasonable people, it’s very easy to paint them as villains in all this, but a lot of the time they just genuinely aren’t aware of what exactly the impact is going to be of their actions.

As someone who has taken part in the #RippedOff campaign, I know part of that was gathering a lot of thoughts to give to them to say actually this is what’s happening, this isn’t just a small subsection of the university protesting for the sake of protesting, this is having real consequences and real knock-on effects. That’s something I’d want to do as Union President to really just hold them accountable and I also want to encourage them to be more transparent in the whole process because I feel like a lot of it has been diktats given with very little explanation as to why.

What are your main priorities?

My main priority is to increase transparency from the University and also increasing transparency within the SU at the same time because a lot of the time, as a student, I’ve found I’ve not known what’s being going on, I’ve not known why it’s going on, I’ve not known what procedures there might be if I want to report certain things and I want to make that a lot clearer.

My main priority is to increase transparency from the University…particularly Estates Masterplan. Obviously that’s the biggest thing going on at the minute

Yes, part of that is holding the University accountable, particularly Estates Masterplan. Obviously, that’s the biggest thing going on at the minute, but I fully expect there to be other things too. Also, accommodation fees is something I want to continue to campaign against.

What are your views on the NUS and Durham SU’s position within it?

I think the NUS is often misrepresented, I think it does some good work, especially the working with the various associations, I know it gives them a lot of support. I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it’s better to be changed from the inside. I think that’s probably Durham students’ views at the minute. As you mentioned with Tom Harwood, he won more than 50% of the vote for NUS delegate last year, whereas that almost halved this year.

I don’t think it’s perfect but I think it’s better to be changed from the inside

So I think that the point of view from Durham students currently is that they support being in the NUS. But obviously, if that were to change, I’d look into ways to change our position as a union. 

As the Students’ Union president, you can have your own opinions, but you’re not representing those, you’re representing the opinions of students.

What are your views on the planned lecturers’ strikes?

Personally, I support the strike action, especially the lecturers have a right to strike and they have got to do it here. They’ve been forced into a corner and I don’t think we should be holding them accountable, we should be holding the University pensions body accountable for that. However, I do question whether it’s right that the Students’ Union supports the strike. I think it’s quite clear that, whilst there are a very strong contingent of students who are in favour of the strike, the majority of students are either ambivalent or disagree with it. So I think it’s poor that the Students’ Union, which represents all students, puts forward an opinion which I don’t think is representative of all students.

I do question whether it’s right that the Students’ Union supports the strike

I would try and put pressure on the universities pensions body to get the bodies to the table. We all want an end to this strike. There’s no two ways about it. Everyone wants this to end as quickly as possible. I think there’s the Student-Staff solidarity committee I think they’re called, they’re great. I don’t think they should necessarily have Students’ Union backing, but again it’s one of those where you’ve got to separate your personal views from the people you’re representing and I don’t necessarily see there being conflict between the two.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The community. Especially within colleges.

What’s your favourite film?

I’ll go old school. I’ll go Toy Story 2. The first film I watched in the cinema, so a lot of good memories of it

See the Video of Josh Butterworth speaking at the Durham Union Society last Friday HERE


George Walker

(Third Year Politics)

Why do you want to be elected?

I want to be elected because basically in my time in Durham, I’ve been given amazing opportunities that growing up I never thought I’d be able to have. But what I have seen is that I think often those opportunities that Durham offers are not accessible to a huge number of students because of financial reasons, because social reasons and I think that the Students’ Union could be a force that fights to make Durham fairer, fights to improve the lives of Durham students, and I think that, at a critical time of change at the University, we need a strong Students’ Union that’s going be on students’ side fighting for them. I believe I have the experience and the ideas to be able to lead that kind of Students’ Union, that’s going to be able to stand up for students and hold the University accountable.

What are your main priorities?

So one of my main priorities, I want to roll out a Durham landlord database across the whole of Durham so they have a yearly housing survey where students can answer various questions and then that data will go into a database, and then all new freshers signing houses will be able to see how previous people rated their landlords. That’s something that will both allow to make them more informed choices and incentivise landlords to treat their tenants better. That’s something that has already worked at other universities, I think it’s something that next year we could roll out in Durham.

I want to roll out a Durham landlord database across the whole of Durham

I was a founding member of the tenants’ union, so that’s also another thing that I’d like to do is to grow the tenants’ union. I think their thinking of running a ‘Know your Rights’ campaign, so working with them as well to gather data on the private housing market in Durham will enable us to run effective campaigns on that.

What are your views on the NUS and Durham SU’s position within it?

I campaigned in my first year to remain in the NUS and I’m glad to say that we actually won by quite a substantial majority to remain in the NUS in that referendum.

NUS does provide a lot of vital support to students’ unions and it does allow us to be able to amplify our voice on that national stage

My view is that yes the NUS has massive flaws and that I think, there are candidates that ran with obviously very legitimate concerns about NUS. I’ve always been clear that I think the NUS does have major flaws, it’s had major problems with anti-semitism, it’s had major problems with not always being representative of students, where it has not always focused on the issues that are most important to students. However, what I do think is that NUS does provide a lot of vital support to students’ unions and it does allow us to be able to amplify our voice on that national stage and also to be able to get a lot of training and to work with other students’ unions and to be able to share best practice in a way that I think is actually really beneficial.

What are your views on the planned lecturers’ strikes?

I think first of all we need to recognise that the cause of this is the cuts to pensions that have been proposed by Universities UK (UUK). One of the first things worth noting is that it was Universities UK not UCU that walked away from negotiations on this. Let’s think about the long-term impacts of the attack on pensions. You’re talking about new lecturers losing about, according to independent analysis, £200,000 in retirement. That’s clearly going to discourage a lot of potentially very good academics from coming into academia. I also think that it’s worth noting where we think the blame lies on this because, I think actually the blame lies not with the lecturers, who I think are taking quite reasonable action to protect their pensions and I think they have their right to do that.

The blame lies here with the Universities UK, not the lecturers who are taking reasonable action to protect their pensions.

We think that we need to put pressure on the University to get back around the table and to reach a fair deal, whilst also absolutely, and this is what my position is, working to minimise disruption, making sure communication with students is good because students shouldn’t accept their education being disrupted. But they shouldn’t, at the same time, be having to accept massive cuts to their lecturers’ pensions. I think that we need to be clear that actually, the blame lies here with the Universities UK, not the lecturers who are taking reasonable action to protect their pensions.

What’s your favourite thing about Durham?

The amount of extra-curricular opportunities and the amount of things you can do to enhance your degree.

What’s your favourite film?

Invictus. It’s a really inspiring story, it’s a really amazing film and told brilliantly. It’s a really inspiring story of the power of sport to bring people together.

See the Video of George Walker speaking at the Durham Union Society last Friday HERE

Voting (open to all Durham students) began on Monday 19th February 2018 and closes at 5pm on Friday 22nd February 2018.

Photograph: Durham Students’ Union

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