By Jack Parker
Neve Ovenden has pulled out of the Students’ Union Presidential election.
Citing personal attacks on her and her supporters, as well as changes to the SU’s campaigning timetable, Ovenden first announced her surprise move at the final SU hustings event, just days before the start of election voting period.
A third-year English Literature and History student at St Cuthbert’s Society, Ovenden is the Supplies Officer of the Working-Class Students Association, and is a long-standing environmental campaigner.
Ovenden had achieved around 200 likes on her Facebook campaign page, as well as the endorsement of the Durham University Labour Club, prior to her withdrawal. Her campaign page has since been deleted.
Her manifesto had included increasing student representation, reinstating the Durham Grant, regenerating the SU’s ‘Ripped Off’ accommodation fee campaign, and involving working class students in the University’s decision-making processes.
The role of President is that of the highest student representative in Durham, and is the main spokesperson for the Students’ Union.
“Many people do not see the Students’ Union as a welcoming place”Neve Ovenden
Speaking exclusively to Palatinate, Ovenden explained her reasons for pulling out of the race.
“I was nervous about standing. Many people do not see the Students’ Union as a welcoming place.
“I became concerned about my own and other candidates’ wellbeing when the SU made the sudden and unprecedented announcement that campaigning could begin much earlier than advertised.”
This year’s SU Officer elections are scheduled one week later than they were in 2019.
Ovenden continues: “In addition, there were veiled and not-so-veiled attacks on me and my supporters that I do not believe were justified. I admit that this made me feel sick about continuing.
“I stood against candidates with excellent manifestos who had brought together a strong coalition of students to fight this campaign. Our policies were compatible and there was a strong case for combining platforms to take the fight to the university.”
“This made me feel sick about continuing”Neve Ovenden
Neve Ovenden’s withdrawal leaves just two candidates still in the running – Seun Twins, a third-year studying International Relations at Hild Bede, and Pranjul Khatri, a Masters student of International Relations.
When asked whether she would be endorsing another candidate in the election, Ovenden replied: “Since I stood down several common room presidents have launched a campaign to Re-Open Nominations (RON) in this election to protest their deteriorating relationship with the Students’ Union.
“I hope candidates and current officers use the RON campaign as a wake-up call to change the culture of student politics and re-focus on issues that matter, such as saving college staff, supporting the strike, liberation, and accessibility on campus.”
Asked if she had a message for those who had supported her and her campaign, Ovenden declined to comment.
“I hope candidates and current officers use the RON campaign as a wake-up call”Neve Ovenden
Neve Ovenden spoke to Palatinate last week as part of our ‘Meet the Candidates’ series. In that interview, she praised current SU President Kate McIntosh for her work on the ongoing strikes, and said: “The University, and its leadership in particular, have these incredibly toxic goals of growth and expansion, with a human cost for all their ambition.
“The role of a student officer is to empower students to recognise that our struggle is one also of workers and local residents.”
SU Officer elections do not have an electoral threshold, meaning the elections are valid regardless of the turnout. Last year’s elections, in which the role of President was elected unopposed, saw a turnout of just 14% – down from as high as 24.7% just 2 years ago.
Six separate elections are taking place – President, Welfare and Liberation, Opportunities, Undergraduate Academic, Postgraduate Academic, and Trustees.
Voting for the SU Officer election opens at 8am on Sunday 23rd February, and continues until 5pm on Wednesday 26th February.
Image: Durham Students’ Union