By Robin Wilde | @Robin_CG ‏

The 13 candidates for four roles did rhetorical battle this evening in a three-hour debating session that touched on issues from inclusivity in sport to the funding promises of the Presidential manifestos. Here is our comprehensive report of the first night of Forge Debates 2019.

Development Officer

Debates began with the two candidates for Development Officer, in a good-natured discussion between Harry Carling and Jordan Weir. Both candidates make sustainability a focus in their policies, and here it was no different, with ideas about how to cut down on single-use plastics.

Harry argued that retaining the SU’s reputation as #1 in the country hinged on sustainability policies, even those which might cause inconvenience: “I wouldn’t choose for that to change at all – we need to be practicing sustainable approaches”. Jordan, concurring, said: ““I believe that our university should bring ingenuity” and advocated bringing in a shop where students can trade unwanted older items, such as kitchen utensils.

Jordan said he wanted to incentivise sports societies and committees for more sustainable behaviour and purchases. He argued for creating a Facebook page where they can share ways of doing something differently (e.g. greener transport) and encourage others, and then be rewarded, for example with Pop Tarts and ROAR tickets. Harry, responding, pointed out that Societies Committee already have a similar system.

Development Officer candidates Harry Carling and Jordan Weir with host Cameron Jurevicius. Image: Chelsea Burrell

International Students’ Officer

Five candidates attended this debate, with appearances from Chino Olumba, Mengya Li (Sissi), Ruiwei Chen, Laura Prieto and Rana Gharaybeh.

We opened with a debate around accessibility, a common campaign pledge with different potential approaches. Chino Olumba focused on promoting better relations, helping international students and home students to make friends faster, while Sissi Li said she wanted to create a new platform for those Chinese students who don’t have Facebook. Rana Gharaybeh concurred, saying “Social media is a big part of everyone’s life so we need to reach people through that.”

Ruiwei Chen took a different tack, offering the idea of a dedicated day for students of each nationality represented at the university.

On the topic of where the ISO role fits alongside the existing national societies, views differed again. Chino pointed out that some international students aren’t confident in their English, and might want to make use of a new suggestions box, where improvements and issues can be raised more easily.

Rana made it clear that information is key to the role, raising awareness of “the amount of times you can go around the world in one place”, while Laura Prieto told the audience she would look at going to departments and talking to students so people are aware of the events that are taking place, and to ensure they show up.

Chino told the panel her experience of joining K-Pop society dance in public, and afterwards going to join, because “we want to study but we also want to have a good time”. It was important, she said, to approach chairs of societies and help them raise awareness spontaneously.

The International Students Officer debate in full swing. Image: Chelsea Burrell

Sports Officer

Only two candidates, Brittany Bowles and Annie Timmis, attended the sports debate, in the absence of Mem Swanborough.

Inclusions in sport is a traditionally hot topic, and Brittany Bowles opened by arguing that “joining in was the best thing I ever did and I wish more people took the chance with sports.” Annie Timmis agreed, and pointed out that too often international students feel shut out from sports, and that there was a need for more inter-gender sport too.

While the current sports officer and all the current candidates are women, what about inclusions for those from other liberation groups? Annie pointed out that those LGBT people involved in sports are often white gay men, and there’s a need for other voices to find a place, while Brittany argued for getting specialists with close-up knowledge in to talk about their experiences, such as sportspeople with disabilities.

There was some displeasure from both candidates towards the Goodwin Sports Centre, with Brittany saying “it’s not really accessible to disabled students at all, and I find that really sad.” Timmis brought up the gym’s high price point, adding ““What I pay for and what I’m getting doesn’t quite match up”.

SU President

Sparks truly flew at the culmination of the night as four candidates fought it out in an intense debate over policy funding, Union accessibility and the role of the Presidency itself. Gabe Milne’s flagship policy of a comprehensive accessibility strategy came under scrutiny, as rival Emily Doyland pointed out that many of the recommendations might not be implemented until after his hypothetical term. Gabe shot back, arguing “By the end of my term I can guarantee we will have the policy in place and changes will be made”.

The President candidates debating. Image: Chelsea Burrell

Jake Verity, identifiable in his own campaign t-shirt, put the case for an ambitious SU-fronted music festival, arguing it would be a revenue raiser for the Union in a similar manner to Tramlines. But this drew the fire of other candidates, with Gabe Milne stating forcefully that many of Jake’s policies either already existed, or had already been tried – citing former President Dom Trendall’s then-successful attempt to hold down student bus fares in 2017.

Blows were traded between all candidates, but Ashley Routh’s eye-catching policy of abolishing the Presidency drew particular lines of divide. Emily Doyland argued that the President is an important figurehead, helping to implement the visions of the other officers and providing a focal point for student representation. Ashley argued that the £20,000 Gabe wants to use to fund societies could be raised by cancelling the £18,900 Presidential salary.

Mental health and wellbeing played a central role, with Emily arguing that she had placed those issues at the heart of her manifesto – but Gabe argued they were inextricable parts of his comprehensive accessibility strategy, a consultation and listening exercise that aims to produce a white paper recommending changes to the union to support students.

The Presidential debate produced the most heat of the four debates tonight, but also a significant amount of light, shone on four manifestos and avoiding the personal. After the debate closed, all four candidates had a more good-natured chat, but their passion for their individual platforms is clear.

Photography: Chelsea Burrell

Re-watch Forge Debates Night 1 here: