A Guide To Hackademics: Student Politics Summed Up

Student politics has more clichés than a Peter Kay DVD. Which is part of what makes it fun. Here's a guide to understanding the circle-jerk of student politics and the lunatics within it...
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Student politics has more clichés than a Peter Kay DVD. Which is part of what makes it fun. Here's a guide to understanding the circle-jerk of student politics and the lunatics within it...


Student politics is often dismissed as irrelevant, with good reason. That doesn’t stop people getting hugely over-involved in it though; indeed, it seems to actively promote it. Put your hack slacks and your SnapHack on and take a troll round your nearest campus to see if you can spot the following.

The Far Lefty: Often distinguished by extremely privileged background and/or expensive education, the far lefty is the voice of the oppressed, not just on campus but around the world. Recent news events that impacted students must never be allowed to happen again, all education should be free and completely disconnected from any kind of market system, and minority groups are by definition better than majorities. The system is to blame, yeah, and whilst it would really be best if everything was just run as some kind of anarcho-syndicalist commune, electing them is the best you can do for now. So left wing that if they were at Man United, they’d be in danger of forcing Ryan Giggs into the hole, this one can be spotted easily thanks to their bright red placards, Hare Krishna food and MacBook air with hammer and sickle stickers on. From these they will tweet vague but inspirational invective, prompting validating and reinforcing responses from like-minded lefties.

Might go on to be: Hugo Chavez, Leon Trotsky. More likely: Trenton Oldfield, Arthur Scargill

The Not-Quite-So-Far Lefty: By way of the fact that student politics is inherently left-wing, any leftie candidate with even a shred of self-awareness stands a good chance. This lot provide a lot of the runners and riders in any given race. Platitudes about how things need to be better for everyone are accompanied by not-particularly-clever puns (a feature of student politics across the board, to be fair) and vague manifesto pledges. Often acknowledging and drawing (stealing) support from (doomed) extreme or single issue candidates, the softcore leftie is careful not to alienate anyone by saying anything that could be construed as opinionated. Likely to retweet compliments and refer questioners to their manifestos, or maybe their professional-looking campaign video made with the help of their ‘anti-establishment’ friend in the media group. Reads the Guardian, but only because they have to.

Might go on to be: Jack Straw, Francois Hollande. More likely: Get a normal job and chill out.

The Reactionary: This guy is straight-up trolling. Pick any campus in the country and there’ll be one candidate who’s just gone for the jugular, picking on the Union and the Uni for any and all misdemeanours. They spend too much or they don’t spend enough, they’re too inclusive or too exclusive, or maybe their building plans just don’t suit his revision timetable. Whatever it is, he’s telling you all about it, loudly and repeatedly. Dangerously popular due to general anti-establishment feeling, he’s an expert at whipping up social media support and edits a cracking Youtube clip. All too often though the dream dies at hustings, when their version of events is challenged by real people with real facts. Very unlikely to actually win, but very likely to claim that the campaign brought attention to the key issues and they were therefore justified in being a complete moron for 2 weeks.

Might go on to be: Ron Paul, Sarah Palin. More likely: Robert Kilroy Silk

The Rare Right-Winger: The Tories, and the right in general, are as a rule under-represented in student politics. This is probably for the best; after all, if you’re conservative at age 20, what are you going to be like at 45? Occasionally one does pop up, telling everyone how someone has to pay for education so it might as well be you, and inviting think-tanks to subsidise the pizza for campus events so they can claim support in the student demographic. Politically savvy, they know they’re fighting a losing battle so tend to pick and choose who to support. As with anything pro-establishment, there’s also a lot of networking; if you went to the right school or read the right paper, they’ll probably send an endorsement your way. Sufficiently self-aware not to be first against the wall in any of the ‘revolutions’ which are a feature of student politics, they tend nonetheless to be grumpy. This may have something to do with being the butt of all the classic political sniping which student politics downsizes to a (sometimes terrifyingly) personal level.

Might go on to be: George Osborne, Matthew Parris. More likely: Disgusted from Tunbridge Wells


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The Hopeless Centrist: Without a strong leaning to one bank or the other, the centrist student politician is liable to drown in the mainstream, desperately trying to row back down the creek with a paddle improvised from a generic smiley-face placard. Turns up at hustings to talk about transparency, democracy and accountability, but it’s easy for them to say; they’re unlikely to have to put any of that into practice. The best of them get elected to apolitical committee roles, as, sadly, do the worst of them, just for getting noticed. The mediocre ones fade into insignificance, as you might expect from someone in the very middle of the middle; these guys make the Swiss civil service look edgy.

Might go on to be: Nick Clegg. More likely: Parish Council chairperson

The Joke Candidate: Trolling as hard as the reactionary, but openly, the joke candidate doesn’t need a manifesto or a support group; all they need is an audience. Student politics is replete with hacks ready to pounce on anything or anyone new, so making waves isn’t difficult. A couple of ridiculous tweets and a sensationalist video broadcast, possibly featuring hilariously exaggerated special effects, will quickly snowball into a perceived electoral opportunity. From there, just keep the jokes coming: like boxing or a one night stand, you only need a couple of good blows. It isn’t even necessary to appear at hustings or on campus. In fact, it’s probably best not to; the joke doesn’t need a punchline. At least not until it’s in danger of winning an election. This is when things get tricky - do you keep it silly, try for the landslide and then do nothing for a year, or try and make some political capital out of the frenzy? When political jokes get elected, the aftermath isn’t as funny as the build-up. Fortunately, it doesn’t happen too often; like a Newcastle United Europa League campaign, joke candidates look great early on but fizzle out when it really counts.

Might go on to be: Beppe Grillo, Waldo the Bear. More likely: Screaming Lord Sutch

The Hack Who Just Wants To Be Involved: Wherever there’s politics, there’s someone who thrives on it, who lives for every dodgy deal and backroom bust-up. Prepared to get involved in any campaign, the hack will promise you anything in return for a slice of the action. The good ones keep the whole show on the road by sitting on the committees and counting the votes; the crucial cogs in the machine. The smart ones really mess with the system, using voting blocks for elections that don’t effect them, Machiavellian to the core. The bad ones just can’t keep secrets, leaking like Arsenal’s defence but slower to react than Per Mertesacker. Whichever they are, their entry to any room is usually greeted with groans.

Might go on to be: Malcolm Tucker, Peter Mandelson. More likely: Conference delegate.

The Snide Commentator: Usually found sitting on the sidelines taking easy potshots at people slogging their hearts out, even in essay week, for their deeply founded political beliefs. With student politics being as it is, and all the characters above as they are, it makes shooting fish in a barrel look like the modern pentathlon. Probably doesn’t even have as many twitter followers as the most boring candidate, but likes to think that’s because they tweet platitudes whereas he tweets clever, biting satire. Friends with the people he constantly mocks, he tries to make it affectionate, but honesty is the best policy; haters, after all, are going to hate.

Might go on to be: Hunter S Thomson, Andrew Marr. More likely: Local newsletter editor, Sabotage Times contributor.