Candidate Interview – President: Thomas Gravatt

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In the run up to the 2016 SUSU elections, the Wessex Scene team have been interviewing the candidates running for sabbatical positions. Here, I interview Thomas Gravatt, who is hoping to become the next Union President.

Why are you running for the position of Union President?

I think I would perform well as President – it’s very much out of my comfort zone and the decision to run was last minute, almost me testing myself to see if I’d actually have the balls to do it. Basically, I think I could do the job well.

What experience can you bring to the role?

I’ve got a lot of experience leading teams and projects. I touch on this in my manfesto, such as in sixth form when I was responsible for creating a garden  and vegetable growing area and led a team of 15 people and meeting with contractors and the school leadership. I’m also involved with the student consultancy project at the university, where I’m leading a team of four people and we’re working with a charity for the visually impaired to improve the usability and accessibility of their website. Coming at this from an arts degree background was daunting because we had absolutely no experience of web design, but we were able to organise a system through which we could learn the basics and delegate tasks to each member of the team.

My style of leadership is very informal and focuses on accepting other people’s opinions – it’s nonsense to try and lead without using your entire team. Nothing differentiates president from the other sabbatical roles apart from the fact that it is the ‘commander in chief’ and ensures all the other sabbs are working together effectively.

In your Manifesto you say that you will ‘just run the union’ and don’t have any ‘grand plans’ as far as SUSU is concerned? If this is the case how can people know what you stand for and what to expect from you if you get elected?

I will stand for what the students stand for. At the end of the day I don’t think it’s a good system for the president to say ‘this is what I’m going to do’. It’s better to work on a case by case basis and to ask students what they think and how they would change things. You go to a lot of people, find out their opinions and then base a solution on that. If someone is particularly passionate about an issue you bring them in and work with them on a solution – that’s a better way to work than having a grand plan saying exactly what you will do as president. The likelihood is that if you set out explicit aims you might not achieve them and people might not like what you say you are going to do so  you might as well just try to run the union as efficiently as possible without an overarching plan.

You discuss ‘listening to the students’ – how will you go about this and what will this entail? Haven’t we got enough consultation going on as is with the media, brand and democracy reviews?

I’m not sure how much engagement the consultations going on at the moment actually bring. Some people are engaged but it’s probably the same people would be engaged with something like that anyway.   The reviews are a good thing but what’s more important is trying to make sure that I am as successful as possible as a president. I would post on social media saying I’m going to be in this place at this time if you want a chat, or to email me if you have a problem or come into the office and talk to me if you have a specific issue. I’d just be as open as possible – I understand there’s already structures in place to submit ideas but at the moment I feel this is second priority to the official planning and running of the union which is done by the sabbatical officers. I’d make sure that student ideas (and there will be plenty of them) play a key role during my presidency.

You ‘pledge to make no pledges’, yet in your manifesto there are a number of promises (no t-shirts, no hashtags, voting against a rise in fees). If you pledge to make no pledges how binding are these – will you be beholden to them, will you stand up and apologise if you can’t uphold them for any reason?

I promise a Nick Clegg style ‘I’m Sorry video’. The fourth pledge takes authority over all the rest but they’re all quite simple pledges, some of which are more simple than others. I don’t expect you to see any t-shirts during referendum campaigns and the hashtags should disappear but equally I’m not bound to do that.

You say you will continue working on current SUSU projects, do you not agree that some projects aren’t exactly popular among students (for example the brand review)?

The reviews may not be all that popular but it’s something that’s necessary to do from time to time. If you leave anything long enough then it’s going to start looking out of date. The SUSU brand is not quite out of date yet but it’s getting there. Students may not see the point in it because SUSU is still functional but its important to try and keep it up to date.

Finally, what  one thing would you change above all others as Union President?

I’d change the style of the presidency. It would be about what I want to do and my manifesto commitments, which are quite irrelevant and I’m sure you’ll agree if you read my manifesto. My focus would be on supporting the other sabbatical officers who have real jobs and actual zones to look after and I’d spend the rest of the time working with students on their ideas for improving the union. At the end of the day I’m not going to be the one who has the best ideas and neither are the other candidates. The students are what SUSU should be about – it’s a Student’s Union rather than a ‘president’s union’ and should act as a conduit for student opinion.

 

 

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International Editor 2015-17. Third year French & Spanish student currently spending a year studying abroad in Concepción, Chile. Interested in media and world news.

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