Angus Shaw speaks with SU VP Tancrède Chartier about the Trustee Board’s overturn of last week’s student vote
Following our report on the controversy surrounding Essex Students’ Union’s overturn of a majority student vote for SU transport to the ‘Free Education’ demonstration in London, the SU Vice President for Services and Communications and Sabbatical Trustee Board member, Tancrède Chartier, kindly offered to sit down with Rebel and explain in depth the Board’s thinking behind the decision.
Preceding my questions, Tancrède reiterated the SU’s official statement sent after the result became rejected to those who signed up for the demonstration, and its primary concerns with an alleged lack of ‘public liability insurance’ and ‘no safeguarding policies’ by demonstration organisers:
As echoed in the statement, Tancrède opened our conversation by making clear the SU’s utmost concern for safety above all as the main reason leading to the overturn:
“We recognised as a union that the risks, as people have said, were minimal, in the aspect that the likelihood of something happening was quite low. But we could not take this risk, so this is why we wanted a reply from our insurance. And we realised that the majority [of the insurer’s concerns] could be acted upon except ‘consideration of the threat of terrorism’. We realised as a union that we don’t have any policy going forward in terms of assessing the threat of a terrorist attack happening. This is on the radar of the Trustee Board and we will be drafting as soon as possible a policy for the threat of terrorism to make sure that in the next demonstration happening we will be able to send our students forward.”
After hearing Tancrède’s summary, I first asked why the demonstration organiser’s and SU’s insurance policies in question were not assessed and evaluated before the SU put the idea to a vote, instead of overturning the result after the fact. He replied:
“The idea of the Trustee Board is to look at the organization from a whole and to make sure in terms of financially there’s no risk of the Union being viable. When that sort of decision comes to the Trustee Board it really is a last resort – it was really at that point we realised a decision has to be made in terms of protecting the Union … The reason why nothing was done before is because we didn’t assess it would go that far and we didn’t assess the potential risk for our students going to the demonstration. … I think that as a Union our very promise and the very reason why we exist as an organisation is for students. So it is true that it was a sort of conflicting debate within the Trustee Board to overturn a decision that people had voted on.”
I proposed that the Trustee Board would not have needed to overturn the decision if it was looked into properly in the first place, if a lack of insurance was discovered, to which he replied:
“Going forward we’ll make sure that we won’t be in the same situation ever again … I think that as a union we’ve existed for 53 years now and we’ve realised once again we’ve got lots of policies and lots of things to change within the Union, especially for example going forward with student ideas. How do we make sure that for example it doesn’t reach a student [vote] if it breaks some of our policies and if it breaks national policy? … Our only reason to exist as an organisation is to be here for students. That being said when we send students to such a demonstration we want to make sure that they are safe … We’ll make sure that when such a decision happens the Trustee Board is aware of that situation before it goes to a vote, so we don’t have to find ourselves in the same situation where we had overturned basically the voice of students.”
“Going forward we’ll make sure that we won’t be in the same situation ever again … I think that as a union we’ve existed for 53 years now and we’ve realised once again we’ve got lots of policies and lots of things to change within the Union …”
Tancrède’s integral mention about the SU not currently possessing ‘any policy going forward in terms of assessing the threat of a terrorist attack happening’ served as a big factor towards the decision in the interest of student safety, while facing a severe threat level in London. Although in this case demonstration organisers allegedly had no public liability insurance, I asked if this lack of SU terror-assessment policy means that all future events to London, such as sports, will also become cancelled:
“No.” He said. “I think in the current situation we find ourselves facing a terrorist level that we’ve never found before. For example we put on some events that are deemed dangerous but then we do the necessary checks for health and safety, so we make sure that any issues that would arise there’s a solution to. So the idea is to find and draft a policy that would be able to assess the terrorism threat and to find a solution in case of a terrorist attack.”
In 2014 a similar demonstration took place against tuition fees in London, however was once again unsupported by the SU due to insurance concerns. After speaking to students, I discovered there were some views that the pattern of these decisions are more politically motivated rather than pragmatically so, in that the Students’ Union does not wish to align with the messages of such demonstrations. I posed this possibility to Tancrède:
“I think that this time compared to 2014 we’ve made more extensive research into the reason why we couldn’t send our students to this demonstration, and I think we proved that moving forward we want to make sure we don’t find the same issues. It’s true that our University has a left-wing background, but I think that today like never before we have incredible Lib-Dem, Tory, Labour, Green and UKIP societies on-campus. We’ve got students from all different backgrounds and from all political horizons, so I think the Students’ Union should be apolitical in the sense that it will not endorse a certain politics. That being said, as I’ve said before, we will support political action from a student as long as they have voted on the issue.”
“Our only reason to exist as an organisation is to be here for students. That being said when we send students to such a demonstration we want to make sure that they are safe …”
Tancrède has brought much transparency between the Students’ Union and disenfranchised demonstrators over the past week, and emphasised that the Union is always open to discussion and change when it comes to the wellbeing of students.