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March 3, 2008 | by  | in Online Only | [ssba]

Should VUWSA be political at all?

I was frolicking with my white middle-upper class socialite friends down at Law School today when I spotted our VUWSA president, Joel Cosgrove, working away heroically behind the Law Students Society Barbecue – pumping out snarlers and Kebabs for hungry Tort Law sufferers. Don’t get me wrong – its great to see our VUWSA president out and about, and representing students in what ever way they can. Joel should be commended for the great visible presence he has had in the opening weeks of university. What he should not be commended for is his overtly political stance and affiliation to the Workers Party.

I say this with trepidation. Every person is allowed to hold an ideological opinion. Joel is perfectly justified in Supporting the Workers Party and advocating their position – just not on students time. Joel was spotted wearing a T-Shirt that criticised Labour and was pro the Workers party – an obvious form of advocacy – while he also was serving students. To me, that’s a perversion of the position of President.

This issue has raised its head before – returning students may remember the political furore over the A-Team’s unsuccessful bid for VUWSA supremacy last year. One interesting point that did arise from their campaign, was the fact that VUWSA should be apolitical – it shouldn’t campaign or support a particular political position, beyond that which directly relates to students – e.g. Interest Free Student Loans, and an increase in Living Costs. There is still even tension about whether they should even campaign for those very focused issues – some students may be against the idea of interest free student loans – they may see them as economically damaging to New Zealand, or principally immoral. Who Knows…

That’s the point in a nutshell really – VUWSA doesn’t really know. There was a 15% mandate for all student politicians in this years VUWSA cabinet. That’s probably the combined student numbers of Young Nats, Act on Campus, The Workers Party, The Debating Society, Young Labour, UniQ, Gecko and some sports clubs. All groups with large vested political interests in both National Politics (and therefore the need to influence students) or vested political interests in VUWSA itself.

I am unsure how to solve this problem. It’s not just one that rests solely with Joel – VUWSA executive members are also Young Labour supporters – and in the past VUWSA has been dominated by Young Nats divisions. To really advocate politically for students – and have a REAL mandate for doing so – VUWSA needs to know what students want politically, and it needs to do ascertain what those are better than its doing now.

Student politicians are often elected on promises of competence, not politics – I would be surprised to hear that a majority of students voted for Joel because of his socialist leanings – it is more likely they did on his promise of Free net and Printing (which we are still waiting for). Due to this fact – and its applicability to all Student politicians, it seems strange that they feel compelled to advocate anything political at all.

Joel has every right to promote the Workers Party as much as he wants – just not on students time, or when he is acting in capacity as the president of our Students Organisation.


NEW DEVELOPMENT   5th March 2008

Workers Party posters have been distributed around campus this week, encouraging people to obtain new infomation about the Workers Party – Joel Cosgrove is mentioned by name.

The offending wording Follows – I will upload an image once its scanned.

“What is the Workers Party? – Being a Revolutionary on Campus – Joel Cosgrove – President of the Students Association.”

This is exactly what I was talking about above – Joel should not be using his impartial position as President of the Students Association to legitimise his own political ideologies. It would be like Geoff Hayward stating – “inquire about the Labour Party – Says Geoff Hayward.” Thankfully Geoff didn’t do such a thing – his ability to divorce his own personal politics from his role at VUWSA president is a trait Joel should seriously consider adopting. 


About the Author ()

Conrad is a very grumpy boy. When he was little he had a curl in the middle of his forehead. When he was good, he was moderately good, but when he was mean he was HORRID. He likes guns, bombs and shooting doves. He can often be found reading books about Mussolini and tank warfare. His greatest dream is to invent an eighteen foot high mechanical spider, which has an antimatter lazer attached to its back.

Comments (51)

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  1. Stephen Whittington says:

    Can you please elaborate on debsoc’s vested interests in national politics?

  2. Chris says:

    Something that is not mentioned, but should be, is that Joel sat on the Workers’ Party stall at Cultural Clubs day in the Quad last week, for a considerable period of time. At this time he was being paid a salary to run the Students’ Assocation, not tout for his crazy Marxist party.

    Additionally, Joel was distributing Workers’ Party fliers advertising a talk being given to him at a Workers’ Party meeting, with his name prominently mentioned as “VUWSA President”. I mentioned the inappropriateness of mixing the two positions (Workers Party supporter and VUWSA President) to him but he was unconcerned – in his words, he IS the VUWSA President and so it is a true statement of fact. Of course it is, but the fact that his position as VUWSA President is IRRELEVANT to his Workers’ Party affiliations passed him by.

    I for one resent having VUWSA linked to an organisation that by implication supports the enslavement of workers, the denial of freedom of choice, and the impoverishment of everyone.

  3. Jackson Wood says:

    I think that we should make elections for VUWSA at the start of the year. This would mean that 1st years get to know the candidates before they get lumped with the exec they don’t know and didn’t vote for.
    We also need an incentive for voting… maybe $25 refund of your $125 VUWSA levvy. We should also introduce a new voting system from a single winner, to a Single Non-Transferable Vote system.

    However as a veteran of David Cassidy being on the exec under a Jeremy Greenbrook VUWSA exec, I am sure that this would only lead to the outcome of the Eye on the Exec column being markedly more interesting that it has been so far.

  4. I think we decided last year no one was getting a refund. So give up on it! I agree, personal political ideologies should be kept separate from VUWSA, and VUWSA should be political on the grounds that it advances the interests of students – allowances, rent, staying alive etc.

    I don’t see a difference between Joel calling himself ‘VUWSA President’ on Workers Party leaflets and using his VUWSA email to spam Workers Party members (which I don’t doubt he’s done, although I couldn’t confirm it), neither of which should be mixed. It confuses students as to what they’re supporting and paying for and how they are being representative. Joel can do what he wants in his own time, but at VUWSA events he should be strictly VUWSA.

  5. Martli says:

    It’s impossible for VUWSA to be completely apolitical. The exec is essentially a domain for aspiring politicians; a practise run before parliament. The only people who will actually run for positions on the exec are going to be politically aware people, they’re going to have their own agendas and this will always dictate the way they view VUWSA related issues. No matter how hard they try to divorce their ideals from their work, it’s always going to influence their decisions. The A-team is a good example: they strived to be apolitical, but based their entire campaign on a certain ideological view. Any decisions made by an A-team executive were always going to be made on these ideological assumptions. It’s a nice little utopia, but it’s completely impossible.

    Where VUWSA can be apolitical is in the form of sponsorship. The name VUWSA shouldn’t be associated with certain parties with political agendas outside of club funding. I don’t feel Joe is doing this by being associated with the workers party (Although Chris’s example, if true, would fit my definition of sponsorship). I think people are smart enough to separate Joe the individual from VUWSA itself. Yes he is the president, but he has a life outside of VUWSA as well. We know Joe’s a commie–He makes absolutely no effort to hide this– and we voted him in.

    As for Jackson’s comments: I kind of agree with the voting at the start of the year, but I would argue that perhaps it’s better for first year students to get a feel for the political scene during their first year before they go diving into voting. I would also question logistics: As it stands you have the relatively quiet summer trimester to get your shit sorted before taking the reigns for the year. But I do think the idea has some merit.

  6. Jackson Wood says:

    Jingle jangal…. I think I hear another round of the perennial VSM debate about to start…

  7. Are you illiterate Stephen? Tthe sentence clearly states that some of those groups have a vested interest in VUWSA as well. As you should rightly know, as you received a considerable sum of money from them yourself last year.

    “It’s impossible for VUWSA to be completely apolitical. The exec is essentially a domain for aspiring politicians; a practise run before parliament.”

    A) yes its impossible for people to be apolitical… but its not impossible for an organisation that is supposed to represent the totality of students (even though 85% didn’t vote for it) to be completely apolitical.

    b) Why should VUWSA be a practice run for Parliament? Why cant it be an effective bureaucratic organisation to help students – and not one where certain members are preaching to them certain ideological positions?

    “I think people are smart enough to separate Joe [sic] the individual from VUWSA itself. Yes he is the president, but he has a life outside of VUWSA as well. We know Joe’s [sic] a commie–He makes absolutely no effort to hide this– and we voted him in.”

    A) I dont think people are smart enough to seperate the two. Most commerce students cant even tell you who Gordon Copeland is.

    B) I would contend (as I do in the post) that people voted for Joel because of his promises of free net and printing. Not because he is in the Workers party.

  8. Kerry says:

    Short history of past VUWSA presidents:
    Jeremy Greenbrook (as noted by Jackson) – Young Labour, currently doing policy analysis work (can’t remember which govt dept, sorry…)

    Nick Kelly – Workers’ Party – currently driving buses, and organising bus drivers’ union interests.

    Geoff Hayward – Young Labour – currently running B O X fraternity and ???

    Joel Cosgrove – Workers’ Party – 2008 pres.

    If I went further back (or any of you felt like reading Radical Tradition, the history of VUWSA), you might discover that political party affiliation is one of the few guaranteed common fields of those who stand for VUWSA presidency.

    Most presidents go on to do further political work – eg: Fleur Fitzsimons, currently a great student advocate on VUW Council, and now a PSA staff member, former Pres, 2001 (?..sorry, haven’t got my copy handy right now!).

  9. “Most commerce students cant even tell you who Gordon Copeland is.”

    Well, in their defence, the man has no personality nor any real political impact.

  10. Jackson Wood says:

    Yeah where is my free net…?
    And my steak sandwich… Damn you Pete Hodgson.

  11. Kelly – im not against VUWSA presidents having personal political beliefs. Im against them using VUWSA time to promote those personal political beliefs. So, your comment – while informative – is unfortunately irrelevant.

  12. Chris says:

    Conrad – read your sentence(s) again. it says, “All groups with large vested political interests in both National Politics (and therefore the need to influence students) or vested political interests in VUWSA itself”.

    You state those groups have vested interestsin
    a) national politics; or
    b) VUWSA itself.

    It’s not clear which of the groups you refer to have vested interests in national politics, VUWSA, or both. It might be helpful to clarify that.

  13. Chris says:

    Kerry the fact that in the past VUWSA members have been foolish enough to elect radical Marxists and Labour lackeys is neither here nor there.

  14. wealth creates fat says:

    Chris stunks

  15. hypocrite says:

    Read the Radical Tradition and read Salient since it was published (99/00) and you will find this out:

    Old Days Conservatives
    70’s Trotskyists vs non Trotskyists
    80’s few moderates
    Early 90’s Dave Guerin right winger
    MMP Era onwards as of holding office at VUWSA:
    96 – Michael Gibbs – Labourite
    97-98 Alistair Shaw – Maoist/Radical Society/Other
    99 – Hamish Hopkinson – Alliance
    2000-01 Chris Hipkins – Labourite (and shoe in to be Labour MP this year)
    2002 Fleur Fitzsimons – Labourite
    2003 Amanda Hill – Labourite
    2004 Catherine Belfield Haines – Labourite
    2005 Jeremy Greenbook – Labourite
    2006 Nick Kelly – Marxist
    2007 Geoff Hayward – Labourite
    2008 Joel Cosgrove – Marxist

    in last 8 years have had 6 Labourites and 2 Marxists from same party (who were both open to where they stood)

    This year there are about 6 Labourites on exec and they seem to be getting on with the job… (just like the openly Marxist President seems to be doing as is commended by Conrad…)

    And NO I don’t think VUWSA should not be political or else why have elections in the first place? If Young Labour or young marxists want to stand for an election that is supposed to be fair and open then I have no problem with that. I don’t even have a problem with the Young Labour execees wearing Labour rosettes in leading into the general election even if they are on campus… And of former exec members some of them go into the senior Labour party, not that anyone in the real world seems to care…

    OK so now we have established that the VUWSA elections are elections and student POLITICIANS stand in them, then now lets turn our attention to the junior 4th Estate we have here on campus.

    In most particular the Salient Bloggers, I notice that there are 4 main bloggers and is good to see so much blogging, but are they affiliated/partisan in any way (come on you should wear it on your shoulder and PROUDLY! like Joel does) i.e. from what I read of your profile are you of the Michigan Militia Conrad? I take it Jackson Wood is a Helen Clark supporter from his enthusiasm of Billary (i.e. translates to wishing to see Helen and Billay cosey up at APEC forums… not that it’s likely either will be in office then…), are you Peter’s brother Hugh? come on we want more goss…

    Anyway keep blogging like crazy (as duh, thats why you are here)…

  16. dan says:

    that’s a long list of labour presidents, but like who cares though…

    and who cares if Comrade Cosgrove wears a T-shirt or the duct tape on his shoes he mentions…

  17. Jackson has his own political party. He won’t shut the fuck up about it.

  18. Andrew says:

    cool, We have a long but fun year so look forward to hearing more about his party as we get closer to the election…

    Yeah, I guess the debate about VUWSA will never just go away…

  19. Jackson Wood says:

    I’m not going to use Salient as a platform to launch my political aspirations, I don’t particularly have aspirations of any type in fact. I may mention it from time to time, and if I am desperate for ideas one week I may resort to writing “Jackson Wood’s guide to starting a political party.” I guarantee, you the reader, this. So Laura you can just shut the fuck up.

    The party is a joke party and I started it to draw attention to the fact that not enough people care about the descisions being made in the house of representatives, and by politicians in general.

  20. matt the truck says:

    Cool.. a salient reporter fight… my money is on Laura. I think you guys will find that Joel only has to work 40 hours a week. This doesn’t mean a normally 9 to 5 job either. He can work late into the night to fulfill his role. I am more than sure Joel worked a 40 hour working week last week, being O-week and all. Therefore, he taking his brake during the middle of the day to represent his club is not ‘inappropriate’. So what if he is political. If you can name one time when he does workers party work during his ’40 hours’ of presidents work, then that might be a problem, but you will find that you cannot. And mention of the A-Team and this a-political bullshit. I think firstly, the correct word is non-partisan, and secondly, a student politician cannot be a-political… that would be nonsensical. Joel is allowed to wear whatever clothing he likes. Its called freedom!

  21. Yeah, my money’s on me also. I’m so tough looking. If Joel is using his VUWSA email address for Workers Party activities, I believe he is overstepping the boundaries. He can wear what he wants though – he’ll always be a smelly commie.

  22. matt the truck says:

    I am sure that Joel is not that stupid that he would use his work email to promote the Workers Party. The real issue is that if his t-shirts is an election advert, then if he does not have a home address on it, then he will be braking the law (EFB).

  23. Jackson Wood says:

    “Jackson Wood is a Helen Clark supporter from his enthusiasm of Billary (i.e. translates to wishing to see Helen and Billay cosey up at APEC forums”

    See above comment about me not shutting the fuck up. heh although Clark and Clinton at Apec would be SO hot.

  24. matt the truck says:

    Jackson.. shut the fuck up ;) my money is on Laura, now fight, fight, fight

  25. Jackson Wood says:

    Truck… if you were betting on a fight between me and Laura and you put down $10 on her, your return would be minimal. Of course she is going to win, and I’ll give you some insider knowledge as to why:

    She is my girlfriend…

    And as most people know, when it comes to fights in a relationship the woman always wins (unless I have a baseball bat.)

  26. The last VUWSA president that made a real difference to student welfare was Chris Hipkins. He got drinking fountains installed.

  27. matt the truck says:

    Really Jackson.. it’s like I didn’t know. Of course the return would be minimal … but still it would be funny to see her ninja your arse.

  28. nitro says:

    “The last VUWSA president that made a real difference to student welfare was Chris Hipkins. He got drinking fountains installed”

    Get off Chipkins soap box Will, we all know that he is running for Parliament this year in a safe Labour seat. Drinking fountains, Oh WOW! on top of being a bureaucrat (good training for the Labour party) he gave us water, I’d much rather have the free soup in the Quad on Thursdays…

  29. felicia jollygoodfellow says:

    Personally, I’m sick to death of so-called ‘apolitical’ student pollies who then sell you down the river when the council sets the fees or otherwise fuck with students. Furthermore most recent student presidents have been ‘yes men’ for the Labour Party. At least Joel is honest about his politics and what he stands for. Thousands of VUWSA members voted for him, which, whether you agree with his politics or not, gives him more legitimacy than the ravings of a right-wing journo like Ms. McQuillan.

  30. Just like Nick Kelly eh Felicia. I hear he LOVES the Labour Party

  31. Yeahhh I’m a big fat libertarian. I’m voting ACT this election. Twice. Joel got thousands of votes for free printing and free internet. Let’s see how successful he is delivering his election promise.

  32. Felicia Jollygoodfellow says:

    I’m ‘glad’ to hear that the Association of Crooks and Thieves will receive two votes this November, even if it is by a self-proclaimed “a big fat libertarian” (how is that different from a “smelly marxist” ? one wonders). However both votes will be disqualified as voting twice is illegal under the Electoral Act.

  33. Jackson Wood says:

    I think you totally missed the sarcasm/irony in her statement Felicia…

  34. peteremcc says:

    nevermind the fact that under MMP you DO get two votes!

  35. Oh dear, wasn’t it decided last year that I have a terrible left-wing bias? I feel so confused. Who am I? Where am I?

  36. matt the truck says:

    Need I remind everyone the dodgy goings on with last years VUWSA election. That’s right Peter.. dodgy. (you should demand a re-count!!!!!). laura got 10(?) votes, but she never even ran.

  37. Na apparently I only got 2.5. And none of those were cast by me. But I was easily the hottest candidate, so who can really blame them?

  38. matt the truck says:

    Hottest candidate?!!? Well lucky for you that Chris renwick never ran this year then ;)

  39. Jackson Wood says:

    Yeah I would totally dump Laura in a second if Chris came on the market. At least I would be able to whoop his ass in a fight.

  40. I don’t know about that Jackson – have you seen his five star frog splash of the top rope? Its a bone breaker.

  41. Hana Newport says:

    Everyone has politics. To a large degree, people are only considered ‘political’ if their politics happen to fall outside- i.e. slightly to the left or right- of our muddy liberal average. But the fact of the matter is that our vague unstated liberal ‘norm’ is as political as any Marxist or neo-Liberal.

    Joel is, of course political. And we all knew it when we voted. Just as all the candidates for VUWSA positions were last year, and ever are. The only difference lies really in how explicit, or not, they are about it. That’s why it’s pointlessly redundant to imagine that student politics aren’t, well, political.

    I really think what last year’s election showed us wasn’t that student politicians should be a-political, but that they should be UPFRONT about the politics that they, inevitably, hold.

    If all candidates are compelled to talk about their politics during future campaigning, then VUWSA WILL know what students want politically, because students will have taken this into consideration with their voting. As they already do now! But would be able to do with more confidence if there was more transparency.

    Because in the end, who, really, wants to be the fashion police for VUWSA members, telling them whether their t-shirt is acceptably boring, PC and a-political enough?!

  42. If we expect exec members to set their partisan politics aside, does the same apply to their church? If a candidate is a satanist, but they doesn’t tell their voters, is it then poor form for them to wear a Satan Loves You T-shirt around campus?

  43. matt the truck says:

    I still think that you Tristan should do an article on the difference between being a-political and being non-partisan. Hey I know, I will start a Facebook group, similar to the group people who know the difference between your and you’re

  44. peteremcc says:

    I already told Conrad this in person, but realised I never actually posted it here…

    YES! Of course VUWSA should be allowed to be political.
    It should advocate and do whatever its members want it to do.
    VUWSA is there to speak on behalf of its members – that’s the whole point.

    The problem of course, is that with compulsory membership, VUWSA must speak on behalf of every student at university, whether that student wants them to or not. That’s what causes the problem with VUWSA getting involved with politics.

    Make VUWSA voluntary, and then it can do whatever it and its members want it to do.

  45. Ew yuck. Student Choice raises its bestial head.

    I think VUWSA should stay compulsory because it acts as a financial cash cow for the more enlightened students. I take a certain pleasure out of receiving VUWSA benefits in the knowledge that some poor marketing student with naught a twixt the ears paid for it in part.


  46. Chris de Lisle says:

    I am of mixed opinion about this. As a first year, I never voted for the guy, anyway, but if we had had elections I doubt I would have been able to make an informed decision anyway.

    It sounds like voter turnout is low, which implies that nothing much changes regardless of who is in power- VUWSA has little power outside its sphere, and things within that sphere are mostly of a bureaucratic nature anyway… Am I right here, or have I missed something?

    So given that the President is effectively irrelevant anyway, I don’t really care if he’s a Marxist (Except that it is a little quaint and provides some local colour).

    I highly doubt that his position as student president will greatly effect membership in this Worker’s Party (Incidentally, is he actually a ‘worker’?). Even *if* it does make more people join initially they will no doubt drop out if they don’t find something there that they actually like and agree with.

    So, yes. One vote for apathy here!

  47. Alysum says:

    so – Joel was a communist (socialist?) and workers party member before getting voted in to VUWSA, he’s *still* a communist and workers party member, and your problem is… ?

    It’d be one thing if he’d bought this out after his election, but he’s been open about his political leanings from the beginning – nay, not open, he actively publicises them. If students didn’t want that, they would have voted for someone else.

    You’re saying he should STOP having political affiliations he had before his election. Seems kinda bullshit really. People actually voted for him, and it’s not like they voted for you as a columnist, right? Doesn’t stop *you* holding forth on your opinions.

    Not a communist

  48. Laura McQuillan says:

    The point of the free media is that journalists are not elected, otherwise we may end up with a communist magazine to go with our communist student president.

    The fact of the matter is, Joel is elected to represent students, and if he used his position on the exec to advertise the Workers’ party, he would be misusing his elected position. To represent students he needs to represent a plurality of political views, rather than pushing his own politics.

    He was elected on the basis of free internet and free printing, not his political stance. His political leanings were reported minimally, which is something Salient should have and could have done more prominently in 2007.

  49. matt the truck says:

    He was elected cos the other two candidates suck balls Laura…

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