Special report: LSE SU elects its sabbatical officers for 2022-23

By Gustav Brincat

On Thursday 24 March, the Students’ Union elections culminated in the traditional results ceremony in The Venue. These Lent Term elections are competitive: winners of the coveted sabbatical officer positions – of which there are four – shape SU policy, get a place at the decision-making table for many School-wide discussions, and a sizeable £30,134 salary. Other influential positions, such as Athletics Union President and International Students’ Officer, were also elected.

Dozens of the SU glitterati were treated to 90 minutes of tension and elation, glamorously accompanied by complementary prosecco in plastic water cups. The proceedings were hosted by Josie Stephens, the incumbent General Secretary, and Dan Lawes, a third-year History and International Relations student. Stephens and Lawes kept spirits up by jokingly digging at each position, much to the chagrin of the anxious candidates. The jokes were noticeably tuned down for the second half.

After a fortnight of campaigning, many candidates were relieved to be off the campaign trail. Voting opened on Monday and closed at 5pm on Thursday, giving the SU only a couple of hours to tot up the results. The SU’s voting system eliminates the weakest candidates in round one of the tallying and reallocates their votes to produce an overall winner in subsequent rounds.

The palpable nervousness of the General Secretary candidates – who would have to wait until the end of the show to hear their fate – contrasted with the brisk and insipid announcements of the first few non-sabbatical roles. All five candidates to the Democracy Committee filled the five vacancies, as did the only candidate for LGBT+ Officer, Arya Barkesseh. Voters for positions like the LGBT+ Officer and Social Mobility and Class Officer were required to self-identify as belonging to that group, resulting in some of these winners attracting particularly few votes. The Neurodivergent Students’ Officer election registered just 90 votes, with the winner, Archie Mitchell, receiving 60 of them.

Next came the International Students’ Officer election, which was one of the most competitive races of the night, featuring five candidates for the role. Second-year Politics and IR student Razan Awwad swept to victory, securing by the second round 485 of the 1024 votes cast. Despite neglecting to submit a manifesto, Avinash Ashok won a position on the SU trustee board with 670 votes, the second-highest tally of the night.

Education Officer was the first sabbatical result announced. The three candidates – Hannah Brown, Maarya Rabbani, and Matt Wilcock – were whittled down to two by the third round, with just one vote separating Brown and Rabbani. Rabbani clinched victory by a mere two votes with 546 votes to Brown’s 544, giving the crowd its first big cheer (and collective gasp) of the night. Comparative Politics master’s student Rabbani centred her campaign on diversity, racial equity, and improving course choice and selection. Rabbani explained to The Beaver that her top priority is to lobby LSE to “decolonise” the curriculum collaboratively, citing the support of the Decolonising LSE collective as instrumental to her campaign.

The Community and Welfare Officer announcement quickly followed, with three candidates vying for the paid sabbatical role. Shruthi Dileep was quickly eliminated in round one, leaving two candidates, Ed Laing and Anaëlle Thoreau. While only four votes separated Laing and Thoreau after the first round, Thoreau amassed a 16-vote lead by the end of the final round, winning the role. A teary Thoreau used her acceptance speech to raise awareness for an upcoming Hands Off motion at the SU, which pledges increased SU resources against sexual violence. Thoreau placed her role with the Hands Off movement at the centre of her campaign, running to end the use of NDAs in LSE sexual harassment investigations – which Thoreau earmarked as her highest priority pledge – as well as pushing several wellbeing- and access-focussed policies.

After an awkwardly long break, the ceremony continued, kicking off with two uncontested victories: Aysha Sarah as Social Mobility and Class Officer, and Aveline Shek as Disabled Students’ Officer. While these elections fielded just one candidate each, they performed better than the nine part-time SU roles that went unfilled owing to lack of candidates. Once-popular roles including the BME Officer and Environment and Ethics Officer will instead be elected in Michaelmas.

Stephens and Lawes brought renewed excitement as they pivoted to the Athletics Union results. Sergio Iniguez, Finlay Roberts, and Partha Shetty were elected as AU Executive members, all three envisaging improved accessibility and affordability in their AU. The most hotly-anticipated part-time vacancy – Athletics Union President – was won by Chris Adewoye, a second-year Philosophy and Economics student and keen footballer. Adewoye’s far-reaching platform promised robust AU funding, inclusive socials, inter-club activities, community initiatives, and mandatory consent training. He won with the biggest mandate of the night with 692 first-round votes, beating Maha Khan’s 661, despite voting for the role being limited to AU members.

The penultimate position announced was the Activities and Development Officer, who oversees the society and club functions of the SU. Romane Branthomme and Gabby Tarrant – who adopted the catchy slogan of bringing “the gift of the Gab to the SU” – went head-to-head in the final round. After Ghina Kheir’s 274 votes were reallocated, Lawes induced the second collective gasp of the night as Tarrant was revealed to have lost by a single vote to Branthomme. Branthomme’s campaign railed against long-standing student peeves with the SU, including email response times, accessibility of society sponsors, and women’s representation. Speaking to The Beaver, Branthomme set out that top of her list is to get the AU a bigger grant via a sponsor, enabling the SU to supply a consistent, high-quality kit for all clubs. She’s also keen to institute a sports day-style event.

The announcement that most attendees came for finally arrived. The General Secretary of the SU is the most senior sabbatical position in the union, operating as the key liaison between the School and the student body. There were five candidates – Georgia Giles, Dan Hurst, Molly Jenno, Leo Lindenschmid, and Tilly Mason – who were dispersed with their campaign teams and friends on separate tables. After the first round, Mason’s lead became apparent. The tension was temporarily disturbed by Lawes’ misspoken announcement that there were two candidates left, Dan Hurst and “Lilly” Mason, but Tilly Mason’s victory was finally confirmed.

Campaign banner of Tilly Mason, pictured by @LSE_UCU

Mason fended off competition to win with 613 votes after reallocation to Hurst’s 422. Mason – whose slogan “don’t be silly, vote for Tilly” counted as one of the more memorable – emphasised her activist credentials during her campaign. “Standing up for marginalised students” underpinned her campaign. The ex Labour Chair’s big-hitting policy is pressuring the School to re-open the LSE Nursery. Subsidised child-care also aligns with Mason’s wish to “help make life easier for PhD students”. Like the newly-elected Education Officer and International Students’ Officer, Mason endorsed the Decolonising LSE initiative, and in her acceptance speech emphasised her drive to “uplift” marginalised students from all corners of the School.

The outcome of these elections is the most radical sabbatical team in several years, which will put issues such as inequality, curriculum decolonisation, and sexual violence policy at the core of the SU. Many candidates proposed concrete policies, but in electing officers with strong campaigning credentials, there is recognition that SU officers may be more effective as spokespeople, driving campaigns, than as administrators implementing policies through a cumbersome, opaque SU. The longstanding plague of low turnout persisted, with the General Secretary being elected with just 613 votes in a university of over 11800. Consequently, SU officers may struggle to establish at School meetings that they legitimately represent the student body.

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