The Presidential Candidate Interview: Nick Werren by Emily Wootton

Last week I met with Nick Werren, one of our presidential candidates in this year's Surrey Decides, to talk manifestos and, of course, memes.

Chatting in Lakeside, complete with a cup of coffee, Nick appeared enthusiastic and motivated. None of my questions seemed to faze him - not even stuttering when he mentioned butting heads with the university. It's clear that Nick knows what he wants to achieve.

Number one - has running for president always been something that you wanted to do when starting at Surrey?

No - in my first year I actually didn't interact with the Union at all. I was just a PhD student that sort of floated around. I didn't feel that the Union was interested in me, or representing me, in any way. And then I met up with some environmental activists - People and Planet Society - and at that stage I was starting to have to interact with the Union. I also started getting involved with the Postgraduate Society, because I felt like there was no postgraduate community. I generally am a person that, if I see something wrong and people just standing around, [then] you should just be the one to do it, you know? You just gotta do things. That's my philosophy. That's why I'm doing this.

But I guess what led to that was my frustrations with the management and with people getting in the way of creating communities, yet at the same time putting the responsibility on those communities to create culture and safe environments. Like the Postgraduate Society: the Researcher Development Programme at the Doctoral College have been incredibly supportive, but the Union have been kind of apathetic towards postgraduates in the past. And People and Planet - to be fair, the Union have been pretty supportive with that - but they don't really want to engage with the political side of climate change. You need to say climate change is a bad thing.

That's what I want to change: empower the Union and get them involved in some real actual political discussion. I know it's uncomfortable sometimes for people, but you need to do it so you can stand up for what's right. That's the price you pay: being uncomfortable sometimes.

You mentioned that you had some experience working with - or against - the Union and the university. Can you tell me more about that?

Let's start with where I've worked with the university and the Union. 'Cause nothing is black and white; it's not like, 'university: bad, Union: bad'. I've worked with Gemma [current VP Community], who's my competitor - she's been absolutely amazing, actually, and I've loved working with her - she helped us go to the Cooperative Housing Conference.

I'll elaborate on that. I've worked with the Union, primarily, on housing issues. We created the Cooperative Housing Group; James Steel [a third year student] put that through to AMM, that became Union policy, and now me, the Cut the Rent Group and James, are working through to create a cooperative in Guildford. [It] is a collectively-owned building, where the rents aren't set by the market but are set by the mortgage, meaning that you can lower rent significantly. It's a possible solution to the problem we see in Guildford. And the Union's helping us do that.

I work with the university all the time. I help organise Bright Club, which is a comedy and research group; with the Widening Participation people. I also work with the Doctoral College - I'm on the Doctoral Board - they're fantastic. They all have their heads screwed on, and I work with them on postgraduate policies. Additionally I'm on the Sustainability Steering Group, where I work with academics, the head of catering, the head of waste and Estates and Facilities. I work with them on creating sustainable policies at the university. They're all super positive and they want to make real, effective change.

To be honest, I've rarely been against the Union. It's usually that the Union's been passive when I think it should've stood up. Although they didn't like our activism around Sam Gyimah, the Minister for Universities. That caused a hoo-hah because they thought we were damaging the university's reputation. I created a flyer with information about government policy regarding students' tuition fees. Now I don't know about you, but I'm not going to pay back all of my loan because I'm never going to earn enough. Clearly these loans aren't going to go, and that means the economy has within it a bubble of debt that's going to burst. Sam Gyimah asked me to solve the situation, and I said, "Sam, I don't have the time to do that, I'm doing a PhD in quantum physics!"

That entire event really angered Union members because we stood up to a minister who was continuing policy that was - I'm quite honest, here - stupid. It's going to create a huge financial problem in the future. And saying that apparently is going to damage the respect of the university. I think you're going to damage the respect of the university by not saying something about it, personally.

Going back to the basics of your campaign, you've adopted quite a different strategy to everyone else. You've gone for the memes, you've gone for the humour - the chips and the whole #Wez4Prez thing - why?

The reason why my campaign is very humorous is because of the manifesto. Anybody that's reading this, I ask them to compare - actually compare my manifesto to their [the other candidates'] manifestos. My other competitors - their manifestos are smaller and less comprehensive than mine. I've thought about what I want to do, and I have solid-concrete aims and policies.

If I get in, you can say to me, "you haven't done this thing," because I've said, for instance, I want to review management pay. And if that doesn't happen you can say: "well, he didn't do that". That's accountability. You need accountability. It's not just, "we will look into this issue", it's, "this is what we're going to do about this issue."

I'm going to let everything rest on the manifesto, and the rest of the campaign can be fun - because why not? I want to draw people in with the humour and then show them that the manifesto itself is serious, and has comprehensive ideas. I don't see why student politics can't be this way.

How are you feeling about running against the other presidential candidates?

Like I said about Gemma - she's a really nice person. I've worked with her through the Community Zone - she helped our cooperative housing group in that she found a cooperative conference and funded us going there. I don't know Njabulo really. I met him and chatted with him about the campaign, and he seems like a really nice guy.

So I'm pretty optimistic. Whoever wins this year, I think there's going to be a progressive president. The only thing I worry about [is] how are you actually going to do the things that you say you want to do. If you haven't stated that in the manifesto, then there's no mandate from the people to do the thing that you said you were going to do. As long as the other candidates, once they get in, really try to achieve their aims and goals on their manifesto, then I'll be happy. But either way I know that a good person's going to get in because everybody running is a good person.

Moving away from the union and towards the more social side of things, can you explain more about how you'd protect local music in Guildford? I think we all loved that 'Peep Show' meme in your manifesto!

Yeah, fighting for disco. It is a bit of a meme, that policy. That's like a nice sprinkle at the end of a slog of bureaucratic stuff.

I've got a long history of being involved in music. I think music is the closest thing that we have in this world to magic and I think it needs to be protected. Last year the Star Inn got told it needed to shut down. And it's not just the Star Inn. A couple of venues in Brighton have also got shut down because, essentially, the government isn't very kind in terms of taxes to music venues. We need to protect these venues. The way that we could do that is [by making] connections. For instance, the Bright Club which I have organised - we work with the Boileroom. It's a science comedy - come along if you ever see a Bright Club event.

Shameless plug!

Yeah, a shameless plug!

On top of that, we have the Academy of Contemporary Music in town. We have a huge resource of musicians. I'd like to not only work with them for events off-campus with the local Guildford community, but to bring live artists into campus.

When you get the students and the local communities interacting - that's the good stuff. It breaks down barriers and it's the type of thing that shows that students can be a positive part of the community. People can see students as in an ivory tower and that's because we are separated from interacting with the local community in many ways. If we can break those barriers, then we can do fantastic things here in Guildford.

Read our interview with fellow presidential candidate, Gemma Paine, here. Our interview with Njabulo Mendlula will be released soon.

This interview has been edited and abridged.


Created with an image by Ben White - "Elegant man on church stairs"

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