Union spokesman in local election row
Elected top dog Mark Sewards has sparked a furious row by encouraging students to vote Labour, despite the Union’s political neutrality.
In a letter sent to students living in University halls of residence, including James Bailie, Devonshire and Lupton, Sewards publically backed Headingley Labour candidate Janette Walker and identified himself as a “member of the student exec and a very recent graduate”.
The Union requires all members of its staff, bar the exec as a group, to remain politically neutral so Sewards has not technically broken any rules but Leeds Student understands that the 22-year-old’s move has sufficiently embarrassed Union officials who sent out a rushed email early this week reminding all students that the Union remains neutral.
According to one source, the Union had no idea of Mark’s plan to send the letters and were only made aware of them after an official from the local Liberal Democrat office voiced concerns early this week. The insider told Leeds Student that Sewards was “mortified” when bosses raised the issue on Monday.
Union chiefs confirmed that they had dealt with the incident, but would not reveal if any disciplinary action had been issued.
It comes as Sewards, who has links with both Ed Balls and Yvette Cooper, was elected into the National Union of Student’s block of 15 late last night.
The hard-working Union spokesman is fresh from a shock election defeat to Antony Haddley. Sewards had been hoping to be re-elected to his current role but was narrowly pipped to the job by Haddley by a mere 90 votes. Sewards is also the former Chair of Leeds Labour Students.
In an interview last night, just before Leeds Student went to print, Sewards said he was “absolutely convinced that every student who received the letter will know that it’s a personal letter that’s come from Labour and not Leeds University Union.”
Sewards was also keen to defend himself from allegations he had only identified himself as a Union member of staff to add extra credibility to the letter. Instead he said he “only chose to identify myself as a member of the student exec because that’s how most people will recognise me – as one of them”.
When asked whether he’d do it again, Sewards said: “I don’t have any regrets about it and I think most people will realise this is just the Lib Dems trying to score some cheap political points”.
In the Union’s last minute email, Ben Fisher, another exec member, said he wanted to “take this opportunity to remind that the University of Leeds, Leeds University Union and the Student Exec are completely neutral in this election”.
Fisher added in an interview with this newspaper that, as far as he was concerned, “the issue had been dealt with.”