Kallum Taylor: Personality and Politics

It is hard for anyone to claim that Kallum Taylor’s victory to become Union President in the YUSU elections last week came as a massive surprise. Right from the initial announcement of the candidates Taylor was one of the favourites, initially alongside fellow ex-college chair Nacho Hernandez, and later alongside eventual runner-up Zahra Latif. Since his victory there have been many reasons posited for his success, such as the immense loyalty shown to him by Vanbrugh College, of which he proved himself to be an extremely capable college chair.

However, maybe Taylor himself has expressed better than anyone else the crucial factor that enabled him to come away with victory. “I think York wants someone who is going to be a person, not just another name on the door” he said, speaking to Nouse after his victory. He probably could not have hit the nail on the head any better.

How well his cheerful approach will serve him over the next year remains to be seen. ©The Yorker

What stood Taylor apart from many of the other candidates was his very personable nature. Whatever you think of his policies, Taylor was quite hard to dislike on the campaign trail for all but the most cynical amongst us. Predominantly armed with something vaguely resembling a cardboard robot outfit, a raft of ‘Special Ks’ and a cheeky grin, he was the most visible candidate on campus by some distance. Even some of those members of the student community who consider themselves completely uninterested in student politics confessed that they both knew who Taylor was and had considered voting for him purely because of they thought he was quite likeable. The only other candidate who garnered such feelings to any extent was Latif who, it should be mentioned, arguably had a better all-round campaign.

Throughout his treks around campus Taylor was approachable and talkative. His appearances at hustings and on URY saw him come across as a speaker of great charisma. Taylor won because he attracted those voters who don’t care about student politics and those who don’t know anything about student politics. He won over the disaffected and disinterested middle, those people whose minds need making up. In this respect he is really not that different from many successful politicians on a wider national and global scale. The political landscape of the modern world is almost entirely about personality. It is largely to credit for Tony Blair’s successive general election victories in 1997, 2001 and 2005. Its power can also be seen both in the demise of Gordon Brown, and in the brief rise of Nick Clegg in polls just ahead of the 2010 election.

Ultimately what people in this day and age want more than anything else is to have someone they like in charge. Frankly, the majority of people do not clue themselves up on each party’s manifesto before an election because they have no inclination to do so. Nowadays there is so much media access to political figures that we feel we can decide whether to vote for them or not purely because of how they come across on the television screen. The politics of personality is a good deal more complex than that, certainly, but that is what it boils down to.

Obviously, Kallum Taylor wasn’t on the national news and he hasn’t sat opposite Andrew Marr on a Sunday morning but he still won this election largely because he was the guy that people liked most. That may make it sound like a popularity contest but he is proof that successful campaigning in politics of whatever level is arguably more about the smile on the face than anything else. How well his cheerful approach will serve him over the next year remains to be seen.

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