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Harry Compton: the people’s GenSec?

Oliver Wheeler

According to the LSE SU by-laws, all coverage of SU elections by Media Societies must be “balanced, accurate and fair” and “publications must not express and preference (either positive or negative) for any candidate for election within the Union.”

Luckily, 68 is not an SU Media Society, and is therefore not bound by the by-laws. I am posting this article in a personal capacity, and this article does not reflect the views of every single person who is involved with 68, or 68 itself should it ever develop a distinct legal identity. However, Compton’s anti-establishment approach is one that has found a receptive audience among our Collective.

This article is based on an interview I conducted with candidate for the position of General Secretary Harry Compton, also known as lsepunz4gaddafis_sonsfundz. This opportunity was not afforded to any other candidate in this race, and I personally will not be interviewing any other candidates for the role, though I don’t rule out that another contributor to 68 may wish to do so.

The following is a full list of candidates standing for the role of General Secretary:

·         lsepunz4gaddafis_sonsfundz (a.k.a. Harry Compton)

·         Zulum Elumogo

·         Rodrigo Kohn (a.k.a. Spike Kohn)

·         Scott Oatley

·         Alex Selway

·         Will Stein

·         Stephanie Zahlan de Cayetti

·         Re-open Nominations (RON)

There are also a variety of other elections taking place at this time.

Voting closes at 17:00 on Thursday 21st March.

You can read all the candidates’ manifestos and vote by following this link: www.lsesu.com/elections

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When I met Harry on the Clement House stairway he had just received an email from the SU chastising him for asking people to share his campaign post in the closed Pulse Radio messenger chat. He says he thought the chat was just his mates, but somebody had obviously perfectly legitimately snitched on him. He was forced to remind his fellow SU broadcasters that “loads of other great candidates” were running for GenSec that they should definitely check out. Like much of SU bureaucracy, it all seemed like a bit of a farce.

Harry lamented that he felt “like one of them now.”

Compton, who is running as his meme account “lsepunz4gaddafis_sonsfundz” is what you might describe as an outsider in the 7 way race to become General Secretary of the LSE Students’ Union, a £28,000 p/a job as the School’s chief student representative. The election is viewed by many as a three-way contest between incumbent Zulum Elumogo, RAG President Alex Selway, and Summer Ball campaigner Will Stein. When I ask Harry why he doesn’t have the endorsement of any SU societies, he tells me that he didn’t ask any of them for their support. He’d rather people made up their own minds anyway.

Harry’s always felt a bit like an outsider at the SU. He says when he decided to run 3 weeks ago, it was because he was chatting with Liam, his Pulse Radio co-host, in Wetherspoons about how he sits in the Media Centre watching “all this stuff happening and thinking who actually calls the shots round here?” And while he’s now enjoying working for Pulse, Harry says he felt like he didn’t fit in when he wrote for The Beaver, when he would have “to talk to them about Frank Ocean’s jazz whilst they patronisingly talked to you about your social column.”

Much of Compton’s outsider status is down to him just wanting “to be a normal student.” When I ask him why students should vote for someone who regularly and publicly takes the piss out of them, he replies his meme page is successful because he can relate to students and therefore can “represent a huge bracket of the student population”. He argues people who can’t self-reflect and don’t have a sense of irony are “delusional.” Indeed, much of his content comes from Harry taking this piss out of himself and that’s part of the reason he thinks people engage with it – as well as it being “fucking jokes.”

I ask Harry about the other meme candidate running for GenSec – Roddy Kohn. Harry says he’s got “a lot of time for Roddy” and says his speech – where he went in “all guns blazing” attacking the ‘fucking bureaucracy’ of the SU – was “pretty on the mark.” Harry adds: “he’s got my vote.”

Harry agrees that he and Roddy are populists but doesn’t think that’s necessarily a good or a bad thing. He does however admit that running through his online persona rather than under his own name “could be seen as quite scary.” I ask him if he’s seen the Black Mirror episode where an animated character called Waldo runs for and wins elected office. Harry says he’s been thinking about it because he’s “a bit of a sad boy.” He worries that “[lsepunz4gaddafis_sonsfundz] could have had a very negative effect had it been in the wrong hands.”

“To be fair, [my campaign] was a bit of a fuck you originally.”

Compton’s time at LSE hasn’t always been plane sailing. During his second year his mental health deteriorated, and he was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Often alone at home because his flatmate was out of the house, he tried to access the counselling service and was told he would be put on a five-week waiting list and gave up with the process. He tells me that he wondered at the time how the university could expect him “to perform for the next five weeks?”

Harry is clearly unsatisfied with the performance of the School. He says that when his mental health was suffering he “was thinking in that moment: the uni doesn’t care” – although Harry does tell me to give a shout out to Luke Heslop, his anthropology mentor, who worked hard at the time to support him. When I ask him which dictator he thinks LSE director Minouche Shafik should talk to after the success of former director Anthony Giddens’ meeting with Muammar Gaddafi in 2006, he says she should meet Robert Mugabe – quipping “well I guess now he’s out of power, and if Minouche doesn’t change her act soon, she will be too!”

He thinks the SU has also failed on mental health. He argues that the reason that people don’t engage with the SU is because its an institution that  “doesn’t feel like it really holds any real status.” He thinks structural change is needed, and that just throwing workshops and events when genuine support is lacking is “not going to change the way students are feeling – it’s a remedy rather than a solution.”

It’s no surprise then that Harry has decided to focus on mental health during his campaign. He describes dissatisfaction and mental health at the School as an “epidemic,” and as the “biggest issue facing LSE at the moment.” He argues that instead of campaigning on “numerous half-baked promises” it’s better if he’s more single-minded about what he wants to achieve.

I ask him if he’ll support activist movements on campus. He says he will, and that he thinks Justice for Cleaners has “done a lot of positive stuff” but that he “wasn’t actively involved last year” and worries about the campaign splintering into different groups – although he might have been talking about Climate Strike at that point. Harry asked me at the end of the interview if he needed to clarify any of his points, but I was late for a lecture. Anyway, Harry supports Climate Strike too, remarking that the action taken “last week was incredibly effective.”

I also asked Harry if he’d support a campaign to cut halls rent. He says he overpaid for his intercollegiate hall and basically had to learn plumbing himself to fix a faulty pipe. He thinks reducing financial pressures is definitely part of the SU’s remit to improve the welfare of students, which is what he’s focusing on, but repeats that his major pledge is to improve mental health services. He say’s he can’t see “what’s wrong with people trying to reduce [the rent]” however.

Harry admits that financial pressures, while a major concern for working class students at the School, have not really been something that have affected him personally. Growing up in rural West Sussex, Compton says he’s always “been very lucky.” He receives an allowance from his parents rather than taking out a student loan and was a full boarder at public school. He says that when he was growing up most of his mates wanted to pretend they were normal and so they’d go down to Brighton on Mondays to get thrashed dressed up in wavey garms. Most of them were however complacent about how the state of society. I ask him if he’s a champagne socialist and he replies that he’s “a Lambrini socialist – it’s well cheaper and it’ll get you fucked.”

He adds, “I don’t want to sound like some meme right now, because I do sound like a meme;” which I found an interesting thing for a candidate who is running under the name of his meme page to say. But then Harry’s campaign – both deeply sincere and totally sardonic – seems full of such contradictions. Perhaps the only way our generation knows how to express any convictions it holds is to hide them behind a veil of irony.

It’s strange, but I do feel like the more serious campaigns seem less genuine.

How’s Harry going to celebrate if he wins? He says he’ll be “outside the SU, having a few drinks with my comrades, I’ll probably have a bottle of Prosecco, and then I’ll probably go have a Buttermilk Chicken Burger at The Shakespeare’s Head, followed by a trip to Rowan’s to go bowling.” And I’d congratulate the other candidates for taking part, “it’s important because it’s part of the process, it’s democracy.”

“More humbly, if I lose it’s going to be living in the countryside in a cul-de-sac, just sort of getting my wits together.”

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Edit (6th April 2019):

Zulum won.