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Sabbs: Where are they now?

As York prepares to elect a new YUSU team, Neil Johnston looks at the sometimes illustrious and other times ignominious lives of Britain's best-known former student politicians.

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photo credit: Michael Brunsden
Photo credit: Michael Brunsden

Perhaps you've had enough of YUSU Elections; the litter of cardboard across campus, the cheesy slogans (providing an unfair advantage for those with the right name) and the rather strange unconventional choice of campaigning outfits. But once the campaigns are over somebody will be elected and the responsibility of the Union will fall upon them. We can only hope the President-to-be will achieve more than the Winnie the Pooh toy who was YUSU President a few years back.

But terms last for a maximum of two years and eventually these student politicians have no other choice but to leave the bubble and enter the real world. Just how good an addition to your CV is a role such as YUSU President? Other than making their way up in the arena of student politics and trying to live a perpetual student life where are these past student politicians now?

1. Mad Cap'n Tom Scott

One of York's own former Presidents, Tom Scott has had an interesting career after University. Those here who are old enough might remember him, or maybe you've heard the legend of the pirate who became President and not quite believed it.

Mad Cap'n Tom Scott shocked York when he secured nearly 40% of almost 3,000 votes to take the role of YUSU President. Continuing his pirate theme throughout his presidency he has gone on to do many things

In 2010 he stood to be an MP, but wasn't quite as successful as he was at University. Standing for the Cities of London and Westminster seat as a joke candidate, he promised to scrap taxes on rum and offered courses in swordsmanship and gunnery at schools. However the pitiful pirate only received 84 votes. Maybe he would have done better to stand for York Outer.

Tom has enjoyed relative success in the world of cutting edge technology. Scott launched several apps and even presented the show 'Gadget Geeks' on Sky One. The show ran for one series.

Tom is now a comedian and continues to design controversial apps.

Photo credit: MegMoggington
Photo credit: MegMoggington

2. Clare Balding

We've all seen her on the TV but her interesting career began as a Sabb. While at University she was President of the Cambridge Students' Union as well as graduating with a 2:1 in English. Originally Clare had applied to read law, but after falling at the last hurdle - sorry, that was irresistible - she went onto reapply for English Literature. Starting on radio and before moving to TV, she is now a natural treasure of British broadcasting. You couldn't really get away from her during the Olympics and Paralympic games. Overall, she hasn't done too badly.

3. Ed Byrne

The comedian did more than just provide entertainment whilst studying Horticulture at University and was actually heavily involved in student politics. He became Vice-President of Strathclyde Students' Union and it was on the campaign trail where his skill in stand up became apparent to those outside of the local comedy clubs. The Irishman has been nominated for awards and is now one of the country's most famous comedians, and a regular on the TV circuit. Who knows where Tom Banks could end up?

4. Lembit Opik

He is probably better known for his relationship history than his political career, but Lembit Opik was once President of his Students' Union. His career began in student politics when he was a Sabb at the University of Bristol. An MP from 1997 to 2010, he notched up a reputation as one of Parliament's more colourful characters. Some suggested his high profile relationships with those such as ITV presenter Sian Lloyd and Gabriela Irimia of the cheeky Girls were a large contribution to him losing his seat, but he can't only blame his women.

For a time he wrote a column in the Daily Sport newspaper, perhaps fitting given his other interests, and he was caught up in the expenses scandal for claiming £23, 083 on his second home, amongst other dubious claims. The former lady's man is now part of a HR consulting firm.

Photo Credit: firthcycles
Photo Credit: firthcycles

5. Alistair Darling MP

Back then his eyebrows might have been the same colour as his hair, but he was still well known and something of a BNOC at the University of Aberdeen. He has been involved in politics his whole life and it all started while he was at university. So could Kallum Taylor one day be Chancellor, or perhaps Tom Banks has it in him? Who knows. Darling is currently leading the Better Together Campaign. Some might argue he wasn't very successful as Chancellor but if he helps win the debate he is currently fighting, he could be a strong contender to be one of the most successful ex-Sabbs ever.

6. John Randall

Who's John Randall you say? Well he's another York alumnus just for good measure. The NUS tends to be the target for many student politicians after they've finished their term. Although it's been around since 1922 (and the University for 50 of those years) there has only ever been one President of the NUS from York.

John Randall was YUSU President before he took up the position at the top of the NUS from 1973-75. A few years ago he spoke out urging York students not to disaffiliate from the NUS, so he still keeps and interest in student politics. There are some rumours that a certain student politician at York may have eyes for the NUS. A Yorkie has been President before, so maybe it could happen again.

7. Aaron Porter

Another former NUS President, who was a Sabb at the University of Leicester before he became President of the NUS. However it is what he has done after that is more interesting.

It appears having the NUS Presidency, and a Union Presidency on your CV can be a bit of a money earner. In September 2011 he contributed to a book 'What Next for Labour' but it is his other commercial interest which earns him the real money.

He is an Education Consultant for Aaron Ross Porter Consultancy Ltd. Charging Universities £125 an hour and ten day courses for £8500 his services don't come cheap. It really does pay to be President it would seem.

Photo credit: The Radio Academy
Photo credit: The Radio Academy

8. Jeremy Vine

The radio 2 presenter once held a position on the Durham Students' Union. He graduated with a degree in English: He got a 2:2, so there's hope for us all. Now known as one of the country's top journalists, he has won several awards for his work. In 2010 he famously embarrassed Prime Minister Gordon Brown by playing back the recording of him calling a voter a bigot, leaving the Scot with no option but to put his head in his hands.

9. George Alagiah

The BBC News presenter wasn't always as neutral as the organisation he now works for. During his time at Durham University he was a Sabb and was heavily involved with the Union. He was also editor of the student paper there before writing for a newspaper in South Africa. He is now the sole presenter on BBC News at six. Quite successful some might say, but just how important was his sabb year? Well we'd probably need to ask his employers that, but if he's a former sabb, then it's unlikely to have been a hindrance.

10. Meghan Melnyk

Of course not all Student Politicians are so successful. Here's one from across the pond who currently isn't looking forward to a fulfilling career, but a court case instead. From President to prison is an unlikely story, but it is looking likely to happen in Calgary. Weeks after resigning as President of Mount Royal University Students' Association, Meghan Melnyk decided that pulling off an amateur bank heist would be a fail-safe alternative to a mundane graduate scheme.

During the chase the police used a helicopter to try and track her down and she was eventually caught and charged with robbery, possession of a prohibited weapon and committing an indictable offence while disguised. She is set to be sentenced in April for the offence committed in March. Just as well the banks are shut on Friday night in case we have any bad losers.

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What? Posted on Thursday 28 Feb 2013

So you've taken random Sabbs from universities across the country. What on earth is the point of this article?


Duhh Posted on Thursday 28 Feb 2013

BoJo was President of the Oxford Debating Union, not the SU.


Flint & Rose Posted on Thursday 28 Feb 2013

I was disappointed to find that picture was Jeremy Vine, not former Democracy & Services (when it existed) sab Matt Burton


Fan of What? Posted on Thursday 28 Feb 2013

Couldn't have said it any better myself.


Anon Posted on Friday 1 Mar 2013

I want to point out, the Winnie The Pooh toy was not President, only Deputy Chairman. It happened in 1991.