MaasX Student Debate: An Analysis (Part Two)
4th Topic- The Housing Quota System Statement: The municipality should abolish the system of quotas on student houses per street.
Again, the politically serious issue of the housing crisis cropped up and a serious factor involved in creating this crisis was the question of whether or not the students-per-street quota should be abolished. This raised a few interesting points, not only about the existence of this rule but also the interpretation of the said rule. Phrased as a law regarding a quota of students per street in Maastricht, parties could either agree with abolishing this law or standing by it. It was split fairly evenly among parties, with M:OED and the Socialist Party (SP) being called to the fore.
M:OED, having UM alumni Philip Walz as their representative, was up in arms about the topic, decrying it as unfair to students and explicitly discriminatory. Not only that, but it was deemed to be segregational, dividing the city up into desirables and undesirables. Urban planning on a demographic level. Walz played the role of rebel populist to a T, understanding the emotions of the student crowd. His rhetoric regarding exclusion was of course greeted with much enthusiasm by students, as to be expected, but Mara de Graaf of the SP had a different interpretation of the law. According to her, the law is in fact concerning those who have split up their family homes into multiple single rooms that can be individually rented out, thereby increasing the number of people registered at a single street address. In reality, because of the attractive nature of the pricing, these rooms more often attracted students and so the demographics of the street has reportedly become skewed in the favour of students, with more and more families becoming outnumbered. SP approached this topic from the perspective of local families who have found themselves outnumbered by the transient student population, whom they have complained to be loud and messy, throwing late-night parties and not abiding by garbage disposal regulations. SP, therefore, supports the quota of the number of rooms per street, in order “to keep a diverse population” on each street of Maastricht. M:OED, by the end of the debate, was still opposed to the action and kept the party stance of anti-discrimination of the right for students to live where they would prefer. What Walz did not do, however, was showing a clear-cut solution to the problem, but rather relied solely on his rhetoric and emotionally charged argument to rally against this “unfair regulation”. Contrasting arguments, one more emotional and the other a little more literal for the law, it showed a clear divide in a diverging interpretation embedded in these two parties.
Overall impressions and Reflections
Overall, the impression of the debate evening on us at The Diplomat was that it was a rather poor show. Perhaps we are naive and idealistic students, who expect a political presentation of professional standards, much like we see in the international news and in our textbooks. After all, history has shown that students are politically idealistic. I can understand how not all participants in local politics are professional politicians, but what we did not deserve was this farce. Despite Trump being in the Oval Office, politics is not and should not be a game show. There is a resurgence in world’s young people over becoming more involved and more concerned with the political game, because now more than ever we are so directly and obviously affected by it. The world really is moving quickly. Think Brexit, think the immigrant crisis. However, these are events largely out of our control. As a South African-born holder of a British citizenship, my future is directly affected by political shenanigans in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. I know something of the struggle of political uncertainty. I also know I am not the only one in Maastricht who feels this way. Stop any Italian in the street and I’m certain a word or two could be said about the state of their politics. So when students are invited to a debate regarding local politics, this is something we feel that we are able, or should be able, to have a voice in. Except, we had none. We were treated to a farce of a game show, with the both of the presenters cracking intellectually elitist jokes that went straight over the heads of the local representatives, sitting high above in their ivory towers gently mocking the people who are supposed to be trying to make a difference in our lives. And although there is the argument that our opinion was considered, due to the fact that the debate statements came from students, I would argue that this is weak. Sure, the topics were of relative importance to students, with the exception of the 24hr licence argument, but these very basic questions were ‘answered’ and then the debate moved on. What happened to the concerns of the students in the audience? Why was there no Q&A session? Why were we, the participating student body, not given a chance to question the candidates ourselves? Why could we not ask further questions that we felt were relevant or given an opportunity to ask candidates to clarify their positions on certain issues? Why was there no real concern about the opinions and questions students who made the time and effort to attend the debate? And why on earth was the whole evening treated like a game show, with more of a focus on weak humour than on actually tackling concerning political issues?
To be fair, some parties did their best with the platform they were given. Not being professional politicians, with years of study and career behind them, I was not expecting a national primary debate. A few of the candidates were freshly graduated students and new to the game. I truly do not believe that this can be held against them. However, the platform represented the root of the issue. The concept of the debate was sound and we really do appreciate the effort to make it happen. The format was fairly sound, considering that there were ten parties involved. Not an easy task, organising what is surely an astounding amount of local parties. It was the execution, the final hurdle, that proved the undoing of the evening.
Undoubtedly professors Dekker and Van de Lugt knew their political theory, but choosing to show off their knowledge rather than use it to further the cause of the debate did not serve to create an evening of an expected standard. By all means, there is a time and place for humour and making fun of politics. But that would be at The Shamrock after a couple of pints, not in a serious and organised political debate. That could just the opinion of an idealistic student though. An idealistic student whose vote they were campaigning for. Coming from a democracy younger than myself, I understand the seriousness of the right and ability to vote. It is something I do not believe to be a joke, but perhaps I missed a memo somewhere.