Students May Hold the Key!

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Students may hold the key to determining the outcome of next year’s General Election. This was the assertion made recently by the President of the National Union of Students (NUS), Toni Pearce. And there is good reason to suggest that this may not be an outlandish statement at all.

We need only to look to the recent independence referendum in Scotland, where almost 9 out of 10 people declared themselves certain to vote, to challenge lazy stereotypes about voter apathy.

Toni Pearce
NUS President
Toni Pearce, President of the NUS
Toni Pearce, President of the NUS

Few people doubt that the 2015 General Election will be one of the most closely-fought elections in a generation. Every vote will count, and the politicians know it. In 197 seats across the UK, MPs were elected in 2010 with a majority of 10% or less. A swing of more than 5% would result in a change of which party holds power in these constituencies.

Interestingly, official data reveals that more students are living in these constituencies than the swing needed for change. Right on our doorstep, in John Denham’s constituency, Southampton Itchen,  just 192 votes are required for the Conservative candidate to take the seat from Labour, making it fourth on their target list.

Student votes could hold the key to entire political careers

Toni Pearce
NUS President

Less than half of young people turned out to cast their vote in 2010, turnout for 18-24 year olds was only 44%.  Since then, circumstances have clearly changed. Many students were left utterly aghast at Nick Clegg’s broken promise not to raise tuition fees under any circumstances, and we all know what happened there. This, combined with the 2009 expenses scandal, amongst other things, makes Pearce seem justified in her view that it is unsurprising that 77% of young people do not believe politicians can be trusted.

Yet to think tuition fees is the only concern of young people today would be to miss the point. High unemployment levels, unpaid internships, and a huge national deficit are some of the issues with which our generation is forced to contend. Leaving University with the thought of not necessarily being able to get a full-time job is surely an alarming prospect.

LibLabCon leaders

Pearce believes that students’ concerns can be taken seriously, but only if students are willing to turn out on polling day to vote. Some critics suggest that the reason politicians do not bother to engage with young people is because we are apathetic and uninterested in democracy. This is quite the opposite from reality, many students feel let down.

At a General Meeting on Monday 27th October, SUSU, which is not affiliated to the NUS, voted to spend up to £20,000 on ‘political expenditure’, to make sure that students’ voices are heard in the General Election.

With the election now less than six months away, it would not be unreasonable to say that students could actually be the group causing a political “earthquake”.

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