There has never been a more politically engaged young population, with an estimated record of 70% of 18-24 year olds voting in the last election. Politics today is increasingly turbulent, radical and outspoken. Southampton’s societies cover just about every activity and group you could think of, including political beliefs. We interviewed our societies for the largest UK political parties: the Conservative Association (SUCA), the Labour Society and the Liberal Democrats.
Politics Editor Zach Sharif caught up with the Labour Society’s president Ben Seifert.
Labour greatly overachieved in the last election, mobilising an unprecedented number of young people, what do you attribute this overachievement to?
Well I think that a lot of it was the manifesto. Corbyn fought both his leadership campaigns and the general election on policies over personality, and I think the policies Labour put forward – fully funding public services, investing to grow, building council houses, etc – resonated with a lot of people…although it also helped that the Conservatives went to the country with a policy offer of fox hunting, grammar schools, and the dementia tax! Corbyn actually challenged the status quo, and presented a clear alternative vision for society, helped enthuse young people and drive our campaign forward.
What do you say to the criticism that these policies were ambitious but unrealistic?
Well I don’t think that’s true at all. The policies are incredibly achievable, many were either previously in place in this country or are in place in other European nations – with strong evidence of success – and the manifesto was backed by over 120 top level economists (including Nobel laureates) as being what is needed for the UK. We are the 6th richest nation in the world, it is ridiculous to say we can’t afford to pay our nurses a decent wage, make sure our kids aren’t going to school hungry, and provide free education to our citizens. We used to do all of these just fine many years ago, despite the country having less overall wealth.
I attribute a poor manifesto and a poor campaign towards our underachievement. It was tightly controlled by a very select group of people – this was a major mistake. The manifesto was extremely underwhelming and uninspiring; it lacked a lot in content and policy. This meant Labour dominated the policy narrative with popular policy initiatives. The campaign failed to pivot around Brexit where the Conservative stance was very popular, but since this didn’t work we ended up in the position we are today.
Why do you think they were unpopular among students?
I think they were unpopular among students because Corbyn inspired a lot of young people to vote Labour. His policy ideas are very popular among that demographic and I don’t think there is much we could do about that. I think the Conservative digital strategy is also extremely off-putting to a lot of young people and the improvement of our digital policy and our digital campaigning could do something to alleviate Labour’s lead with students but until people see firsthand how Corbyn’s policies will fail, I don’t see much changing personally.
That was Charlie Pound of the Conservative Association. Cameron Ridgway then interviewed Thomas Gravatt of the Liberal Democrats.
You stood as a candidate for the Southampton Test constituency in the last general election. What’s your view of its popularity among students at present?
The Liberal Democrats are gaining popularity with students again. We have a large and active society that has both regular social and campaigning events. Although we did not perform particularly well in the general election we largely held our own. Southampton Test was one of the Conservatives’ main target seats for the election and a key seat the Labour party didn’t want to lose. Massive amounts of money were spent by the national parties in the constituency. In the face of such a well-funded and large campaign we did well to keep our share of the vote up.
Why should freshers get involved with the Lib Dems and what is the best way to do so?
Freshers should get involved with the Lib Dems if they don’t like the way politics functions and they want to change the world! All Lib Dem policy is decided on by the members, if you join you can vote on, debate and even write our policies moving forwards. The best way to get involved is to keep an eye out for our events on Facebook and just turn up, alternatively you can drop me an email or Facebook message and ask anything you like! (www.facebook.com/UOSLibDems or www.facebook.com/ThomasGravatt). There’s always something happening whether it is a social event, campaigning event or discussion of local policy. There’s something for everyone and you can do as much or as little as you like. I got involved properly in my second year at university and by my third I was running for Parliament. If you want to see a UK that embraces its multiculturalism, sees immigration as a benefit and bases its policies on evidence not ideology then the Liberal Democrats are the party for you.
Do find out more about these societies at the Bunfight!