The universal adult franchise only sprung into existence in this country in the twentieth century. This democratic revolution was the product of protest, torture and the deaths of countless activists, who fought tirelessly for a right that is now taken for granted. Electoral turnouts in the UK are shamefully low, which is made clear by a general disinterest in local elections and the infamous indifference of younger generations. I find it frustrating whenever I come across anyone who has failed to register to vote – especially when they happen to be studying a politics degree like me. I hope that this guide persuades you to vote, and that you will finish reading with a better understanding of who represents you in Southampton.
As a student living at home, and away at university during term-time, you can register to vote for local elections at both locations. Nonetheless, it should be noted that you can only vote in one of these places for General Elections. However, you may choose to vote in whichever constituency is more marginal, perhaps granting you the option to provoke a greater impact on the national result. In university cities such as Plymouth, Portsmouth, and Canterbury, the student population was credited as being a major factor in the result of the 2017 General Election. I recommend that if you have not already, please stop reading and register to vote right now. Completing this process online is simple and only takes five minutes: http://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote.
Elections to Southampton City Council are held three years out of every four, since each ward has three Councillors with four-year terms. The next local elections will be taking place in May 2019. The City is divided into many segments for elections to the Council, with each of the University Halls falling under different electoral wards.
The Bassett ward, for example, runs along most of the length of Burgess Road above the Common and contains Glen Eyre Halls. The Swaythling ward, on the other hand, covers the top end of Portswood Road, bordering the motorway junction, containing City Gateway and Wessex Lane Halls. Highfield Campus, Highfield Halls, Avenue Campus and Portswood shops are all within the boundaries of Portswood ward. Liberty Point is in Bevois, a ward which spans from Gordon Avenue to St Mary’s Stadium, containing Bedford Place and Liberty Point Halls. Interestingly, Archers Road is divided into two – with Gateley Hall in Freemantle, whilst Romero Hall is in Bargate. Also covered in Bargate is the City Centre and Mayflower Halls. If you are still unsure where your polling booth is, or which candidates will be standing, these details will be updated on the ‘Who Can I Vote For’ website.
Lisa Mitchell, a Labour Councillor for Portswood, has explained why she believes that engaging in Southampton’s local politics is important, and how students can benefit from doing so:
‘Registering to vote and voting in local elections is your chance to have a say on who represents you in the place you’ll spend most of your time over the coming years. Recently I’ve been working with students on issues such as mental health and how where they live can impact on that. More generally since Labour took control of Southampton City Council in 2012 we have made sure that Southampton is a great place for students to live. I’m particularly proud of the work we’ve done to bring events such as Common People to the city and our role in bringing new cultural venues to Southampton’.
Southampton is divided into three constituencies for representation in the House of Commons. City Gateway, Wessex Lane and Glen Eyre Halls in Romsey and Southampton North are represented by Conservative MP Caroline Nokes. Highfield, Gateley and Liberty Point halls in Southampton Test are represented by Labour MP Alan Whitehead. Romero and Mayflower halls are in the Southampton Itchen constituency. Conservative MP Royston Smith has a majority of just thirty-one votes – the closest result in the UK in the 2017 General Election.
The last snap election was called early, surprising political commentators; subsequently, this resulted in the government losing its majority and being forced to enter in on a deal with the Democratic Unionist Party. The Conservatives lack an overall majority which has led to a vulnerable government, with dissatisfaction concerning the Prime Minister’s Brexit stance. During these rather turbulent times, it may be that another General Election is just around the corner.
However, as students, you do not need to venture outside the University campus to get involved with politics. There are a vast number of elected positions, including society committees and roles within the SUSU, that allow you to vote for or stand to represent your halls or your course. All students can get involved with elections at the University, regardless of your citizenship – which may be an obstacle to voting at UK local and national elections. Whether you are looking to join a ‘strong and stable’ society or one ‘for the many, not the few’, there are plenty of societies where you can discuss, debate, write and learn about the topical issues of the day.