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Alistair Thompson: If students got out of bed to vote, politicians would treat them with more respect


Yesterday several national newspapers carried a new analysis suggesting that a number of senior politicians could lose their seats in 2015 if the nation’s students flexed their electoral muscle.

Those on the list included Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg (Sheffield Hallam) and Secretary of State for Education Nicky Morgan (Loughborough).

An interesting but ultimately futile exercise, as while politicians love having young people in their carefully stage managed photo ops most don’t really care what they think.

Because the truth is students and the young don’t vote – I wish this was not the case, but it is.

Just look at the appalling voting figures from 2010.  In that election, given the serious prospect of even higher fees just over four in ten (44 per cent) managed to ditch daytime TV long enough to go to their polling station. This despite many universities and student unions running campaigns aimed at raising voting rates.

Our political masters know this, which is why despite much rhetoric, all the parties focus on people, well, like me, older. Nearly seven in ten (66 per cent) of my age group went out to vote, 50 per cent more than the young, while more than three quarters (76 per cent) of pensioners turned out to defend their interests.

And for those who think this change is recent, it is not. This sad state of affairs has been very much in play for at least the last two decades. After all, throughout the 1990s and early 2000s NUS, the students’ pressure group, was dominated by aspirant Labour politicians. They had excellent connections with that party’s high command, with some of them boasting of this fact. Indeed as a student officer I was invited to Labour’s HQ to hear why the Reds were on our side and why we should let our colleagues know this.

This closeness and pledges, however, did not stop the introduction of tuition fees shortly after the 1997 general election or top-up fees after polling day in 2001.

Worst still was to follow. Despite the solemn promises from Nick Clegg and his hapless band of Lib Dems to oppose an increase in fees, at the first whiff of power they agreed to stick it to the students, trebling them to a staggering £9,000 a year.

No doubt as we approach the next election, Lib Dem spin doctors will yet again try to say it was an essential part of the Coalition agreement, and that the Lib Dems could not have secured a better deal on this because of those wicked Tories. This is simply untrue.

Many Conservative MPs saw the hike in fees as another attack on their voters, a surcharge on middle England, and would have welcomed a deal. Had the issue of fees really mattered all that Nick Clegg and Danny Alexander had to do was give ground on inheritance tax or something similar, and a compromise could have been reached.

The reality is the Lib Dems didn’t really care about the promises made, especially when they could be broken with relative impunity.  And the consequences of breaking your word to the young and students will never be felt until voting rates among students rise considerably.

If only students voted in the numbers that participate in the plethora of reality TV shows, instead of bunking off lectures to engage in rowdy demos in Central London that achieve nothing, then Nick, Ed and Dave might just start paying attention to what they are saying.

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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