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politics | pi magazine 713

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first began thinking about whether we stop caring about student issues once we graduate when attending the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative party conferences as a youth delegate for the Scouting Association in 2013. The MPs had questions to ask us about young people and public engagement, and we answered them as best we could. At the Labour conference, a young MP asked me: “How best can I engage with young people?” The question may seem loaded. Who really cares about student loans, graduation, employment, tuition fees, and all the other burdens in post-university life? Almost certainly not the vast majority of the population. However, this is a question that goes to the root of public engagement and student representation in government. In August 2015, Ipsos Mori research showed that only 43 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 turned out to vote in the 2015 General Election. Of those who voted, 43 per cent voted for Labour, 27 per cent for the Conservatives, and the rest for the smaller Westminster parties. Turnout rises with age. In real terms, this means that, although young people account for 12 per cent of the UK population, their vote is worth dramatically less, and those who are older have greater proportional electoral influence. How likely are these older people to fight for “student issues” really? The strange thing is that, while we so often hear about the political apathy of young people, students often seem more politically active and vocal than other groups. Protests against tuition fees and austerity have become common place since 2010, and have gained some wider support from teachers, doctors, nurses and those adversely effected by government policies. Other voters rally around students when issues like fee rises come under scrutiny, but this support wanes as the news cycles on. While students may focus on issues like tuition fees, employment, and education, these are subjugated in parliament to other issues such as economic growth, public services, and global competitiveness – issues

with mass appeal. Though support for student issues may exist, the government argues – possibly correctly – that it has more pressing problems to deal with. However, student issues themselves may not be the problem. At the core of the problem with youth representation is the fact that students have less power over political processes, either because they opt out of formally participating, or are deliberately excluded.

If students start voting radically, does this create a divide? Late last year, the electoral register was changed by the Conservative government in preparation for its seat redistribution efforts. This was done in full knowledge that students, being proportionally more likely to live in cities and fall into a younger demographic band, were far less likely to put themselves back on the list in their desired location than traditional Tory voters – rural, older people. The mechanics of student exclusion from politics can take even more basic forms. A prominent theory is that the first past the post system disproportionately affects the voting power of students, many of whom vote in their home constituencies, diluting the power of the group by spreading its votes across the entire country. Of course, these problems are not just limited to Britain. Max, a Biology and English student on exchange from New Zealand, says it is the same everywhere. “We [New Zealanders] have the same problems,” he says, “It’s universal – but socio-economic factors have a large part to play.” A seismic shift in political agendas over the few last decades has led to a more divided

UK. The Iraq War and the financial crisis have put political polarisation and anti-establishment sentiment on the rise, especially among students who have grown up amid this political cynicism and turmoil. Mikolaj, a first year studying Chemical Engineering says he thinks an “anti-establishment feeling means that young people are mostly at the extreme ends of the political spectrum”. If students start voting radically, does this create a divide between students standing up for “student issues” and the general consensus which is largely apathetic to them? Students who have grown up in this ideologically charged political environment might be so radical that they’ve effectively barred themselves from mainstream political representation in recent years, triggering a shift away from their interests in government. This may be an overstated case, however: anyone who’s watched the stock footage of a teenage Jez Corbyn or Ed Miliband knows that students have always been at the forefront of radical, anti-establishment politics. It seems to be that a disparate student political force has always existed, it just hasn’t been politically advantageous to capitalise on it. An exception to this rule is Scotland, where the SNP has successfully courted the student vote. In championing the rights of students, the SNP have found a proxy for Scottish economic and political freedom from Westminster – students in the Caledonian utopia have no fees, English students under the Tory yoke are heartlessly forced to pay through the nose. In spite of not gaining independence in the 2014 referendum, the 2015 general elections showed that the SNP was able to retain the momentum it had built – a striking example of the power the student vote can bring if cannily utilised. The fact is that political processes, low student turnout in elections, and protests may seem to suggest that no one cares about student issues outside of the campus. However, while problems in student representation in parliament do exist, student policies are important, and a government which were to stand up for these issues may be one with a real chance of electability.

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Profile for Pi Media, UCLU

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

Pi Magazine, Issue 713 - Re:Generation  

Our third issue of 2015-16 explores our generation of millennial, and our collective identity. Why is our generation the way it is - what ex...

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