Lancaster University is setting the pace nationwide in its response to the National Union of Students’ ‘Votes for Students’ campaign.
As of 2 March, just over 500 Lancaster students had visited the campaign website and pledged to use their vote in the general election to support parliamentary candidates who would vote against tuition fees increases. This figure puts Lancaster in second place nationally, only around thirteen pledges behind first place, held by Bolton University. It is hoped this will add a large degree of local rivalry and encourage even more students to make the pledge.
The website, launched earlier this year, is the biggest tool ever used by the NUS to increase student interest in a general election and reflects the importance of the student vote in this election, which is widely expected to take place on 6 May. Votes in constituencies with large student populations, such as Lancaster, are very likely to be decided by the student vote. It is expected tuition fees will be hugely prominent on the agenda of voting students.
The NUS campaign has so far been highly successful, with thousands of students signing up across the country, enabling pressure to be placed upon MPs and election candidates to vote against increases in fees.
In November last year, LUSU and 200 student protesters were successful in gaining the pledge of local Conservative MP Ben Wallace to vote against fee changes. Since then two more local candidates have followed suit, Clive Gunshaw, the Labour Party candidate for Lancaster and Fleetwood and Stuart Langhorn, candidate in the same constituency for the Liberal Democrats. The campaign has also been successful so far in attracting local and national press coverage, encouraging further students to pledge and increasing the pressure on the politicians.
The local candidates are just three of approximately 500 MPs and Party Political Candidates (PPCs) to have signed up to the pledge: “I pledge to vote against any increase in fees in the next parliament and to pressure the government to introduce a fairer alternative.” Others include figures such as Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg MP and their Shadow Chancellor, Vince Cable MP. The former leader of the Liberal Democrats, Charles Kennedy MP, has also pledged his support, along with an ex-Treasury Minister, Andrew Smith MP and the leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas MEP/PPC.
The NUS campaign’s success has also spread globally through the social networking site Twitter, making it to number two on the site’s rankings for the most talked about Twitter conversation in the world at one point in February. This success was due to an effort on 18 February on the part of students, student leaders and parliamentary candidates to ‘tweet’ on the subject, taking advantage of the wide-reaching site to raise awareness of the campaign.