General election fever hits Lancaster

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With the General Election less than a month the constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood is set to be on receiving end of plenty of political courtship, with students being as sought after as any other voter group.

All the major parties will be focusing attention on Lancaster and Fleetwood, which is not yet likely to swing in favour of one particular party. With two Higher Education institutes within the constituency, students are likely to find themselves heavily targeted.

The Lancaster University Students’ Union has been keen to utilise the parties’ interest in students, and have negotiated a Question Time style debate to be held on campus just days before the country goes to the polls.
The debate, which will take place on Monday May 3 at 7:30pm in Faraday Lecture Theatre, will include Lancaster and Fleetwood’s parliamentary candidates from the Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, United Kingdom Independence and Green parties.

It will be chaired by LUSU President Michael Payne. Students have been invited to submit their own questions the candidates over the internet: the best questions covering a range of topics will be debated on the night. So far over 75 students have signed up to be in the audience.

Payne, who organised the debate, said: “I think it is important that the students know the issues, know the candidates and can make an informed decision when May 6, the General Election, comes.”

He added: “Whilst the TV debates with the party leaders are welcome, to give a flavour of that the parties have got to offer, I think it’s also important to know what your local representative has got to offer.”

Student branches of the political parties on campus have welcomed the debate. Labour’s Youth and Student Officer, Aidan Williams said he felt it would be a “great opportunity for students to meet the candidates who want to represent them”.

Wes Cosgriff, Lancaster Conservative Future’s Media Executive echoed these sentiments, saying: “The party debate on campus is an excellent way of getting more of us interested in politics, and showing what real politics is all about: people meeting and talking to the candidates, not their parties.”

The debate will form part of LUSU’s wider campaign to raise awareness and interest in the General Election. It links in with campaigns LUSU and the National Union of Students have been running since November, in particular the Fairer Fees and Funding campaign. Since the end of last year the national and local unions have been urging Members of Parliament and Parliamentary candidates to pledge to vote against any rise in tuition fees in the next government.

Clive Grunshaw, the Lancaster Labour candidate, and Stuart Langhorn for the Liberal Democracts have both signed LUSU’s pledge. Gina Dowding of the Greens has signed the NUS’s pledge online. Eric Ollerenshaw, the Conservative’s candidate has not signed the pledge.

Lancaster’s current Conservative MP, Ben Wallace, signed the pledge in November. He is standing for the news constituency of Wyre and Preston North.

There had been concerns however that any post sent out by the parties or the Electoral Commission may not reach students on campus because address have not been recorded properly. The Electoral Commission is responsible for sending out polling cards and postal ballots, which students will need if they have registered to vote by post.

All students who live in university residences are automatically registered with the Electoral Commission by the University. But this year a change in the electoral process had meant that students’ term addresses have been registered by street and building name, with no mention college. The Student Registry subsequently informed the City Council, and a college address line has now been added.

However, literature from the political parties will have been printed before this amendment. All the major parties are legally entitled to send a free post to every resident in their constituency, which could leave over 20,000 pieces of post to sort through and deliver on campus.

Labour’s local organisers flagged up the issue after they noticed that none of the post they were sending to Lancaster students mentioned which college they were in and all had the same postcode. They decided to hand deliver their free post to campus residents’ pigeon holes rather then risk them not arriving.

A spokesperson for the Lancaster and Fleetwood Labour Party said: “We noticed this problem while planning how we would campaign on the University campus.

“Students face a choice in this election too, so we want to make sure students get see all of the election literature, from all of the candidates. We brought the problem to the attention of Royal Mail, the University and LUSU, and asked them to make sure all the polling cards and leaflets got to their intended recipients. The ball is now in the University’s court. I hope they make the effort to ensure on-campus students can make an informed choice about
their local candidates.”

Ian Denny, Head of Student Registry has given assurances that college porters will be “prepared for the distribution and appreciate the urgency with the pending deadline for postal votes” and that while voting cards will be given priority when they arrive, the porters are “doing their best” to get other correspondence sorted.

The parties will be particularly eager to get their message across to students which Lancaster and Fleetwood being a strongly contested seat. Labour and the Conservative have both sent big party names with Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, and Secretary of State for Health, Andy Burnham making appearances for Labour.

Shadow Foreign Secretary William Hague has come up to represent the Conservatives and the local Conservative party has said a visit by David Cameron is also likely. Labour hope to have the author of their manifesto and Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, Ed Miliband visit Lancaster as well.

The Liberal Democrat’s Shadow Minister for the Countryside and Rural Affair, Tim Farron has also been up. The Green Party have said they are currently focusing their energies on “getting [their] first MPs elected.”

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