Nailbiting finish for Lancaster seat as student turnout goes through the roof

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Following an extremely close race between Conservatives and Labour, Eric Ollerenshaw of the Conservatives was chosen by the people of Lancaster and Fleetwood to represent them in Parliament.

With only 333 votes in it, Ollerenshaw beat Labour’s Clive Grunshaw with a marginal majority of 15,404 votes to 15,071, producing a 4.8% swing from Labour to Conservative. There was an overall turnout of 42,701 votes, 61.08% of the population of Lancaster and Fleetwood, which is up by 1.6% from turnout in the last election in 2005. The seat was one of the last to be declared with the final result not coming in until 3.30pm the day after the election.

The number of Lancaster student votes on campus increased by a staggering 38% on 2005 turnout, when only 15% of students voted, reflecting the high level of student interest surrounding the election.

Professor David Denver of Lancaster’s Politics department said that he was “encouraged by third year students heavily involved in the campaign on both sides, for Labour and the Conservatives,” adding “I want young people to be involved. Students are not apathetic.”

Denver was echoed by LUSU President Michael Payne.

“Apathy is a misnomer with regards to students – if you can find the right issues, get across the message in the right way and engage students in an interesting way they will voice their opinions and take a stance,” he said. “This election was decisive for students and the massively increased turnout demonstrates that students want to shape their future and the future of their country for the better.”

This was backed up by the healthy attendance of students at the LUSU-organised Question Time debate held in Faraday Lecture Theatre on Monday 3 May. Payne acted as Chair for the evening, posing questions to the candidates and encouraging the audience to become involved and enquire about important issues. Many topics were covered over the two and a half hours of the debate, from electoral reform and transport to tuition fees and renewable energy sources in the local area.

Ollerenshaw stated how his party aimed to “regulate buses and control the bus routes” in the area to establish a more frequent service for all. In addition, he commented on alternative energy sources and Lancaster’s plan to build wind turbines on campus, saying he was “not sure about the efficiency of a wind turbine or the location of it.”

In terms of an issue more closely associated with students, Ollerenshaw affirmed that “we can’t afford to abolish the tuition fee,” despite the Green Party’s attempts to gain support by suggesting it was something they would aim to do if elected.

The main student-related issue concerning the Labour and Green parties was whether the amount of contact time a student receives is proportionate to the amount paid in fees. In addition, the Green Party’s Gina Dowding commented that if elected she would “want less people at university who are not benefiting from it,” citing 180-point institutions which allow students to study for a degree with 3 D grades at A Level.

The event was judged a success by both the organisers and the attendants.

“Any debate which allows the electorate to put their potential future MPs under the spotlight is a success,” said Payne. “The turnout, wide range of questions and praise from the candidates demonstrates what a decisive moment LUSU’s Question Time was in the election for Lancaster & Fleetwood.”

“It was very informative and engaging and I really enjoyed it,” said third-year Bowland student Ben James. “I thought it was organised really well. The only two negatives were that the UKIP candidate didn’t come and I thought the chair was slightly biased but it was run really well.

“I’d already made my mind up who I was going to vote for but my decision was reinforced after watching the candidates,” he added. “I think students should inform themselves what they’re voting for by going to events such as this, especially if they’re undecided.”

Throughout the election period LUSU lead a campaign encouraging students to vote, deploying posters, flyers and 3000 copies of a special four-page edition of SCAN containing election analysis and interviews with local candidates from the five biggest parties. It was felt that their efforts paid off: the post office clerk on campus commented on the masses of postal votes coming through the post office every day leading up to the election.

“LUSU aimed to inform students of the voting process and its finer details, as well as highlighting key issues in this election that affected students – we achieved that without a doubt,” said Payne.

Amongst the reasons students gave for voting in the election, some said that it was “a right you have to exercise,” that it is “our democratic right” and that “as young people we often get overlooked and it’s a chance for us to voice our opinion.”

One of the students counting votes at the polling station at the Chaplaincy Centre declared that “turnout has been absolutely brilliant. It shows that students aren’t apathetic.”

The increased turnout across the constituency is thought to be a result of the change in boundaries which occurs once every 15 years to allow for population change. The 2005 election results were taken from the constituency of Lancaster and Wyre, but for 2010 the boundaries were changed and the new constituency of Lancaster and Fleetwood created. As noted by Ollerenshaw the constituency covers a diverse range of areas.

However, combining the more closely associated areas of Lancaster and Morecambe would make the constituency far too large. One of the changes the Conservatives are planning is a boundary review as the current boundaries are showing fluctuating results in each election.

Lancaster’s previous MP, Conservative Ben Wallace, chose not to contest the Lancaster and Fleetwood seat and instead won the seat for neighboring Wyre and Preston North with a comfortable majority.

Wallace was one of just 16 Conservative Party candidates to sign the NUS’s pledge to oppose a rise in tuition fees. Ollerenshaw has not currently signed the pledge, on the grounds that to do so would be hypocritical given his party’s plan to wait for the outcome of the Browne review into higher education fees and funding before making a decision on tuition fees.

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