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Recent figures from the NUS have revealed that student voting could have a significant impact on almost 200 swing seats in the May 2015 general election. The recent NUS results showed that, out of the 200 seats that could most easily swing during the upcoming election, a massive 194 have a student population larger than that needed to swing the seat, meaning that the student vote will be more important than ever.
Even though there has been significant political engagement amongst many students, Joe O’Neill, LUSU VP (Education), believes that many do not recognise the power their vote holds. Speaking on the Bailrigg Effectiveness Review, Friday Week 1 on Bailrigg FM, he addressed his concerns, saying: “it’s a key role of students’ unions in particular to get that message out to people that we do hold a massive swing on how our politics works as a whole.”
O’Neill does, however, realise that parties are not doing themselves any favours when it comes to getting the student vote. He felt that none of the major parties currently deserve the vote from students in next year’s election because none of them really factor students into their policies. If any party were to really deserve the vote they would need to “realise that young people are disillusioned and disenfranchised because nobody stands up for us, nobody speaks for us and nobody cares about us.”
The recent poll by NUS shows that 73 per cent of students are now registered to vote. This is a significant proportion, especially considering that students now have to register to vote individually compared to recent years where universities could bulk register all students. However, the poll also showed that only four per cent of students strongly affiliated themselves with a party, suggesting that any party could be in the running for much of the student vote this time around. Almost two thirds of students asked by NUS said that they believe it is everyone’s duty to vote implying that students will be out in their droves to vote when it comes to election time next year.
The Lancaster and Fleetwood district, in the 2010 election, was won by Conservatives with a majority of only 333 votes. This was a tiny 0.8% of the vote so it is a seat that could easily be swung by the student vote, especially because of Lancaster’s high proportion of students in its population.
This means that the swing needed would be a measly 0.4% to change the power from the Conservatives to Labour. According to O’Neill, “we get more votes than that for just our CCO elections so if students come out and they mobilize and they do actually vote then they are likely to change the balance of power here.”
There is, however, concern that student indifference to politics could negate this possible influence, something only heightened by figures such as Russell Brand calling for young people to not vote. O’Neill hopes that LUSU can remind students of the importance of voting and political engagement through a number of different events, the first of which being the Assembly for Change that is being held on Saturday and Sunday of Week 5.
“Democracy isn’t just about ticking a box twice a decade; it’s about doing stuff, it’s about caring, it’s about getting active. Hopefully the Assembly for Change will highlight to students a number of ways that they can do that.”
The results reflect not just Lancaster but how students can affect the election nationwide. NUS President, Toni Pearce, has expressed, similarly to O’Neill, that high student voter turnout could have a significant national impact. On the NUS website, Pearce stated that students “are the force to be reckoned with at the Ballot Box” and that the union, as well as many student unions across the country, including LUSU, will do everything in their power to get students to vote and have their say heard in British politics.