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Students hold the key to the next General Election

Wednesday 29 October 2014 NUS News

A special message from NUS President Toni Pearce.

Given that less than half of young people turned out to vote in the last general election in 2010, I don’t know how many people would believe me if I said that students could hold the key to next years’ general election. But they really could, and here’s why.

You see there are 197 seats across the country where the sitting MP has a majority of ten percent or less. and so each of these seats would need a swing of no more than five per cent to change hands entirely.

In all but six of those seats, official Census data shows that the number of students living there is larger than the swing required. This means that students seriously have the power to potentially sway almost 200 seats. Even more powerful is that in some constituencies there are Cabinet and ministerial seats at stake.

That’s right – student votes could hold the key to entire political careers. Students could be game changers come polling day.

Critics are always quick to voice that this would never happen because students don’t vote. Apparently students are apathetic and don’t care about politics. I just don’t buy this argument. In fact the most recent polling from NUS showed that 73 per cent are registered to vote, and if there was a general election tomorrow almost three quarters would be likely or highly likely to vote.

We need only to look to the recent independence referendum in Scotland, where almost 9 out of 10 young people declared themselves certain to vote, to challenge lazy stereotypes about voter apathy.This is the thing; young people aren’t bored of democracy, they’re angry with its process. And I understand that because I’m angry too. Why wouldn’t we be?

Tuition fees have been trebled but undergraduates can still only get maintenance loans that cover a third of their costs. The education maintenance allowance has been scrapped.  Under-employment is rife, as people struggle to gain a foothold in a full-time job. Unpaid internships, for those with the contacts and means to take them on, have become the normal road to many of the most competitive and prestigious careers. And even having a good job does not necessarily mean you can live. Private sector rents are skyrocketing. My monthly rent is over six hundred pounds for a small room in a shared house. And I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m telling you from personal experience and from everything I have seen as NUS President, one of the hardest things to go through right now is just being in your early twenties.

NUS has launched its manifesto for the General Election this week, made up of 30 policy asks centred around education, work and community. We endure financial hardships and future debt unimaginable to the students of ten years ago and we stand to suffer far worse employment prospects than our parents. My generation currently has a raw deal: we need a new one.

David Cameron himself said that Britain needs to be fixed. The simple fact is that students really can do just that. But we need to be taken seriously. We need tangible employment prospects, we need a serious commitment to reduce the day to day cost of being a student and we want politicians to get onto campuses to listen, to speak and not to make empty promises that make their lives worse. Our research shows that 77 per cent of students don’t think politicians can be trusted. And I can’t blame them - Nick Clegg’s broken tuition fee promise in 2010 severely undermined any trust in politicians, and saying sorry just isn’t good enough.

It is little wonder that our polling suggests only five per cent of students would vote Liberal Democrat. It’s why NUS is asking for a right to recall that takes into account more than just fiddling expenses, because lying to voters is wrong too.

I’m sure that the people in positions of power are fully aware of how influential the student vote could be. I think they are genuinely worried. They know that we won’t forget broken promises, and all parties should take note. Students really are a force to be reckoned with at the ballot box and we will be making sure they come out swinging.