Students have the power

Big Ben, Westminster

A study by the Higher Education Policy Institute has some rare good news for Labour and the Greens

The report released yesterday, reveals the pivotal role students could play in next year’s election, going as far as to suggest they could significantly alter the vote in at least ten constituencies.

Unsurprisingly, the party that seeks to lose the most is the Liberal Democrats. Having gained a large percentage of the student vote in 2010 with their pledge to abolish tuition fees, they will now be feeling a backlash. A British Election Study report found students voting Lib Dem dropped from 44% in 2010 to 13% earlier this year. With party leader Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam a student seat, this could create huge problems for the party. Other Lib Dem seats at risk include Bermondsey and Southwark, the constituency of current Justice minister Simon Hughes and Energy Secretary Ed Davey’s Kingston seat.

Interestingly, the main beneficiaries from the Lib Dem’s downfall is the Labour Party, who are gaining support in part due to their undecided tuition fees policy, which may see fees drop to £6,000 per annum. As a result, Labour could be set to gain eight seats- six from the Conservatives and two from the Lib Dems.

For the UK Independence Party however, there is less good news. Despite the party having made huge gains in other areas of the electorate, students are failing to see the appeal, with a YouthSight poll in June finding their support was a dismal 3% amongst students, even though the party saw great success in the May European elections. This could be down to the perception of UKIP as a party for the older generation, and their less-tolerant views. YouthSights research found even if UKIP followed the Greens example and promised to axe tuition fees, only a quarter of students would vote for them! This speaks volumes given tuition fees is commonly cited as a dealbreaker for students.

All this could be meaningless though, if the new system of individual electoral registration alienates students. The change could create problems for students, who often have numerous different addresses, but the National Union of Students has promoted voter registration heavily and plans to have an election hub on their website where students can compare the impact of their vote between their home or term-time constituencies.

With only 44% of 18-24 year olds voting in the last general election, it remains to be seen whether students will be motivated to use their power to it’s full extent. If they do, then the impact for change is significant, but students have to make sure their voices are heard fully at the ballot box.