Is there any point in students voting?
By Lauren Letch,
Throughout history, students have been the champions of protest, leaders pushing for radical change from the French Revolution to protesting against the fascist regimes of the Nazis and Stalin in the twentieth century. Living in Britain in the 21st Century, I don’t believe there is any need for a call to arms and revolution, although I’m not so sure Russell Brand would agree with me having seen his interview with Jeremy Paxman. However, in a moderate political society, why can’t students live up to their history of making a change, but through the ballot box instead?
In 2010 we saw perhaps the most widespread and universal protest that has taken place in Britain’s recent history against the rise in tuition fees. Although mostly peaceful, they often descended into violence, with the protest I attended in London resulting with the Conservative Headquaters being smashed, with damages worth millions by nightfall. Although a minority group, this put further questions in peoples minds about whether the students really care, or if they were just out to cause trouble. Unfortunately, political participation amongst students would suggest the latter. It has been estimated that only 39% of 18 to 24 year olds vote, compared to 70% of those aged over 65, and a 2010 collective voter turnout of 62%, meaning most students are in the age group that is least likely to vote (Source: Parliament.co.uk).
I like to think I have a little more faith in us students than the media likes to believe. Statistics show that voter apathy is an evident problem amongst students, but is this really because they don’t have opinions? A common argument amongst people is, ‘what is the point in voting, they’re all the same?!’ Some may say a just argument; in many ways it is a just argument, yet one that frustrates me with its ignorance. Putting a cross in a box may not seem radical to you, but it does have an impact. Politics only stays dominated by the same people because collectively as a nation we let it. It has not always be the same, and nor will it always be. Over time parties come and go, and this is as a result of the voters. For example, when they first started, it took the Labour Party twenty-four years to win an election, whereas the Liberal Party used to dominate. There is also a rise in prominence of alternative parties, with a Green Party Member sitting as an MP for Brighton. Perhaps these examples are not as radical as you may hope, however, they do stand to prove that change does come through a ballot paper.
So what issues matter to you, to make you go out and vote? On going to university, students experience a sometimes daunting transition into adulthood, meaning you are now affected by adult issues, often issues that are controlled by the government. For Example….
Your degree: Although universities are private institutions, they are of course highly political and regulated stringently by the government. For example, in 2013 lecturers at the University of Edinburgh went on strike over pay, leaving students with no classes to attend and limited university service, including access to the main library. Furthermore, voting is not just national; voting in university elections is a great way in having a say in your union, equality policies, your rights as a student and getting your message across to university officials through a representative body.
Your home: If you are living away from home and no longer in university accommodation, various laws exist. For example, although the majority of students are tax-exempt, you may have to start contributing to council taxes. Similarly, we all know the struggles of heating a student flat or house. Well governments can have an impact on energy prices, with a key Labour proposal for the 2015 election being to freeze energy prices from energy providers so that they cannot go up until 2017.
Your job: Do you partake in part-time work at university? Well depending on who you vote for this may effect the minimum wage. The coalition government have just increased the minimum wage. However, not for those under twenty-one. Another contentious issue is the Zero-Hour Contracts, with some political parties proposing banning them or reforming guideline regulations.
Your loan: Perhaps an obvious one, but depending on who is in power your student loan may vary over time. Currently, it stands that you pay 9% of whatever you earn once you earn over £21,000, however, the cost of your loan could change through interest rates and other variable factors. Similarly, the system of government grants and benefits vary from government to government.
Your social life: An obvious one in many ways, but often over looked. Drinking age, how you can behave when with your friends as well as how well you are protected, such as policing on the streets at night. Even the food that you eat will only contain those ingredients approved by government.
Although it is clear that there are endless reasons to vote, this does not mean that it is always easy. Even if you are well informed on the political issues of the day, you may not know your entitlement to vote and how to do it. Once you are over the age of 18 you are eligible to register to vote in any election whether that be general, local, council or a referendum. However, the key thing is registering to vote. You can only be registered in one area, so either choose your hometown or university town and you can do this by post. Annually a form will be posted that you can fill in your details on and freepost back and you’re ready to go.
Beyond voting, what is the impact of student involvement in politics? To make politics for the people, there has to be grassroots interest and support. One of the perfect places to do this is at university. Most of the major parties will be represented by a society at your university, and membership to political parties is often discounted to students. Party membership for the Conservatives for those under 23 years old is £5, and the Labour Party offers membership for £1 to those in its Labour Students branch.
By living in Britain, we have something that others are denied across the world, and there is a clear reason why people are fighting for that right.
Crossing a box on a ballot paper may seem insignificant, however, change doesn’t always have to be radical, and there is always a point in voting.