UK politics saw party conference season kick off last weekend with the Liberal Democrat’s conference in Glasgow. The Lib Dems could be seen as marmite in the eyes of students due to the hugely unpopular tripling of student fees and therefore student debt. So with the national elections less than two years away what have the Lib Dems proposed to win back some of those hearts and minds and can we expect the other parties to pick up the baton from a party who has traditionally done well with the student vote?
As perhaps should be the case at these events the Economy was high on the agenda in Glasgow with Human Rights, free school meals and the shift from a party of opposition to a new approach of a party in power being recurrent themes throughout the conference. It goes without saying that issues and policy are relevant to everyone when deciding to vote but is the knowledge that children under 9 will eat a decent meal everyday really at the top of a Fresher’s agenda? Perhaps the cynic in me would suggest it is minimum pricing for alcohol or whether ‘Blurred Lines’ will be played at the SU that fills the student mind but let’s be fair; we come to university to get a job.
Currently for every graduate job 85 people apply for it according to a survey by The Association of Graduate Recruiter and this seems to be a consistent figure for the last 3 years. Youth unemployment in the UK stands at nearly 1 million so what are the Lib Dems doing? There is no denying that raising the minimum wage and the amount an individual will be taxed are appealing promises for those who are struggling but is that the fate of our graduates? A promise that whilst your education may be have been a waste of time you can earn enough to just get by without the government bothering you for tax? Is it time that a political party gets serious about making banks lend more to small businesses and entrepreneurs? Or is it time to question the route that is higher education? These questions aren’t alien to students looking to the future and they are not excluded from the political discourse in this country however not a lot seems to have been done.
The Lib Dems may not have made students top of their priorities this Autumn but perhaps we can look forward to more student-friendly conferences in the near future. The Labour confrence is up next and the Conservative conference in Manchester is due to commence on the 29th September. The Labour conference has already generated some interesting headlines with Ed Miliband declaring he will ‘bring Socialism back to Britain’ and vowing to end the nasty ‘bedroom tax’. Strong rhetoric for a party who have lost some economic credibility by suggesting they will not reverse much of the Tory cuts and who have recently had their foundations shook by distancing themselves from their traditional supporters; the trade unions. Indeed even if the Labour Party were to back up their rhetoric what does that mean for students and graduates? The knowledge that you won’t or will be able to have a spare room in your new council house when you graduate surely does not tear people away from GTA V? Perhaps the rise of the proletariat and a worker’s state would be fun but I’m sure we all know that Ed wasn’t talking about THAT kind of Socialism. Miliband’s words will grab the headlines but could be seen as having little relevance to students and in the end is probably just good old fashioned Tory bashing.
The Conservative conference looks like it will grab the headlines too with the really ‘meaty’ issues like foreign policy, the environment and of course the economy, stupid, all at the top of the agenda. These issues and policies provide a wealth of information and debate for any politics student but what about the fine art student who spends most of their day at the easel or the sports science undergraduate who has football and badminton to do after the gym and studying (apologies for the crass generalizations)? These issues may not be top of the latter’s priorities but that won’t stop them wanting to do something with their degrees when they finish studying. To bring up the problem of youth unemployment again it must be asked how the government of 2015 plans to tackle this, yes we have provisions for the worst off but what about those coming out of university with a degree and potential?
Many of the same old cynical criticisms could be laid at the door of the politicians; they don’t listen or they look to grab power by jumping on the bandwagon of popular issues (Labour and the ‘bedroom tax’) but whilst that could be seen as a fair criticism of them it should not necessarily be attributed to the democratic process. And this is where the politics student turns on the fine art and sports science student because no matter how busy you are the decisions a government makes will affect you. Even the biggest cynic must recognise that to throw your hands up in the air and say ‘what can I do?’ will only lead to some in politics taking the opportunity to do as they please or at least form policies without a mandate. Mandate would be the key word here, if politicians want to be credible they have to show that they represent the people and they do that by engaging with the issues that people bring to them and then hopefully forming policy that is representative of that discourse. Again the same cynicism could be used: ‘the Lib Dems promised to abolish tuition fees but instead cozied up with the nasty Tories and tripled them! They got a lot of our votes by lying and so why won’t they do it again?’. Of course the Lib Dems could do that but with their popularity down (tuition fees being a strong causal factor) wouldn’t it be political suicide to make the same mistake again? There is time to ask questions and everyone (eligible!) can hold political parties to account at the ballot box. Students represent the future and that future is tied to a democratic process, so perhaps it would be wise to ask yourself what you look forward to in life and whether the world is ready.