Student vote will help Lib Dem victory

February 7, 2005 11:42 PM

The student vote could be crucial in helping the Liberal Democrats win in Cambridge at the general election. At the party's student campaign launch last week, the constituency was highlighted as one of several seats where the student population exceeds the sitting MP's majority. One in four Cambridge residents are students - almost 20,000 in total: Labour MP Anne Campbell has a majority of just 8,579 over David Howarth.

Graph of student voting intention, UNITE/MORI 2001/05

*According to the annual UNITE student survey, conducted by MORI, Lib Dems are now the most popular party among students

And students are continuing to turn to the Lib Dems: According to a poll last month*, one in three students support the party, more than support either Labour or the Conservatives. Mark Gettleson, Chair of Cambridge Student Liberal Democrats, thought on a wide variety of issues it is the Lib Dems who are winning the arguments:

"It is clear that students in Cambridge, and across the UK, no longer trust the Blair government on the crucial issues of top-up fees, ID cards and Iraq. Given the Lib Dems' unwavering defence of civil liberties, the green agenda, internationalism and the right to free education, students are now backing us in droves.

"Clare College Fellow and former council leader David Howarth understands the key issues and has held firm to his beliefs. Popular among students and across Cambridge, David will make the kind of MP the city deserves."

University funding is likely to be a key issue for students at the general election. David Howarth has repeatedly argued that the current fee system is unfair, and that higher education should be funded through taxation:

"With fees there is no relationship between the total amount you pay and the amount by which you benefit. You pay back the same total amount, whether you end up as a university researcher on £25,000 a year or a city solicitor on £500,000. The government gives some people longer to pay, but they will end up paying the same total amount in the end.

"We will increase income tax to 50% on income over £100,000 a year - four out of five employees who earn more than this amount are graduates, and that number will rise as increasing numbers of graduates come through the ranks. With this revenue we can replace all fees, introduce better grants than the government is proposing, fund improvements in academic pay and help universities with their mounting maintenance bills. Our values tell us that higher education is important: That is why we will fund it.

"Funding a public service by fees instead of by taxation is merely an indication of whether the government thinks the service is a luxury or a necessity. We think higher education is a necessity. Labour obviously doesn't."

A loss of trust in the government, largely fuelled by the war in Iraq, will also influence how students vote in a few months' time. The recent and hopefully successful elections have not quelled fears that the invasion was illegal and, as Howarth explained, unnecessary:

"The war revealed that Saddam Hussain's military capability was almost entirely an illusion and that his state apparatus was a flimsy tissue of self-delusion. He had already lost control of Kurdistan (which was holding elections before the invasion) and was losing control of the southern 'no-fly' zone. With the right kinds of pressure, such a regime will collapse from within. For example, the whole of the Soviet empire collapsed because of its internal contradictions, without the west attacking it.

"But bringing democracy to Iraq was not the reason given by the Prime Minister for the war. Just before the invasion, in a final ultimatum, Tony Blair said that Saddam could stay in power if he complied with the WMD requirements of UN resolutions (which, of course, we now know that he had). The Prime Minister's stated reason for war, the reason that won him the support of the House of Commons, was WMD, which turned out to be wrong and which even at the time was known to be flimsy. He broke international law, damaged the UN, and undermined Britain's place in Europe."

In Cambridge there is also considerable student opposition to ID cards, which the Lib Dems are opposing while the Conservatives sit on the fence. David Howarth encouraged students to make their voice heard:

"This particular election is more important than most because the basic structure of British politics for the next generation depends on it. Is it going to be more of the same - Labour and Conservative parties battling it out to decide which is the more authoritarian? Or are we to have a new politics in which the alternative view is heard? Cambridge is one of the places where you can help bring about that change, because Cambridge is one of the places where the Liberal Democrats are well-placed to win."

Many students don't vote, and turnout can be particularly bad if elections take place during the holidays. Although most commentators expect a May election, David Howarth suggested students may want to consider applying for a postal vote. Mark Gettleson agreed:

"If all students vote in Cambridge, our voice on the key issues will be heard loud and clear; if we dilute that voice by voting at home, it won't. As such, Tony Blair may be planning to delay the election outside of term. The best way to prevent our voice being silenced is to apply for a postal vote here in Cambridge."

To apply for a postal vote email elections@cambridge.gov.uk, or for more information follow the link below.

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