Prime Minister Theresa May has called for a General Election to be held on 8th June 2017. This came as a surprise to all of us, particularly leaving students on the back foot in terms of influencing manifestos, registering to vote and voting. You might feel like you’re suffering from elections fatigue at the moment; the SU had our elections back in March, your club or society probably elected their new committee in the past few weeks, the local council elections happened last week and NOW we’re asking you to get involved for a general election.
So why should you even bother to register to vote?
The voice of students and young people is time and time again left out of big decisions which affect our country, as you might have noticed this time last year – around 60% of 18-24 years old who had registered to vote, voted in the EU referendum, with the figure for over 50s rising to 90% of those registered. Young people voted overwhelmingly (about 70%) to stay in the EU. In reality, the proportion of young people registered to vote in the EU referendum was low in comparison to other age groups, which means that the voice of people in the “classic undergraduate student” age group is lost amongst the noise of the older generations.
Over the last few years, Westminster have made decisions which have had huge impacts on students – for example, raising tuition fees, removing maintenance grants and cutting disabled students allowance (DSA). These things happened in the absence of a strong voter voice saying that this was the wrong decision for students. Recently, the government has said that they will be working towards scrapping letting agency fees, which will make securing a second or third year house for students in their local area much more accessible and affordable, and stop landlords being able to rip students off for money they don’t have. However, in the run up to the general election this could be one of the many pledges that government has made that could get lost in the chaos.
The decisions that get made at a national level genuinely do have a real world impact on students and young people, and now is the time where students can shape the future of our nation. It’s a crucial time for students, with a highly competitive job market, huge changes to higher education, and a housing market which is difficult to get into. We need to see policies which are going to give us faith that our government cares about students and young people.
If you’re now thinking “Well, I probably won’t be bothered to go and actually vote when the time comes” then fine! I’ve still got 4 whole weeks to change your mind about actually turning out to vote, but you can register right now from your laptop or phone wherever you are with minimal hassle. Even if you simply just register, this makes a huge statement to those who are running in the election. Candidates will download the electoral roll regularly throughout the election period, and check the demographics of those registered. If students register and get their names on the list, candidates and parties will soon see that we are an important group of prospective voters and that they need to meet our demands and create policies and promises that cater to our needs. So please, get your name on that list and let’s see political parties commit to improving the lives of students.
You have until midnight on the 22nd May to register to vote. You can do it online here: https://www.gov.uk/register-to-vote, and the service is available in both Welsh and English. If you’re not sure where you’ll be on June 8th or want to consider where your vote will have the most impact, you can register to vote at both your term time address and your home address, so there’s no excuse for your voting card not to find you in 4 weeks’ time. If you’re lucky enough to be jetting off on holiday straight after your exams, you can also register for a postal vote and post your vote off before you go. OR if something happens last minute and you can’t get to the polls, you can get a proxy vote and someone (who you trust to vote the right way) can go and vote on your behalf.
We can’t keep seeing the voices and needs of students ignored in a time where everything seems to be against us. Please, take this opportunity to influence our futures, influence party manifestos and show the government that students care about our futures and deserve to be listened to as much as generations older than us do.
If you’d like to chat more about the General Election or registering to vote (I mean, you probably don’t, but the offer is there) then get in touch with me on firstname.lastname@example.org or come and find me somewhere in the Union – I always love a chance to talk about democracy and student rights.