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Epigram Comment responds to recent criticisms directed at student voters after the General Election.

It has been difficult to escape the news about the shock election result for the UK 2017 General Election. With some polls giving Theresa May as much as a 21-point lead when she first told the country they would be heading back to the ballot box, it is still hard to believe that we are entering Brexit negotiations with a hung parliament. There are naturally many reasons as to why this happened, but one group is particularly accountable – students.

Students have never been that inclined to vote, but at this election they turned out in their thousands to influence the result, with an estimated 64% youth voter turnout (the highest since 1992). Furthermore, despite talks about it, it seems students did not want the so-called ‘progressive alliance’ as they voted overwhelmingly for the Labour Party.

It is the responsibility of everyone eligible to vote to put their cross on the ballot paper

The high youth turnout should be something that we all celebrate and embrace, but since the result I have heard quite a few complaints. I have heard complaints that students did not know what they were voting for when voting Labour, and I have heard complaints that students/ young people should not have the vote as they are ill-informed.

Naturally, this had a backlash of young Corbynites insisting they knew very well what they voted for, and that they were proud of how they voted.

Now this is a situation which rings a bell. A little bit of a déjà vu scenario it seems. But I can’t quite put my finger on it. Hm. Never mind.

What I want to focus on is how utterly ludicrous these complaints are. As a nation, we have always been proud of having our foundations in democracy; but democracy can only be strong and can only be strengthened, if those eligible to vote have their voices heard. Even if you disagree with them! Indeed, that is the whole point of democracy. Democracy flourishes with a conflict of opinion; that is why we have discussion, that is why we have debate.

It is the responsibility of everyone eligible to vote to put their cross on the ballot paper; it is the responsibility of campaigners and supporters to convince voters of next to which candidate they should put their cross. You cannot blame voters for not voting how you wanted them to purely because you didn’t produce a convincing enough argument for them.

The local election result, where the Conservatives destroyed Labour, showed the Tories to have a real chance at securing the strong majority they wanted. But they blew it by not recognising Corbyn’s growing appeal to the youth vote. Yes, they blew the opportunity. They made the error, not those who voted.

Let’s look back at the election campaigns. May was comfortably ahead until the manifestos were published, which is when the polls really began to change. This is our first indication that student voters were attracted to Labour’s policy initially.

But this, of course, was not the decider. Indeed, what is the point of a campaign if not to convince the electorate that the policies you have set out are the best policies for the country? What is the point of a campaign if not to enthuse the electorate about a government run by your party? The party’s must propose their policies, then campaign to persuade the electorate to support those policies. And that is what Labour did with students. And that is what the Conservatives failed to do with students.

Indeed, Corbyn massively targeted the youth vote whereas May massively avoided it. Corbyn proved himself as a talented campaigner, which even I must admit despite disagreeing with his politics. He attended rallies and allied himself with celebrity pop culture to spread his message to those who may not have heard it before. Theresa May took herself to privately hired out halls, speaking to Conservative Party members (who presumably would already be voting Tory) whilst retreating to a so-called ‘Project Fear’ by setting out no positive future for Britain, instead just warning about a Corbyn-led government.

I would ask all of those complaining about the way most young people and students voted: how on earth you can blame them for that? They were presented with one candidate who went to them and another one who expected them to go to her. They were presented with one candidate who reached them through a culture they enjoy, and another candidate who shut herself away. Essentially, they were presented with one candidate who seemed determined to win their vote and another candidate who did not try.

The Conservative party did not try to sell its ideology, principles and beliefs to young people

This is the failings of the Conservative campaign to deliver their message to young people; it is not the failings of young people for voting Labour. There are many positive arguments for conservatism and Conservative policies, but these were nowhere to be seen in the campaign. The Conservative party did not try to sell its ideology, principles and beliefs to young people and that is where fault must lie.

I mentioned above that this post-election scenario rung a few bells, and the situation that we seem to be echoing has just hit me. The arguments that students were uneducated on the issues at hand, that they didn’t know the severity of what they were voting for nor do they understand the failings of socialism like those who lived through the seventies do, harks back to the immediate response to the EU referendum.

You know, that referendum which ignited suggestions that the elderly should not have a vote because they would die before the young (a proposition which still repulses me), suggestions everyone who voted Leave were uneducated and did not know what they were voting for. Suggestions that everyone who voted Leave were just wrong.

No-one can deny that students, who heavily voted remain, contributed to this narrative. We therefore find ourselves in a rather ironic situation after this election, where the tables really have turned.

With this is mind, can we all just agree now that everyone must vote? And if they do not vote how you want them to it is not because they are some sort of inferior, uneducated specimen who should not participate in democracy, but because you failed to convince them otherwise?

No one wins by barring sections of society from the polling booth

To all the students who wanted Britain to remain within the European Union, it is your fault for not convincing those who wanted to Leave otherwise. To those who wanted a Conservative majority, it is your fault for not convincing those who wanted to prevent a Conservative majority otherwise.

Democracy survives and prevails on convincing debate. We either win the debate, or we lose. The most important thing, however, is that as many people as possible from as many sections of society as possible contribute to that debate. No one wins by barring sections of society from the polling booth, least of all the democracy that makes our nation so proud.


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