By Ellie Brown, News Subeditor
As they watched the results come in, students told Epigram what they thought of the predicted Conservative majority, young people’s engagement with politics and Britain’s future in the next five years. Plus, the results from our poll on how students voted.
‘Reading the room, when the Exit Poll came out, it was quite clear that it was not the result [students] wanted or expected’ said James Cox, a postgraduate student at the University.
I spoke to James outside the SU Balloon Bar, which was showing the election results at its General Election All-Nighter. The event officially started at 9.30pm, though the bar started to fill up from 9pm, with lengthy queues for drinks forming as students scrambled to get a good spot from which to watch the results of the BBC Exit Poll.
I had struggled to see the results of the Poll due to the crowd around the bar’s small TV Screen, but the gasps and groans of those with a better view soon told me that what many of my friends had feared was true – the Conservatives were on track for a clear majority, with Labour set to suffer their worst loss since the 1930s.
James, a former Lib Dem candidate for University constituency Bristol West, was characteristically articulate about what a Johnson government would, in his view, lead to.
‘[It means] five more years of a hostile environment against refugees, migrants and now EU nationals. It means continued attacks on our civil liberties and human rights legislation. It means we’re not going to be doing anything significant to tackle the climate emergency.’
‘I think for young people it’s an absolutely devastating result,’ he said.
Hearing the responses of those in the Balloon Bar to the Exit Poll, it was certainly clear that the result felt devastating for many. Yet, unlike James, the majority of students seem to be Labour supporters – at least, according to YouGov’s pre-election poll, which estimated that 54 per cent of registered 18 to 24-year-olds are Labour supporters.
Official figures on youth turnout and party support haven’t been released yet, but an Epigram poll asking Bristol students how they voted can give some insight. In our sample of over 300 respondents, Labour was by far the most popular party, gaining 60.2% of their votes, compared with the Green Party’s 17.4%. According to our poll more Bristol students voted for the Conservatives than the Lib Dems.
This may be surprising to some, but to Ife Grillo, a third year Politics and Sociology student and a Labour voter, it would not be.
‘I think the student reaction is mixed’ he said, as we stood in the entrance to the Balloon Bar – the terrace was closed. ‘I always say that you shouldn’t overestimate the idea that most students are left-wing, especially at Bristol University – I think a lot more students are quite right-wing than its perceived to be.’
‘I do think there were many students who were very sad’ he continued. ‘I saw many students crying…I’m going to feel sad and angry for a while.’
Out of curiosity, as well as for balance, I also spoke to Cecil Ehab Malhan, a first year Ancient History student and Conservative voter. He admitted that the Exit Poll was ‘a very happy feeling’ but also said he didn’t want to be ‘smug’ or ‘complacent’ about it.
Indeed, he sympathised with the ‘raw emotion’ in the bar, stating ‘[he] would be sad and angry if [the alternative result] had happened.’
Asked why he supported the Conservative victory, which he sees as ‘good for everyone,’ he said it was Johnson’s ability to ‘adopt other policies which are not considered traditionally Tory. [For example], one, dropping fox hunting; two, immense spending plans; and three, environmental stuff.’
‘I think that shows a party willing to change, a party willing to accept things that are not in its roots.’
This environmental metaphor may resonate with students who voted Green, of which there was a relatively high number in Bristol – as shown by both our poll and the results of the University’s Bristol West constituency.
Though the Green Party did not win this seat despite the Unite to Remain alliance, the vote share increased by 9,000 – most of which came from ‘student heavy areas’ according to Sarah Sharp, co-chair of the Bristol University Green Society.
Speaking on behalf of the society, Sarah stated that while they ‘would have obviously loved to gain another MP in Parliament’ they ‘respect Thangam Debbonnaire [the Labour candidate] a lot and expect she will continue as a good MP for Bristol West.’
‘We really enjoyed [the] campaign for Bristol West, especially with other students.’
The Society’s positivity in the face of defeat was echoed, albeit to a lesser extent, in my conversations with Ife and James on the night.
Though Ife worried that ‘results like this only further disenfranchise [students] and make them feel like the country is against them,’ he was also clear that ‘the fight needs to keep happening.’
‘People’s lives are still being made vulnerable and if anything, people are going to be more vulnerable under what’s going to be happening with politics… I think politics is going to be a scary time for the next couple of years and that means it needs activists more and more.’
James stated his hope that ‘student engagement will grow and will continue, and all the moves that the Johnson government does over the next five years will be massively scrutinised by students and massively resisted.’
While he ‘wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling almost a little bit helpless after tonight’s result’ he urged students to not give up as ‘governments don’t last forever.’
After our conversation I went back to the bar and took my seat in front of the projector. Around me students chatted with their friends and fellow party members over a pint or two, cheering or booing as the results came through, the place lively and packed until 2am in the morning. In a night of bleakness and despair for many, the support and sympathy that students had for each other was heartening – and a sign of hope for anyone concerned about the future of British politics.
Featured: Epigram / Tom Taylor
How did you feel when the Exit Poll was released?