Opinion | Students should take local elections more seriously

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By Alex Hunt, First Year, Politics and International Relations

So, it’s election season once again, and for many of us who have only just recovered from the SU elections last month, it is time to look ahead to the bumper set of local elections taking place on the 6th May.

For those of us that hate being bombarded with campaign videos and flyers, of which I am one, you may be tempted to hide under a political rock for the next month, however, the past weeks, months and years have shown us all how important it is to ensure our voice is heard.

Unlike a general election in which we vote to elect our constituency MP, a local election focuses on electing the many layers of local government in our communities. For us in Bristol that means electing the city mayor, the West of England Combined Authority mayor, local councillors and also a Police and Crime Commissioner.

Now I’m sure many of you will question, what’s the point in voting? Do these people have a significant enough impact on our society?

The evidence suggests that a vast majority of the public do think these things and thus results in extremely low turnout in local elections with 36.2% and 35% in 2014 & 2018 respectively.

We know that students have consistently been among the least likely group to vote, with a turnout that is routinely the lowest of all age demographics.

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one constantly irritated that Brexit was always monopolising the news headlines

So why is this? A constant theme I notice when I speak to people about politics and voting is this view that the voices of young people are consistently ignored and rejected by those in power.

However, something has changed in the last decade, as the huge constitutional debates regarding Brexit and also Scottish independence have sparked a political fire among young people and for the first time ever, 16-year-olds are now allowed to vote in Scotland and Wales.

In a time when COVID-19 didn’t dominate our lives, I’m sure I wasn’t the only one constantly irritated that Brexit was always monopolising the news headlines, it seemed we never heard about anything else. But at least this helped people to become educated and informed on the big issues that will affect us for the rest of our lives.

It is crucially important to remember that voting is only one form of democracy

I, for one, had countless heated discussions with my peers who had never showed an interest in the political debate before.

Although I fiercely disagreed with some of them, it was refreshing that my generation were finally engaged in the political world once again.

We must also not forget the millions of young people that have participated in protests regarding the future of our planet and on racial inequality, amongst others. It is crucially important to remember that voting is only one form of democracy - peaceful and sensible protest is equally important in stoking change.

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So, whilst I am delighted that students have as a high an interest in politics than ever before, that same passion and determination for change must be translated into votes at the ballot box. As far as local elections are concerned, I can’t say that the public have taken them seriously at all, especially in recent years.

When we only have a third of the electorate participating in an election (as we saw in 2018), it can result in those elected lacking legitimacy and accountability to the public. Even just ten years ago, I would confidently say that students didn’t take voting as seriously as it is taken now.

However, due to the politicisation of campuses over the past decade, along with the countrywide debates that have dominated our politics, students are certainly more invested than ever before and on can only hope that engagement at the national level, will filter down to the local elections on the 6th May. So get out there and vote!

Featured Image: Epigram / Jack Crockford


Are you going to vote at the local elections? Let us know!

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