When I heard Theresa May’s announcement for a general election to be held in June this year, the first thing I felt was dread. Not because I think it’s the wrong decision or don’t enjoy political debate, but because as a university student about to graduate, I don’t feel that there is any place in politics for me.
Party politics in this country is largely split between the Conservative and the Labour party. As much as we want to pretend that the party system is diverse, it really isn’t. This in itself is the first problem. The political spectrum is limited, and in turn the policies and representation are also limited.
What I have come to recognise is that university students have no voice. No party recognises the power of us as a demographic and the stake that we are about to hold in society. Which party is representing our interests? Neither.
Issues of tax, austerity and even the welfare state do not directly impact us as members of the electorate in this election. It seems a political manifesto that mentions university tuition fees has ticked the box of appealing to students. Wrong. Tuition fees only truly matter to a voter if an election occurs before they have begun their degree. But what about the thousands of young people who are about to graduate just after the 2017 election?
I am about to leave university with at least £38,000 of debt, no guarantee of employment and the prospect of moving back home to avoid despicable house prices – which politicians are addressing that? I want to know how any Prime Ministerial candidate will plan for this. But it is never discussed. Graduates are not part of the bigger political picture.
The Labour party is unconvincing. Their 10-step plan focuses on improving the welfare state, but there is no detail on how it will be achieved. The idealism clouds the reality. The Conservatives are much too focused on the economy and rewarding high earners. This doesn’t appeal to me, either. It is highly unlikely that, as a new graduate, I will be earning enough in the next few years to enter into a tax bracket at all.
So it seems that either I must vote for the Conservatives, who are concerned with helping those who are already comfortable in their state of living. Or I must vote for Labour, who want to help everyone with no specificity or reasoning. Neither option is particularly helpful to who and where I am right now.
What both parties have in common, however, is how they define their educational policies. To both, policies on education address the starting age of compulsory education up to secondary school. Beyond that, students are placed in the same category as taxpayers. Their circumstances are not distinguished.
They also have another thing in common (I know, SHOCK, two whole things in common): their love of talking about the “future”. Of course this is important, as a five-year term in office is a long time. But what about right now? The future is intangible, and both parties hide behind its ambiguity. The next couple of years will be integral in how I set up my life. I don’t have the time or comfort to trust politicians who assure me that the future will be bright. The pressure to start my future is happening now.
Every election cycle, the message of “young people need to register to vote to have their voices heard” is played out. But, politicians need to start questioning why there is still such a need to make this clear. University campuses encourage strong debate on political issues so the desire for participation is there. And I’m sure that many of my fellow students do align strongly with a political party and are assured in their vote. That’s great, but I’m also sure that a lot of people feel alienated by politics, too.
It’s not that I don’t want to vote in the upcoming election, I just truly don’t feel that my voice will be heard by me doing so. This will be the third vote I cast in my life so far and this is the first time I have doubts.
It is necessary to question my role as a member of a democracy. But, in order for a democracy to be truly representative, it is equally important for politicians to reach out to all demographics. They need to make every voter WANT to vote, rather than rely on the pressure of not ‘wasting’ the chance to participate. University students form a relatively large proportion of society. And so far, we’ve been overlooked.