Local Elections: Why the students of Leeds have mixed perceptions

Get up early, wash, get dressed, go to work. Come home, wash, eat, go to bed. From the days of Monday to Friday, for most adults in England this is a routine that they must unfortunately follow, in order to pay those irksome bills and keep the country floating along via their hard-earned taxes.

Through the system their money filters and into the pockets of another group of individuals: the students. Their routine is slightly different. Drink, sleep, eat, maybe do some work. Drink, sleep, eat…. and so it goes on. Rarely do the habits of these individuals change. Thursday, May 6th 2010 however, was an exception.

The students combined with the hard-working folk of the land, to create a sea of lights across the country both watching in anticipation as the General Election took the nation into the early hours. In fact it took much longer than that, another six days to be precise.

What did happen after this time however was historical; for the first time in over half a century we had a coalition government. It was a symbolic event for our country, an event that angered many and elated others. Some people raged at the appointment of a Conservative Prime Minister, whilst others jumped for joy at the inclusion of a Nick Clegg and his Liberal Democratic party.

Among these leaping with happiness were the student population; finally they had a voice among the highest powers in government, a voice that would be on their side and help them with their quest for knowledge instead of hinder them. The question remained however: how many students actually voted?

This is a very hard question to answer, as the vote is after all anonymous, but what did transpire is that over half of under 25 year olds in this country did not vote. Taking into consideration how many students there are within this bracket, over 2 million, its fair to say that quite a few did not turn up to the polls on 6th May.

Nearly a year has passed since the General Election and in a few days time more voting opportunities will take place across the country: the local elections. Students across the land will be invited to once again take part and vote for whom they believe will lead their community into a world full of promise and hope. For the people involved in these elections however, the prospect of a decent student turnout is not one they are optimistic about.

“Student turnout is not high especially in local elections. Many of the students in our area can vote both at home and here, but they do not always realise this,” muses Ryk Downes, a Liberal Democrat councillor in Leeds. “I think interest has risen in recent times with University issues becoming important, but generally younger people tend not to be that interested in politics”.

With the second largest population of students residing in its city, Leeds, which has a total number of 200,000 people in its higher education system, is a city you would expect to host quite a few student voters when 5th May rolls around but when it comes to politics, the city’s generation of aspiring youths seems to be divided about its intentions.

“I don’t plan on voting in next months local elections,” admits Sean Jacks a student at Leeds Trinity (COLLEGE), “I wouldn’t really know where to start.” He’s not the only one who doesn’t seem entirely stirred by the local elections. Matthew Terry, a History student at Leeds Metropolitan University, whilst admitting he may vote, doesn’t seem all too bothered about where his contribution will actually go, “I do plan on voting next month because you just may as well”.

The above indifference towards the local elections is not a shock for most people, as apathetic has always been a word used to describe students attitudes towards politics. However, some students actually do plan on voting this month, with many saying that actually they care about who represents their areas.

“Yes I plan on voting in next month’s local elections because it is important to a lot of people in the area I live in and my vote could have a positive impact on their wellbeing,” says History student Ben Preston, who is studying at Leeds Metropolitan University. Nichola Smith, another student at Leeds Metropolitan University, reacted very passionately when asked if she would vote in next month’s elections, “ Yes because People lost their lives so I can vote and I don’t want to do the typically British thing and not bother taking action then complaining about the results”.

Despite these guarantees of involvement and cries of passion, some councillors in Leeds are still not convinced that these students will actually stick to their promises on the big day. “No I don’t except a lot of them will vote in the local elections”, sighs Patt Latty,  (COUNCILLORS PARTY) “I think that a lot of young people are just not interested in Politics”.

There are a few students who refute this allegation including James Simmons, a Geology student at Leeds University; “I am very interested because it has a direct impact upon my future and potentially my university life.” Others however, have a bleaker outlook, “I still just think that it doesn’t matter who you vote for,” barks Leeds Metropolitan Student Jodie Hirst, “because none of the political parties stick to the promises they make once they get in to power anyway!”

Miss Hirst does have a valid point. The students of this country were promised lower tuition fees and reduced debt, but instead they were greeted with increased fees and EMA cuts. The people currently in University may not be ones facing this lifetime of commitment to the banks, but that doesn’t stop them feeling any less lied too. “I voted in the National Elections as I didn’t want tuition fees to rise,” says Dominic Bertram Smith, a student at ICMP in London, originally from Leeds, “Fat lot of good that did!”

Unfortunately, it’s these views that will stop some students, not just in Leeds but also across the country, from voting on May 5th. With the current governments track record, it’s hard to blame them for their cynical opinions.

They got burned on May 6th and nearly a year later, some students are going back to their familiar routine to avoid being burned again, whilst others will be getting out a fire blanket and giving it one last try. Let’s just hope there’s enough fire blankets to go around.