By Luke Andrews
I caught up with Durham University Conservative Association (DUCA) President Ollie Lewis, and former President Daniel Cohen, to find out why students should vote for the Conservatives.
At 9am on a Tuesday morning, I met with the current DUCA President Ollie Lewis, and former President Daniel Cohen, at the Students’ Union Cafe. I wanted to find out why Durham Students should vote blue in this election.
Many students are Labour supporters. A recent poll by Palatinate Politics showed that 44% of respondents plan to go red in this election. Indeed, amongst some students, there is consternation as to how a young person can even consider being a Tory. Criticisms of the Tories have included their decision to increase student fees and push through Brexit, which conversely both Ollie and Dan see as arguments to vote for the party.
“Tuition fees have been misrepresented and thoroughly misunderstood,” Ollie replied when I put this argument to him. “With tuition fees, everyone has a level playing field.”
“Is it right that someone going into an upper-class job isn’t paying back into the system?” he asked.
Student fees were initially paid for by the state, a policy that Labour is proposing to return to if it wins the election. The Conservatives would like to keep the current system, transferring the “burden” to only those that use the higher education system.
“It is right that the burden should be shifted to those using the system?” Ollie asked.
When I asked whether this is fair for less well-off families, Ollie stated: “there are mechanisms in place to ensure that people on the lowest incomes are protected.”
Dan was particularly critical of Labour’s “cynical ploy” to offer a cancellation of student finance in order to get their vote. “[We should] spend on more important early years education,” he said.
The pair also highlighted a positive affect of student fees. Figures from UCAS have shown that more people from non-traditional socioeconomic backgrounds are going to university. The situation is the reverse in Scotland, where universities are free but only a limited number of places are available.
Since coming into power the Conservatives increased student fees to £9,000, while in coalition with the Liberal Democrats. The party has also pushed through the Higher Education and Research Bill, which will allow universities to increase tuition fees in line with inflation every year. This will mean that some university fees will increase to £9,250 in September 2017.
We also touched on the topic of Brexit. Students voted heavily to remain in the referendum, including in Durham. I asked whether the Tories were the right party to deliver a Brexit that looks after student interests such as the ability to study abroad and Erasmus grants. “Absolutely,” said Dan and Ollie.
The rhetoric moved quickly to the alternative scenario of a Labour government having to negotiate Brexit. “The alternative is having people like Diane Abbott. Do you want them negotiating?” Ollie asked. “They couldn’t negotiate their way out of a plastic bag.” The Conservatives have outlined their Brexit plan, but it remains unclear what benefits of EU membership will be retained until a final deal is decided.
Richard Lawrie, Vice-Master at University College, Durham University, is standing for the Conservatives in this election. Both Dan and Ollie were very supportive of his candidacy. They felt that he’d be the right choice for students, as he’d put pressure on the University whilst it embarks on its plan to expand the student population by 5,000 by 2020. “Richard can work with the government in a way that Roberta never could,” said Ollie. “He has a good presence, especially amongst Castle students.”
Both Ollie and Dan are very supportive of current Conservative policy and Richard Lawrie. Despite the polls, they are hoping to win big in this election. However, to them, it seems unlikely that the City of Durham constituency will change to a Tory seat.
All will be decided on June 8th.