What issues matter most to Durham students in the election?

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As campaigning for the General Election on 4 July kicked off, the Conservatives appeared to be leaning heavily into the older vote. This isn’t unusual as older voters are more likely to vote Conservative and it is logical to appeal to their core voter demographic. It may also be tactically advantageous, as older voters are more likely to turnout than younger ones, improving their chances overall in the upcoming election. However, this strategy has the potential to alienate younger voters. Palatinate has spoken to student voters from across the political spectrum in Durham to find out what matters most for them.

In late May, the Conservatives promised to raise the personal allowance for pensioners, should they be re-elected. PM Rishi Sunak explicitly said that this “shows we are on the side of pensioners.” The Conservatives have also pledged to introduce of a year of National Service for 18-year-olds, in the form of military placements or monthly volunteering for services such as the NHS, the police or the fire service – which for some was evidence that they were not on the side of young people. Though the number of 18-year-olds who this policy could potentially affect who will also be eligible to vote on 4 July is very small, many young voters might have siblings who could be affected. A student from University College said that the policy “is not only out of touch but, if implemented, will encourage a brutalised patriotism which will likely do the opposite of uniting young people.”

When asked if they thought any of the main political parties are focusing adequately on students’ and young peoples’ issues, Durham students commented that the Conservative Party are “anti-young,” “seem really out of touch with the young” and that they “gave up on us.” One student from St Mary’s College commented that the two main parties – Conservatives and Labour – “are promising nothing meaningful for students.” Though the Conservatives appear not to be focusing on younger voters, Labour has not taken a clear stance to capitalise on this frequently overlooked demographic. A student from St John’s College suggested that it is assumed that students will not turnout and, if they do so, that they will automatically vote for opposition parties and so they are taken for granted.

Labour has not taken a clear stance to capitalise on [young people]

A few students suggested that the Green Party may be focusing adequately on young people’s issues, highlighting climate change. Indeed, the Green Party appear to have taken the strongest stance on net zero, pledging to reach a point where the UK is no longer contributing anymore greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than it is removing by 2040. The Liberal Democrats aim to reach this goal by 2045, while both the Conservatives and Labour have stated 2050. On the other end of the spectrum, Reform UK, who have recently overtaken the Conservatives in a number of polls, have promised to abandon this target completely, a commitment which they claim would save £30bn annually.

When asked what issues politicians could focus on which would be relevant to themselves and their peers, Durham students pointed to the environment but also the housing crisis and the Israel-Gaza war.

Durham students pointed to the environment but also the housing crisis and the situation in Gaza

In terms of housing, the Green Party have pledged to build 150,000 social homes annually in England and end Right to Buy. This is arguably very ambitious considering only 30,000 social homes were built between 2019-2023. The Conservatives have promised to reintroduce a Help to Buy scheme, which would support people buying their first home through equity loans of up to 20% of the cost of one of the 1.6 million homes they plan to build over the course of five years, and make the stamp duty threshold of £425,000 for first time buyers permanent. Labour similarly pledges to build 1.5mn homes over a five year period in England, and also promises to introduce a mortgage guarantee scheme to help first-time buyers struggling to save for a large deposit as well as working with local authorities to prioritise selling to first-time buyers. The Liberal Democrats have proposed a new Rent to Own scheme which would lead to tenants owning their home outright after 30 years. Reform UK’s manifesto does not mention first-time buyers, focusing instead on expediting planning, encouraging smaller landlords and ensuring foreign nationals ‘go to the back of the queue’ for social housing. All parties have emphasised the development of brownfield sites.

With regards to the Israel-Gaza war, all parties except Reform UK have pledged to eventually recognise a Palestinian State, with Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems also explicitly promising to push for an immediate ceasefire.

So, it appears that the issues most relevant to students are at the heart of most parties’ campaigns. This raises the question of why young people continue to feel so neglected. Perhaps the distance felt between students and Westminster is a microcosm of an issue which spans all demographics. A recent poll found that only 28% of over-65s think the Conservative Party is close to people like them, despite the party’s apparent focus on this demographic. This might signal a need for all parties to reconnect with the electorate and remember the people they serve.

Image credit: Visions of Domino via Wikimedia Commons

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