Apparently we can now add ‘students’ to the list of shy Tories out there. The latter part of the twentieth century is marked by political activism, much of it led by students. The Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament was a massive political phenomenon for decades. Now the symbol is worn by hipsters out clubbing.
The biggest student riot this century has seen was in protest against the tuition fees increase. Sure, when the Conservatives claimed a second term earlier this year some angry youths got out on the streets to protest ‘Tory austerity’. Yet how does this compare to the student-led protests against the Vietnam War in 1962, a movement that was part of a worldwide struggle that persisted into the late 1970s?
Where are the stoner badge-wearing students with newspaper cut-outs and posters of Che Guvara in their rooms in hall? Who even reads Sartre or Marx anymore?
I suppose they grew up, started a proper job, and decided they wanted to keep their money. It’s like the saying goes, if you’re not a communist when you’re young, you don’t have a heart, but if you’re not Tory when you’re older, you don’t have any sense.
Perhaps this new generation of students is simply more ‘sensible’ than their predecessors?
This absence of political action could reflect a lack interest in politics among young people. Studies show that students and young people are the most likely group of people to have open political discussion, but, rather ironically, they are the least likely to vote.
Perhaps students are simply losing the urge to be rebellious as they are increasingly aware of future employability. Now everyone gets a degree, what distinguishes us from the rest of job applicants? A tame record seems to be all that we can offer.
Now that university is no longer free and we’ll be coming out with around £50,000 debt, we want to know our future salary will be worth the hassle of three years of partying, hence our rather right-wing attitude to taxing high-earners.
So what does this whole ‘right wing’ business mean?
The Oxford University Conservative Association (OUCA) claims to be the largest political student society in Western Europe, and at 1300 members, together with 12000 life members, it is certainly a realistic claim.
Are these members of right-wing university societies all upper class money-grabbing white men the radicals paint them to be? Of course not.
Jan Vaclav Nedvidek, President of OUCA, told Cherwell, “We don’t exclude anyone just because they don’t toe the party line. Turnout at Port and Policy keeps growing precisely because we get people from across the political spectrum – some of the radical left leaders used to be regulars in my first year at Oxford, and we also get LibDems and Greens.
“Coming out as a Tory was often more difficult for me than coming out as gay, and the things I was called even by people in my college after the election were borderline hate speech.”
The increased popularity in right-wing policies may also be a reflection of the current government. Right-wing students attribute the UK’s GDP growth to George Osborne and his policies, and believe that left-wing politics would just damage the economy again.
So are students really more right-wing or are the lefties just better at shouting the other side down?
As Nedvidek put it, “Students are no different from everyone else. If you believe in more state regulation, you’ll be more likely to be left wing; if you believe people and the economy are best off when left alone, you’re more likely to be right wing. The fact that you happen to be a student doesn’t change that.”
Perhaps it’s not that students are becoming more right-wing, but rather that the left is losing support from young voters. Students who may have previously come under the ‘radical left-wing’ category are now simply uninterested.
The YouGov results that supposedly demonstrate that students are more right-wing than the public could be used to prove the exact opposite. When compared with the general public, students came out as more right-wing largely on wealth and economic issues. This does not mean that students are more right-wing, but rather that they are becoming aware of the cost of their degree and the implications for their financial future. Today, for most students, left-wing ideology is unrealistic.