Why should Oxford students vote for your party?

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Labour – Madalena Leao

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The Labour party is promising to double the rate of house building by 2020. However, fewer council homes were built under New Labour than under Thatcher. How can students trust your party?

Between 1997 and 2010, the Labour party didn’t build enough houses, social or private. It built 2.61 million new homes (compared to Thatcher’s 2.63 million). It prioritised private housing over social, a trend that was started by John Major, who presided over a flatlining in the number of council houses built.

This can be partly explained by the fact that Labour faced a huge number of challenges when it came to power in 1997. In the 13 years it had in charge, the party improved the lives of workers by introducing a national minimum wage. It transformed state schools by hiring over 42,000 new teachers and over 210,000 teaching assistants and special educational needs assistants. This led to the proportion of schools who had less than 30 per cent of their students receiving five good GCSEs falling from 50 per cent to under one per cent. It brought in laws that put Britain on its way to stamping out discrimination, and took the steps that made the legalisation of gay marriage possible and more.

And although the Decent Homes Programme was set up to put £20bn towards making sure British homes were safe, warm, modern, and watertight, it’s clear that part of the reason why house building wasn’t up to scratch is because (rightly or wrongly) it fell down the list of priorities of a party facing a mountainous number of tasks. 

But when the coalition got into government in 2010, they had the perfect opportunity to find a solution to the housing crisis. Not only had the lack (social and private) of housing become a recognised problem by then, but building projects could have provided a path to higher rates of employment and the backbone to economic recovery following the global financial crisis. 
Instead, they punished the disabled through the bedroom tax, increased non-progressive taxes like VAT, and reorganised the NHS from the top-down; building only 137,000 houses a year (the lowest levels of house building since the 1920s), when 300,000 were needed.

We can trust a Labour government to deliver where the Tories refused for two simple reasons. Firstly, it is top of Miliband’s agenda. In his conference speech last year, he made it his “top priority” and the policy of doubling house building has been widely publicised.

Secondly, Miliband is not Blair or Brown. He’s proven (by standing up to Murdoch, the government, the city of London, and recently even Jeremy Paxman) that he’s not afraid to shake things up. He’ll force banks to invest in housing and push his government to put great effort into doubling the number of homes Britain builds.

 

Liberal Democrats – Syed Imam

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Before the last election the Liberal Democrats promised not to raise tuition fees; they were then raised, while education expenditure has seen serious cuts. Why should students trust you?

The Liberal Democrats messed up on tuition fees, and they messed up big. As a result, students are rightfully questioning whether they should consider voting Lib Dem this time round, but here’s why they still definitely should.
Allow me to explain what we did deliver on tuition fees. We created what is essentially a graduate tax; if people with a university education are more likely to get a job and command a far higher salary than those without a degree, it makes sense that they pay back a larger share than those who don’t.

Getting a degree is still completely free at the point of use and it is only fair that some of the cost is paid back by those who are now better off as a result so as to allow the next generation to prosper equally. It is a ridiculous concept to make people without degrees pay for those who are wealthier and do have them. The dustman shouldn’t be paying for the doctor. Fairer still is the system of repayment; you only start paying this ‘graduate tax’ once you are earning more than £21,000 a year (someone without a degree on average earns only £17,800) and if you lose your job or earn less than £21,000, you pay nothing at all. As a result of all this, more students are applying than ever before, and there are more applications by disadvantaged and BAME students.

If you are angry that higher education fees are even on the table of budgeting discussion, please, be angry at the Labour Party who introduced, then trebled, fees while each time promising not to, despite having total control in a majority government and a booming economy.

So why should students trust us?

The past five years have not been easy. There has been a democratic compromise where we have worked with a party with values very different to ours. Yet we have successfully implemented 75 per cent of our manifesto, in the face of Tory pressure and with only 8 per cent of MPs in parliament. You can trust us when we say we will cut taxes for millions of working people because that is what we have done every year for the past five years. You can trust us when we say we will fight for LGBTQ+ rights because that is what we have done, making same-sex marriage legal in 2013.

You can trust us when we say we will invest in education because we have protected schools’ funding and created the Pupil Premium, benefiting the poorest schoolchildren. You can trust us when we say we will greatly increase funding for mental health issues, because that is what we have done, and we have pledged £3.5 billion more. This is a strong record, with a promise of more, to create a fairer, more prosperous society.

 

Conservatives – Jan Nedvidek

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In power, the Conservative-led government has overseen tuition fee rises and cuts to the education budget. If your party were to be elected, your leader has stated that education spending will not rise with inflation. Why should students trust you?

So many people support ‘free education’, and it is just so easy to fall in for that phrase. Of course we all want education to be free. However, we live in a world where things are not free, and like healthcare or housing, education costs money. Someone has got to pay for it.

I think it is only fair that those who benefit from tertiary education the most – us, university students – should be asked to contribute towards the cost of our education. If I don’t pay, someone else will have to: what’s ‘fairer’ about a worker in the opposite corner of the country paying for my degree through his or her taxes? What’s ‘fairer’ about borrowing more money so that my grandchildren pay for my degree?

And let us please stop this narrative of how the fees are putting people off applying. The number of people applying to universities keeps growing. 
The extra money in the system has enabled universities to create new bursaries and scholarships, meaning that more money that ever before is being spent of helping students from poorer backgrounds.

I don’t think I need to convince people to trust us: as the governing party; we have a record to defend, so let people judge the Tories by the government’s results, not by my articles.

I am fundamentally convinced it is a good record: according to polls, support for the Conservative Party has doubled (!) among 18-24 year olds since the last election, and there is probably a reason for that.

After we graduate, we will all need a job. And guess what: we will be fine with our shiny Oxford degrees (or a very average 2.1 in my case), but not everyone in this country will. Unemployment statistics are not empty numbers. They tell you that five years ago, there were 2.5m individuals who could not work, despite the fact they wanted to and had the right skills. The UK has created more jobs since 2010 then the rest of the EU put together ; Yorkshire has created more jobs than the whole of France. This is a record I’m happy and proud to defend.

I understand that voting Tory isn’t very sexy. I’m convinced, though, that the Tories offer the most competence on the economy and the strongest leadership . On a personal note: I’m glad Cameron was the first PM ever to push through legislation which now allows me to get married. 
I want to live in a country which works and lives within its means, and I think I have the best shot by voting Conservative.

 

Green Party – David Thomas, Green councillor

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Support for the Green Party is disproportionately high among students. Yet, many find your party’s nuclear stance irrational, while some see your promises as unrealistic. Why should students trust you?

Can the Greens be trusted with your vote at this year’s General Election? Voting – I expect for most of you it will be your first time – is a big decision and nobody wants to throw it away on a party that can’t be trusted to think straight or act responsibly.

Take nuclear power as an example. At first glance, nuclear power appears to be a no-brainer – energy with no carbon emissions! What on earth then are the Greens up to when we say “no to nuclear”? Aren’t we being a little self-indulgent? Trying to have our cake and eat it? The answer is really very simple – we just don’t think you need nuclear energy. Instead, we believe the answer lies in a massive frontal attack on energy efficiency – such as insulating our homes – and getting proven renewable technologies such as solar and wind to generate the lion’s share of the remaining demand.

But why try to avoid nuclear in the first place? Firstly, managing the waste products of nuclear fission passes an unacceptable burden and risk onto future generations. Secondly, it’s not at all clear that nuclear power is all that low in terms of carbon emissions once one takes into account plant construction, ore extraction and transportation: it’s obviously streets head of burning coal, but is probably no better than solar and wind. I realise that, for some, neither of these concerns may seem like show-stoppers. However, the wheels really start to come off when you look at the finances. Constructing nuclear power plants requires vast sums of taxpayer subsidy, and the eventual cost of the power they produce is extremely high. Nuclear is simply not good value for money. In a sense, nuclear power is a distraction from the main practical challenges ahead of us – reducing energy demand and de-carbonising energy generation. In our manifesto we have pledged to insulate nine million homes (in the process creating 100,000 jobs and lifting millions out of fuel poverty), decommission all UK coal fired power stations by 2023, and invest £35bn to bring on-line the renewables we need to stop catastrophic climate change.

Nuclear power is just one example from many where the Greens can be trusted to deliver a common good, not just benefits for the few. Others include a £10/hr living wage, an end to right-to buy, an end of austerity, and an end of NHS privatisation. And of course, when we say we won’t ever do a deal with the Conservatives, you can bank on it.
If you believe in what the Greens represent and stand for, I urge you to vote Green­. You won’t let in the Tories and you’ll be showing Labour their brand of Tory Lite is not enough.

 

UKIP – Max Jewell

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Lots of people find your strong anti-immigration rhetoric worrying. Many also worry about potential job losses if the country were to leave the EU. Why should students trust you?

UKIP are not anti-immigration. There has been an unhelpful, and possibly deliberate, conflation of opposition to immigration and opposition to mass immigration. That modern economies benefit from some immigration is almost beyond doubt. Indeed, I know of nobody in UKIP who is arguing for zero migration. Moreover, there is a widespread perception that UKIP’s opposition to mass immigration is based on little more than reactionary racism, a kind of saloon bar bigotry. Former OUSU President Tom Rutland, for instance, has claimed that there is a vein of racism that “runs through the party”. International students may quite legitimately fear such a party. Yet this isn’t UKIP.

We are chiefly concerned about the sheer scale of immigration in recent years. We are concerned that recent migratory trends have compressed wages, a view supported by a number of economists in the House of Commons Treasury Committee report on the Autumn Statement. We note that immigration has greatly increased housing demands.

We argue, as the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee has done, that there is “no systematic empirical evidence to suggest that net immigration creates significant dynamic benefits for the resident population in the UK”. Such concerns are legitimate, and shared by 74 per cent of the population who want to see immigration reduced, and ought not to cause distress to international students, nor should they be dismissed by an out of touch elite drunk on a sense of superiority.

UKIP hasn’t attempted to hide its desire to leave the European Union. It has been argued that secession from the European Union will cost Britain, including its young citizens, jobs. Three million, if the Liberal Democrats are to be believed. Yet the danger has likely been overstated. The NIESR, who authored the claim, also wrote, “There is no a priori reason to suppose that many of these [jobs], if any, would be lost permanently if Britain were to leave the EU.”
Moreover, an Ernst and Young ‘UK Attractiveness Survey’ found that although “56 per cent of investors in Western Europe feel that if the UK were less integrated into the EU, it would become less attractive for FDI, […] 72 per cent of US and two-thirds of Asian investors believe that a looser relationship with the EU would actually make the UK more attractive.” The two year period between the declaration that Britain intends to leave the EU and the event would doubtless be more than enough time for business to adjust.
We want an amicable divorce from political union. There is nothing wrong with that.

 

Disgruntled voters – Luke Barratt

I still don’t know if I’ll vote or not. I’m uninspired by the choices available, repulsed by the governmental system as a whole, and disgusted by the meaningless nature of my vote in a first past the post system and the undermining of democracy that it represents.

I could vote tactically, for Layla Moran, to get the Conservatives out, recognising the value in real terms of the hair whose breadth splits the two main parties. Many people in the UK – disabled people for example – will suffer slightly less under a coalition government than they would under a Tory government. But can I really sacrifice my beliefs, voting to enable the accession of one group of out-of-touch public schoolboys who care more about their second homes – let alone their second kitchens – than the welfare of the electorate?

Besides, who knows what it would accomplish? The endless coalition permutations of a hung parliament mean that I could never be sure who I was voting into Westminster. My vote would be a disingenuous shout of support to much that I despise, arguing in a room I don’t think should even exist.
I could just vote for the party I hate the least. In my case, this would be the Greens. They have some great policies, and represent the only voice crying anti-austerity in a cacophony of fiscal conservatism. But at the same time, their lack of diversity is disconcerting, and from brain fades to bin collections, they haven’t exactly shown much competence in the last few years. What’s more, a vote for the Greens is essentially a vote wasted, unless you live in Brighton.

If the reward for my complicity in an election rigged in favour of the status quo is nothing more than the unquantified and uncertain promise of a slight shift to the left from those eternal non-performers, Labour, how have I done justice to the disenfranchised? My vote would be a single voice – shut out of the house – screaming into the darkness, unheard.

Or, I could not vote. As soon as I contemplate refusing to take part in our broken electoral system, I feel as if a great weight has been lifted. Yes, I won’t have any say in who wins my seat, and therefore the General Election, but that would be the case for option two, anyway.

Perhaps, I think, in the tiny optimistic core of my mind, not voting is the most powerful demand for electoral reform I can make. Perhaps I’m voting for proportional representation. There are those who would argue that I should spoil my ballot, that my opinion is provided for in the current system, but I disagree.

As soon as I’ve put pen to paper in the polling station, I’ve consented to participation in this election. And I do not consent. I don’t agree with the rules that are forced upon us, and I don’t want to pretend that I do. My voice will join all the other angry dissenters. We stand in a huge crowd, murmuring discontentedly, larger than any party’s voter base, and far from silent.

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