In seven days’ time, millions of students will go to the polls – most for the first time. A traditionally solid demographic for the Labour Party, students this year are turning away from the established voice of opposition to other, smaller parties.
Millions more will simply not vote. In 2010, just 33 per cent of under-35s voted, compared to 64 per cent of over-35s. The millions of young voters who may desert Labour, by voting Green, SNP, or simply not turning out at all, could keep Ed Miliband out of Number 10, and hand the keys back to Cameron for another five years. So why are young people so keen to do that?
Under-25s have been growing increasingly disillusioned over the last 20 years or so, as the modern politics of spin has taken centre stage and trust in the mainstream parties has waned.
However, with the move of parties further left than Labour, this demographic has found new outlets for its concerns, many of which are social. Younger voters are much more likely to have social democratic instincts on key political questions. According to Guardian research in December, young voters were more likely to support immigration and the Human Rights Act, and a huge 19 per cent of them said they would vote Green.
The obvious risk for young people is that by voting for this new ‘anti-austerity’ alliance of Greens, Plaid and the SNP, then the Tories will get back in. My home constituency only has a Tory MP rather than a Labour one due to 2,000 Green voters five years ago.
The less obvious problem with these voting patterns is that this trio aren’t as left wing as you might think. The Greens membership may have doubled in a year, but their party turned on itself over the bin strike in Brighton, when the Green-controlled Council implemented huge pay cuts, and even Caroline Lucas protested. Sure, these were down to central government cuts, but let’s not pretend there has been a large campaign led by the Greens against those cuts.
Then comes the SNP. Since the SNP minority government first allied with the Tories to set a budget in 2008, a habit that, incidentally, they continued throughout their first term, Glasgow has lost £370m to their cuts, whilst the SNP have underspent their Holyrood budget by £444m. How can you make cuts, have a budget surplus, and still be “left wing”?
Meanwhile Angus, Perth & Kinross – all SNP councils – have seen their budgets increase. This isn’t anti-austerity politics, this is a government implementing austerity.
If you want to vote for a tiny radical party with no chance of winning, at least do it properly and vote for Left Unity or even TUSC – although I maintain that people should vote Labour to keep the Tories out. Voting for the Greens or the SNP will at this stage make a Tory government more likely – and you won’t even keep your “left wing” ideological purity by voting for them.