NUS Vice President (for Higher Education)
Naked Politics Guest Blogger
Brexit is a mess and most young people and students are either looking at politics right now in despair or have simply switched off. And I don’t blame them; politicians have completely failed to listen to their views over the last two years.
In 2016, the majority of young people voted to remain, but many of them (like me) reluctantly accepted the result. It hadn’t gone our way, but we were confident that as long as we kept the pressure on about the things we wanted to protect, we could live with the outcome.
Young people wanted to make sure that their economy was strong, that jobs were secure, that they still had the freedom to travel to Europe to study, live and work and that we remained an open and tolerant society.
However, it became very clear that these demands would not come to be. For an issue that divided a nation, the government, now under Theresa May, was making no appeal to the millions who voted remain. This was going to be a hard Brexit, with the things that young people wanted to protect in their relationship with Europe under threat.
It was after the 2017 election that many young people began to wake up. Despite losing all authority with the loss of her majority, Theresa May’s red lines still hadn’t shifted and it became pretty clear that we were going to have to take drastic action, fast.
I became Vice President of the National Union of Students and in April 2018, I stood on a re-election platform to back a People’s Vote and to support a student led demo in October. NUS National Conference, the biggest democratic student event in Europe, overwhelmingly backed this approach and became one of the first organisations to come out and support the demonstration.
The eventual demonstration was huge, the biggest since the Iraq War demonstration in 2003 and students from all across the UK were at the forefront of the march. We worked closely with For Our Future’s Sake (FFS), a youth led campaigning group calling for a People’s Vote to make sure that as many students from across the country could make it, with one group travelling 700 miles from Orkney to attend!
When Theresa May finally published her deal, the message from young people was simple. The deal did not provide the certainty we need over jobs, it restricted our ability to live, work and study in Europe and it treats other European citizens, who have made a life here very badly.
And as the Conservative Party’s membership is hardening in calling for a no deal Brexit, which would be catastrophic for the UK, support for a People’s Vote from young people is strengthening by the day.
Recent polling from YouthSight for the Higher Education Policy Institute found that 69% of undergraduates support a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal, up from 62% in December 2017.
For political parties across the spectrum, this should present them with a stark warning. For the government, the findings are unsurprising: 74% of students think that they are doing badly at listening and engaging effectively with young people.
However, there is an equally stark warning for the Labour party, whose support from students is often highlighted as one of the reasons why they did better than expected at the 2017 General Election. Since the last election, the survey suggests that support for Labour amongst students has dropped 10% and this is no surprise. From the students I speak to on a daily basis, the thing they lack is clarity on Labour’s position. Whilst they are clear that they overwhelmingly reject the government’s Brexit strategy and back a People’s Vote, students are yet to see such a commitment from the Labour frontbench.
It now make sense for the Labour party to come out strongly for a People’s Vote. Not only is it the right thing to do to protect the economy, jobs and the futures of young people, it is politically sensible. It’s where the majority of students are, it’s where the party membership is and it could give hope to many people who are dissolution with the failure of politics today.
If there is one thing that has become clear to me over recent weeks, visiting campuses and campaigning alongside FFS it’s that any party which enables Brexit risks losing support from students. If politicians want our support, they must represent us during this most critical of moments, the ripples of which will be felt most keenly by my generation. The best way to do this is to support a People’s Vote on the Brexit deal, and to truly give us a final say.
Young people and students care about a socially just, more equal and more tolerant society, and they see Brexit as the complete opposite of that vision. This is the time for young people and students, from all backgrounds, from all parts of the country to speak loudly and clearly and to demand that our voices are heard.
Amatey is currently the Vice Preseident for Higher Education at the National Union of Students. If you would like to find out more you can visit their website here.