What was expected to be completed and put behind us, remains a hot topic in the UK, and possibly around the globe. Everyone is making their predictions about the events leading up to our exit from the European Union, and what surprises may be in store! Yet, I wonder how many correctly guessed that another general election would be on the cards (side note: the December 12 date has been confirmed in the House of Lords!)
Throughout all the twists and turns in the story that is Brexit, the whole country has been on the edge of their seats, hoping for a positive outcome and a swift execution of the government’s plans. After putting aside his ‘do or die pledge’ to depart from the EU by 31st October, Prime Minister Johnson plans to lead the UK out of the Union in January 2020, after the general election. The reason behind this election may be to give the government’s actions legitimacy by way of the general public’s support, and also to promote democracy every step of the way.
A majority of UK citizens will be determined to cast their vote and participate in the changes that will determine their future, as well as that of their nation. This assumption is supported by the high voter turnout in the 2016 Brexit vote (72.2%) and the 2017 general election (68.7%).
However, a certain group of voters, whose future may be more affected than many other members of society by the outcome, might just miss out on this opportunity – university students. The struggles of academic study, along with moving away from home, will prove an obstacle for the many students who will want to exercise their right to vote in December. According to YouGov, for the 2017 election, only 25% of students cast their vote in “university constituencies”, whereas 70% did so at “their home constituency”. This large number indicating student involvement may be promising, but only if a majority of the student population are spending their Christmas break at home by then, which is not the case for every student. It is common knowledge that university term dates differ across the country, hence the number of students participating in the December election may fall considerably compared to 2017.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn proposed an earlier election (before 12th December and the end of term for students) in order to “protect the voting rights of all of our citizens.” This is primarily to avoid students missing out on the election, either due to ongoing university study, or pre-booked holidays overseas. A recent article by the BBC explored the possible effects of an election that is low on student participation; Boris Johnson’s majority in Uxbridge could be affected by the term dates of Brunel University. On the other hand, Oxford and Cambridge will already have completed their studies for the year, allowing them to participate in the December election.
In a recent article by WalesOnline, others label the election a “logistical nightmare” for university students; not only is it a “nightmare” because they may not be in the country or might still be studying, but also due to the unlikelihood of them coming home immediately after term ends. Even if they do get home in time, their chances of voting could be hampered further because they aren’t necessarily “registered to vote at their home address.”
However, Iain Dale suggested that students could register to vote online, a relatively quick process. Labour MP, Andy McDonald agrees, as he says that students will not be “disenfranchised” mainly due to the fact that “they’ve got four weeks to make sure they’re on the electoral roll wherever they live.” McDonald emphasizes the importance of “individual responsibility”, and that students who do not vote for reasons relating to university are personally responsible. All that is required to register is your National Insurance number or passport, and it can be done by post or even online. So, if you know that getting home in time for the election will be difficult, there is always the option, as McDonald suggests, to register online to cast your vote in the constituency of your university. There is even the option of a “proxy vote” – someone submitting your vote for you, if you can’t make it to your constituency.
Regardless of your political views, the importance of participating in our democracy through such elections cannot be underestimated. Every vote counts, and forms the foundation of a new government. The government’s choices affect all generations, particularly the student population, and this is no small number. In 2017/18, there were 2.3 million students at university, and this number may continue to rise in the coming years.
Despite of the potential clash with dates, it doesn’t have to mean you miss out! We live in a world with rapidly developing technology and so alternative options are, thankfully, nearly always present. So, let’s make the most of them!
Fellow university students, try not to miss this opportunity. Your vote is more valuable than you may think.