Thursday night was nothing short of a political earthquake.
The Conservatives were odds on favourites to gain a thumping majority. Instead they have found themselves weakened and demoralised, seeking an agreement with the right-wing Democratic Unionist Party just to get over the threshold. The pollsters claimed that Labour would lose over 50 seats in this election. On the night they gained almost 30.
The professional pundits are now scratching their heads, wondering how they got it so wrong. According the rules of an ordinary election, this wasn’t supposed to happen. But this was no ordinary election.
Thousands upon thousands of young people came out to vote, engaging with politics for the very first time. So often alienated and disillusioned with our political process in the past, our generation turned out en-masse: smashing aside conventional wisdom with the kind of irreverent, meme-fuelled fervour that only the millennial generation can.
In short, we have claimed a stake in our future like never before.
The result? A huge increase in turnout that even by modest estimates could be up by as much as 20% from 2015. We saw huge swings in student seats such as Cardiff North, Bristol North West, Brighton Kempton, and even Canterbury.
There will now likely be an inquiry of sorts – with the great and the good competing to offer their hot takes on what really swung the election. It reminds me of a saying I once heard: every great victory has a thousand fathers, and every defeat an orphan.
But there is no doubt in my mind that if it wasn’t for tremendous strength of the student movement, then none of this would have happened.
We have seen hundreds of student activists up and down the UK working tirelessly to turn the tide on previous years: to show once and for all that student apathy is a myth.
NUS launched its #GenerationVote campaign to re-engage students and young people with the political process. We have seen a diverse and innovative campaign including flash mobs, hustings, and ice-cream vans – culminating in adding over two million extra millennials to the electoral register. I want to give my heartfelt thanks to those within our movement that worked so hard to make this possible.
However, I want to emphasise another crucial ingredient in creating yesterday’s result. Hope. Without that, all the ice cream vans in the world couldn’t have got us to where we are now.
The students I’ve been speaking to throughout the campaign want to see progressive and fair policies that will have a very real and positive impact on all our futures. We want a government that does everything in its power to welcome International students and keep our universities and colleges diverse and vibrant. Under recent governments, further and higher education funding has radically reduced and student debt now follows us into mid-life. We want opportunities for young people to develop skills and access education. We want a fairer and equitable society that offers respect for all.
This election, we were given two very different manifestos. Speaking to students, I know that many of them felt for the first time that they were being offered a clear choice on the issues that mattered to them. It was that which drove so many to the polls: the sense that perhaps the policies they want to see really are possible, and that perhaps a vote for change can make a real difference. Students came out in droves to vote policies that offered us a future. Politicians of all stripes would do well to take heed.
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