Students effect elections, housing and jobs

Since the local elections there has been much comment about the influence of students on the election. In wards like Hollingdean and Stanmer, the Greens were able to organise the student vote, winning two seats from Labour.

Some have commented that it isn’t right that students who are temporary residents in the City can vote in their home town and in Brighton and Hove. In particular some say that it is wrong that the student vote in 2011 will effect how the City is run well after this generation of students have moved on.

My view is that a lively student population enriches the City, and of course they should be allowed to vote. Part of the problem for the old parties is that they have neglected student voters for many years. Caroline Lucas (thanks to the efforts of Allie Cannell) was able to draw on the student vote, ensuring her election.

Nancy Platts, in an interesting post on the blog Southern Front, comments that it is Labour’s lack of vision damaged her electoral chances against Caroline Lucas: “Brighton is a university town with a history of political activism, especially at Sussex University. Student numbers can swing an election in Brighton and tuition fees were a gift to the Greens. How hard can it be to decide where to place your cross on election day when there are three political positions presented; higher tuition fees from the Tories, a free university education from the Greens or, well, er…a ‘review’ from Labour. Did we forget how to do politics – why would any student vote for a review? The Greens consistently targeted the student vote and increased turnout from the universities.” Her post is well worth a read.

Caroline Penn says that she has “nothing against students. I’m sure most of us here were students once. It’s wrong to blame them as you say for many of the issues that have arisen. While friends have had issues with student parties, a more responsible landlord (and better university liaison) should deal with that.”

Craig Turton comments on the impact of students on the local employment market: “Between Brighton and Sussex universities we have one of the largest rates of post graduate student settlement anywhere outside of London but in a relatively small geographical area. This can be beneficial for employers (ie; a virtually permanent pool of highly educated workers) but can equally create problems (ie; competition from graduates leaves local people with few or no educational qualifications at a disadvantage even for jobs not requiring a degree. Without wishing to appear facetious, we probably have the most over qualified call centre workers and bar staff in England).”

Students are a fact of life, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health. Where have I heard that before? They student body causes problems, enriches our community, puts huge pressure on housing, and creates unfair competition in the jobs market. But Brighton wouldn’t be Brighton without the students. If you don’t like them, move to Worthing!

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17 Responses

  1. the comment thread on the blog post mentioned tells its own story

    as does voteforpolicies.org.uk – see results for brighton constituencies, for the country and for individual policy areas

  2. Students of course are only one face of our having two Universities in the city – they provide an enormous number of jobs, academic and non-academic, directly and indirectly and even in these straitened times students bring their spending power here.

    When I was a student at Oxford in the early 1980s, the ward boundaries had been drawn with the deliberate intention of minimising the effect of the student vote by cramming as much of it as possible into one ward. The result was politically divisive – councillors for that ward were seen as the voice of the University and treated as such. I’d like to think that here in Brighton the Universities are far better integrated and of course the student population is spread much more widely around the city. I think it would be very unfortunate if we got into the town vs gown mentality that obtains in other University cities.

    On Nancy Platts’ article, I’ve blogged a response – http://notesbrokensociety.wordpress.com/2011/06/01/a-perfect-green-storm-in-brighton-pavilion/ – which makes the same point as some of the commenters on the original Southern Front blog; Labour has got badly out of touch with many people who would normally be its natural supporters. And in some ways Brighton has a classic Liberal Democrat demographic – had the Lib Dems ever got their act together before the Greens did they could well have done very well in Brighton.

  3. I very much doubt if more than a handful of students exercised their right to vote both at their parents’ home and at university. And despite the recent commendable surge in student activism against the fees/EMA cuts, in my experience most students are pretty apolitical. As of course is much of the population at large.

    On the question of whether it is unfair that the votes of transient students continue to influence the city after the students have moved on, of course it isn’t! At least they bothered to vote. And in Brighton a very significant proportion of students do not move on after they finish their degrees, unlike in many other university towns. As I’m sure Zeitblom will agree, very few students remain in Oxford after they finish their degrees unless they stay to do a PhD.

  4. Before Chris Hawtree gets in there, I must also point out that the post should be headed ‘Students AFFECT elections…’

    • I was thinking that the whole way through reading the post…

      • And if one of them resigns from the Union committee, he or she effects an election. Autoscript errors in agenda papers are a minor art form, such as the application which several times referred to a “cat park”, which conjures up a vision of dustbins laden with fish bones.

      • Actually Christopher, that sounds like an interesting idea. Certainly more interesting than a boring old “car” park.

  5. Well, as one of the students (albeit, not for much longer) that the post is talking about, I feel a certain responsibility to comment.

    I did indeed exercise my right to vote both here in Brighton and back at “home”. This was for a simple reason- I feel I have a stake in both places, and in what happens in both places. And I think that’s entirely right.

    Frankly, I don’t feel any less of a member of the community than a non-student resident of Brighton. I live here, I pay rent, I shop in the local shops. The fact that I *may* leave after I’ve finished studying is irrelevant. Looking at it from the other direction, I’m guaranteed to be here for at least three years. If I leave after that, how am I any different to a non-student leaving Brighton. Should they too be denied the right to vote if they’re going to be living here less than the full four-year electoral cycle? I hope that sounds as ridiculous to everyone else as it does to me.

    I can understand that seats containing university *campuses* (campii?) can seem more problematic, as it groups together large numbers of a similar demographic. But then look at “safe seats”. Should voters in St. Peter’s & North Laine be denied their vote, because there are a large number of Greens and it is unfair to other voters and parties? (I’m using SPNL as an example, it applies to any safe seat) No, of course not. They’re still voters, and they can still be persuaded by a cogent argument- by and large. If you fail to do that, it’s no one’s fault but your own. The Greens tend to succeed in student areas because they have tailored their policies and politics to suit the demographic. That’s what politics *is*.

    And then there’s the concept of political involvement. I think all of us are concerned about voter apathy and low turnouts. The best time to get people interested in politics is, I think, when they are a student. It seems exciting, and important, especially in an area like Brighton, where there is genuine competition between the parties (unlike my home, for example, which is politically dead- if you’re not a Tory, you’ve not got a chance). If students are made to vote at their vacation-time home instead, either in person or by postal ballot, how many do you think will be bothered? And how many more will simply not care?

    Brighton is a two-university city. That is simply what it is. It’s part of the fabric of the city, and is a large contributor to what makes it unique. Different politics are needed in different places, and here parties must take into account the makeup of the electorate being largely students. That’s what local politics is. If it’s not working for you, you need to look at why- I’d suggest it’s almost certainly not the voters who are getting it wrong.

    (And for full-disclosure, I’m an ardent Labour supporter and activist)

    • I agree with Matthew. I would guess most of the contributors got involved in politics at a relatively young age. If we can engage with students now, hopefully we will be encouraging a new generation of activists.

      I genuinely feel a sense of sadness for students today. Cameron’s generation received grants, tax breaks for parent contributions and even housing benefit. I do question whether my friends & I would have gone to university today had fees been introduced. The recession of the early 90s and student loan debts were bad enough.

      The impact of tuition fees may well change the type of student coming to Brighton. The natural conclusion of such a regressive policy may well led to a university education becoming the preserve of the rich. It is possible that the changing student demographic may well impact on city politics.

      There was an interesting article in The Guardian a couple of months back on the challenges of having such a large student population. Better forward planning to allow the city to cope with student demands is vital. It is clear that an increase of 10,000 students in 15 years has been a massive challenge we haven’t yet risen to.
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/mar/27/student-lets-brighton-solution.

    • The B&H electorate are certainly not ‘mainly students’. According to the 2001 census, there are approx 250,000 people living in B&H and only 20% are students, of which 11% are economically active. i.e nearly 80% are NOT students and 10% do not contribute towards to local economy. I can’t imagine there has been that much change since then.

      http://www.brighton-hove.gov.uk/downloads/bhcc/citystats/1_CityProfile.pdf

      Of course parties should take into account the student vote. Sussex/Brighton Uns have always been a hotbed of the anarchist/Left Wing tendancies, so Greens & Labour ignore them at their peril.

      The Retired only make up 11% and they tend to be more conservative in their politics.

      What did shock from this census was that 22% had no qualifications at all. So we should be grateful that many post graduates do tend to stay here and that London incomers (who tend to be well educated) also want to settle here.

      • > What did shock from this census was that 22% had no qualifications at all. So
        > we should be grateful that many post graduates do tend to stay here and that
        > London incomers (who tend to be well educated) also want to settle here.

        Wow! Wow!

        One for the 22% figure (yes, seems very high), but also for you apparent attitude towards them – what have you got against people with out qualifications?

  6. Students interests are likely to be quite distinct to those of other residents – how many have kids in schools here? elderly relatives dependent on care here? will be around to care about the outcome of planning decisions made to day that may happen in a decade? But then neither do many residents for all sorts of reasons – and they get to vote…

    It is a flaw in our electoral system that diverse issues get batched up in to ill-fitting party manifestos – i.e. there is no reason some ones view on (say) public transport should dictate their view on almost any other subject – but you only vote for a clunky package of policies. Until that is fixed, we are stuck with what we have.

    The biggest potential injustice in this is (of course) who ends up paying for the decisions made by those elected…

    Then again the people who are students now are going to paying back the debts being run up now (the governments and their own) for the rest of their lives…

  7. Re: Elections

    Students (up tp 40000 of them) certainly affect elections in Brighton

    I think it right that they do since they are here. What is a problem is possible multi voting if they have more than one residence. Up to the 70s business owners had a vote for the council separate from their residence and thus could vote twice. There were more than 1000 business voters in the then St Nicholas Ward alone. This democratic deficit was abolished for its unfairness.No-one should vote more than once even if legally registered for more than one place.
    A further problem arises if you get a high concentration of students tacked on to otherwise distinct residential areas(such as with H & S in Brighton).~You can get a democratic deficit if high turnout at the Uni polling station overturns what would have ben the result in the residential areas(it happened this year). I would rather se a mini- Uni ward created with one elected member than that situation though the blame really lies at the foot of the boundary comissioners.

    Housing and Students:

    There are too many family houses crammed with students in Brighton. It limits supply to rent or buy for local people. This can be tackled by more on Uni accommodation and other measures. Many Unis require 1st/2nd yrs to live on site-why not B & H’s given more in situ study-bedroms? Housing in B & H is a bigger problem than one created by students though. It requires energy, will and vision amd thinking out of the box to address.

    Jobs:

    Students are honorary Polish citizens in terms of being a willing workforce from originally out of the area and able to tackle the lower or unskilled jobs that many in the underclass will not do. Their presence helps the local labour market function and is part of the reason B & H’s economy is holding up better than many other areas. Students need the money in an age of rising student debt.
    Low paid work has never ben a problem in B & H. Craig Tuton was right to identify the need for the council to create means to attract higher grade jobs. This would also mean trying to upskill the local workforce, City College obviously has a key role.

  8. Regarding students having the ability to vote back “home” and in their university town, I find this to be extremely unfair. Why should one group have the chance to vote twice? Second-home owners don’t get to vote twice. If I had a second home, and spent half the year living in one place and half a year living in another, I wouldn’t have the right to vote twice. In fact, the way my situation is at the moment proves how ridiculous it is that students get two votes. When I was a student, I could vote in Brighton & Hove and I could also vote in Belfast. When I stopped being a student, I still visited my parents house in Belfast just as much as when I was a student, and yet now I no longer carry that label, I am no longer allowed to vote twice. It’s ludicrous.

    • I guess term-time is longer than holiday time – so if students could only vote in one place it would be their uni location.

      Or do you think second property owners should get two votes too? Though I guess some big property owners could get *hundreds* of votes! that way. But if you own more than one property in ward, should you get two votes in one place?

      So if it is ‘unfair’ and ‘ludicrous’ how would you fix it?

      • I met a retired couple with a second home in Hove, and they said that they would register to vote in Hove as it would have more effect than in Buckinghamshire.

      • Good questions, Paul. It’s an interesting situation, indeed. I believe it to be unfair and ludicrous because students are given a second vote and no-one else is. I guess to make it fair, everyone should just be allowed to vote once overall. One person, one vote. Makes sense to me.

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