By Matthew Seary
This article was written by Matthew Seary, whose blog you can find here.
With not long left until the 2015 General Election, the National Union of Students (NUS) has launched a scathing, almost hypocritical attack on the Liberal Democratsover the failure to keep their pledge against raising tuition fees. The 2010 General Election saw the Liberal Democrats in coalition with 57 seats against the 306 of the Conservatives. Tuition fees subsequently rose to ‘£9,000 a year’.
The result was catastrophic. Both leader Nick Clegg and the party saw a tumble in opinion ratings and the Liberal Democrats were branded as the party without a backbone. It was so dreadfully bad that Nick Clegg released a statement saying ‘I’m sorry’, that was quickly remixed into a catchy song released on iTunes for charity. What previously set the Lib Dems apart from other parties was now non-existent and it was the students, young voters often already feeling apathetic to politics, who took the first brutal strike from this historic coalition. However, much like women aren’t only concerned with the colour pink, contrary to popular Labour belief, students aren’t only concerned with tuition fees and are well aware of the serious issues this country faces. I am a first year university student, I am a Liberal Democrat, and I believe that Nick Clegg and the Lib Dems are still the party for students.
Whilst University is now the most expensive it has ever been, it is now also by far the most accessible. More people than ever are attending university in the UK, and socioeconomic factors are becoming less of an issue due to equality of opportunity. The only universities that are allowed to charge £9,000 have to provide greater bursaries to disadvantaged students as a result of a Liberal Democrat amendment. The repayment scheme introduced by the Labour party in 1998 has now been improved – you start repaying when you earn £21,000 rather than £15,000 at the same 9%. This is thanks, once again, to the Liberal Democrats. Indeed, this has made university more expensive – and it’s a hefty amount, trust me – yet universities now have more students particularly from poorer backgrounds attending than ever before due to these accessibility schemes, moving to ensure greater social equality.
And don’t be fooled: Labour introduced tuition fees at a lower repayment scheme; Conservatives wanted to raise them even further; and, for the sake of comparison, UKIP would force you to live in the UK for 5 years after your degree.
The Voting System
As part of the 2010 formation of the government coalition, Nick Clegg managed to force a public referendum on changing the current political system to allow for a more democratic and proportional system in the Alternative Vote – only the second ever nationwide referendum. The Alternative Vote is more democratic and reduces the amount of wasted votes and, whilst certainly a ‘miserable little compromise’, it is a step in the right direction. Nick Clegg managed to get the first ever referendum on changing the election system in the United Kingdom. There’s a reason the Greens, UKIP, and Lib Dems all want electoral reform, and that is because it will benefit smaller parties. Some students may ask, ‘why should I care? This isn’t an issue that affects me as a student’. The truth is, the current system is notorious for producing stable governments from one of two parties and wasting votes. If you don’t vote for the member who wins, your vote is disregarded entirely; if it wasn’t a vote for one of the two major parties then it was almost definitely wasted – not exactly a great incentive to vote.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrats, as well as the Greens and possibly UKIP, are all pushing for electoral reform, a chance for more voices to be heard and an unprecedented change in how MPs are elected. If you want and believe in change and a chance for your voice to be heard, a chance for an alternative, then you should vote for the alternative, whether it is the Lib Dems or not – there will likely never be a time where the fringe parties are as strong as they are right now.
Social, Mental and Gender Equality
Equality of many kinds has become more a more prevalent issue than ever, with unprecedented media attention. The Liberal Democrats pride themselves on being the progressive party and on helping to produce a ‘fairer society'; but what does this mean outside of mere slogans and political jargon? Despite not being a Conservative policy, in 2014 the first same-sex marriages took place as a result of legislation passed by the Liberal Democrats in coalition. Your gay/lesbian flatmate? Prior to the Lib Dems they would never have been able to get married. 14 years ago, in 2001, the Netherlands were the first country to legalise same-sex marriage; since then 17 countries, including the United Kingdom, have legalised same-sex marriage with many soon to follow. Students should pay attention to the importance of civil rights and the way Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats have protected the rights of all of our countries citizens, regardless of sexual orientation.
Likewise, Nick Clegg has personally been involved with drawing attention to the issue of mental health, and making it equal with physical health. Nick Clegg deviated from his weekly ‘LBC Phone-in’ radio show to host a ‘State of Mind’ radio show on mental health where he took contributions from callers and interviewed those affected by mental health issues. In this he listened to a variety of people who were concerned with the state of care for those with mental issues and those with first-hand experience. Following a trip to the Mental Health Conference and a visit to the Clock View Mental Health Centre, Nick Clegg announced further secured funding of £1.25 billionfor mental health services, and pledged to try and get an extra £2 billion if they were in government next term. This is clearly something Nick Clegg believes in passionately- something important for apathetic voters to pay attention to. The overall positive attitude of the Liberal Democrats, and their actions whilst in coalition, has shown their dedication to young people’s interests and concerns. Today, 1 in 10 young people have a mental health issue and nearly 80,000 young people suffer from depression. The Liberal Democrats have been the only party to bring mental health issues to the forefront of politics and are pushing for greater parity between mental and physical health.
Sadly sexism is still a huge issue many face in daily life, and it is never so straight forward. Other times, however, common sense can help you along. Whilst the Conservatives and Labour patronisingly divide their parties on gender lines with the CWO (Conservative Women’s Organisation) and Labour’s Manifesto for Women, the Liberal Democrats have one manifesto for all regardless of gender or sexual orientation. There is no patronising pink bus either. This video nicely sums up the view of the Liberal Democrats:
Here's an excerpt from Jo Swinson, the Lib-Dem Minister for Women and Equalities:
The Lib Dems are the only party campaigning to force companies to publish the average pay of their workers by gender, that have reduced the gender pay gap and increased the number of women on boards, and want to see a million more women in work by 2020, on top of challenging the serious issue of early sexualisation and gender stereotyping through education in the school system.
The Digital Age & Our Privacy
Many have dubbed this the ‘digital age’, and with the uncovering of the NSA and GCQG scandals, it is important to remember that the Government should not have the right to spy on its own citizens and ‘store all its data’. The Snooper’s Chart, a conservative policy in 2012, was precisely this – it was blocked by the Liberal Democrats following fears over the amount of powers it gave to authorities and the possibility of apps such as WhatsApp and Viber being banned in the UK. Privacy International called the Snooper’s Chart ‘a systematic attack on the right to privacy’. Despite 71% of Brits in an independent YouGov poll saying ‘they do not trust that the data will be kept secure’, the Conservatives have reaffirmed they will pass it if they are in Government next term, whilst Nick Clegg completely ended the possibility of it being bought up in the 2010-15 Government, and it wasn’t. Whilst the Conservatives continue to stick by giving the Government greater powers, the Liberal Democrats believe in a Digital Bill of Rights to ‘prevent the Government watering down cyber-security and encryption measures and to protect our rights as citizens. The Lib Dems have also introduced a place for citizens to contribute to the Bill with any suggestions they may have, in order to give us more of a say. We young adults and our siblings are very much the digital generation; we nearly all own smartphones and communicate largely using instant messaging apps – this bill could not be more relevant to our age group.
Neither Labour nor the Conservatives can be trusted with safeguarding the rights we have as citizens, paying attention to issues such as mental health and discrimination, providing a fairer way to pay back tuition fees, and using a fairer voting system in the future, to name but a few issues that affect our lives. Therefore I urge you: on May 7th, vote. And if you feel like it’s the right choice for you, if you believe in equality and honest attempts for change, vote Lib Dem. I will be.