Boris beware: students are angry and we’re ready to vote against you | Zamzam Ibrahim | Education
If 1.3 million under-34s voting in 2017 was a “youthquake”, what would you call the 2.6 million registering this time around? The surge in youth and student voter registrations is no accident. Students and their unions have been working tirelessly for months: we started registering students during freshers’ week because we were determined to be ready when a general election was called.
All that organising wouldn’t be effective without the fuel for social change: anger, disillusionment, injustice, and hope. The energy is there – all we have to do is channel it. The headlines are dominated by issues that are pushing us to breaking point: an underfunded NHS, underfunded education, social inequality, a mental health crisis, and the climate emergency destroying our planet.
In this time of crisis we can look to students and young people for answers. Looking back over the past century we see a pattern repeating itself: students and young people have been ahead of the curve on pretty much every major social and political challenge over the past century. Students lobbied for universal healthcare in the 1920s, decades before the creation of the NHS; the climate breakdown was widely mocked when we pushed our first environmental awareness ideas in the 1970s and 80s. Students find an issue, then nurture it. Decades later, that generation grows into its power and marginal issues become mainstream.
This is the election of our lives. With our economy, our public services, and our planet in the balance, its importance cannot be understated.
So what’s the issue that we have been campaigning on more than any other? Climate catastrophe. We want our futures protected, not sold off for short-term financial gain. That’s why Boris Johnson’s refusal to attend a climate debate is shameful. Incidents of national crisis are already happening: fracking recently caused multiple earthquakes near Blackpool, while Yorkshire has suffered heavy floods.
We want an approach to climate breakdown that doesn’t just protect people in the UK, but all over the world. Young people everywhere are rallying behind the Green New Deal. We too want to see a compassionate response to the growing number of climate refugees.
More broadly, we want to address the UK’s complicated and cruel immigration system. As well as being a societal issue, this affects us directly. There have been unprecedented regulations placed on universities and colleges requiring them to operate as agents of the Home Office and monitor students’ whereabouts, locations and beliefs.
Call me biased, but all roads lead back to education. Education fuels our society and this election is a fight for its life and soul. The university marketisation project has failed. In the past week, staff at 60 universities have been on strike following industrial action at further education colleges. The shortfalls in funding, threats to pensions and increased use of casualisation and “outsourcing” have utterly decayed the foundations of our educational institutions. At the National Union of Students (NUS) we have been campaigning for the creation of a national education service, which would fully fund education to make it accessible to everyone in our society.
Today is democracy day. We should not only be celebrating how many young people have registered to vote but looking at how we can make democracy more accessible. The next government must lower the voting age to 16, scrap all plans to introduce voter ID, and put in place systems for automatic voter registration if we are to have any faith that our democracy is working for us.
At this stage, all we’ve seen are brazen attempts to suppress our voices in this election period. From plans to roll out voter ID, to proroguing parliament, to manipulating the date of the election, it is clear that the Tories want to disenfranchise us. The decrepit, decaying establishment is shaking with fear at the impact we can have in this election.
That is why the NUS has been running our largest ever voter registration campaign. It’s working: record numbers have registered. So make no mistake – on 12 December our voices will be heard.
If they call students snowflakes, they should expect an avalanche.