This week was Freshers’ Week at my University and, on Friday, they held the ever important Freshers’ Fair. I had the pleasure of attending as Station Manager of Stag Radio, fighting for sign ups with the sports clubs and the other societies. Alongside them, were external organisations; some very commercial, like Dominos, others more charitable or political like Unison or the local branch of the Liberal Democrats. I would like to draw your attention to them for the next 500 words or so.
It is party conference season, and despite the on going in fighting in the Labour party in the run up to the leadership election that confirmed a tory government at the next election, the Lib Dems enjoyed a considerable amount of air time. Tim Farron gave a rousing speech to the membership, unveiling policies on tax in support of the NHS, SATs test in primary schools and, quite surprisingly, ending ‘Blair-bashing’.
The speech was actually well written and well received, with murmurings of support perhaps beginning to grow across the country. But then I saw how their polling numbers hadn’t changed and I saw them at Freshers’ Fair. I then realised it was all an elaborate ruse.
They had a stall, like every other invited group, from which to canvas and collect support. It was barren, with no interest being paid by the student population walking past. A Lib Dem member had fashioned a cape from an EU flag, advertising their Europhile credentials. But still no one, paid a blind bit of notice to them.
We ‘Millennials’ have a pretty bum deal. New stats released recently show that 30-somethings are half as rich as previous generations and we’ll be even worse, while crisis after crisis (Syria, ISIS, the Environment, Trump) continue to rock the world we are inheriting. We are accused of being soft, of having little stomach for a fight or being lazy. In recent times the Lib Dems were our only voice, standing up for young people with talk on educations and tuition fees.
The Liberal Democrats in recent years have relied on the student voter, upon graduating and getting a job, buying a house, starting a family etc, becoming the social just voice of middle, pushing for liberal equality. Yet the students of today remember Clegg’s indiscretion. They remember the fee cap promise and now they are paying back the results of that falling through. It’s not just those immediately old enough to begin university; it is those younger Millenials who were still at school when the coalition government came to power, but were old enough to understand what happened.
Students, for the next parliament at least, will not embrace the Lib Dems as they once did. This means that the socially just liberal graduate will not embrace the Lib Dems as they once did. In essence, the core vote share of the Lib Dems has been dissolved away into nothingness for the next 10 years.
Could this develop into a more long-term problem? Young people who consider themselves ‘socialists’ never lived through the Thatcher years, yet are first to join in discussions denouncing her policy and leadership. In much the same way, the graduates of the future will look for someone to blame for their spiralling student debt. Unfortunately that someone will be the vilified face of Nick Clegg. Neither a speech by Tim Farron nor a stand at a Freshers’ fair will change that, no matter how hard the Lib Dems try.