Diary Of A Third Year: 'At Sheffield, student Tories are rare, but becoming less so'

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The Independent Online

For students voting on 6 May, the options appear pretty poor. None of the main parties has been student-friendly in recent years. The Conservatives did away with grants. Labour introduced top-up fees. The Liberal Democrats promised to scrap them, before Nick Clegg looked in his wallet and decided he couldn't quite stretch to it. Now they plan to do away with fees over two parliaments. In other words, if you want free education, you'll have to vote for them twice.

No party will turn my student debt mountain into a molehill. It's cuts ahoy for student perks, no matter who wins the next election. Despite this, every party has its campus cheerleaders.

At Sheffield University student Tories are rare, but becoming less so. The cliché of a young Tory is still a baying, pashmina-clad public school person – and it's not far off the truth. The members of Conservative Future, the Tory party's youth movement, look like something out of a bad Harry Enfield sketch. As a result, many students would probably confess to paedophilia before admitting that they voted Tory.

Labour-supporting students are more common. Despite Labour introducing top-up fees and scrapping the 10p rate, they are still unnervingly popular among students. A student who supports Labour is like an abused spouse, crawling back to their partner in denial: "I know they've tripled my tuition fees and cut money from my university, but they mean well and they say they've changed!"

The young lefties who have torn themselves from Gordon's grip veer towards the Liberal Democrats and Green Party. It doesn't seem to matter which. One discontented Labour-turned-Green supporter put it thus: "Lib Dem and Green are both wasted votes – I might as well make it carbon neutral waste." Nowadays this is about as close as some students get to political idealism.

Beyond these half-hearted student politicos there lurks a mass of disaffected potential student voters. A letter from the council demanding that my household register to vote has been pinned to the noticeboard and ignored for six months. We're not alone: 56 per cent of 17 to 25-year-olds are not on the electoral register. There are 50,000 university students in my city – about 10 per cent of the population. They could affect the election, if they bothered registering to vote.

But with so few registered, it's no surprise that students don't get much of a mention in party literature, although some parties do still make half-hearted attempt to woo students. One Labour leaflet given out near the university during the European elections warned that the Liberal Democrats were soft on crime and might legalise marijuana. I hope Labour strategists weren't too disappointed when worried students didn't rush to the polls.

So who to vote for? Is it worth the opprobrium of my peers to join the pashmina patrol and vote Tory? Top-up fees have cost me nearly £10,000, so I'm reluctant to vote Labour. I could just not vote at all. Actually, I'll do the next best thing – I'll vote Lib Dem.