Young people will not be put off from voting Conservative or Liberal Democrat in 2015 because of the failures of the current government, students at the first ever iStudents debate in Cardiff agreed yesterday.
That majority view was held following a debate, chaired by the editor of i, Oliver Duff, attended by around 170 students who discussed the big political questions of the day at the National Museum Cardiff, with the final vote revealing only 26 students would not vote Tory or Lib Dem again.
Mr Duff was joined on the panel by Amol Rajan, editor of The Independent, Lisa Markwell, editor of The Independent on Sunday, i’s economics editor Ben Chu, and Toni Pearce, president of the National Union of Students.
The debate started with the rise in tuition fees. Referring to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg’s 2010 promise not to raise the fees, Ms Pearce said young people were fed up of being lied to by politicians.
“When politicians expose themselves as liars it massively undermines people’s faith in politics,” she said. “You can’t get away from the fact that the Lib Dems won a lot of votes from young people by promising to vote against a rise in tuition fees and then they lied about it. There’s a reason for the Lib Dems to be scared and they are.”
Mr Rajan encouraged students to exercise their right to vote, describing it as a “moral obligation”.
He said: “You should be ashamed of yourself if you’re not going to vote. Generations of men, women and children have died for the vote. Not voting is extremely offensive.”
However, Grace Barr, 20, who is studying law and French, and said she wouldn’t be voting in the next election. She called for politicians to engage with young people by speaking in a language they can understand. She spoke of her friends who come from a deprived area in south Birmingham, saying they are more concerned about policies that directly affect them than about what is going on in Westminster.
“My friends are intelligent but these things are going on way above their heads in a language they don’t understand, so they can’t make decisions,” she said. “Their interests aren’t ‘Should we be in Europe?” They want to know about policies that affect them. Politics needs to be brought back to the people.”
The question of reducing the voting age to 16 also provoked a strong reaction, with a 21-year-old politics student Chris de Rauville claiming 16-year-olds were not well-informed enough to make decisions on economic or foreign policy.
He said: “How can you ask these people who don’t even get political education to decide on these complex issues? Will they actually be able to make a competent decision?”
Mr Chu disagreed, however, arguing that giving 16-year-olds the vote would help engage them in politics in the first place.
The i’s tour of the UK continues with the team heading north to Manchester on 11 March to meet more of the paper’s student readers.
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The panel in conversation
Independent editor Amol Rajan speaks
Health correspondent Charlie Cooper on the schmooze
Travel correspondent Simon Calder gets effusive
i paper editor Oly Duff holds court
Independent on Sunday editor Lisa Markwell
NUS president Toni Pearce weighs in