Students, vote with your conscience

“Greens have historically had more support with younger voters and Greens shouldn’t be afraid to campaign fully in many of the areas that have the highest concentration of young voters and where we are the strongest remain party.” Martin Osborne, Green Party councillor for Hollingdean and Stanmer on Brighton and Hove City Council, looks ahead to the seemingly inevitable general election and calls on students to register to vote and vote Green to call for action on the environment and for a People’s Vote.

Voting in a ballot box
Voting in a ballot box
Martin Osborne

Every year thousands of students leave home and embark on an exciting few years of studying at their chosen university. With new places to see, people to meet and things to explore, it’s an exciting time. However, I’m not sure many have registering to vote at the top of their list. 

With the potential of an impending election right in the middle of the first semester, it is imperative that this happens before it’s too late. Thankfully, I guess some have got the message:  over 300,000 under 25s registered in September and thousands more are registering everyday. 

What parties can do

Labour campaigning group Momentum has been active on social media encouraging registration and will mobilise young people to vote for Labour, just as they did in 2017. This includes a new tactic that they have launched this year called univotes.co.uk, which lets you input your home and university address and indicates where best to vote by using data from the the 2017 general election. 

Maximising the vote of younger people is of course a hugely important thing to do. This app may just do it and could make the difference in several important seats and tip the balance away from a Tory majority. But relying on using tactics from previous elections reminds us it could also go wrong too! 

The tool is focused on Labour rather than looking at the wider picture and only uses data from one election, in which Labour did much better than polls expected. Given the change in the political scene over the last two years too, it’s hardly an accurate picture. With no Brexit Party in the 2017 elections, gains in polling from Lib Dems and Greens and now with a potential bunch of independents standing, this website is an oversimplification. I’d be wary of taking the recommendations of univotes.co.uk at face value. 

While it is widely commented that opinion polls show Labour are behind in the polls, what is less well understood is that the sheer quantity of ‘unsures’ is huge. A Yougov poll this week (11th Oct) has ‘don’t know’ as a whopping 34 per cent. In the same poll, the British population on the one hand think the government is handling Brexit badly but still has Johnson 20 points ahead.  

There is also the growing issue of voter volatility, which is the highest it’s been in nearly a century, with Brexit even breaking down what the British Election Study terms “the taboo of switching between Conservatives and Labour”.  

The opportunities for Greens

There are certainly gains in vote share for Greens to be had at any election called, with polling looking similar to before the 2015 elections where well over one million people voted Green. The Green Party lost ground to Labour in 2017 – the Greens vote share fell by 2.1 per cent between 2015 and 2017, while Labour’s increased by 9.5 per cent. A further demonstration of how the Greens went backwards is by the number of seats where Greens retained their deposit – in 2015 this was 123 but in 2017 this was down to nine. 

However, since 2017, Labour’s support has been slipping, primarily due to the ambivalent Brexit policy and public infighting amongst the leadership. A recent YouGov poll found the voting intention for Labour amongst 18-24 years old was down to 43 per cent compared to 62 per cent of this age category in 2017. In the same poll, Greens were in second place with 22 per cent. It appears that Greens are winning back some of the voters that they lost in 2017 and a strong campaign in a selection of seats could be fruitful for Greens, especially if the sitting MP is particularly ambivalent about Brexit and has a dodgy voting record on the environment. 

In particular, Greens have historically had more support with younger voters and Greens shouldn’t be afraid to campaign fully in many of the areas that have the highest concentration of young voters and where we are the strongest remain party. This includes in cities (constituencies in brackets) such as Sheffield (Sheffield Central), Leeds (Leeds North West), Norwich (Norwich South), Brighton and Hove (all three constituencies: Brighton Pavilion, Brighton Kemptown and Hove), Bristol (two constituencies: Bristol West and Bristol South) and Exeter. 

If Greens make credible in-roads in these areas we create much stronger springboards for future campaigning and elections, and continue to progress towards a second MP. By looking at how Greens won Brighton Pavilion, they built locally, gradually gaining councillors, winning the European election vote in the constituency in 2009 and then persuading those voters to stay with the Greens when it came to a general election in 2010. 

Vote for what you believe in

The message for me is clear – students should vote Green everywhere, especially in areas where Greens have done well in the recent EU elections or have a presence locally. These include Brighton and Hove, Bristol, Sheffield, Norwich, Leeds and Exeter. A large Green vote share in these areas applies pressure to the sitting MP to take environmental issues more seriously, unambiguously backs a People’s Vote and provides opportunities for growth in vote share for Greens in the future. 

Predicting an election outcome is a very difficult thing to do and fraught with potential issues. The attempts to forge a progressive alliance in 2017 may have influenced a few seats but fundamentally were flawed, and there is no guarantee a new tactic won’t do the same. 

Above all though, these reaffirm the broken first past the post electoral system and confirm for Greens that we desperately need a proportional voting system. Unfortunately, we are stuck with First Past the Post for the time being so the most important thing is to make sure your voice is heard by registering to vote before it’s too late. 

You can register to vote here

Martin Osborne is a Green Party councillor for Hollingdean and Stanmer ward on Brighton and Hove City Council.