UK Election 2015: Your vote matters

london-nightThursday 7 May 2015 will see the nation heading to polling stations until 10pm to vote on the party they believe should win the parliamentary elections.

So what does that mean to you as a student? As the future work force of our country and global economy, we think it’s important you have your say on who represents you in the UK Parliament.

Toni Pearce, President of the National Union of Students (NUS) thinks it’s important too. In a blog post about why students hold the key to next election she said: “There are 197 seats across the country where the sitting MP has a majority of ten percent or less, and so EACH of these seats would need a swing of no more than five per cent to change hands entirely. In all but six of those seats, official Census data shows that the number of students living there is larger than the swing required”.

To help you better understand the party policies which affect students, the NUS Connect website provides links to policy briefings on education, employment and community.

Register to vote

In a General Election, you can vote just once. As a student you may be able to register to vote at your home or term-time address, so that wherever you are, you can still have your say.

Due to the time of year, we anticipate most BU students will vote in Bournemouth or Poole, so make sure you register your term-time address by the 20 April 2015. Soon after you’ve registered you’ll be sent details of your local polling station.

Registering online takes five minutes – the deadline is Monday 20 April 2015.

Find out more – TalkBU

If you want to vote but feel you don’t know enough about it, come along to “An Idiot’s Guide to the Elections” by David McQueen at 5.30pm, Tuesday 21 April in Dylan’s on Talbot Campus, and join the discussion using #TalkBU.

To find out if you’re eligible to vote, check The Electoral Commission website for details.

Beyond the crisis of political engagement

By Dr Darren G. Lilleker, Associate Professor, The Media School.

There is a crisis of political engagement. Academics, journalists, political NGOs, even now celebrities tell us there is: with Russell Brand being given a stage to call for abstentionism from the democratic process to highlight the disconnections between government and the governed. The features of the crisis are low trust in politicians, parties and the governments they form; low levels of feeling informed; lower still levels of feeling connected to ‘politics’; and consequent low levels of interest and participation. These are not new, perhaps not wholly unhealthy, and also not particularly surprising.

To start on a positive note, we should not desire blind trust in politicians. Scepticism is healthy, even a degree of cynicism is healthy, blindly following and supporting politicians is dangerous. We also need a critical media, which can breed scepticism and cynicism by questioning the motives of politicians. The problem in many modern, post-industrial democracies is that the balance has tipped to almost complete mistrust, only around 20% of the EU population have any trust in politicians: to represent them, to act of the good of the nation, to follow ethical codes of behaviour. The question is why?

Politicians exist in the eye of a perfect storm. The media express few partisan affiliations and are readier to expose scandal than a positive story. The voters no longer hold strong affiliations to parties; hence they are no longer part of a local conversation with other members. Hence exposure to politics is mediated for the vast majority, who also rely on television news which few watch habitually and sporadic reading of newspapers. So of course there is low information and it is the scandals, the big news items, Plebgate, Expenses, to which most will get the most exposure.

But this is not the full explanation. Politicians now exist largely within what many describe as a bubble, Westminster for example. They largely moved away from community politics, offering sporadic surgeries only, public meetings are now undertaken via television which focus on the minority of top party leaders. Local politics is included by public service broadcasters, but is not the staple diet of many household’s Sunday viewing. The divorce of the representative and the community has been gradual, pushed by party centralisation, the erosion of local activists, clubs, the practice of parachuting in candidates, the pressures of Westminster duties etc.

Some politicians have, however, built new connections. Many politicians (MPs and MEPs) have begun to colonise Facebook and Twitter. Some hold online surgeries. Some request video footage from smartphones to highlight issues. Some seek the views of their constituents. Some inform about their activities at Westminster and locally. Some seek help with local campaigns. The best, and this is an unashamedly normative statement, do all of those.

What is the impact? Party politics, or at least perceptions of leaders, dominate voter choices. But, even when the tide turns towards one party, research shows a local MP can earn 5-12% of the vote based on their service. They can also enhance the image of their party, earn trust, earn interest, and mobilise citizens who feel disenfranchised. And they themselves feed off their constituents, the more they do the more constituents connect with them and so the more they connect with the community they represent.

The crisis of engagement is often seen to begin and end with voting. It is a crisis when the majority do not vote, and a protest against the system to abstain. But largely all this leads to is further disenfranchisement: why would any organisation seeking votes need the thoughts of those who do not participate.

We need a more interactive politics. Where demands of citizens are heard, where representatives interact with a broad swathe of citizens and where there is greater citizen input into and understanding of political processes. Disengagement results from feelings of personal irrelevance, disconnection, insecurity and uncertainty. Politicians need to reduce these feelings and make politics relevant, connected to communities so reducing insecurity in society and uncertainty over political processes and their outcomes. But citizens need to also push for a more active representative, withdrawing is not the answer.


Dr Lilleker has conducted research into a number of aspects of engagement and disengagement, in particular around the communication and campaigning activities of parties and candidates in the UK. The impacts of political communication is a key interest, and he has explored this using theories of psychology in his latest work Political Communication and Cognition (Palgrave, 2014). 

Why Politics matters


MPs and representatives from the main political parties were at BU to debate whether young people today are engaging with politics.

The Why Politics Matters event was organised by students from the BA (Hons) Politics and Media degree.

It took place at BU’s Executive Business Centre in front of an audience of staff, students, members of the public and pupils from Corfe Hills School.

Opening the event, BA Politics and Media Programme Leader David McQueen, said that, while young people appeared to be turning away from the traditional party politics, there was an increasing amount of political activity on social media channels like Twitter and Facebook.

“Does party politics matter?” he said.

“Does it make any difference who we vote for? Lots of people don’t think it does. People think they are all the same.

“One of the problems with politics is young people are just turning their back on it. Why are people losing faith in politics?”

All of the main political parties were represented at the event, with speakers including Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett, UKIP Candidate for Christchurch in the 2015 elections Robin Grey, and Conservative Bournemouth West MP Conor Burns.

Each speaker had the chance to talk about their party, whether they thought young people were disengaged with politics and why politics should matter to them.

Labour MP and BU Visiting Fellow Bob Ainsworth disagreed that young people were less engaged with politics than previous generations.

“I don’t believe young people in this country are ignorant of politics to anything like the generations of young people have been in the past,” he said.

“I voted Labour because my family voted Labour.

“A generation ago, politics was class-based. This generation is a lot more knowledgeable than the generation to which I belong and many generations back in history.”

Annette Brooke, Liberal Democrat MP for North Dorset and Mid Poole, said that politicians needed to do more to encourage more young people need to vote in elections.

“It’s quite shocking to think that in the last election, less than 40 per cent of 18-25 year olds voted,” she said.

“I think it shows a failure on the part of the politicians.

She added: “There are very important issues that are going to affect your lives, not mine.

“It is not right that the older generation should be dominating what your future is going to be like.”

The event also featured a question and answer session with all of the speakers, and the chance to network and visit local political party recruitment stalls.

Recent BU Public Relations graduate Felicity Pentland also presented her research into why young people are not voting; through surveys and interviews with 18-25 year olds, she found that barriers included a lack of understanding and a negative view of politicians.

Douglas Tham, a second year Politics and Media student and President of the BU Politics Society, said he felt the event had gone well.

“We wanted to encourage young people to get involved with politics and see what it is like to be in the presence of an MP,” he said.

“It’s been really good – it’s a great chance for the young people here to get to speak to MPs on a personal level and will hopefully encourage them to look at the work that their MPs are doing.”