Blond has more fun but fails to thwart anti top-up fee vote

February 24, 2006

Everyone knows that today's students would rather have a lie-in than exercise their democratic right to vote - that is, until they scent the blood of a certain blond-haired Tory Higher Education Spokesman.

Students at Edinburgh University voted in their thousands last week to stop celebrity Conservative MP Boris Johnson winning the post of rector at their institution.

Edinburgh Students' Association launched a vitriolic Anyone but Boris campaign in the weeks leading up to the election, in which the number of votes increased from fewer than 1,000 last time round to nearly 9,000 - the biggest turn-out in the university's history.

The day before the vote, the union distributed posters warning, "Don't wake up with a dumb blond tomorrow", and on Valentine's Day, it handed out cards saying "Boris loves student debt" and "Boris loves top-up fees".

Despite the counter-activities of enthusiastic Boris backers, and two personal appearances on campus during which the MP debated with students and signed one student's chest, the Shadow Minister lost his battle to become rector late last Thursday.

Mark Ballard, a Green Party MSP, won with 3,597 votes. Mr Johnson, who secured 2,123 votes, was beaten to second place by Magnus Linklater, The Times columnist and former Scotsman editor, who gained 3,052 votes.

Mr Johnson said this week that he was pleased to have shaken the student population out of their traditional political apathy, but admitted that he was disappointed with the outcome and the intensity of the personal campaign against him.

He said: "We certainly got a lot of people voting. I think what happened was they all suddenly focused on the terrifying possibility that they were about to elect an English top-up fee merchant."

Ruth Cameron, president of the Edinburgh Students' Association, said: "We classed it as a huge victory against top-up fees. The Anyone but Boris campaign wasn't personal."

She added: "It definitely helped that there was online voting. We sent out e-mails reminding people to vote."

One Edinburgh student wrote to Mr Johnson's higher education blog: "I must admit I didn't give you my first-preference vote - but you definitely have my sympathy for putting up with the unfair, anti-democratic, negative campaign against you by Ruth Cameron. Thanks for running, anyway; you livened up what would otherwise have been a rather dull contest."

Speaking immediately after his victory, Mr Ballard said: "I think we showed in this election that campaigning can beat celebrity. Students will vote for the right policies for this university, not purely personality."

Mr Ballard will take over the rector position from former Labour MP Tam Dalyell.

Among those to have held the post in the past is Chancellor Gordon Brown, who was elected rector in 1972, while a student at the university.

anna.fazackerley@thes.co.uk

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