Hot house flowers long since wilted

April 25, 1997

WHERE SUSSEX University was once a hot house of political activism, many of its students today admit to little more than political cynicism.

"In our house we are displaying a Labour poster," said one final-year student, "but it's only so the Tories don't knock at the door".

In the university bookshop, an election-dominated window display, complete with brown paper envelopes addressed to Neil Hamilton, has not led to an increase in sales of political books. "I don't know if anyone's bought one yet," admits the assistant.

But despite claims from Sussex students that the election is "boring" and "too in your face", with politicians who "don't tell the truth", many say they will still be casting their vote, even if it's "only to get the Tories out".

The Conservative majority in Brighton Pavilion, the constituency containing both Sussex and Brighton universities, shrank to just 3,500 in 1992. So the potentially large student vote - 8 per cent of the electorate last time - could be crucial.

With recent boundary changes favouring Labour, and an unknown candidate registered as well as Sir Derek Spencer as the "Conservative candidate", the Tory hold on Brighton Pavilion, a seat never won by Labour, seems threatened.

Tory Sir Derek Spencer admits that winning will be a battle. "It could be a close run thing," he says.

Simon Michaelides, president of Sussex University student union, says it would only take the university's first-years registered on campus to vote Labour for the seat to swing away from the Tories.

This is a point perhaps not lost on Tony Blair who, accompanied by Labour's candidate David Lepper, addressed a rally of under-25s at the university last week.

The Liberal Democrat candidate Ken Blanshard, technical manager at Sussex University's computer service department, appears to have an uphill battle to persuade students that a vote for him would not be wasted. The party came a poor third in 1992.

Political cynicism may be prevalent at Sussex, but down the road at Brighton University despair and apathy are more prevalent.

"Students come to college with no money and sit back and accept that that's the way it is. They don't understand that it's been taken away from them," said Sally Curtis, academic affairs sabbatical at the university.

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