Students hold the balance of power

May 25, 2001

It is tempting to assume that higher education issues will be a decisive factor in the electoral battle for Birmingham Edgbaston.

As in 1997, when Labour overturned a 100-year Tory reign in the constituency, the number of students living locally matches almost exactly the sitting MP's majority.

If the Conservatives were to persuade enough of the resident 5,000 or so students from Birmingham University, the University of Central England and Newman College of Higher Education to vote for them, they might regain the seat.

Once cast as the proverbial middle-class leafy suburb, recent boundary changes have brought inner-city estates into the constituency and so widened the socioeconomic spectrum of its 70,000 voters.

According to Edgbaston's prospective parliamentary candidate for Labour, Gisela Stuart, the changes have helped turn the constituency's population into a cross section of the English electorate. "There is not a single issue of policy that will not have a significant impact here," she said.

Chris Painter, head of the department of public policy at UCE, does not think higher education will figure much in Edgbaston's election result. "There is dissent over government higher education policy among academics and students, but I think other issues will make them wary of voting Conservative," he said.

Nigel Hastilow, the Tory candidate and former editor of the Birmingham Post, disagrees. "I have had quite a positive response from students, many of whom feel they were completely let down by Labour over tuition fees," he said.

According to Liberal Democrat candidate Nicola Davies: "Students will vote on issues that relate to them and the introduction of fees is clearly a big issue."

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