Students poleaxed on a night of drama

Higher education figures survey uncertain landscape as young voters cry foul. Hannah Fearn reports

May 7, 2010

The country woke up to political uncertainty today as it was confirmed that there will be a hung parliament, with no party securing an overall majority in the general election.

The outcome followed dramatic scenes yesterday as students claimed that they were denied their vote and high-profile MPs, including several with links to higher education, lost their seats.

Among key figures to retain their places in Parliament were David Lammy, the higher education minister; David Willetts, the Conservative shadow universities secretary; and Stephen Williams, their Liberal Democrat counterpart.

However, Charles Clarke, the Labour former education secretary, and Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat shadow science minister, both lost their seats, as did Bill Rammell, the Labour former higher education minister.

Students in several constituencies complained that they had been unable to vote because polling stations were unprepared for the large numbers who turned out after 6pm.

People queuing to vote in the student-dominated constituencies of Manchester Withington, Sheffield Hallam, Liverpool Wavertree, Hackney South and Shoreditch and the City of Chester were turned away after the polls closed at 10pm.

At the Ranmoor polling station in the Sheffield Hallam constituency of Nick Clegg, the Lib Dem leader, students complained that they had been split into a separate queue from other members of the electorate who were fast-tracked into the polling booths.

In other constituencies, the stations were reported to have run out of ballot papers before the polls were due to close.

Wes Streeting, president of the National Union of Students, said: “Where students and other voters have been disenfranchised, local authorities should hang their heads in shame. It is outrageous that citizens should be denied their basic right to vote, and we demand an inquiry into how this situation occurred.”

The Electoral Commission said the scenes outside the polls were “a serious cause for concern” and that questions would be asked of the returning officers.

“There should have been sufficient resources allocated to ensure that everyone who wished to vote was able to do so. The Electoral Commission will be undertaking a thorough review of what has happened in those constituencies where people have been unable to vote,” it says in a statement.

Elsewhere, the three academic candidates followed during the campaign by Times Higher Education – Adeela Shafi, Conservative candidate in Bristol East; Nader Fekri, Lib Dem candidate in Keighley and Ilkley; and Anneliese Dodds, Labour candidate in Reading East – all failed to win seats.

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