Youth vote eager for radical solutions

September 27, 2002

The Liberal Democrats this week staked their claim as the party of choice for student and younger voters eager for more radical political solutions.

A heady blend of policies for free higher education, decriminalisation of cannabis, official recognition of same-sex relationships and, controversially at this year's conference, a (suspended) motion that called for the age at which it is legal to buy pornography to be reduced to 16, help make the party first choice for younger voters according to Liberal Democrat Youth and Students.

Brian Robson, head of campaigns for Liberal Democrat Youth and Students, is encouraged by a recent poll for The Face magazine. The poll, published in the July issue of The Face , showed that a quarter of those polled would vote Liberal Democrat, compared with 23 per cent Labour and 12 per cent Conservative. Other parties gained 15 per cent of the vote while a quarter said they would not vote.

Mr Robson, who reckons he will graduate from his four-year politics degree at Leeds owing at least £12,000, said: "It is no good any more Labour saying that they are not the Tories. And the Tories think the answer to their problems is getting its MPs to tour freshers' fairs this year, which is something we do every year as a matter of course.

"We are the only party that remains committed to ideals such as free higher education, by opposing fees and supporting grants. But it's not just that. It's the party's commitment to lesbian and gay equality and a whole range of liberal policies that are striking a chord with younger voters.

"People say to us 'you are the Lib Dems so you can say what you like'. We say look at Scotland where we managed to secure the scrapping of upfront fees and the reintroduction of grants."

Mr Robson is not holding his breath for the results of the government's ongoing review of student support, which are due in November.

He said: "This review is window-dressing. It only came about because Tony Blair realised during the last election that his student-support policies weren't going down well with voters and it might stop him reaching his 50 per cent higher education participation target.

"It is typical of Labour that it's targets first and people second. It's a very technocratic style of government. It is not necessarily to do with making people's lives better. It's all about reaching the targets they've set."

Mr Robson said that the Blair government had opened a Pandora's box. He said: "Should, by some miracle, the Tories win the next general election they will pick up on the tuition-fee policy and, who knows, perhaps decide to charge full fees.

"The point about state support for higher education is that it is an investment in people. The priority should be investing in the country. Graduates in good jobs pay higher tax and contribute to the economy. Investing in higher education pays dividends in the longer term."

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