The Liberal Democrats, The Greens and Labour are often grouped together in British politics as the three largest country-wide socially progressive parties. Since the tuition fee debacle of 2010, the Lib Dems have seen their youth support abandon ship and float over to the Green surge or the Millifandom, and why I totally understand and sympathise with those who abandoned my party in 2010, I think it’s time to consider hopping back on board.
It’s probably best to address that gigantic elephant in the room, tuition fees. I can wholeheartedly understand the anger with the Lib Dems over tuition fees, as a student I’m not removed from the situation myself. While many Lib Dem MPs kept their pledge of voting against rises in tuition fees, others decided to forfeit that pledge on the understanding our coalition partners would vote in favour of some of our better policies. Remember, nobody in the Lib Dems wanted to raise fees, it just became undeliverable – but I concede, the pledges should not have been made. However, the Lib Dems have made it fairer to repay and this may blow your mind, but we actually pay less back now at £9,000 a year than we did under Labour at £3,000 a year. Mind-boggling, I know. When it comes to tuition fees, it’s worth remembering the Labour party have broken three times as many pledges, and in majority governments too! But I’m not supposed to tell you that because it certainly wouldn’t suit
Labour Youth’s the NUS’ agenda. Julia Hartley-Brewer summed my feelings up best on BBC’s Question Time saying “Who introduced tuition fees? Labour. Who raised them? Labour. Who raised them again? The Conservatives. Who got punished? The Lib Dems”.
Moving on from this, it is pretty clear that students generally tend to favour the socially progressive policies these three parties offer. A particular area of interest for young voters is the legalisation of cannabis, and while there are genuine claims from the Greens to do just that, they’re not as pro-drug reform as they seem, they certainly haven’t adopted the Lib Dems’ plans to decriminalise possession of most drugs and move drugs from an issue of crime to an issue of health. When talking to Labour about drug policy they are relatively silent, in fact the best former leader Ed Milliband could come up with was ‘I haven’t taken them…but I have read about cannabis’. Insightful.
LGBT+ issues are also of particular interest to youth as there is generally a greater visibility, tolerance and confidence in young LGBT+ people. In the 2015 manifestos, the Lib Dems boasted more pro-LGBT+ policies than both Green or Labour. The Greens to their credit pushed Clegg and co. close but couldn’t feasibly claim to be the best party for non-heterosexuals. Like on drugs, Labour were too fairly silent on these issues as well, with barely a tenth of the polices the Lib Dems pledging making their manifesto. In fact, it’s worth noting that the Labour party and the Green party both released separate LGBT+ manifestos as after thoughts – it’s hardly progressive to separate people by sexuality. Separate but equal is never equal. In fact, speaking of ‘equal’, let’s discuss ‘equal marriage’. While the Greens were the first party to make same-sex marriage party policy it was the Liberal Democrats who delivered it in government in 2012, at a time where British politics was obsessed with the economy alone. The Labour party, while they did vote in favour of passing the policy didn’t actually include marriage equality in any of their manifestos, nor did they try and implement it in 13 years of majority government.
Another focal point of concern for students and young people is the treatment of mental health which is a much more visible issue than it used to be. As of the 2015 election, both Labour and nor the Greens relegated mental health policy to passing inference while the Lib Dems made treating mental health on a par with physical health a front page policy, aiming to donated an extra £250m a year in to mental health treatments. On immigration, Labour have been lurching so far to the right they’re almost eskimo-kissing Nigel Farage. The party’s decision to pander to the xenophobic disdain for migrants in this country reeks of pseudo-nationalism, and shows them for the mugs they are (pun definitely intended). To their credit, the Green party joined the Lib Dems in abstaining from that practice but only the latter directly took the fight to UKIP and the Conservatives. In fact, Labour’s disgraceful treatment of immigrants isn’t a recent phenomenon, in the last government the Liberal Democrats ended the disgraceful Labour policy of detaining child asylum seekers in adult detention centres, in some instances, for weeks and months.
If none of this is enough to get you to entertain the idea of defecting to the Lib Dems then consider that our economic policy was voted the most transparent by the IFS (Institue for Fiscal Studies) while the Greens want a 60p tax rate, and a ‘Beyoncé tax’. If you want a sort of socially progressive party incapable of basic economics who possess the lowest satisfaction rate of any party-run council in the country. If you want to put the Queen in a council house and to follow a leader who turns the most friendly of interviews in to a Comedy Central roast then vote for the Greens. If you want a formerly progressive party intent on emulating the Tories to better their electoral fortunes. If you want a party who has no plans to descale trident, and leads Britain in to illegal wars so we can help the US pillar oil then vote for Labour.
However, I suspect you would rather have a socially progressive party who champions a Rent-to-Own scheme where first time buyers will be able to buy their home by building up shares in it through rent, without needing to rustle for a deposit. A party who had the guts to align itself with its fiercest ideological rival to save the economy from collapse and still deliver 70% of its manifesto pledges with just 8% of the seats. If you want social progression and economic sensibility the only choice is the Liberal Democrats. Obviously, each young person has their own political acumen and agency. I don’t necessarily want to proselytise you in to joining the Lib Dem fightback, but you don’t have to default to the Labour party to find a socially progressive mandate that goes against the Tories – in fact, you would be looking in the wrong place entirely.