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Comment With: Liberal Democrats

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Exeposé Comment caught up with Alex Whattam, President of Exeter University Liberal Democrats to discuss tuition fees, UKIP and how to get young people engaged in politics.

Exeposé Comment: What will be a good result for the Liberal Democrats at the 2015 General Election?

Alex Whattam: Retaining our number of seats. It was clear that the vote share of a minor party in a coalition would take a hit given how long it has been since Westminster has had a coalition. Our MPs on average have a net positive approval rating from their own constituents, unlike the other main parties, which will be a big factor in helping us retain these seats. Hopefully this will also include a situation where we can make a difference in government and enact our policies.

Photo Credits: Liberal Democrat Society
Photo Credits: Liberal Democrat Society

EC: Why should a student vote for the Liberal Democrats?

AW: Our achievements in government. Without trying to sound like a Python-esque “What have the Lib Dems ever done for us?” skit: £700 tax cut that helps graduates in work, more jobs, economic growth, the green investment bank, ID cards scrapped, libel law reformed, ended DNA storage of innocent people, ended child detention in immigration cases, cutting the period of detention without trial and equal marriage. Something else I’m personally very proud of is the work done by Nick Clegg and “Internet Hero of the Year” Julian Huppert MP against Theresa May’s snoopers charter which would have allowed UK governments to monitor our internet browsing. I don’t agree with everything the Liberal Democrats have voted for but I believe they are best for Britain. Stronger economy, fairer society.

EC: Are you happy with tuition fees being £9000 per year?

AW: No. I would much prefer a system where University education was free. However I’m not in favour of gimmick policies to reduce fees which would only benefit those already earning a pretty decent salary. Application rates from disadvantaged groups has reached record levels so those who were saying that Liberal Democrats in government have hurt the prospects of the poorest students were wrong.

EC: Is Nick Clegg leading the Liberal Democrats well?

AW: Yes, we’ve enacted most of our policies in a government where we have about a sixth of the MPs in the coalition. No matter who was our leader in 2010, they would have had to make the same difficult decisions. I’m thankful that Nick Clegg had the guts to go into a coalition with the only party available to do so, instead of being spineless and hoping a minority government was unpopular so we could increase our vote share at an early election.

EC: What do you think can be done to get more young people engaged in politics?

AW: I can understand why a lot of young people are disenfranchised with our current political system. However it is worrying when a lot of under-represented groups seem to believe that by refusing to vote politicians still have an incentive to enact legislation that benefits them. I have not encountered a situation where there were zero candidates in a constituency worth somebodies vote. We can’t get young people to vote if we don’t get more young people involved in political parties. It will be difficult to convince politicians to enact legislation that favours a new generation of voters if those politicians don’t hear us on a daily basis.

EC: Do you have any plans of a career in politics after you’ve completed your degree?

AW: Not in the slightest. I have a lot of respect for those who get into politics because it is a really tough game however it’s not for me.

EC: Are UKIP replacing the Liberal Democrats as the alternative vote from the main two parties?

AW: There was always an element of the Liberal Democrats being a party of protest and now that we are a party of government it seems that UKIP has become the go-to protest party. While UKIP are ahead of us in some polls I don’t think that will translate to the number of votes in the 2015 elections. It will be very interesting to see how UKIP fares once their policies are given scrutiny, although I’m sure it will be branded by their party as a smear campaign. I’m personally very against UKIP because of what they say about climate change, specifically in their energy manifesto. They show a huge lack of basic scientific understanding and research, clearly copying the same rubbish that has been debunked by scientists time and time again.

EC: We had another lecture strike on Tuesday. What are your thoughts on the issue?

AW: Striking is an important part of a modern democracy, when it is necessary. I hope the University and the lecturers are able to sort out their differences with minimal obstruction to learning.

James Bennett and Dave Reynolds

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