With the 2019 general election looming, the political societies of the University of Leicester held a debate between the presidents of the Labour Students society (Jacob Selby), the Young Conservatives (Charles Drew), and the Young Liberals (Brenner Munden) to allow each of the parties a chance to try and win over student voters. In their respective opening statements, the Labour representative talked about the failure of austerity and how Labour offered people a happier and more equal Britain, the Tory representative spoke of the need to ‘Get Brexit Done’ and continue implementing the Conservative’s economic plan, and the Liberal Democrat representative argued how important it was to stop Brexit and Boris Johnson. The debate by this point only consisted of the three main parties’ various soundbites, but the questions that followed allowed the representatives to have a more individual voice on the issues that face Britain.
The first question posed related to Brexit, with the three presidents starting off by stating their respective parties’ positions on it, the Conservatives wanting to pass their deal, Labour wanting to renegotiate the deal and hold a second referendum, and the Lib Dems wanting to revoke Article 50. This is where the debate began to get more combative, with the Labour representative attacking the Tories’ deal and the Conservative representative retaliating by saying that Corbyn’s renegotiation was a waste of time and just an attempt to delay and stop Brexit. An add-on question posed received a controversial answer when the Lib Dem representative, in response to being asked about the party entering into another coalition with the Tories, said that would be acceptable if it was necessary for political stability and that the government during the coalition years was one of the best that Britain had had in recent times. Another interesting answer given was when the Labour representative admitted that their party would not win a majority on Thursday and that they would be happy to do a coalition deal with the Lib Dems.
The next question concerned the representation of women and the LGBTQ+ community in politics, with all the society presidents claiming that their parties had put into place multiple measures in order to deal with past shortcomings, but that there was still more to be done. The Tory and Lib Dem representatives faced heckling from the audience, who questioned the sincerity of their words when compared with the record of the coalition government in relation to sexism and racism. Heckling continued when the topic shifted to the issue of what the parties offered students, with the coalition’s tripling of tuition fees and ending of maintenance grants being mentioned.
The final debate question related to the various parties’ record on racism, with focus being placed on Labour in regards to anti-Semitism and the Conservatives in regard to Islamophobia. Both presidents stressed that their parties needed to do more when it came to those issues, but both provoked controversy in their answers. The Labour representative was interrupted by the questioner when they claimed that anti-Semitism was not directly linked to Corbyn being leader of the party, and the Tory representative was confronted after the debate by members of the audience in response to his statement that the party had to be careful when tackling Islamophobia in case it infringed upon people’s freedom of speech.
Overall, the debate, whilst being mired by the repetition of soundbites, did produce some answers that strayed from the party line and perhaps showed the true views of members on the most controversial issues their parties face. Whilst the Tories are most likely going to hold the largest amount of seats in the new Parliament, it is clear that students are becoming increasingly politicised and it will be interesting to see if the surge in youth turnout of 2017 can be replicated and sabotage some potential Conservative gains.