Nick Clegg and the youth vote

Could support among younger voters vanish come polling day?

If the Liberal Democrats manage to maintain their considerable momentum through tonight's debate and all the way until 6 May, the youth vote will be key. According to a recent Populus poll, the third biggest party enjoys a massive 40 per cent of support amongst 25 to 34-year-olds, and similarly strong support among 18 to 24-year-olds .

That's the good news for Nick Clegg and his party. The bad news? This support is traditionally soft -- research carried out last year by the Electoral Commission showed that only 44 per cent of 18 to 24-year-olds were registered to vote.

The Electoral Commission launched a campaign earlier this year to address this hole in the electoral roll. The result: over 454,000 registration forms downloaded from the About My Vote website alone.

Another half a million new voters (assuming all those forms were filled in) could have significant impact on this election, an election that may after all come down to a few thousand votes.

The possibility of an bigger turnout, forecast by those such as Political Betting's Mike Smithson, could see a strengthening of the under-represented youth vote, and with it an enlarged share for the Lib Dems.

And while the Obama-Clegg comparisons were always ridiculous it's worth remembering that in 2008 the Democratic nominee won by appealing to the new electorate, not by eroding his opponents voting numbers.


Follow the New Statesman team on Facebook.

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Why Theresa May won't exclude students from the net migration target

The Prime Minister believes the public would view the move as "a fix". 

In a letter to David Cameron shortly after the last general election, Philip Hammond demanded that students be excluded from the net migration target. The then foreign secretary, who was backed by George Osborne and Sajid Javid, wrote: "From a foreign policy point of view, Britain's role as a world class destination for international students is a highly significant element of our soft power offer. It's an issue that's consistently raised with me by our foreign counterparts." Universities and businesses have long argued that it is economically harmful to limit student numbers. But David Cameron, supported by Theresa May, refused to relent. 

Appearing before the Treasury select committee yesterday, Hammond reignited the issue. "As we approach the challenge of getting net migration figures down, it is in my view essential that we look at how we do this in a way that protects the vital interests of our economy," he said. He added that "It's not whether politicians think one thing or another, it's what the public believe and I think it would be useful to explore that quesrtion." A YouGov poll published earlier this year found that 57 per cent of the public support excluding students from the "tens of thousands" target.

Amber Rudd, the Home Secretary, has also pressured May to do so. But the Prime Minister not only rejected the proposal - she demanded a stricter regime. Rudd later announced in her conference speech that there would be "tougher rules for students on lower quality courses". 

The economic case for reform is that students aid growth. The political case is that it would make the net migration target (which has been missed for six years) easier to meet (long-term immigration for study was 164,000 in the most recent period). But in May's view, excluding students from the target would be regarded by the public as a "fix" and would harm the drive to reduce numbers. If an exemption is made for one group, others will inevitably demand similar treatment. 

Universities complain that their lobbying power has been reduced by the decision to transfer ministerial responsibility from the business department to education. Bill Rammell, the former higher education minister and the vice-chancellor of Bedfordshire, said in July: “We shouldn’t assume that Theresa May as prime minister will have the same restrictive view on overseas students that Theresa May the home secretary had”. Some Tory MPs hoped that the net migration target would be abolished altogether in a "Nixon goes to China" moment.

But rather than retreating, May has doubled-down. The Prime Minister regards permanently reduced migration as essential to her vision of a more ordered society. She believes the economic benefits of high immigration are both too negligible and too narrow. 

Her ambition is a forbidding one. Net migration has not been in the "tens of thousands" since 1997: when the EU had just 15 member states and the term "BRICS" had not even been coined. But as prime minister, May is determined to achieve what she could not as home secretary. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.