Out there - Liverpool

Joe Moran asks students why they don't care

By an uninteresting coincidence, the Ukip candidate for Liverpool Walton shares my name. The more famous Joe Moran is a former Scoutmaster and Territorial Army volunteer. I was worried my students might confuse me with the man who has been protesting in their local paper about "the EU devil" and collapsing border controls. But most students have no idea who their local MP is, never mind a marginal candidate likely to pick up a few hundred votes.

In February, Charles Kennedy named my constituency, Liverpool Riverside, as one of 14 Labour seats where students could swing it for the Lib Dems. He seems to have changed his mind. Though Kennedy is the only party leader so far to visit Liverpool during the campaign (we just glimpsed the Prescott Express whizzing through on its way to the Wirral marginals), he went to Wavertree, which is, according to the Electoral Reform Society, the only Liverpool constituency genuinely up for grabs. Even this is pushing it: Labour's majority is 12,319.

What explains students' "apathy"? First, their lifestyles are too peripatetic. They move house a lot, so don't always receive registration forms, and realise too late they can't vote. Second, this polling day also comes in the middle of coursework assessment. Nearing essay deadlines, how many will break off when a vote in Liverpool will not change the result? Third, they are not hard-working families or hard-up pensioners, so no one is talking to them. Top-up fees matter to parents with teenagers; my students will be graduates when they are introduced. Fair trade, third-world debt and the environment, which do arouse interest, are barely mentioned.

Fourth, much election rhetoric depends on folk memories about "boom and bust" or "tax and spend". But most students aren't remembering what you're remembering: the youngest were in primary school in 1997.

In the student union bar, almost everyone mentioned Iraq (Peter Hain, please note: they were drinking Carling at £1.20 a pint, not Shiraz). Yet interest in the election seemed more procedural than partisan. Why has Tony Blair disappeared from Labour leaflets? Why do the Tories waste money putting up posters in the poorest parts of the city? These students seemed to be registering the election in the same way as the Portsmouth-Southampton game on the bar's big screen: a vague curiosity, not too bothered about the result. One student was doing astrophysics. I asked if he could tell me what rocket science was, as everyone else seemed to know what it wasn't. But I don't think he got the joke.

Joe Moran lectures at Liverpool John Moores University

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