The run up to the General Election was an uncertain and exciting time, with pollsters predicting different winners and losers every day. With the phenomenon of Milifandom, it can definitely be said that the election captured the interest of teenagers across the country, though of course the degree and volume of this interest is debatable. My school, a comprehensive Academy with a sixth form, in West Sussex, was also caught up in the election excitement, by holding a school election with the three main parties, as it has done in previously years.
The candidates were selected from Year 12 and 13 Politics classes, though was open to any sixth form student with an interest in politics and current affairs, and compromised a Leader, Deputy Leader and PR team to represent each of the Conservative Party, Labour Party and the Liberal Democrat Party. (As a side note, I recall, from my vague memories of Year 7, that the 2010 school election was won by the Liberal Democrat team.)
The election campaign began with an onslaught of posters across the school in April. The Labour team exemplified their Photoshop skills, with red and white posters filled with election promises, for more GPs and lower tuition fees that seemed to cover every single surface of the school. The Liberal Democrats also relished in the chance to make propaganda, taking Nick Clegg’s slogan of his party being able to “Give the Tories a heart and Labour a brain,” further, by Photoshopping Ed Miliband’s face onto a scarecrow and David Cameron’s onto the tin man from the Wizard of Oz film. The Conservatives were a little late to this poster competition, yet went with Labour’s method of printing out their pledges in a simple format and covering them across almost every surface of the school’s campus. These posters certainly enlivened the school a fair bit, inciting debate, with younger students and also was quite helpful for those in Year 13 who could actually vote in the real election but weren’t sure what each party stood for.
Then, over the course of the fortnight prior to the actual election, assemblies were carried out featuring speeches from each of the party leaders, where they presented videos resembling the official party political broadcasts. The Conservative’s video featured a mixture of students yelling their praise for the school candidate, and the Year 13 candidate describing his vision for Britain, while the Labour video featured the local parliamentary Labour candidates endorsing the Year 12 standing in the school election, and a display of Labour pledges, and the Liberal Democrats took on a stylistically impressive slander campaign against both rival parties, slamming Labour’s economic record and the Conservatives’ morality, finishing by releasing yellow balloons onto a crowd of surprised pupils.
There was also a mock election Hustings held in the sixth form centre, yet available for all years to attend, a few days before the real election. A few pupils were asked to present questions to the leaders, for example, I asked by the Conservatives about their impetus for cutting welfare whilst giving tax breaks to the rich, whilst others questioned the Liberal Democrats on tuition fees, Labour on the SNP and so on. It was incredibly surprising how many pupils turned up to this Hustings, maybe they had been inspired by the assemblies and the handing out of stickers by the various parties which had culminated in that week. Regardless, every chair in the room was occupied and every wall had a student’s back pressed to it – and the sixth form centre is an octagonal shape, so this was an impressive feat. The highlight of this hustings was when a Year 7 girl asked the candidates how they expected her to see them as role models and to represent younger pupils when they were so petty in their election videos, to paraphrase.
On May 7, whilst the Nation flocked to polling stations across Britain, so did the pupils of our school. Different polling stations were set up for each year group across areas in the school. As a House Leader, I helped to run the Year 10s’ polling station. The school election had only included the, at the time, three largest political parties in the UK, and so some of pupils wanted to spoil their ballots. Some enthusiastically asked if they could create their box on the ballot paper to vote for UKIP. Interestingly, this somewhat reflected the town’s actual results where UKIP did very well, and were the reason the Labour candidate did not win.
The voting session was over within thirty minutes, and the results announced by break time at 11am; a Labour victory. In this case, this result did not reflect that of our town, where Conservative Henry Smith was re-elected. Pupils, especially the younger ones, seemed to be enthusiastic about the election. However, that may be a misjudgement based witnessing a vocal minority. No doubt many pupils were disinterested and even irritated at the concept. Having said that, seeing the way that children from all years engaged in political debate and participated in a small way in a historically significant national event showed that if politics appeals to young people then they will show little hesitation to get involved.