Not your average student: meet the fringe voters who identify beyond the centre left
The communists are surprisingly down to Earth!
In the weeks following 2017’s snap election, media outlets have been quick to cover the surge in voter turnout for the 18-24 year-old age group, most of whom supported the Labour party.
Indeed, statistics provided by market research specialist Ipsos Mori show 62% of 18-24 year olds to be Labour voters and 27% to vote Conservatives. But what about the young people who identify outside of the typically centrist political dichotomy? From the alt-right, to Marxists, there are a wide range of fringe political opinions existent on university campuses. I talked to several students with such political orientations to find out more about their beliefs.
Sam Hudson, Tory extraordinaire
When we meet on campus, 2nd Year History student Sam Hudson introduces himself as a ‘huge Friend of Israel’. It is ironic, therefore, that my original motivation for approaching him was the rumours circulating that he is a Nazi. Sam denies this reputation; he reckons it’s because he’s right-wing, studied German at school, and often wears his hair in a centre-parting. He’s not particularly happy about the reputation – his jokes about suing if the label continues to follow him into the working world make this clear – but at the end of the day, he says, ‘people can think what they want’.Sam’s ideal government would be focused on freedom, individuality and social mobility, the latter of which comes up a few times in our conversation. Sam believes that students on the left are young, naïve, and expect something for nothing, saying that he “wants to do well… better than [his] parents and Labour don’t support that” due to their emphasis on high taxation.
Sam describes UKIP as being ‘fruity’ and strongly believes that the Tories need to be more relatable to normal people; “David Cameron was clearly a very fringe man, went to Eton and Oxford and stuff… he’s probably never thought ‘Wow, I can’t spend this money because I’ve got to pay my rent’”. It was because of this distrust of privilege in Conservative politics that Sam chose UKIP as a protest vote in 2015. He has since returned to his blue roots, he assures me, emphasizing his recent choice of Margaret Thatcher’s Downing Street Years as holiday reading material.
Ben Burke, conservative libertarian
Sam’s not the only right-winger hiding out at UCL; Ben Burke (not his real name) describes his political stance as a “combination of constitutional conservativism mixed in with libertarian philosophies”.
Ben hasn’t always been a Tory; in fact, due to a socialist political education and SWP affiliates as teachers, he spent three years of his life as a hardcore Labour campaigner. Disillusionment built up and he left the party after Ed Miliband stepped down as leader; he sees the Labour party as filled with “hypocrites and middle class metropolitan trendies who really don’t understand marginalized groups at all”.
Ben is solemn when he states that a Labour victory in 2017 would have meant a “radical socialist cabinet with ideas that ruin a society; at best well-intentioned but at worst incompetent and dangerous”. He’s not particularly positive about the 2017 Tory manifesto either. In his opinion, it “reeked of pandering” with “overtures to identity politics promising to fix the ‘race gap’ and ‘gender wage gap’”.
Whilst not particularly keen on UK political figures, Ben cites several American individuals as inspiration, including Republican senator Ted Cruz. He is enthusiastic about his libertarian beliefs, especially in relation to guns and limited government interference, despite their lack of popularity in the student population. To Ben, student favourite Jeremy Corbyn represents the “idealistic and inexperienced” viewpoints of young people. He believes that the youth need to “remember Nick Clegg and what happened to him as a politician who promised the world but failed to deliver in office”.
He doesn’t believe that the “shadowy upper class” funding promised by Labour will materialize and sums the manifesto up with a metaphor: “like with taking out a credit card you can buy everything, but sooner or later people come knocking for it”.
Justine Canady, Marxist communist
On the other side of the left-right political spectrum, SSEES 2nd Year Justine Canady comes off as a well-spoken and passionate young person; as incoming SUUCL Women’s Officer, she’ll need it. She identifies as a Marxist communist but confesses that she’ll often introduce her views as socialist to avoid being written off for “sounding like an a**hole”. As an incoming sabbatical officer at UCL she takes activism seriously, to the point that she is currently skipping out on a student union workshop to instead lead a group of protesters in shutting down a fracking construction site.
Justine credits her hard-left viewpoint to numerous factors. As well as having grown up in a liberal North Carolina family, she believes that some individuals, such as herself, are born with a certain political intensity and sense of injustice in the world. The 2008 financial crisis and lack of accountability attributed to those responsible triggered her realization of how “absolutely sh*t the world is”.Regarding US politics, she holds Bernie Sanders in high esteem, despite him not being “as left-wing as [she] would hope”. This stems from Justine’s lack of satisfaction with social democrats who she believes seek to “put Band-Aids on the system” as opposed to sparking real change.
Justine expresses unhappiness about the current focus on political candidates as opposed to whole parties – “I think there have been issues, especially with communism, of focusing on an individual… I sometimes get a bit worried about how people view Jeremy Corbyn. Obviously [he] isn’t a real ‘cult of personality’ type, but ideally you would focus on the party, not a single candidate”.
I ask her to describe her ideal political party, and whilst shy at first, soon she is animated in vocalising a range of different features it might have. The hard-left party she desires would seek to redistribute property and goods, nationalize energy companies and provide free childcare, housing and education amongst other things; it would also be “a party that is working class, good and diverse, with representation from women, BME people and so on”. She accepts that this ideal is still far off and due to transitional demand, settles for a long-term process involving increases in minimum wage on the way to a wageless society.
Marco Wilde, empowered socialist
My final interview took place with Marco Wilde, 3rd Year History student and former investigative journalist, who has been a socialist for “virtually all of [his] teenaged and adult life” thanks to his fundamental belief that Western ideals of hard work leading to a fulfilling life are flawed. He speaks about wanting there to be “a reason for the state as we know it to not exist”, but respects that this is unlikely to happen overnight. “The problem”, according to Marco, “lays with a representative democracy which isn’t actually that democratic, and an economic system where the bottom line is profit and not the collective well-being.”
He raises concerns with recent Labour policies; whilst he sees their domestic policy as worthy of praise, Labour have been “quiet and complicit on some in an attempt to ‘triangulate’ voters”. Marco doesn’t believe they do enough to end barbaric practices such as refugee detention centres.
Whilst Marco’s values are seemingly at core similar to many other young people, the difference for him lies in his exposure to literature and solidity of opinion. He dreams of “a society grounded in compassion and a love for truth, freedom of thought and justice”, but believes that to move towards that, there must be a democratic movement that demands, rather than asks for, power. To him, civil disobedience is the way forward, and to back his points he cites successful socialist led-battles that have led to maternity leave and the weekend amongst other things.
At the end of the final interview, the general sense is that further right-wing students view centrists as too optimistic, whilst those more inclined towards the far-left see them as not optimistic enough. Nonetheless, the core similarity between all four interviewees is that they were all willing to openly and maturely discuss their opinions; something that needs to be seen more in student politics today. It is easy to fall back into the comfort and safety of left-centrist politics, but so much more refreshing, and indeed intellectually stimulating, to intermix with other opinions.
After all, an alternative opinion a day keeps the echo chamber away.