Labour holds seats in Russell Group university constituencies

Image credit: Lili Bidwell

This morning’s election results have seen Labour triumph in many of the UK’s university towns, particularly those of Russell Group universities. Cambridge itself saw the re-election of Labour Party’s Daniel Zeichner, who won the seat with an increased majority.

Zeichner was elected with a margin of 12,661 votes this year, compared to his narrow win of 599 votes in the last election. Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert was next with the second highest number of votes at 16,731, followed by Conservative candidate John Hayward with 9,133 votes, and Green Party’s Stuart Tuckwood with 1,265. Following the announcement of Zeichner’s re-election, Huppert wished him luck for the next five years, while Hayward described the night as “a celebration of freedom and democracy.”

Labour was successful too in holding the seats for several other constituencies that are home to major universities, including Nottingham South (University of Nottingham), Coventry South (University of Warwick), Bristol West (University of Bristol), Leeds Central (University of Leeds), Manchester Central (University of Manchester), Sheffield Central (University of Sheffield), Cardiff South and Penarth (University of Cardiff), Oxford East (University of Oxford), Holborn and St Pancras (University College of London), Birmingham Edgbaston (University of Birmingham), and Durham, City of (University of Durham).

The Labour candidates successfully increased their majorities in many of these constituencies, including Lilian Greenwood with a 14.7 percent increase from last year in Nottingham South, James Cunningham with a 12.8 percent increase in Coventry South, Thangam Debbonaire with a 30.3 percent increase in Bristol West, Hilary Benn with a 15.2 percent increase in Leeds Central, and Anneliese Dodds with a 15.1 percent in Oxford East. This compares to Zeichner’s own 15.9 percent win in the Cambridge constituency.

The Conservative Party, meanwhile, successfully held the Cities of London and Westminster seat, although its candidate Mark Field saw a 7.5 percent drop in votes from the last election, with only 18,005 this time around. The Liberal Democrats managed to win the Bath constituency, which is home to the University of Bath, from the Conservatives, with Wera Hobhouse winning 23,436 votes over Conservative’s Ben Howlett’s 17.742.

The voter turnout in Cambridge itself was 71.4 percent, which is its highest since 1997’s 73 percent, and above the average turnout of around 60 percent. Pundits believe that it was a general surge of the young people’s votes around the country that led to the number of Labour wins, with Jeremy Corbyn himself referencing them during his acceptance speech at Islington: “Politics has changed. Politics is not going back into the box where it was before. What’s happened is people have said they have had quite enough of austerity politics, they have had quite enough of cuts in public expenditure, underfunding out health service, underfunding our schools and our education service, and not giving our young people the chance they deserve in our society.”

Commentator Owen Jones also attributed former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s loss in Sheffield Hallam in part to the fact that “few did as much to undermine young people’s faith in politics in Nick Clegg”, and that “tonight, young people struck back.”

In an interview with The Cambridge Student, Zeichner directly reference the young people vote, saying that their role was “clearly significant, the turnout was much higher than two years ago, and everything tells me it was more young people voting.”

He added that Jeremy Corbyn had “struck a chord” with many young people, and that it was the promise on tuition fees in particular that resonated with them. He himself has promised to push for a more positive approach to future Brexit negotiations.

The Guardian had earlier reported that voter registration by students had risen, with a survey finding that 55 percent of them were planning to vote Labour. More than nine out of 10 of the students who participated in the survey said they had already registered, and were planning to exercise their vote on June 8. Corbyn’s leadership, The Guardian also reported, had apparently seen a boost in student support for Labour, which is up to 55 percent in 2017 from 23 percent in 2005. This increase in student support seems likely, given the successful holding of seats in many of the UK’s constituencies with large universities mentioned above.

This might in part be due to Labour’s promises to abolish tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants, although many from the survey seem to have been doubtful about whether the Party would ultimately actually do so. Corbyn had earlier accused the Conservative government of holding students “back for too long”, and announced that Labour wanted to make it free for people to attend university here by 2018. 

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