So we’ve decided to commission a series on students on the frontline of politics. We’re going to find students from different political parties to tell us what it’s like to be involved in their party whilst also being a student. We’ll be starting off with Sam Rees, who is a Politics student at Swansea University. He’s telling us about what it’s like being a Lib Dem.
On an early November morning last year, I made a hard decision – but a right decision. Dragging my half-awake body across a cold Singleton Park as the sun was rising, I joined hundreds of other fellow students to travel by coach up to London for one issue. It was an issue that would dominate the news for weeks to come: tuition fees.
Three years before that, I was a rookie politics student in a Cardiff sixth form college. I had yet to vote, join a party, campaign or even engage in a political debate. Yet it was that first year of college – the first term and even the first module of my course – that I found a place for me. That place was within the Liberal Democrats.
Having to research political parties, I looked at the background of all major and minor parties. Labour, Conservatives, Plaid, SNP etc. all had good arguments for different issues. But it was the Liberal Democrats that stood out for me. Votes at sixteen, the scrapping of Trident, voting reform, Lords reform and – yes – tuition fees all won me over. For me, these were not just issues for a few, but issues for everyone, issues that, if implemented, would allow every British person to look to the rest of the world and say: ‘Look what we can achieve’.
Back to November. Walking past Millbank, I can remember the Socialist Workers trying to push me into the Conservative Party HQ. The chants around me, however, were not anger at the Tories. In fact, the word ‘Cameron’ was hardly heard; instead, it was a storm of voices shouting ‘Nick Clegg, shame on you, shame on you for turning blue!’ That day, like the tens of thousands of others who came out to protest, I was angry. Angry that Nick Clegg, the man of the students, had all but lost the trust of the entire country.
In the days and weeks afterwards, reality hit me. Tuition fees were going up. While I’m sure that Liberal Democrat MPs who voted in favour of the raise can spend hours explaining to me why they thought it right to vote as they did, an explanation isn’t what I want. Nick Clegg should apologise to students. While he may think he has not done wrong, trust was lost, a promise was broken, and faith in politicians of all kinds was damaged forever.
Yet despite all this hatred, my place is still in the Liberal Democrats. Their goals, their ideology, their constitution, to me, all show signs that under the Liberal Democrats the country will be better off. I want to live in a nuclear free world. I want to live in a world where elites cannot rule the country. I want to live in a society where every child has a fair start.
That is why, here at Swansea University, I have made it my task to expand the Liberal Youth movement in Swansea. This movement, growing in size, is trying to make this country a better place. Last year saw the Liberal Youth of Swansea all but disappear, but now the movement is back. The feeling of progress has returned. Hatred and anger is making way for campaigning and debating. The Arab Spring saw students rise to praise democracy, and now it’s our turn, as students blessed by democracy for most of our life, to make the most of our privileged freedom.
If you still believe in hope, in progress, then be proud: call yourself a member of the Liberal Youth!