Sophie Merville, 18, of Fleetwood, is a first time voter. Today’s the day when she finally has her say on the shape of things to come for her local community.
Sophie’s choice is a firm NO to AV... the Alternative Vote, on the basis, she says, that it could “produce unstable results.”
“I prefer first past the post,” she adds.
Politics is a turn-off for many teenagers, but not Sophie, who knows it affects everything we do in our day-to-day lives.
The education we receive, the quality of housing we live in, the amount of money in our pockets and the quality of life we have in the future all come as a result of politics – particularly at a time when so many services, including those specifically aimed at young people, are being cut back.
“I can’t remember not being interested in politics. How can you not take an interest? I’d like to see more investment in Wyre, clean the place up, make it a better place to live, and learn, and work and raise a family.”
Her leanings are right-wing, more Conservative by nature, and inclination, she admits, than Labour.
“I don’t like the Lib Dems at all, especially given their about-turn on student loans.
“They have broken promises. All politicians do, I know, but it’s been so obvious it’s been hard to take.”
Sophie is one of six students keen to talk politics on today, election day, from Blackpool and The Fylde College.
All six are on the government and politics course – and all six are there because they wish to be there. They are political creatures by instinct, rather than background.
The courses, run by tutor David Hesp, aim to give students a thorough insight into the central processes and institutions of British government and politics – and have an enviably high pass rate – 100 per cent last year.
Topics covered include democracy, elections, political parties, parliament, the Prime Minister and constitutional reform.
Local councils and allied local issues don’t tend to figure high on the agenda, dubbed “pavement politics” by lecturer David, but it’s heartening to note students are aware of their local council’s influence on their daily lives even if they can’t necessarily identify their (pre-election) ward councillor.
For them it boils down to reinvestment in the college, the buses they take to reach classes (there’s widespread condemnation of public transport links to the college), the cash they consider wasted on cycle hire schemes and new road designs in Blackpool... with Basia Sooky, 18, singling out Bond Street’s redesign as an example of trade being clobbered in the interests of improved aesthetics. Laura Barry, 17, is also “appalled at roadworks everywhere”.
They also argue the need for more part-time jobs for students (to help offset rising costs of education), and additional facilities for young people – at a time when specialist youth advice and support schemes are at risk – and opening up more local attractions, at discount rates, for residents.
“If Blackpool residents are loaning the Pleasure Beach money through council support isn’t it time they dropped the walk-on fee?” says Callum Wilson, 19. “Or gave residents a discount card to give them admission to all the attractions.”
Basia adds: “That’s something that would make us all feel part of Blackpool, rather than look on from the sidelines and consider all the investment is for the visitors.”
“Let’s get the locals going to Blackpool instead of other places,” adds Jonny Parker, 19.
Tutor David encourages students to express views and opinions, although he doesn’t believe the voting age should be lowered to 16. “My feeling is it’s too early,” he said.
His politically formative years were the early 60s when British establishment (and Macmillan’s government) was rocked by the moral decay epitomised by the Profumo scandal. The classes, which take place in the A Level Academy of the Bispham campus, also give students the chance to meet politicians.
Their tutor is delighted Labour will bring its regional conference to Blackpool in November, 1,000 or more delegates here. “We used to regularly visit the conferences, it was a great experience for students,” he adds.
Adam Evenson, 17, says his interest in politics was sparked by Britain’s entry into Iraq. “The mistakes made today shape our lives,” he adds. “I would love the chance to vote and have my say.”
“My mum used to tell me how bad Thatcher was,” adds Callum, of mining stock. “I learned to form my own opinions.”
Jonny says his interest in politics stems from wanting to know “how everything works”.
Some believe AV will promote “clear leadership” while others fearing it could add to confusion and lead to extremist candidates gaining ground.
Callum concludes: “It’s a stop-gap on the road to proportional representation which is a far better system. No one votes for a coalition.”
And Basia sums up what each student would welcome – in an ideal world: “For politicians to keep their promises. Stop letting us down. Stop letting yourselves down.”