The general election looms large. While it has been one of the shortest run ups to an election that I can remember, it has been one of the most tedious and frustrating in my living memory. Already the word ‘change’ has become so commonplace amidst the political clatter that its very meaning has been sterilised beyond any credibility. It has become a by-word for its anthesis, stagnation, most commonly interpreted on the political and societal landscape as the acceptance of a status quo. Paradoxically though, the only thing that worries me more than hearing the annoyingly predictable clammer of politicians advocating for this ‘change’, is the silence from some quarters, a silence that defines an apparent contentment with the status quo.
The political voice of the student has always been a forceful one. Historically it has been the voice that has challenged the status quo, refusing to accept stagnation of any kind. The determination of its voice afforded the youth of today many institutions and norms we now take for granted. Universities were the bedrock of a more idealistic society, a bane in the existence of the institution and political system. Students served society well, and in turn they served the future even better. It stands to reason then, that an era where students don’t challenge dominant political discourses, or fail to actively engage in the more idealistic view of politics, presents a worrying time for all of us, not least because the young are the only group who can action a vision for a better tomorrow. Contentment with today is something we should loathe to hear from the tongue of any student.
Fine Gael have come to define the todays of the past five years. To their very core, they remain a conservative, old fashioned, right wing party. Historically, their policies stood against the core principles of an idealistic and knowledgeable youth. While progressive voices in Ireland have long understood the need for women to have more control over their own bodies, Fine Gael have repeatedly refused to even engage in any considered debate around abortion, happy to disengage democracy and abandon women with the sole aim of political protectionism. Their most recent reign has seen the introduction of deeply regressive budgets. They have presided over a homelessness crisis, refusing to use their legislative power to create a sustainable rental market, an issue that affects the vast majority of students in UCC. They have been responsible for massive hikes in student contribution charges, have shown scant regard for the protection of our environment, something that will define our tomorrow, and now are attempting to get re-elected on a platform which promises tax cuts over investment in public services, an ideology which landed us in the precipice that was the crash of 2008. Their actions, or lack thereof, are hardly ringing endorsements of them as a political choice for our youth.
Consequently, I’m sure even the most conservative of minds would have predicted a backlash against the blue hues when a national newspaper journalist arrived to the grounds of UCC two weeks ago, camera and solitary question in hand. A two minute clip returned a deeply dismal and bleak outlook for our future. Thirteen students were asked who they would be voting for in the general election; Sinn Fein got one vote, the greens two, the AAA one, an independent one, and most staggering of all, Fine Gael amassed eight endorsements from the small contingent of UCC students. Whatever encouragement I took from a lack of representation for Renua or Fianna Fail, quickly evaporated as I listened to our ‘idealistic, knowledgeable and passionate’ youth struggle to formulate a coherent or logical reason for voting for the most conservative, anti-youth, and outdated political party in Ireland.
I am loathe to criticise the intelligence or motives of any student, but this video was certainly not an endorsement of the ability of our university to create the independent minds it claims to cherish. From protracted pontificating and stares into the distance when asked to elaborate on their reasoning behind voting for Fine Gael, to blatant rehashing of tired slogans from posters, over 60% of the UCC students surveyed in this video appear to be voting for the Fine Gael party because of the recovery, or something. Forget the homelessness crisis, the unprecedented level of national debt, the rise in inequality, the trolley crisis in our hospitals, and the ongoing privatisation of services for the vulnerable, they are but meaningless nuances in the eyes of our youth, apparently.
Watching the video, it’s hard not to get extremely frustrated with the apparent ambivalence and ignorance expressed by my fellow students. Has the contemporary student become so insulated from the reality of the outside world that the pockets of a parent influence their view of political success? Has the supposed recovery of our economy become more important than women’s rights, the protection of the sick and vulnerable, and the safeguarding of our planet in the eyes of our youth? Does the state of our economy now trump the condition of our society? It’s all well and good to repeat political cliches for cameras; understanding the effect a conservative vote can have on a society is a different thing entirely. I don’t doubt that a few of the students interviewed were and are genuine Fine Gael voters, comfortable in that conservative skin, however, I fear that some of those interviewed may vote in blissful ignorance. Having a student populace vote for a conservative, right wing party in a time of great societal suffering, and unprecedented dangers from climate change, marks the dawning of a perilous new era, an era that I would much rather not bear witness to. But more frightening than that, these votes may be devoid of an understanding of their practical ramifications. The general election of 2016 will define so much of our future that it is incumbent upon us all to ensure we make informed votes. Don’t be hoodwinked, or vote with apathy and disassociation. Your informed voice matters. Be informed.