The 2015 election event organised by Bournemouth University students created much heated debate among local politicians and students.
Friday’s event was broken up into a series of debates and educational lectures urging students to get involved in politics and vote in May’s general election.
The afternoon debate sparked impassioned debating from a number of local politicians and disgruntled students when Conservative MP for Bournemouth East, Tobias Ellwood, accused 16 year olds of following celebrities instead of voting pragmatically.
In the discussion about engaging young people with politics, Mr Ellwood said: “As a student this is actually the best time of your life from a financial perspective, it may not seem that way right now but, you’ve got a roof over your head, you’ve got an income coming in and you’re studying and you don’t have an awful lot of responsibility.
“That will all change and when it does change that’s when people start to engage in the politics around them and that is the challenge that we face, is to actually get students to participate in elections.”
Mr Ellwood went on to say he would “worry” about giving the vote to 16 years olds like in Scotland as he feared “there might be the wildebeest approach where Justin Bieber says vote one way and suddenly everybody decides to vote that way.”
The debate, also featuring David Hughes the UKIP parliamentary candidate for Bournemouth East, Adrian Oliver, member of the Green Party in it’s South East Dorset branch, Clare Moody, Labour MEP, Conor Burns the Conservative MP for Bournemouth West, Patrick Canavan the Labour parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset and North Poole, Vikki Slade the Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate for Mid Dorset and North Poole and David Ross the Independent parliamentary candidate for Bournemouth East, went on to ridicule Mr Ellwood’s accusation.
Arts University Bournemouth student union President, Dan Broadbent, said to Mr Ellwood: “I’d like to see you do a day in my shoes and tell me that my students don’t have any responsibilities.
“This is a debate with young people and if you want young people’s votes then maybe you should start listening to them and start valuing their opinion.”
Lib Dem candidate, Vikki Slade condemned Mr Ellwood in suggesting him to be “utterly patronising” to the young people at the debate.
But in criticising the Tory MP, Mrs Slade caused further offence to older voters, of which she said: “There are some areas where you could pin a particular coloured rosette on a donkey and people of a certain age would probably vote for them. Younger people don’t do that.
“I wish I heard that people of an older generation actually took that much care about how they vote rather than just do what they’ve always done.”
Mr Ellwood then accused Mrs Slade of also “patronising” the older generation and went on to defend his choice of words, he said: “You are facing a different set of challenges and a different set of responsibilities. It is different from when you have a family or you have children.
“And so what tends to happen is that as you move from being a student where you are looking ahead and progressing, there will come a point by where you will collect more responsibility through family, through work, responsibility for work people as you progress up, that’s what I was painting a picture of.
“Certainly there was no intention to suggest that students have no responsibility at all, that’s wrong, you feel the weight of the world on your shoulders right now.”
He explained that his fear over 16 year olds voting stemmed from a visit he had previously made to a school where students themselves had “placed the concern that actually they didn’t know enough about the system at 16 and they would be worried that there would be personalities who might say things and sway the vote.”
The debate discussed a range of topics including the proposed Navitus Bay wind farm, the rise in tuition fees and the combative nature of UK party politics.
Later in the day leader of the green party Natalie Bennett joined the packed venue to discuss the ‘green surge’, her comments on ISIS and key environmental policies.