Despite more than a year of speculation, it appears Gordon Brown will choose to hold his cards as close to his chest as physically possible in terms of holding an election, waiting on it until the last possible moment. If he announced a snap poll this month, giving the earliest possible notice of three weeks, it would even then be scarcely an early election in the grand scheme of the maximum parliamentary term of five years. Hints have been made by a number of ministers and officials that the election will occur instead on May 6, in keeping with a tradition of slightly summery elections in this country.
All of this is some rather ordinary general knowledge, but it also implies something else: election coverage will begin shortly in the media. Election coverage is a wholly different nature of beast to the standard news coverage. While we are not quite as fawningly personality-centric as America in our elections yet, we’re about to take it to another level when televised debates between main party leaders are introduced this year. Words and body expressions will be analysed to death, middle-aged men will look comfortable meeting classrooms of school children, and every poll will be treated as life and death. As we enter a world of spin and grand standing, fuelled by relentless 24-hour television news, the hot topic issues that dominate every electoral cycle are suddenly met with the possibility of far more radical change than any of the preceding years promised.
While this might sound vaguely annoying, perhaps this is simply because students are rarely on the benefiting end, their irrelevance in winning a parliamentary majority cementing that reality. A good example of this is the NHS; all of a sudden every major party is simultaneously the biggest critic and the biggest potential saviour of the institution. While slamming the way things are run right now, the Conservatives are shying away from anything that sounds like making cuts, instead offering means of, what it at least purports to be, dramatic improvement. When was the last time universities and student finance got anywhere near that kind of exposure and commitment from a political party?
Instead, all parties involved appear semi-committed, at best, to higher education funding: the last party to promise anything truly radically different – the Liberal Democrats – with their commitment to no tuition fees, backed away in order to offer presumably more important promises elsewhere. If higher education received half the hysteria that immigration issues received every election cycles, our universities would be swimming in funding and attention. If students had proved themselves viable as a support base, there would still be a party willing to challenge Peter Mandelson’s assertion that students now have to look at their degrees in terms of “value for money”.
Undoubtedly, the electoral cycle is not without a myriad of frustrations, and the next few months will prove embarrassing and tiresome in equal measure. Their ability to fuel interest and demand for disproportionate commitment from any government, potential or existing, is unparalleled. It is time that students and our lobbying groups, the universities and the NUS, began to demand a piece of the absurdity that are the promises made on the campaign trail. As it is we do not offer half as much vote per buck that plunging support elsewhere does, and until this reality changes, the ease by which cuts can be made to sector compared to others will not go away.