Bristol Post Column: Students will be influential in election

THEY say just a week is a long time in politics, but for me the last five years seem to have whizzed by. Once again I find myself working flat out in the run-up to a crucial election and once again the 'experts' are making early predictions about what will happen come May.

Will there be another coalition? Are we on the verge of five party politics in the UK? And, of course, how influential will the student vote be?

For myself and the Liberal Democrats the latter question is one that is frequently asked. After all, Bristol West is home to thousands of students, the vast majority of whom will be voting in their first election. They will, of course, be influential in the election and I always enjoy returning to the university for society debates, interviews and Q&A sessions. Fielding questions from enthusiastic, engaging young people is never dull (unlike some of my other parliamentary duties).

Understandably, tuition fees is a prevalent topic when I meet both current students and alumni, but I don't subscribe to the idea that Liberal Democrats have 'lost' the student vote. We now have record numbers of admissions to universities across the country, including significant increases in applications from those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

As well as insisting that the repayment system is fairer and more progressive, we have also introduced government loans for postgraduate courses so that for the first time students won't have to fund their own Masters upfront or rely on high-interest bank loans.That said, I know from involvement in every general election in Bristol West since my own first vote as a student in 1987 that students vote on a range of issues, not just higher education funding.

Foremost in the minds of most students will be their job prospects on graduation. The good news in this regard is that the graduate jobs market is now in full recovery, with excellent opportunities and salaries available for Bristol graduates.

Certainly, a key priority for the Lib Dems and I in government has been to stabilise the economy and boost growth across the country. I am delighted that the UK is now the fastest growing economy of developed nations and there has been a steady decline in unemployment over recent years. In Bristol West, unemployment is now almost half what it was in May 2010 and across the city over 18,000 apprenticeships have been created under the Coalition.

The upcoming election is going to be one of the toughest I have fought and certainly nationwide it is a very difficult one to predict.

However, I hope that my record of delivery in Bristol will speak for itself. I am fiercely proud to be the MP for such a vibrant, exciting constituency and I hope to be representing Bristol West in Parliament for years to come.

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