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Labour candidate for Loughborough Stuart Brady (far left) with students from Loughborough University. 

On the Campaign Trail with Loughborough Students Working to Kick the Tories Out

The Conservatives hold a 4,269 majority in the Leicestershire town, which is also home to a 5,000-strong student population.

Bel is tired all the time. Sometimes, it’s because her hands are cramped with cold from leafleting outside the students’ union. Other times, it’s because she woke up early to buy croissants from Lidl to lure people to a rather dull meeting about raising party funds. Then she’s out knocking on doors and smiling as they shut in her face because some people don’t like what she’s saying to them. Bel would stop, but she knows how important her position as leader of the Loughborough Students’ Union Labour Society is to the election result.

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Loughborough, a town in Leicestershire, is a marginal Conservative constituency. The Tories hold a 4,269 majority here, with Labour in second place. It’s also home to Loughborough University, and has a student halls population of 5,899. Though Loughborough is a bellwether seat that has reflected the national result at every general election since February 1974, student Labour campaigners here hope that come the 12th of December, they and their peers can turn the constituency red.

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Students at Loughborough University, which sits in a key marginal constituency.

Right now, Labour is in a good position to win. Loughborough MP and Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan quit unexpectedly at the end of October, citing “impact on my family” as her reason for not standing for reelection. Morgan has been replaced by Jane Hunt, her former caseworker, who stood in past elections in Leicester South, Leicester East and Nottingham South – all without success. Hunt’s plans for the area are difficult to pin down as she doesn’t have a website and her Twitter feed is mostly Boris Johnson retweets or clips from Strictly Come Dancing. Taking on Hunt is 37-year-old Labour candidate Stuart Brady, a barrister who lives in Loughborough.

Brady is coming out to canvass with the LSU Labour Society today. Bel rings to tell him to meet everyone outside a Starbucks near the university campus. “I hope you’re not using single-use plastic coffee cups,” he responds down the phone, followed by a loud, chesty laugh. When Brady arrives, Bel jokes back, “I hope you’re driving your electric car.” Apparently, Brady is always going on about his energy-efficient car, so the students make fun of him for it.

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Bel gets out two iPads and loads up a survey designed by the society’s media secretary, 20-year-old product design student Rowan. It helps the society members ask the students they meet which issues are most important to them, and how likely they are to vote Labour on a scale of one to five (five being the most likely.)

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Bel, leader of the Loughborough Students’ Union Labour Society, at a canvassing session outside the university's library.

The former question helps the society decide on the topics to discuss when speaking to people and handing out leaflets: should they emphasise the Green New Deal or try to explain Labour’s position on Brexit? The latter question is used to identify which students they should follow up with. If someone says that their likelihood of voting Labour is between three and five, the society offers to send email and text updates on Labour policies. Bel says that they leave those who answer ‘one’ or ‘two’ alone. Die-hard Tories don’t tend to change their minds.

According to the LSU Labour Society’s data, Loughborough students named the NHS as their most important issue going into the election. Second to that was Brexit, then tuition fees and the environment.

Bel isn’t surprised that the NHS came up as a top concern among students. “Loughborough Hospital is only for urgent care, broken bones, strokes,” she says. “There is a doctor on campus, but it is tricky because they are catering for over 17,000 students and it’s not a big practice.”

Bel says that mental health provisions on campus aren’t much better. Indeed, a recent Care Quality Commission investigation found that a number of mental health services across Leicestershire now require ‘urgent action’ in order to provide proper care for patients. On a national level, mental health trusts in England have suffered budget cuts of 8 percent, year-on-year, since 2011. Almost a third of all NHS mental health beds have been lost over the past decade, along with 15 percent of mental health nurse posts.

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Loughborough student Rachel is set on voting Labour.

Bel has experienced first-hand the impact poor mental health services can have on students. When she went to see a doctor about her anxiety, the surgery was too overstretched to offer therapy. Instead, she was given antidepressants and sent a link to sign up for a therapy waiting list. When a later bout of severe back pain left her bed-bound, Bel’s mental health spiralled until she was having psychotic episodes.

“I didn’t know what was real and what wasn’t,” she says. “I was put in a hospital for two weeks but they were so understaffed, it didn’t really make any difference. It just kept people in a single space so they could make sure they took their medication. I was there voluntarily, I wasn’t sectioned or anything, so eventually, I just took a holiday in the Netherlands and handled my therapy in my own way.”

Bel continues: “After six months, someone [from the doctors surgery] got in contact to say, ‘Oh, how are you doing?’ I was like, ‘Well, this was six months ago but fine, thanks for asking.’ If I had gotten help sooner, I probably wouldn’t have ended up in such a state.”

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After a short briefing outside Starbucks, Brady and the LSU Labour Society members take the bus to the university library, ready to speak to students. One member, Fern, says that she has a lecture to go to, but then looks at her timetable. “Questionnaire design,” she reads. “I can miss that!”

“Education first,” Brady says, before adding: “Although, you might not have a future if we don’t win this election.”

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Holding bright placards in a prominent position outside the library, the group hands out flyers on the Green New Deal and asks passing students to fill out their iPad survey. I speak to 20-year-old politics student Anna, treasurer of the society. Despite having the flu, she has dragged herself out of bed to be here. She explains how she stops herself from becoming angry when people hold opinions she doesn’t agree with.

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Stuart Brady, Labour candidate for Loughborough, out to canvass with the students.

“If you’re under 25, chances are, you just vote how your parents vote,” Anna says. “Most students agree with Corbyn’s policies, they just don’t know much about them. Last week, I was speaking to this girl who supports the Brexit Party, so many of her concerns were so small – she wasn’t even bothered about immigration. I just said to her, ‘One day, you might be in the position where you’re going to need the NHS. What if you want a baby? Do you want to pay £50,000 to give birth? What if all your teeth fall out? Labour is offering to get rid of dental fees for check-ups.’ By the end, she seemed really interested in what I was saying.”

On the other side of the library entrance, another Labour Society member, 19-year-old politics student Damien, is chatting with two students. One of them is concerned that taxes will get too high for small businesses if Labour wins. “The Conservatives make small businesses pay the same rate of tax as big ones,” Damien argues. “To me, that is nonsensical. Actually, one of Labour’s policies is to introduce a different tax rate between small and medium businesses. It’s places like Amazon and Google that Corbyn is going after, corporations that should contribute more to funding the services our society needs.”

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Meanwhile, Brady is trying to convince a history student that a second referendum on Brexit is a good idea. Nearby, Bel is talking to 21-year-old Rachel, who is already set on voting for Labour, to the point that she has covered her laptop with Stuart Brady leaflets. Rachel does, however, have some concerns about Corbyn’s plans for nationalising broadband. “I think it’s a great idea,” she says. “We live in a digital world, if you want to do your homework, it’s online. If you want to apply for a job, it’s online – gone are the days of handing out CVs. I just worry, is it going to be fast Wifi if everyone has access to it?”

Bel is ready with her response. “Britain has lots of skilled workers who can help to implement this policy,” she says. “We just need the principles of a national health service to apply to a different industry.”

Rachel seems convinced. “That’s what I am talking about,” she says. “Let’s turn Loughborough red.” She walks into the library with more Labour stickers and a promise to turn up on Friday to help the Labour Society with more canvassing.

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Bel looks over at the rest of the society members. “Is it alright if I go to the toilet?” she asks. The group roll their eyes and tell her to go, obviously. Bel speed walks through the library’s revolving doors.

If everyone works this hard, Labour will be in power in no time.

@annielord8 / @wunmio


Ahead of the 2019 General Election, VICE UK has been travelling to key marginals with large student populations, to meet the people living there and find out what's most important to them. Read more from our Swing Party series here.