Richard Nicholl from Varsity on the Cambridge election campaign

punting08:21 Friday 15th May 2015
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire

DOTTY MCLEOD: Cambridge’s new MP Daniel Zeichner has called them ‘amazing’, the army of student Labour voters who campaigned tirelessly for him to be elected in the city. There are around 15,000 students in Cambridge who are eligible to vote, and with just 599 votes between Daniel and the LibDems’s Julian Huppert, it would be fair to say that it was the students wot won it for Labour. .. Let’s talk to Richard Nicholl who is the political editor of Varsity, Cambridge University’s student newspaper. Richard, they certainly seemed to think they made all the difference during Daniel Zeichner’s campaign. Do you agree?
RICHARD NICHOLL: Well it’s a hard thing to say looking back on it now, but given that there were only 599 votes in it, and the Labour Club were among the most tireless activists I’ve ever seen in my life and outplayed and outflanked the Liberal Democrats at every opportunity, so if I was going to pin it on someone it might as well be them. But they wouldn’t have done it without the local party; they wouldn ‘t have done it without Daniel Zeichner, who came into his own in the last few weeks of the campaign.
DOTTY MCLEOD: You spent some time to write articles about it with the Labour Club and also with the LibDems. What were the differences?
RICHARD NICHOLL: The Labour Club, the only word I could use really is professionalism. The Labour Club were drilled to a ‘T’, whereas the Liberal Democrats were, although they genuinely really loved their candidate, they didn’t have the same kind of professional edge that the Labour Club had. And that seemed to make the difference in the end.
DOTTY MCLEOD: It quite surprises me that you got Cambridge University students who are among the most academic in the country giving up their time so close to Finals and then saying, it doesn’t matter if I drop a few marks in the exams, as long as I get the result I want in the election.
RICHARD NICHOLL: One has to understand these things as being sort of almost like a social thing. They all very much believe in this. They all believe in each other more to the point. And even if they had lost they’d probably say it was time well spent, because it’s something they really love doing, something they really believe in, and something which really matters to them, win or lose.
DOTTY MCLEOD: So it’s kind of a bandwagon, but not in the bad sense of the word.
DOTTY MCLEOD: It’s something they get so caught up with.
RICHARD NICHOLL: They get caught up with it, and it drives them forward, and I think that’s probably a good thing, all things considered.
DOTTY MCLEOD: We have had this text come in from someone who lives in Chesterton in Cambridge, saying ‘Labour’s win in Cambridge: if the student vote helped the win, it’s a shallow triumph for Labour. I don’t see why anyone who is here for only three years should vote here. They should vote in their home town. They just distort the local political makeup.’ That’s a reasonable point, isn ‘t it?
RICHARD NICHOLL: Well to an extent, but not all of them are just there for three years. Some of them are there for four, perhaps even five years, if they’re doing graduate things. And more to the point .. I voted here of course, because my home constituency is a safe seat for the DUP in Northern Ireland, and voting in Cambridge was a wonderful opportunity to vote in a marginal, and have your vote actually make a difference on the national stage. Now it didn’t make a difference to the overall result, but it’s an important thing to be aware of when you’re placing your vote. Am I just going to throw it into a bin if I voted back home, or am I put it somewhere that might actually make some odds to the House of Commons?
DOTTY MCLEOD: And in general, the student population Richard, quite apart from the political clubs, have they been engaged with the election?
RICHARD NICHOLL: Ferociously. Yes. The last article I wrote about it was a comment piece about how much I’d enjoyed the election, how much I felt that pretty much every candidate deserved the win should they get it. And the electorate in Cambridge, the student electorate has been .. obviously they’ve got other things to do, but whenever they’ve had any time at all, it’s all been the election all the time. It’s taken over the place, and it’s a wonderful thing to see.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Well Richard, thank you very much for coming in to my studio this morning, because I know that you’ve got your exams coming up, haven’t you?
RICHARD NICHOLL: I do. I do. But they’ll go how they go.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Yes. OK. Best of luck with those.
RICHARD NICHOLL: Thank you very much.
DOTTY MCLEOD: And I was just saying to you beforehand wasn’t I that if they don’t go too well you can always blame me now.
RICHARD NICHOLL: It’s always good to have a blame figure.
DOTTY MCLEOD: Absolutely. Maybe you’re a future politician with that kind of attitude.
RICHARD NICHOLL: We’ll see what happens. (THEY LAUGH)
DOTTY MCLEOD: Richard, thank you very much for your time. Richard Nicholl there, who is a student at Cambridge University, studies Law, and a political editor of Varsity, one of the student newspapers.