My school is holding a mock election to coincide with the General Election in May. Inevitably, I’ve ended up organising it, with help from other politically interested teachers. I thought I might keep track of how it develops on this blog, more for my own amusement than anything else. Read from the bottom up for date order. Latest instalment underneath.
The results are in!
It’s been a hectic week. On Monday we held our second Question Time event with the upper years. It all went really rather well. I even managed to squeeze Kirsty Maccoll singing “New England” into the proceedings as the kids filed in to the hall, so it felt like a rally. Alright – I just like the song. Anyway, the only hitch was when a member of the audience asked what the parties’ policies on preventing further gentrification of London were. I think at least three of the panel weren’t entirely sure what “gentrification” meant, so the answers were even vaguer than David Cameron’s on where he’s going to find his £12bn cuts from the welfare budget.
Each party also then spoke to four main school assemblies during the rest of the week, and this went very well, although our Tory Boris-a-like sixth form boy ducked out and passed the baton to one of his Year 11 helpers, who was plainly terrified. She did a great job, but I fear that, at a crucial time, the Tories may have negated one of their key vote-winning weapons in our girls’ school : being a boy.
Election day was today, and the teachers duly filed all of KS3&4 into voting booths, complete with carefully labelled voting slips, and colourfully decorated ballot boxes (the uses you can put an old pack-of-50 exercise book box are endless). Then a count in the library after lunchtime, using a spreadsheet carefully designed for just this purpose by our very own version of Peter Snow from the maths department. It was a marvellous thing to behold, and its impressiveness was not in the least reduced by one of the Year 9 helpers noticing that he’d missed out two sixth form classes. Hurried amendments were made.
The results, then, of this early contest for the 2015 General Election are [drumroll……………]
|Seats||Total||General Election Winner||Greatest share of the vote|
|Total Votes Cast||Conservative||Labour||Liberal Democrat||Green||Total Votes||School Roll|
|Votes||304||512||124||286||1226||1435||Number of students|
|Share of Votes||Conservative||Labour||Liberal Democrat||Green||Total Share|
|Share (%) of Votes||24.8||41.8||10.1||23.3||100|
Well, who’d have thought it ?! I didn’t see that coming. I expected a much closer split between Labour, Tories and Greens, based on campaign feedback. But it was a landslide for Labour – our very own 1945.
The Labour vote was strong throughout all the years, while the Greens became stronger as the students got older (not what I was expecting at all). By Years 10 and 11, the LibDems and Tory votes were almost non-existent. Could this be the height of teenage rebellion against Tory parents ?
The Tories tended to do better both in Year 7 and in sixth form. The former is possibly that residual family effect of our school being situated in a rock-solid Tory constituency, while the latter may reflect the fact that we pick up a number of boys in sixth form, often from local private schools. Anecdotally, the students reported that the sixth form boys were more Tory-inclined than the girls, but other than that conjecturing, I couldn’t explain it.
I was delighted for our LibDem campaign, as she’s been a marvellous one-woman band, as she managed to snag a single class, and I suspect out-performed the forthcoming LibDem vote nationally next week. There was one interesting statistical oddity, which is that the LibDems gained nearly half their votes from Year 7 classes alone. My students told me this is because one of our science teachers, who is very popular with his classes, teaches a lot of Year 7 classes. He also happens to be a local LibDem Parliamentary candidate in this election, and introduced this week’s political assemblies with lots of pictures of him with LibDem logos. Typical LibDems – it’s the personal vote which saves their hides!
Finally, UKIP. Apparently, some boys in sixth form turned up at the ballot box demanding to know where the UKIP option was. When one of our Year 13 girls told them there was no such option, they moaned. She, rather forcefully, told them that if they were so keen on UKIP they should have “bloody well got off their lazy arses and volunteered to run a campaign”. Have you ever seen a cocky sixteen-year-old boy visibly deflate in the face of a contemptuous 18-year-old girl ? It should be an internet meme.
Anyway, UKIP supporters probably indicated their presence through the spoiled ballots, of which there were very few – just 37, or 2.5%. Some of these had written in “UKIP” (and a couple misspelled “UKIP”, which probably tells you something). Others had simply drawn that time-honoured student symbol of disengagement : the hastily-sketched cock-and-balls. And, being a school, “UR Mum” also won two votes. Which is more than the LibDems got in 32 of the 61 classes, so well done, UR Mum, whoever’s mum UR.
On a serious note, this election has demonstrated a few things to me :
- Young people WILL engage in serious politics. You would not believe the political discussions which teachers have reported hearing around the school site. These kids are hungry to know about the world, and they are more informed than an awful lot of adults who will vote next Thursday.
- Politicians need to pull their heads out of their arses and engage with young people. I’m sick of hearing the same politicians who say they passionately believe that we need to somehow re-engage young people with politics, then turn around and deride attempts to do just that. It’s worth noting that one of my sensible, clever Y12 boys told me today that he had been positively influenced by Miliband’s interview with Russell Brand, for example. The older generation might not like it, but if they’re not willing to even try, then they will reap the whirlwind of disconnect.
- Most young people are grounded and sensible in their views. They understand life isn’t simple, and they are willing to listen and to weigh up options. At the same time, politicians will connect to them not through spreadsheets, but through values. Young people are intensely moral, and have a cast-iron sense of “fairness”. They’re much more likely to respond to hope and optimism, than they are to fear and selfishness. Hence, I suspect, their contempt for UKIP.
Now an admission. Like many adults, I rarely change my mind on significant political issues. I’m as guilty of hidebound thinking as the next man, and although I obviously think I’m right (why would I hold an opinion if I thought it was wrong?), and I like to say I’m open-minded, I generally do the whole confirmation-bias thing and such shifts in opinion are few and far between. Yet this election has changed my mind on one key issue. I never supported votes for 16 year-olds. I thought they were too immature, that they would vote on silly issues, that they would be prey to the sort of hate- and fear- filled scaremongering and lies which our tabloids pump out every single day.
They won’t know it, but there were times on the hall stage this week when I could barely speak for fear of inadvertent teary gulps of pride emerging as I watched the student panellists genuinely debate points of difference with intelligence, humility and cynicism-free commitment. And when students who I’d dismissed as more interested in shopping and boys than economics and nuclear deterrents, suddenly delivered wholly unexpected, yet entirely valid, arguments to their friends on why they should vote a certain way, I was left speechless, at both the depth of their informed opinion, and at my own error of judgement.
My students, in this election, have shown me that I was completely, and utterly, wrong. Of course they should vote. They should be allowed to bring their passion, their idealism, their intelligence and their perspective into our country’s political life. We’d all be better for it.
Day 30 – Posters
The Great Poster War has been a sight to behold. Most posters have been quickly dashed-off black and white jobs, rebutting whatever was on an opposition poster that morning. There have been cases of Labour putting up a poster in the morning, the Greens rebutting that poster at lunchtime, and Labour getting a rebuttal of the rebuttal in by the end of the school day. You can’t fault the effort ! A few posters have obviously taken a bit longer to source or create, and so, without further ado, I give you a selection from each party :
Greens Simple, eye-catching messages from the Greens. They really hit home with the women poster, as you’d expect in a girls’ school. Much resentment from other parties about the Greens’ apparently endless supply of lovely, glossy, colour posters. I’ve pointed out that if a student’s mother is a keen Green fan, and willing to spend her own cash on printer ink, then that’s a valuable lesson about the need to reform campaign finance. That missing apostrophe in the first one is killing my teacher’s soul, by the way.
A lot of Labour’s posters attack the Greens for their tree-killing profligacy with their own posters. One clever one, which I don’t have electronically, sadly, showed a cool, red, Labour motorbike next to a Green battered child’s scooter, thus casting aspersions on the maturity of Green policies. Well-targeted at an audience of teenage girls for whom the only aspiration more important than being cool, is being seen to be grown-up, this one hit home. However, their most effective shots have been against the old enemy, the Tories. These “Mean Girls” themed posters have girls chortling all over school. Don’t worry if you don’t understand it : you’re not the target audience.
The Tories went for a rather statistic-based approach. Lots of sensible stuff about the economy, and a few sideswipes at the other parties. Of all the parties, they’ve probably run the “cleanest” campaign, although any claims to moral superiority were dashed when the Tory panellist at the lower school question time, as the only boy (sixth former), played the Boris Card of affable-but-slightly-eccentric-chap-ness to win over an already sympathetic entirely female audience, to the visible and growing frustration of the girls on the panel.
I have a soft spot for the LibDems. Mostly because they’re now actually a LibDem. The original small team of enthusiasts has become a team of, well, one. There’s a bit of a lesson there for what’s happening to the LibDems nationally, I’m sure. But that one, solitary yellow bird has worked her socks off as spokesperson, speechwriter, poster producer and canvasser. Despite the fact that she’s now seen three polls giving 50% leads to each of the other three parties, while LibDem voters remain thinner on the ground than Ming Campell’s hairline. What I particularly admire is that her early efforts were sensible and sober, such as these :
But as it became clear that nothing much was working, she indulged a very British impulse to say “bugger it, if I’m going to lose, I’ll at least go down laughing!”. Hence a subtle change in poster design – see if you can spot it.
Believe it or not, the Greens have also produced a Party Political Broadcast which was really rather slick and professional, and has been shown in every form in school, much to the slightly snippy despair of the Labour Party, who are desperately trying to produce their own before the vote next Friday. I can’t show it here, because it has students on it, but take my word for it – the election is hotter than One Direction in this small corner of the southeast !
Day 25 – Polls
Election time is hotting up, and we’re now only two weeks away from the big day. I think it’s fair to say that there is considerable interest in the student body. Or at least, considerable interest in what has become a vicious and partisan poster campaign. The school is festooned with Green, Red and Blue posters (Yellows are struggling, bless them), and new designs come out almost daily. The Labour Party have gone on the offensive with a series of “Mean Girls” themed posters which leave me a little confused, but apparently have great purchase with the students. The Greens are under attack by all and sundry for their profligate pamphleteering, which other parties allege contradicts their commitment to recycling (dirty tabloid politics – I love it). The Tories, meanwhile, felt compelled to counter an accusation of being insufficiently female by plastering a picture of the great she-elephant herself, Thatcher, on the front of their latest offering – counter-productive or a stroke of genius, who can say ?
I’m hoping to bring a blog update with posters when I can just get the buggers to email them to me. However, today is about polls. No election is the same without polls. We are conducting a series of polls in the run up to the big vote, and posting them on the school’s website so that form groups can stay up to speed with how the swings are, well, swinging. This is being masterminded by the maths department, who are using it as a cross-curricular exercise in statistics. It’s the sort of joined-up thinking which I’d love to claim credit for, but I can’t. We have a rather excellent AHT whose official job title is “AHT for All The Difficult Things Which Don’t Go Anywhere Else“, and that includes PSHE, Citizenship, “joining up”, and, of course, “Britishness”. So she’s having a whale of a time pumping out election-related resources for all sorts of different angles. Originally the mathmos wanted to do this in a logical and rational way. They wanted to hold a hands-up poll of each class every week, recording voting intentions. You see, that’s the problem with these right/wrong subjects – there’s no basic understanding of theatre. So the conversation went like this :
Me : “You can’t do that.”
Mathmo : “Why not?”
Me : “Because it would give us the result of the election straight away. By polling everyone, you’re basically holding the election, and then everyone knows the result.”
Mathmo : “But the campaign might change people’s minds.”
Me : “Not many. There might be a few swing voters, but not enough to change anything, Most people just find the campaign confirms what they were already going to do. For example, the Greens are likely to win big here. So if we poll the school, and it shows a big Green majority, then all the other parties get disheartened and give up. We have to maintain suspense.”
Mathmo : “You mean lie ?”
Me : “Certainly not. We just have to be creative in order to maintain the illusion that it’s all to play for. So only poll randomly, certain groups at a time. Nothing which might make the outcome too clear.”
Mathmo : “Like all of Year 7?”
Me : “No, not ALL of Year 7. But a sample. Something that leaves us wiggle room. Got to keep the election interesting.”
Mathmo : “I see. Isn’t this a little corrupt ?”
Me : “Think of it as our equivalent of Michael Ashcroft’s polls, which always seem to produce results which suit his agenda. It’s a long and honourable political tradition.”
Mathmo : “Understood”.
I have to say I was slightly surprised. But then Year 7 aren’t the most sophisticated political audience. It’s possible that the pollsters (a group of Y9 girls), just asked them what their favourite colour was out of the four. However, a strong lead for the Tories in this safe Tory seat, possibly reflecting the residual parental influence. Then this one came out for a sample of Year 8s.
Hmm. The only consistent part is that the poor old LibDem supporters are looking rarer than popular Ofsted inspector. The huge switch around concerns me a tad. Did my mathematical friends truly understand what I meant by keeping it open ? Will the next poll of Year 9s record a massive Labour majority as the pollsters give the reds a turn at keeping the election open ? If so, I might have to go back to that drawing board again. Later this week, when I next get my head out of Y13 coursework marking, an update on the first of the political Question Time events to Years 8, 9 and 10, which took place today. Democracy is a funny old game, but alive and kicking (each other, mostly) in at least one school.
Edit : New poll out for Year 9s
Oh dear. Still, look on the bright side. Looks like the LIbDems might finally see some support when the Year 10 poll shows them with a 50% majority next week !
Day 7 – Tradition
The first posters are going up. With admirable restraint, the students have chosen only positive messages about their own party. However, that hasn’t prevented that great old English electoral tradition of poster-defacing from rearing its head. I’m slightly conflicted on this issue. I think any school election which involves posters is going to see graffiti. It’s as inevitable as a Tory cabinet minister seeking a directorship in a public service he privatised. So there’s no point getting uptight about it. However, one also has to try and engage the students in the election as a serious issue, and having Nick Clegg with a felt-tipped penis growing out of his head on every LibDem poster is hardly conducive to that. So the rule I put in place was that if the graffiti is political, or witty, then teachers wouldn’t take it down (campaign teams are free to inspect and replace their own posters, naturally). However, if it was “inappropriate”, we’d take it down. By the way, don’t we teachers just love that word “inappropriate” ? It covers everything from a kid muttering a mild curse when she can’t work out a tricky question, to a drunken maths teacher dropping his trousers in front of an assembly. Has there ever been such a marvellously flexible word ? But I digress…
So far, the main issue appears to have been the Green Party’s posters (carefully advertising that they’re printed on recycled paper) being torn down by rivals. I suspect Labour, as only they have the bodies to get around the school site, but I have no proof. However, there has been the emergence of a nascent political graffiti talent : the Conservative Party have produced some lovely professional posters setting out comparative growth rates of different economies, and claiming Cameron has delivered better economic growth. The posters end with the party logo, a picture of Our Dave, and implore students to “Vote Conservative“. To which some naughty soul has just added the word “Don’t“. Simple, but effective. And when I find the teacher who’s doing it…
Day 3- Loonies
Kid : “Sir, can we have a campaign for the Monster Raving Loony Party?”
Me : “No.”
Kid : “Oh. Why not ?”
Me : “Because you’d win.”
Kid : “No we wouldn’t.”
Me : “Yes you would. Comedy parties nearly always win school elections. If there’s a comedy party, the younger kids will vote for them because it promises them fairy wings as a school uniform, or free chocolate in every class, while the older kids vote for it because they think it’s a bit cooler and less neeky than voting for a serious party talking about serious issues.”
Kid : “But isn’t that the point, sir ? To try to win ?”
Me : “It would be if this was a real election. But it’s not. The point is to try and get a one and a half thousand kids in this corner of London to actually engage in politics seriously, so that they don’t grow up to be the sort of people who say “I don’t vote, they’re all just the same”.
Kid : “It’s just a bit of fun, sir.”
Me : “I know, but that’s WHY I’m saying no. Because politics is hard. It requires engagement, and effort. People should think about issues like tax, public services and foreign relations before they choose their government. Monster Raving Loony nonsense allows them to avoid having to think, and lets them duck hard choices about serious issues in the real world. It’s a cop-out. Your “just a bit of fun” is my “undermining democracy”.
Kid : [pause] [looks a bit crestfallen]
Me : [taking pity on kid] “Look I think your desire to get involved is great. You’re a clever girl, and you could really make a contribution. If you’re keen to take part, then we haven’t got any UKIP campaign at the moment. They’ve got some actual loony policies, so you could run that if you like.”
Kid : [looks offended] “Ukip!? No thanks ! I’m not gonna support UKIP.”
Me : “But you were happy with the Monster Raving Loony Party ?”
Kid : “Yeah, but UKIP aren’t funny. They’re just mad.”
Me : “Right. Errr. Enjoy the rest of your lunch.”
Kid : “Ok, thanks sir.”
Each of Y10,11,12&13 assemblies was addressed. I had no idea how many kids would want to take part, but was pleasantly surprised to find about 50 students packing into a sweaty classroom. It was particularly pleasing because I deliberately hadn’t told them that they were going to be released from the loathed weekly PSHE lessons to work on the campaign (on the grounds that I didn’t want every kid in the school volunteering for that very reason). So when I did tell these selfless politicos about the unexpected bonus for their enthusiasm, the cheer almost broke the windows. The plan was to divide them up into 5 party teams – UKIP, Tory, LibDem, Labour and Green. This was a volunteers-only job. Partly to ensure we get real commitment and enthusiasm, and partly to avoid any press-ganged students running a comedy campaign.
An admission : I was forced to be the Tory candidate in my school election in one of the reddest seats in the country back in 1987, and the experience scarred me for life; I ran a hang ’em and flog ’em campaign on the grounds that there’s nothing so conservative as a traditional working class Labour constituency, and was doing remarkably well until the campaign posters started to be vandalised to suggest I had some form of unpleasant venereal disease. This was horrible, because on the one hand, as a rather lower-division 17-year-old in the attractiveness stakes, I wasn’t actually in a position to have contracted anything from a girl, but on the other hand, I very much wanted the other lads to think that I could have done, so I didn’t know whether to tear the vandalised posters down, or leave them up! So I wasn’t forcing anybody to take up the fight for an organisation they didn’t believe in.
Dividing up the spoils
The 50ish kids divided roughly as follows in terms of volunteers. This is in a very Conservative area, although it’s a comprehensive school in a selective LEA, so I wasn’t entirely sure which way things were going to divide. Based on previous observations of my students, I’ve always noticed that the most politically motivated/interested tend to come from the upper ability range, and there’s usually a correlation between the upper ability range and left-of-centre leanings. The group of kids in front of me were certainly disproportionately from the upper ability range of their cohorts, so perhaps the roll-call wasn’t too surprising :
Greens – 15 Labour – 25 LibDems – 5 Tories – 6 Ukip – 0
Yes, UKIP had zero support. I won’t deny that I’m proud of the kids in my school. I was happy to be able to immediately take an executive decision to run a four-party election. The first result of the school election is thus a resounding loss for UKIP. We’re off to a good start !
Stereotypes start young
Having sent them off to their campaign bases, I then did a quick trip around to ensure they were appointing their campaign manager and starting to plan their first posters. How they went about that is an excellent reminder that many stereotypes have some sort of basis in fact.
The Tories were 5 girls and a boy. The girls immediately elected the boy as the campaign manager, and he started telling them what to do.
The LibDems started plotting a highly localised campaign of targeting different year groups and form groups with different messages.
The Labour group held a very civilized contested election for campaign manager, and then set up a series of sub-committees to consider how to plan their approach. Nothing much was decided.
The Greens struggled to appoint a campaign manager, as nobody wanted to be seen to be too pushy. When one student finally accepted the role, she argued that the main selling point of their campaign should be the promise to legalise marijuana.
I’m the gatekeeper for the campaign literature. When I told each group that I would tolerate a moderate amount of negative campaigning, many teenage eyes glittered with malevolent joy. Place your bets now for when the first Miliband-and-bacon-butty picture appears.