A recent poll by Youthsight has shown huge support for Labour amongst university students – 43% backing Miliband’s party. 24% of those polled support the Conservatives, 6% Lib Dems, 14% Green and 5% UKIP. This is troubling reading for the Lib Dems who in the past have polled very well amongst students. The Lib Dems are even less popular with students with the general public, amongst which they have 10% support.

There are no prizes for guessing why student support for the Lib Dems has plummeted. As Youthsight themselves concluded: “The Liberal Democrats’ reputation both with students and the general electorate continues to be damaged by their participation in the Coalition Government.” The Independent was more specific, reporting that: “Students still feel betrayed over tuition fees.”

If students feel betrayed by the Lib Dems to the extent of withdrawing support for them, then why don’t they withdraw their support for Labour? After all, Labour’s record on many things is absolutely disgraceful. However, you wouldn’t know this from looking at these polls.

It is useful to remind ourselves of Labour’s record. First and foremost there is the Iraq war. It was Labour that took this country into a conflict in which hundreds of thousands of people died – the overwhelming majority of which being Iraqi civilians. Labour took us to war despite massive public opposition and the absence of a credible pretext or legal mandate. They did so despite knowing that to invade would mean Iraqi children would die. They did so despite knowing that to invade would heighten the risk of terror at home. The invasion of Iraq was nothing less than an act of aggression.

The invasion wasn’t even the beginning of Labour’s attack on ordinary Iraqis. Long before the war officially begun in 2003, Labour was supportive of devastating sanctions against Iraq despite knowing what it was doing to the civilian population – estimates put child deaths resulting from sanctions at 500,000. On one particularly shameful occasion, Labour allowed the blocking of a shipment of vaccines that were intended to protect the children of Iraq against diphtheria and yellow fever.

Moreover, support for Palestinians and their struggle against Israeli oppression is widespread amongst students. One would hope that such students, and especially the Labour-supporting ones, know that the Labour government was totally unflinching in its support for Israel; even at the height of their atrocities against Palestinians. For instance, during Operation Cast Lead, when hundreds of women and children were being bombed by Israeli F16 jets, Labour refused to condemn the aggression even though the rest of the world was united in condemnation of Israel (with the obvious exception of the US).

It’s not just Labour’s foreign policy record that is so shameful. There’s plenty on the domestic front that should be of concern to students. There are the countless broken manifesto pledges. The abandonment of the programme of constitutional reform. The cozying-up to the bankers. The failure to challenge the Thatcherite consensus. The erosion of the welfare state (to be sure, it’s not at the same pace as the current government’s but it was certainly there). The huge and increasing gap between rich and poor that they presided over and so on. What should also not be forgotten is Labour’s introduction of….er….’top-up’ fees.

Of course, unlike the Lib Dem’s broken tuition fee pledge, Labour’s shameful record isn’t made up of things that affect students directly. But aren’t students’ voting choices supposed to be better informed by altruistic reasons? Have students simply forgiven Labour because students are forgiving in nature? Probably not, given how quickly they turned on the Liberal Democrats. Are students enthralled by Ed Miliband and his ‘One Nation’ message? Unlikely.

So what can explain Labour getting off so lightly? Some of it is probably thanks to the mainstream media. Many columnists are helpful to Labour in this regard. Student favourites like Nick Cohen and Owen Jones seem content to let Labour off the hook on many things. For instance, Cohen stands by the Iraq war because he believes it can be retroactively justified as a humanitarian intervention (it can’t). Jones makes some good criticism of this current government but doesn’t seem willing to use his public profile to hold Labour to account for what it’s done. I personally asked Jones, via Twitter, to call upon the current Labour leadership to apologise for the Iraq war. He replied that he did not have direct access to the leadership. I wasn’t convinced by this answer. Whilst I accept he might not have Miliband’s mobile phone number to hand, he is a public figure with a huge following and is well respected. An open call for an apology from Jones would undoubtedly be heard.

Another explanation as to why Labour gets away with it is down to the perception of the party i.e., it’s enough for the Labour party to simply be the Labour party. They’re not the Conservatives and therefore not the “nasty party”. Perhaps that’s the crucial point here – they’re not the Tories and unlike the Liberal Democrats, they are not partners with them in a coalition government. That seems to be a probable explanation for much of the support for Labour and the accompanying disdain for the Lib Dems.

Students may well feel betrayed by the Lib Dems but the briefest of glances at Labour’s recent record should make them feel infinitely more betrayed by Labour. It is my view that it is not good enough to simply support a party because of some faith that they are good and not nasty or because of what they once were and what they once represented. Nor is it good enough to support them just because they’re not the Conservatives. Until Labour is held to account and shows signs of contrition, what reasons should students or the public in general have to trust them?

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