As a young person, it is often difficult to stay connected or informed about politics, we often find ourselves inundated with contradictory propaganda and strong opinions about what is what. It can be quite draining to talk about politics, or to research anything as there is often an overwhelming amount to learn.

But young people’s votes are increasingly important – in the last election 197 seats were won by a majority of under ten per cent. This means that in many areas only a small number of votes could drastically alter the final outcome. In the 2010 elections, according to figures collected by IPSOS Mori, only 44 per cent of young people turned out to vote.

While Russell Brand might have told you that voting is a waste of your time, there are many who feel that he is wrong – in fact, the opposite is true; if we want any say on how the country will be run for the next five years then we will need to vote. If you are determined to protest, the best thing you can do is register, and then submit a blank vote on polling day, these “protest votes” are recorded, and will have much more of an influence than saying nothing at all.

Voting is quite a simple process – If you haven’t done so already you can now register online here, this must be done by April 20, after which you will receive your voter registration card and your polling card, which you can take to your local polling station on May 7, General Election day.

If you are a student living away from home it might be worth looking at figures for the last election for both your home address and your university address – you might find that your vote would have more of an impact in one constituency than it does in another, and you are eligible to vote in either but not both.

Below is a brief outline of what each of the three main political parties is promising to do if they form the next government, as well as a brief summary of each party’s core principles.

The outcome of the May election is by no means clear, and it’s more than possible that one of the main parties may end up either in coalition with, or supported by, one of the smaller parties, for example the Greens, or UKIP. But the composition of the next government at Westminster may yet depend on how much support there is for the Labour party in Scotland, and for the SNP. 

CONSERVATIVES

Core Principles – The Conservative and Unionist Party stand for the conservation of the UK, by allowing individual freedoms. The centre-right party’s priorities lie with ensuring that the economy comes first. Typically conservatives believe in preserving personal freedoms by interfering less with society. Conservatives believe that hardworking people deserve financial security, which generally means lower taxes and a more competitive society. In broad terms conservatives believe that the power and wealth of the country belongs to the people, rather than the government.

Education – The Conservatives have pledged to convert up to 3,500 of the worst schools into academies – which are publicly funded independent schools – these schools have more freedom to govern themselves and have proved to be successful in many cases. (The first academies were introduced under Blair’s Labour government). The Conservative Party has promised to create more university places. The Conservative – Lib Dem coalition cut funding to Universities which saw tuition fees treble, with students now leaving university with around £44,000 of debt. Funding to schools would be cut by an estimated ten per cent if the party is re-elected.

Jobs – Conservatives say that they have helped create 1.7 million new jobs since they took power in 2010 by lowering the jobs tax, and by alleviating it altogether for under 21s. David Cameron has promised to create three million new apprenticeships in a bid to create more jobs for young people. Cameron has also pledged to help small businesses by tripling the number of startup loans to 75,000. These loans will be worth some £300 million and will go to those who do not have the collateral to borrow from banks.

Housing – Conservatives have pledged to help first-time home buyers under 40 by building 100,000 homes that will cost the buyers 20 per cent less than their actual value, these homes will be built on existing brownfield sites. The current  government is also helping people to buy houses with the help-to-buy scheme, where they provide mortgage guarantees to lenders, who in turn are able to offer much more substantial mortgages.

Benefits – A Conservative government would withdraw jobseeker’s allowance from young people after six months, unless they took part in community work. The hope is that this would deter benefit cheats and encourage people to find work. The Conservatives would cut the maximum amount of benefits that a household can claim each year from £26,000 to £23,000.

Law Enforcement – The party has said that they intend to make it much easier for the police to collect information about people using the internet by introducing a new Communications Data bill that would require companies to store more information about online users. David Cameron recently spoke about wanting to ban encrypted communication apps such as WhatsApp. Conservatives have said that they would replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights which would give more powers to the judicial and parliamentary systems.

Europe – The Conservatives have promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU by 2017. The Conservatives are keen to keep some considerable political distance between the UK and the EU and Cameron has said he will work to keep the cost of Europe down, and to keep Britain out of Eurozone bailouts, while still retaining enough involvement in the EU to benefit British businesses.

Healthcare – The party would devote an extra £2bn to “frontline” healthcare. The Conservatives believe that by privatising some areas of the NHS, competition would be encouraged, which the party says would be beneficial to the system. They have pledged to recruit 5,000 more doctors if re-elected.

Tax – The party would increase the personal allowance to £11,000 in 2016, and to £12,500 by 2020, which means that people earning less than this amount would not need to pay income tax. This would apply to many people working for minimum wage. They would also raise the higher tax bands, including raising the band for higher tax from £41,900 to £50,000 by 2020. Overall the tax rates for 30 million people would be reduced.

LABOUR

Core Principles – A ‘socialist democratic party’. Labour favours the common endeavour rather than that of the individual. The party supports an equal society, where the government exercises more control over the population in order to narrow class gaps and ensure that everybody is treated the same. This almost inevitably means an increase in government spending, which in turn will mean an increase in taxes for most people.

Education – Labour have promised an overall increase in the education budget, which would include more funding for schools and nurseries, as well as having pledged to increase in the amount spent on school leavers who choose not to go to university. They will offer a technical baccalaureate program. Labour have said that they will cut tuition fees for students to £6,000 per year. It was a Labour government which first introduced university tuition fees in 1998, and doubled them in 2004.

Jobs – A Labour government would guarantee a job for anyone under the age of 25 who has been unable to find employment for a year, and guarantee a job to anyone else who has been unemployed for two years. The party have said it they will raise the national minimum wage to £8, which would mean an annual income increase of around £3,000 for those working full time at that wage. They have promised to create a million new “high technology”, “green” jobs by 2025.

Housing – Labour has promised a fairer deal to renters, and will cap rent increases in the private sector. They have promised to address the housing crisis by giving councils more power to reduce the number of empty homes, and have pledged to have started building 200,000 homes every year by 2020.

Benefits – Labour says it will cap the rises in child benefits at one per cent for the first two years, they would stop wealthier pensioners from being able to claim a winter fuel allowance and instead provide one million interest free loans to help people insulate their homes. They have said they will repeal the “bedroom tax”, meaning that people would no longer have to pay tax if they have a spare room in their council home.

Law enforcement – Labour would ban convicted sex offenders from working with children. They would increase the number of police on the streets by providing more funding for frontline policing. They claim that they will give local residents more say in how crime fighting is prioritised.

Europe – Labour are pro-European Union and Miliband has claimed that a referendum on the UK’s place as part of the EU would be unlikely under their leadership. However the party has said that if the country was asked to transfer more power to the EU then it would consider holding a referendum.

Healthcare Labour would provide an extra £2.5 billion toward funding the national health system above the amount envisaged by George Osborne for the Conservatives. They have pledged to make sure that the NHS isn’t privatised, and that people will be able to get a GP appointment within 48 hours. The party would increase taxes on tobacco products.

Tax – Labour would increase taxes for the wealthier, including reintroducing a 50 per cent tax for annual earnings exceeding £150,000. Labour would also introduce a “mansion” tax, meaning that people who owned property worth over £2 million would have to forfeit extra taxes – though it is unclear how much these homeowners would actually have to pay. Labour would increase taxes on bankers bonuses and issue a five per cent pay cut for for government ministers. They will combat tax avoidance by introducing fines of up to 100 per cent of tax owed on those that break the rules.

THE LIBERAL DEMOCRATS

Core Principles – The Liberal Democrats constitution outlines the centrist party as one that strives to “safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.” Traditionally the Liberal Democrats have been seen as a middle ground party, or ‘socio-liberalist’, meaning that they believe in the values of a society as well as liberal attitudes.

Education – The Liberal Democrats say that while during the coalition the fees for university students have increased, the rate at which they must pay it back has remained affordable, and they have raised the earnings threshold for repayments, essentially making it a graduate tax. It is a loan in name only to ensure that those who leave the country do not escape paying it. They have promised that if re-elected they will protect the education sector from any further cuts. They have promised to guarantee a core curriculum which will be set by experts and enforced in all state schools.

Jobs – The Lib Dems have promised an extra £1 per hour to the lowest paid apprentices. During the coalition their policies have led to the creation of one million jobs and they promise that if re-elected they will campaign to create one million more. They promise to invest in sectors like technology and manufacturing, in an effort to create a more “hi-tech” economy. They have also promised to create a further 1.8 million new apprenticeships.

Housing – The party have promised to build 300,000 new homes every year, and to create new suburbs around some towns. During the coalition the Lib Dems say that ministers have driven the construction of 190,000 new, affordable homes. If re-elected they promise a campaign to put aside £10 billion to help builders borrow for new housing projects.

Benefits – Nick Clegg, the party leader, has promised that he would not allow Conservative plans to freeze working age benefits should they go into government with them again. The Lib Dems have said that they would revoke some benefits for more wealthy pensioners, in particular the winter fuel allowance, and exemption from paying a TV license.

Law Enforcement – The Liberal Democrats have said that if they are elected outright that they would end prison sentences for personal possession of drugs, and would treat users as patients rather than criminals by providing medical help. They have said that they will make punishments for those found guilty of hate crimes against the LGBT community more severe. There will be an increased focus on mental disorders, and the treatment, this focus will apply to the justice system. Other initiatives include increased funding for tackling gangs, and outlawing “revenge porn”.

Europe – The Lib Dems are pro EU and say that it is important for the UK to retain its influence in the EU. They have pledged to create more jobs from trade in Europe, and to encourage reform in the EU, including cutting waste.

Healthcare – The party will devote an extra £1bn to the NHS, but have said that they would ensure that NHS spending stays in line with the growth of the UK’s economy. The party will encourage more focus on mental health, they’ve said that people who are diagnosed with depression or conditions requiring therapy will be able to see a specialist within 18 weeks of diagnosis, and this will be paid for by the NHS. Young people experiencing psychosis will be able to see someone within two weeks of referral by a doctor.

Tax – If elected, the party will raise the personal allowance for income tax to £11,000 by April 2016 and to £12,500 by 2020. They have promised to tackle the deficit by using stricter laws, including a variation of the “mansion” tax’. They would increase tax on earnings from second homes or shares by 7 per cent.

Feature image: Andrew Postlethwaite