A university was accused of "threatening democracy" by banning political parties from recruiting.

The days of students as radical political activists have been abandoned at Staffordshire University, where none of the three main parties have branches.

Undergraduates will be invited to join sports clubs and societies ranging from the heavy metal society to the poledancing society.

But there will be no opportunity to join student societies representing the Labour, Conservative or Liberal Democrat parties.

The university, which has campuses in Stafford and Stoke, insists students are free to get involved with party politics but choose not to.

But the Conservatives claim they have been banned, and have set up an online petition urging the university to back down.

Student politics has been a traditional part of undergraduate life and provided a starting point for many politicians.

Black Country MP Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) is a former Chair of Labour Students, the national body representing Labour societies at universities across the country.

Liam Byrne (Lab Hodge Hill), the Birmingham MP and Immigration Minister, was elected to lead the student union at Manchester University.

The Tories have a youth organisation called Conservative Future, which is active in universities, and efforts to establish a branch at Staffordshire University have been led by Owen Meredith, aged 21.

Mr Meredith is a student at Keele University, also in Staffordshire, which already has a Conservative club. But when he tried to set up a branch at Staffordshire, he was turned away.

Staffordshire University Student Union said he couldn't set up a stall at the Clubs, Societies and Volunteering Fair this week.

The only political party will be George Galloway's left-wing party, Respect.

Mr Meredith appealed to the university's managers to overturn the ruling, but they backed the student union.

The union said there was a ban on external organisations.

Mr Meredith said: "Nobody can set up a branch of a political party entirely off their own back. There needs to be some contact with the existing party, because that's what they're going to be joining.

"This is an insult to democracy. For many students, the start of university life is a time to explore new ideas.

"Staffordshire University is preventing students from having the opportunity to explore their political values and preventing informed political choice."

Student Union President Shafqat Ali said: "We are aware of no 'campus ban' on political groups.

"Over the last few years there has been increasing political interest and activity, with students setting up People and Planet, the Student Activist Society and also a Student Respect Society, all of which the Union is able to support."

"It is perhaps more a reflection on the state of British politics than on democracy that in the last two years the Union has not received a single request from a student to set up a Conservative Society or group."

A spokeswoman for the National Union of Students said she was surprised to learn none of the three main parties were represented at Staffordshire University.