Elections 2014: Liberal Democrats – fighting against populism

Thursday’s European and City Council elections are hugely important to Oxford students and I hope there will be a high turnout.  There are important issues at stake in both the EU and here in Oxford, and I hope students will consider these carefully rather than treating the elections as a referendum on Westminster, whatever your views about it.

Oxford City Council has a large Labour majority and repeatedly fails students and residents alike.   Living out this year I’ve experienced Oxford’s private rental market. It combines unaffordable rents with inscrutable landlords and low quality accommodation. The Labour City Council has worsened the experience by introducing an inflexible HMO scheme that mandates expensive building works against the wishes of tenants and landlords alike.Playing to the ‘anti-student’ vote, Labour have also put a cap on the number of shared houses, hiking up rents even further.

The Liberal Democrats believe in effective action to improve housing quality, not anti-student regulations. Unlike Greens or Labour, Liberal Democrats believe that regulations should allow for local flexibility, rather than preventing uncontroversial increases in availability of housing for students.

All agree that more affordable housing will have to be built if Oxford’s housing crisis is to be improved. Despite this, recent developments have focused on increasing Oxford’s retail capacity. The Lib Dems recognise that Oxford’s main economic problem is not an absence of commerce but the lack of housing. In the Oxpens development the only student accommodation proposed acts as a “sound barrier” against railway noise.  This is unacceptable!

Labour are trying to increase rents in the Covered Market by a whopping 70%. We believe that this is unfair to independent traders, risking their financial viability. Lib Dems have called on the council to follow rent recommendations made by independent arbitrators and invest in market facilities properly.

On homelessness we also believe that Labour should be doing more.  Like many students and local councillors, I attended the ‘No to 38%’ protests against the Conservative-run County Council’s cuts to homelessness services. Labour demonstrated utter hypocrisy by rejecting a Lib Dem proposal to provide £100,000 in additional funding.

Both of the City Centre Lib Dem councillors, Mark Mills and Tony Brett, donated all their councillor funds to Oxford Homelessness Pathways. Jericho Candidate Conor McKenzie and I recently successfully nominated the chair of Oxford Homelessness Pathways for a Lord Mayor’s Certificate of Honour. We are committed to social justice and are delighted that Oxford University is extending the living wage to all contractors and staff, a testament to cross-party work on this issue.

UKIP might win the European election, but I’m proud that the Lib Dem campaign has tackled their appalling right-wing rhetoric head on.  We have been quite clear that we are the ‘party of IN’.

When people ask what the benefits of staying in the EU are, it feels like the Monty Python sketch about the Romans.  Oxford students gain so much from our membership. The Erasmus programme means that foreign students can study in this country and UK students can study abroad. Freedom of movement brings a rich diversity of people of all nationalities to this country and means that once we graduate we can work anywhere in Europe.

The UK, and Oxford in particular, is one of the largest recipients of EU funding for scientific research. We receive a billion pounds a year from the EU.  Oxford based Lib Dem MEP Catherine Bearder has championed this investment.

Catherine has also worked hard on important issues like stopping human trafficking and I’m pleased that her work and that of Oxford campaigners has finally led to prosecutions. But for me Europe is more than just the practical benefits which we receive. I’m voting Liberal Democrat because I want to defend the multicultural and open Britain which I love.

Vote for Catherine Bearder our MEP, who is leading the European fight against human trafficking.   Vote for me, Councillor Tony Brett and the rest of the local team who fight for a fairer deal for Oxford students, a fairer deal for market traders and a fairer deal for the homeless. Vote Liberal Democrat because committed candidates with a strong record of delivery should always trump cheap populism and ideological dogma.

Jean Vila is the Liberal Democrat candidate for Holywell Ward

PHOTO: Mike Peel