The last few weeks has seen quite an alarming exodus of Labour councillors at Oxford City hall, triggering three different by-elections in consecutive weeks. Whilst their tactic of staggered elections is nothing but a waste of public funds, there is something deeply disconcerting and undemocratic about the by-election called by Labour for the 4th of September in Carfax ward.
70 percent of the population of Carfax ward are students. The ward covers the population of in-college students from eight of the university’s Colleges; Balliol, St. Johns, Keble, Lincoln, Exeter, Trinity, Regents Park and Jesus, as well as any students living on the roads in between.
Students deserve representation where they reside
Its demographics make it a well contested ward and this is shown in that the Greens, the Lib Dems and Labour have all managed to win elections in it over the past 10 years. 2014 was no exception as the student vote managed to pull the Greens over the line with them finishing just 35 votes ahead of Labour. The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats also both polled well.
Simply put, the Greens probably won the seat because they were more popular with student population of the ward than Labour were. Please don’t think I use ‘Student Vote’ in a bad way here. Students deserve representation where they reside. In calling this election when the majority of the student population of the ward whom in turn make up 70 percent of the population of Carfax, the council denies us of this representation. This isn’t a criticism of the outgoing councillor herself. I know nothing of her circumstances and know better than to jump to conclusions, but the council appears to have been particularly underhand by forcing this election right now rather than waiting just a few weeks. The results from May’s election show Labour (who control the city council) stand a much better chance of winning if students are away. We should all be pretty pissed off right now.
So what can we do about this? Firstly, if you live in the aforementioned colleges, it’s easy to register for a postal vote, but the time is very short. You can register for a postal vote here by the 19th August. It’s very quick and easy, and it will prevent you from being disenfranchised.
Secondly, we must show that trying to avoid students voting is not acceptable. I don’t know Alex Hollingsworth, the Labour candidate, and I’m sure he is a great guy, but we can’t let Labour think it is okay to call an election when most of the voters are absent. There are other strong candidates though with good connections to the university who would make great representatives and also come from parties who seem to hold local democracy in a little more stead. There’s Maryam Ahmed, a graduate student from Wolfson running for the Conservatives, who would no doubt make a good representative. And then there is Tony Brett for the Liberal Democrats, who is an ex-student of Corpus Christi, and now works for the university itself, meaning he can understand being a student from more than one angle. He also has experience of representing Carfax before, so has the experience and links to get stuff done.
Register for a postal vote here
However, whatever you eventually decide, please just make sure you aren’t denied your choice. Register for a postal vote if you live in the Carfax ward, and show that it is important for the council and for political parties to listen to and understand the student vote.
Andy McKay was a Co-Chair of Oxford University Liberal Democrats during Hilary and Trinity term last year and currently studies Human Sciences at Wadham College