Oxford Council Elections: meet some of the student candidates

Local News National News News

Image Description: brown brick buildings near trees and flowers during daytime

On the 6th May 2021, local elections will be held across the UK. These include elections for local and regional mayors, police and crime commissioners, certain local councils in England, and devolved powers such as the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments and London Assembly. 

There are seats up for election both within the Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council. City Councils are in charge of waste collection, the environment, planning, housing and homelessness, among other things, while County Councils deal with transport, education, social services and other similar issues. If you are a UK student, you are allowed to vote both in Oxford and in your home area, if you’re registered in both. 

Various Oxford University students are running for election. The Oxford Student talked to a few of them to find out more about their experiences campaigning. 

Kelsey Trevett, first-year PPE student at Trinity College running as the Green Party candidate for City Council in the St. Clement’s ward. 

Q: What made you decide to get involved in politics?

For me, politics — especially at a local level — is all about representation, and guaranteeing that decisions about people’s lives, localities, and communities are made by, and not for, them: my interest and involvement in politics really stems from this. As a disabled young person, I know what it can feel like to have decisions which directly affect me made without my input. Natalie Bennett, former Green Party leader and now Green Peer in the House of Lords, once said something along the lines of ‘if you don’t do politics, then you’ll have politics done to you’ – this has really stuck with me.

Q: How have you found balancing your studies with campaigning? 

As is often the case at Oxford, it can sometimes feel challenging to balance academic commitments with extracurricular activities, but on the whole it’s been very manageable, helped by the fact that I’m passionate about and enjoy campaigning and representing the green policies in our Oxford manifesto. Much of the campaign has taken place during the vacation too, which has given me extra time and flexibility.

Q: What does a typical campaign day look like, and how has coronavirus affected campaigning?

I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical campaign day, but Green candidates in Oxford have been doing lots of canvassing and leafleting, which are both now allowed following the easing of restrictions. Covid, and the displacement of students in the city, has made things a bit tricky, so some of our campaigning strategies have had to be revisited and taken online to reach as many eligible Oxford voters as possible, even if the pandemic is preventing them from being in the city physically at the moment — postal votes are going to be really important amongst the student electorate on 6th May.

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the best policies your party is supporting? 

Locally in Oxford, Greens are pushing for more affordable quality housing – Oxford is, after all, one of the most expensive places to live in England outside of London – as well as improved, sustainable public transport options, and efforts to tackle the underlying factors which cause the devastating health inequality in the city. All of these feed into plans to rebuild the economy in a fairer, greener, and more sustainable way following the Covid pandemic, with a meaningful and realistic plan to achieve Oxford City Council’s pledge to reach net-zero by 2030. Longstanding Green Party policies such as the introduction of a universal basic income (UBI) are also key to achieving true social and environmental justice, and whilst it’s great to see these receiving more political engagement as we emerge from the pandemic, words alone aren’t enough.

Q: Why should people vote for you (or for the candidate of your party, in their ward)?

Greens not only understand the extent of social inequality and political under-representation in Oxford, but also have realistic ideas and skill to achieve solutions. The climate crisis isn’t some far-off future threat: we’re seeing its impact today all around the world, and action to tackle it is vital. Ensuring full participation in local democracy, creating a safer, greener, and more equal Oxford, and rethinking Oxford’s economy to protect and restore natural green spaces in the city are all crucial, and only Greens have the credibility and ability to achieve these aims. Social and environmental justice are so intrinsically linked that to tackle either effectively, we must tackle both: Greens recognise this, and have made huge progress in councils across England and Wales.

Theo Jupp, second-year Modern Languages student at St. Peter’s College running as the Liberal Democrat County Council candidate in the Iffley Fields and St Mary’s division, and City Council candidate in the Cowley ward. 

Q: What made you decide to get involved in politics?

We live in one of Europe’s most unequal countries, where the political system favours the status quo. I joined the Lib Dems because they had the most radical proposals for institutional overhaul. A big part of Lib Dem philosophy is that politics should operate from the ground up. Despite 33,000 of Oxford’s 152,000 residents being students, there is pitifully little representation of our views and experiences in local politics, which allows some councillors to play off town against gown for electoral profit. I want to break that vicious circle and provide visible student representation.

Q: How have you found balancing your studies with campaigning?

It helps that I love both my degree and campaigning! It’s not as bad as you’d think. In many ways campaigning actually helps me when I draw a blank on academic work — often I’ll phone canvass some voters or do some policy research to clear my mind and then return to find that all my essay notes magically fit into place. My favourite thing to do is to hit the streets and talk to voters, and I’ve found plenty of time to do that in term time.

Q: What does a typical campaign day look like, and how has coronavirus affected campaigning?

In election periods we’ll spend a lot of time canvassing, knocking on doors to identify people we might want to target with leaflets or social media. I always go canvassing armed with a raincoat, a thermos of blackcurrant tea, a tote bag filled with leaflets, an amber rosette and a friendly smile. The Government only allowed political parties to resume canvassing a month or so ago — it’s important to be mindful of the fact that some people may be shielding or unwilling to talk to us because of the transmission risk, and we have done our best to adapt to this, switching to phone canvassing where necessary. Canvassing is a great way to get to know other activists — and the obligatory trip to the pub afterwards is a lovely way to wind down!

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the best policies your party is supporting?

So hard to choose! My favourite four are: 1) piloting a Drug Consumption Room in Oxford. Drug addiction is a public health issue: it benefits everyone if users have a safe and non-judgemental place in which to consume, where they can seek advice, support or treatment. 2) Decarbonising public transport, introducing a more ambitious Zero Emissions Zone than the current proposal and making sure that every new building is built to net zero carbon standards. 3) Lobbying the local NHS Commissioning Group to fund mental health to the same level as physical health and open day care centres for both. 4) Creating a Lettings Agency for Everyone — a social enterprise run by a charity which will support landlords to house tenants in receipt of benefits, so that no one is priced out of living in Oxford.

Q: Why should people vote for you (or for the candidate of your party, in their ward)?

Unlike the other parties, Oxford Liberal Democrats listen to students. The proof is in the fact that I and other students from both universities contributed directly to the party’s local manifesto. Every single Lib Dem candidate in Oxford is committed to a greener, fairer and more affordable Oxford. Voting Lib Dem on all three ballot papers is the only way to realise that potential. Every Lib Dem councillor elected will be a hardworking, visible and approachable representative — accessible local politics is at the heart of Lib Dem politics after all. Oxford deserves so much better than Labour and the Tories’ catalogue of failures. 

Michael O’Connor, 1st year BPhil student at Balliol College running as the Labour County Council candidate in the University Parks division. 

Q: What made you decide to get involved in politics?

My parents’ house was next door to the local campaign organiser in the part of London where I grew up. In 2018, I spent many hours campaigning for three local candidates. I’ve always trended Labour, but spending time with them made me think that I might actually want to stand as a councillor. I continued campaigning during my time at Oxford and, well, here I am!

Q: How have you found balancing your studies with campaigning?

I’m studying for the BPhil, which is a graduate degree in philosophy. It’s very much focused on self-directed learning, although there are seminars and supervisions, so I haven’t had many scheduling conflicts! To be honest, the campaigning usually comes first…

Q: What does a typical campaign day look like, and how has coronavirus affected campaigning?

Usually, I go out in the evening with the candidates from one of the three city wards that overlaps with my county division. We knock on doors, which we’ve been allowed to do since early March, asking people about their concerns, informing them about Labour policy, and just generally having a chat. Much of my division consists of students, but there are residential areas. At this point, we’ve knocked on every door on every street, sometimes twice. I’ve also delivered leaflets, regular newsletters, calling cards and letters to postal voters. I also make videos, get in contact with people to remind them to register, reply to emails from people in the division and attend meetings of local groups.

Q: In your opinion, what are some of the best policies your party is supporting?

First, the City is rolling out the UK’s first zero emission zone in the city centre this year to meet its target of getting the city to zero emissions by 2040, ten years ahead of government guidelines. It’s also spending huge amounts of money on various other climate initiatives. Second, the City Council has adopted a housing first approach to homelessness, meaning that it’s committed to getting rough sleepers a home before anything else. During the pandemic, it offered housing to every rough sleeper and has devoted funds to continuing this approach: its overall annual budget for homelessness prevention is £9.1million, higher than ever before. I want the County to commit similar amounts of money to this approach. Third, the City Council recently introduced landlord licensing, which means all landlords will have to be licensed to protect tenants and ensure that properties meet basic standards.

Q: Why should people vote for you (or for the candidate of your party, in their ward)?

The County Council, which I’m standing for, is Tory-controlled. They passed a punitive budget last year that really hurt social services and are dragging their feet on the climate. If the County flips, then we could protect public services and the environment much more effectively. We need local government to do these things at a time when the government at Westminster is doing so little. More generally, Labour in Oxford is progressive and effective. The City Council introduced a living wage in 2009, it’s committed to building 620 new council homes, and it’s pursuing progressive policies on homelessness. It’s one of the most progressive councils in the country on the climate, to the point that many wards in the City do not have Green candidates. I will push for all colleges to pay the living wage, for even more ambitious action on climate, and for a renewed focus on our public services. I know that the other candidates I’m standing with will do so too. I am also a student and so understand some of the concerns of young people, and I’ll also be here for a while and serve out my full term.

No candidate from the Conservative Party was available for comment. 

Image Credit: Tetiana SHYSHKINA 

 

Sign up for the newsletter!


Want to contribute? Join our contributors’ group here or email us – click here for contact details