On running for Oxfordshire County Council

Former OULC co-chair Lucas Bertholdi-Saad on his experience of running for county council in Summertown & Wolvercote – and why he did it.

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*record scratch*

*freeze frame*

Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I ended up in this situation.

*flashback*

I joined the Labour Party the day after the 2015 general election; I decided that if I really did believe in making the world a better place, then I should start doing something serious about that. Back home in London, I got involved in Jeremy Corbyn‘s leadership campaign, and when I got to Oxford that October, I went straight to OULC. I felt a little uncomfortable at OULC meetings at first, but I loved canvassing – it got me out of bed on a Sunday morning, I met lots of interesting people, and learned a bit more about the city I was starting to call home.

Taking a Stand

Soon I was OULC’s campaigns officer. In the 2016 City Council elections, I campaigned for my friend and fellow OULC member Dan Iley-Williamson, council candidate in the ‘unwinnable’ seat of Holywell. I started going to the all-members meetings, finding out more about the Oxford Labour Party, and in May I was at the count where I saw Dan win his seat and another victory for Labour in Oxford!

So when, over the summer, an email went round to all members asking for people to run for county council, I thought about it. I had’t expected to, but the email had said the party was especially looking for young people, BME people, and women, to stand as candidates, so that Labour can better represent Oxford’s diversity. I don’t identify as a woman, but I thought to myself – two out of three ain’t bad.

There were a couple of steps after that, of course. You need to declare some interests, have an interview to check you’re not an incorrigible rogue itching to bring the party into disrepute, but it was generally nice and smooth. Suddenly, I was approved to stand as a councillor, if a branch wanted me.

Summertown and Wolvercote

As a Wadhamite, I live out this year, near the Iffley running track. Sometimes getting into town and to college feels like a bit of a trip. Sometimes I go up to St Hugh’s College for OUSU. Sometimes I’ve been up to Wadham’s Merifield annexe in Summertown to see friends or play football. Merifield is quite a bit further out than St Hugh’s, on the very bottom edge of Summertown.

Summertown is the neighbourhood in North Oxford from Merifield up to the ringroad, with roads of pretty (and pretty big) detached and semi-detached houses branching off and between the Woodstock and Banbury roads. There’s a nice high street, and a little further north, a loop of streets contains the Cutteslowe area, with a park and a children’s centre. This was the site of the ‘Cutteslowe wall’, built in the 1930s to separate the local housing estate from the nicer houses down the road, until it was torn down in the 50s with the support of the local Labour Party. At the opposite end of the division is Wolvercote, split by the railway bridge into Upper and Lower Wolvercote: a leafy, village-like community just above Port Meadow. Together, and with a few more outlying areas, this forms the Summertown and Wolvercote County Council Division.

Until 2015, the whole area had spent some time more or less ignored by the Labour Party. After Jane Stockton’s serious competition for the Summertown City Council ward brought Labour from 4th to a very close 2nd, the branch wanted someone to run at county level – without much hope, but to build up a base. No one local really wanted to run, so Dan invited me to a meeting, and after being nominated (by the exactly two people there who were eligible to vote) the election was on!

The campaign

There isn’t actually all that much to running for council. The campaigning itself is actually, in my opinion, super fun! It’s nice to get out in the fresh air with your friends and comrades, to talk to people, and to hear what they have to say. Locally, there are real issues that come out talking to local people as well as following local and national politics. This ranges from dangerous local trees in Jordan Hill, the cuts to bus services leaving lots of vulnerable people stranded in Cutteslowe, the noise from the railway bridge in Wolvercote. And that’s not even to mention the larger county issues – cuts to social care, cuts to our NHS, and other unaccountable changes.

And almost everywhere, there is a sense of democratic disconnect – people have told me many times, ‘why are you asking about such-and-such? No one can do anything anyway.’ I don’t think I can do much – I probably won’t get elected – but someone can damn sure fix the traffic lights, prune the trees or fill in the potholes. So many people have told me that I was the first Labour person they’d seen on their patch – some areas of the division haven’t been canvassed in 20 years! And more than anything, I think the sense that I am playing a small role in our democracy is really, really powerful.

This Story Is About You

So how does my story relate to you? Firstly, I would say that if you’re reading this before 4th May 2017 – come help me! Take an hour or two out of your day and come visit North Oxford, because it’s actually really nice. But if we’re honest, and you don’t feel like taking the half hour cycle ride up here, mine is a no-hoper seat when we have priority candidates all around. Helen Evans in the Cowley/Iffley Road area; Jamila Azad in The St Clements/Morrell Avenue area, and Emma Turnbull in the University Parks division which covers most of the Oxford colleges. All these candidates are running in marginal seats and could win if students get out there, especially in their colleges.

Finally, as I have said, running is itself a very rewarding experience. Give it a think – maybe, as Marx says, this story (could be) told of you!

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