Michael O’Connor discusses the importance of the upcoming local elections
Next month, on May 6th, every seat on both Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council are up for election. If they both end up in Labour hands, that gives us a once-in-a-generation chance to protect public services, redress inequalities and fight the climate crisis.
The County Council deals with transport, education, social services and other such issues; the City Council deals with waste collection, the environment, planning, housing and homelessness among other issues. There’s a breakdown here. The City Council is Labour controlled; the County Council is Conservative-controlled. However, the Conservatives only have control because a couple of independents vote with them. Gaining just one or two seats would put a Labour-led coalition in control.
You’ll be able to vote for a County Council candidate and two City candidates on the 6th May. Links to various candidate profiles are included at the bottom, but the main message is: Use all your votes on Labour.
Why Vote Labour?
So, why should you vote Labour? Why should you vote at all? You should vote because local government works better when it’s run progressively and because local government has the power to move forwards on issues such as climate change that affect all of us at a time when the government at Westminster isn’t doing much. You should vote Labour because Oxford Labour is progressive and effective. Here are some of the things that the City Council is doing/has done:
- Climate. Oxford has some of the most ambitious emissions targets in the country. The council will go net zero this year, aims to go totally zero by 2030, and aims to get the city to zero by 2040. These targets are a decade ahead of government guidelines and are backed up by concrete plans. In turn, these targets reflect the findings of the 2019 Oxford Citizens’ Assembly, which brought together a lot of ordinary people who then decided . To meet these targets, the City is rolling out the UK’s first zero emission zone in the city centre this year.
- Living Wage. In 2009, the City introduced the Oxford Living Wage, set at 95% of the London Living Wage, to ensure that all workers in the city are paid a fair wage on which they can live (not much to ask!). They’ve been campaigning for employers to pay that wage ever since. The university signed up last year but a lot of colleges still don’t pay it. Some don’t even pay the living wage.
- Homelessness. 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. The City also promised that it will refuse to co-operate with the Home Office in deporting rough sleepers and has offered vaccines to all rough sleepers.
- Landlord Licensing. Oxford is a hugely expensive city to live in and as such landlords have a lot of power. 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.
Oxford Labour is also firmly anti-racist and internationalist. The City Council has committed to an Anti-racism charter, setting out its commitment to making the city antiracist, and migrant justice is at the top of its agenda. You can find Labour’s City Council manifesto here.
Meanwhile, the County Council has been getting in the way of efforts to get Oxford to net zero. It has much less ambitious targets, has blocked the creation of bus gates limiting traffic in the city centre, and watered down plans for low traffic neighbourhoods in Jericho. Its most recent budget imposed sweeping cuts on mental health and youth services. If we gained control of the County Council then we’d be able to properly fund public services and tackle the climate crisis.
As a student, it’s easy to forget about local elections, to assume that they don’t matter, or to feel disenfranchised. But these elections do matter—councils can change things—and they affect us when we’re renting, when we’re working, and also as human beings in an age of climate crisis. Many of the Labour candidates standing this year are young: If you want young people to be represented on the council, as well as a fairer and greener Oxford, then please please vote Labour.
How do I vote?
To vote, all you have to do is go to the polling centre – you do NOT need to bring your polling card in order to vote, but you are strongly encouraged to bring a pen to assist with Covid safety measures. You can find your polling centre here. If you aren’t registered to vote, then register here. You can also register for a postal vote here if you’re not sure whether you’ll be in Oxford. You can register where you live and where you study as a student and you can vote in both places.
There are quite a few elections and quite a lot of candidates. Profiles of many of the candidates in central Oxford can be found on the OULC website.
Michael O’Connor is a post-graduate student at Balliol, standing for election to the County Council in the University Parks Ward.
Feature Image Credit: Paul Albertella