Susanna Pressel: Oxford County Council Candidate Profile

Hi. My name is Susanna Pressel and I’m standing for re-election as a Labour candidate for both the City Council and the County Council for West & Central Oxford in May. I’ve been a City Councillor here in Oxford since 1996. That may sound like a long time, but I can assure you it has flown by. Before that I was a teacher, having been a student at Somerville College.

I originally became a councillor by accident – I reluctantly agreed to put my name on the ballot paper in an unwinnable ward and that caused me to find out how brilliant and rewarding it is, even if you don’t win first time. Every day is different and every day you feel you are making a difference to someone’s life. Often this is in small ways, like sending them some information or making sure their bins are emptied – but they are often really appreciative and– it’s rewarding work. I would strongly encourage you to consider standing for election to a council yourself sometime – I’m sure you won’t regret it.

It is not always recognised but Local Government can make a massive difference to lives locally. We have vital powers surrounding planning, housing, the environment,
transport and community facilities, and we can support the most vulnerableWe want to build a City that works for everyone – regardless of income or background.

Labour is the main opposition party on the County Council and we could take power next year. The City Council meanwhile has been run by Labour for most of the last 30 years and it has won national acclaim for the way it has dealt with such vital issues as rough-sleeping, child poverty, air quality, congestion and protecting our green-spaces. We were the first city in the UK to run a Citizens’ Assembly on the climate crisis. We need to continue to make progress on such issues, in spite of the pandemic. If only the Conservative County Council could share in providing such leadership on the big issues facing our City…

That’s where you come in! By voting Labour in May’s local elections, and getting your friends to do the same, you will help ensure we have both a City and County Council that will provide pioneering leadership in tackling the climate crisis, supporting vulnerable people and building a greener, healthier City for the 21st Century. Make sure you are registered to vote both at home and in Oxford, and arrange for a postal vote, preferably in both places: https://postalvote.labour.org.uk/. Voting early by mail not only means you can vote more safely, but you get two weeks to vote rather than a single day – meaning your schedule can’t stop you from having your vote heard.

The County Division I represent and for which I’m standing again covers the southern and western part of the city centre. It includes Worcester College, Nuffield, St Peter’s, Pembroke, St John’s, Regent’s Park, St Benet’s Hall, St Cross, Blackfriars, and various annexes, like Cohen Quad, Frewin Hall and the ones in and around St Aldate’s. For some of the annexes, you may be registered at the address of the college rather than the annex. But wherever you are registered, please do contact me if I’m your councillor and tell me what you’d like me to do on your behalf. And if you can, please vote for me in May!

Andy Burnham: King in the North

Ciara Garcha

“Canaries in a coalmine” was the phrase Andy Burnham used in criticising the government’s plans to put Greater Manchester into Tier 3 of the COVID-19 restriction system, without additional financial aid. The Liverpool-born Mayor for Greater Manchester snatched national headlines, as he took the fight to the government, demanding more financial support for areas facing these heightened COVID-19 restrictions.

The sight of a northern leader, discussing northern issues, focused on a northern context, was refreshing for a polity which is often validly accused of being London-centric. Despite plans to move the House of Lords to York and the efforts of the media and broadcasters to build a presence in the north, British politics still seems to revolve around events in London, viewing national issues through this narrow-focused lens.

Burnham dominating the news: his speeches and press conferences being live-broadcasted to millions, and the national conversation he has sparked, have flown in the face of the political norm. Manchester and local northern political issues have made the mainstream news, dominating front pages and headlines for days on end. It seems that Andy Burnham and his passionate, blunt rhetoric have finally given the north the voice in national politics that it desperately needs.

In the past few months, particularly since the 2019 general election in particular, conversation around the north has revolved around the so-called ‘red wall’, which ‘crumbled’ as Labour lost its traditional northern heartlands. National coverage and commentary reduced ‘the north’ to a homogenous, post-industrial, insular area, creating a simplistic image of the varied and diverse constituencies that Labour suffered alarming defeats in back in December. Burnham has, however, brought attention to the depth and richness of politics in the north of England.

In a speech that has rapidly become iconic, Burnham, standing outside Manchester’s famous Central Library, blasted the government for asking the region “to gamble our residents, jobs, home and businesses and a large chunk of the economy.” Burnham cleverly discussed Greater Manchester in relation to the national political landscape, centering the risks to the region’s economy, should no further economic assistance be provided, in the picture of the national economy. Greater Manchester and its buzzing,mixed economy make the region one of the most economically influential and significant in the UK, as well as one of the fastest developing cities in Europe. Burnham has refused to let Manchester’s national significance drop from the overall agenda.

Tier 3 mandates the closure of pubs and bars, a ban on the mixing of households – indoor and outdoors – and residents are also advised to avoid all non-essential travel inside and outside of the area, all of which could significantly hit the region’s economy. Burnham described himself as angered by the government’s insistence to risk the regional economy by implementing these measures, given that the government’s “own experts” have advised that the strategy “might not work”. The now-famous “canaries in a coalmine” metaphor was used to criticise the government’s plans for “an experimental regional lockdown strategy”.

Not only would the region’s commercial and profitable nighttime economy be severely hit by the imposition of Tier 3 restrictions with no further assistance, but the economic downturn across the whole area would also hit the most disadvantaged. Whilst also being home to a growing, bright economy, Manchester and the surrounding boroughs comprising Greater Manchester, have one of the highest rates of child poverty. A report by Manchester City Council noted that a disturbing 35.5% of children under the age of 16 live in poverty in Manchester, underlining the desperate situation that Greater Manchester is already in- one that will likely have worsened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic and will deteriorate as further restrictions are imposed on the region with no additional financial aid. As Burnham said: “it is wrong for the government to place some of the poorest parts of England in a punishing lockdown without proper support”, showing his commitment to speak up for all parts of Greater Manchester society and his genuine concerns with the government’s new measures.

Over the course of several days, Burnham locked horns with central government, in attempt to secure more financial assistance for the north. The former health-secretary and two-time candidate for Labour leader faced off with representatives of Number Ten, earning himself the nick-name the ‘King of the North’ and spawning hundreds of Game of Thrones-inspired memes. Greater Manchester only entered into Tier 3 restrictions after being forced into them by central government, the negotiations resulting in no settlement. Local leaders failed to meet a deadline, as set by London, to agree a support package, resulting in the region entering Tier 3 against a backdrop of dismay and protest by local leaders, with Burnham at the forefront.

The appeal of Burnham lies in his willingness and boldness in standing up to the chaotic Conservative government in London. He has been well received across the country, with praise for him drifting across all regions of England and the UK. His message that the Greater Manchester region would not be overlooked and manipulated by the government gave voice to areas across the country that are also in a difficult position, their economic landscape worsening as the ‘second wave’ of COVID-19 takes hold.

Burnham’s message has a pointed local significance though, given that he is mayor for several areas that shed their generations-old Labour support for Conservative blue at the 2019 election, Burnham. His attacks have highlighted how insincere the promises to “level up” from a few months ago are, as thousands of families face insecurity and difficulties. Though admittedly on the more right wing of the party, his commitment to working families within his constituency is clear.

The manner by which Burnham has conducted his opposition to the government has added to his popularity and strength. The public press conferences and damning live statements reveal the strength and potential of local government, in providing coherent and organised opposition to Number ten. Declaring that the new restrictions were “flawed and unfair”, he provided a refined alternative to Boris Johnson’s regular incoherent mumbling; an alternative that even arguably overshadows Keir Starmer, who’s media coverage often seems limited at best. Through clever management of the issue (his control of the situation only slipping when the government announced the midday deadline to agree a deal) and effective use of the media – local and national Burnham managed to embarrass the government in a way Starmer has seemed unable to.

Interestingly, Burnham ‘loss’ to the Tories, with Greater Manchester being forced into Tier 3, did not play as a ‘loss’, but rather as an act of Tory tyranny. This is doubtless because of the clever use of messaging Burnham had built up in the days before; his opposition was clear and unwavering, so that even when Greater Manchester had to concede and was forced into Tier 3, the situation did not play badly for him but for the out-of-touch central government who forced the situation.

Some cynics have drawn attention to the mayoral elections due in 2021, after being postponed due to the pandemic. The boost he has experienced in popularity will likely shore up his control over the office, which he won in 2017 with 63% of the vote. Others have drawn attention to the possibility that this is a platform from which he can launch his return to national politics. Indeed in telling Andrew Marr, “this was not just Greater Manchester’s fight”, Burnham has been able to widen his advocacy up to areas across the UK, positioning himself as a strong national leader, speaking up for those beyond the Greater Manchester region. Both of these motives are likely, but Burnham still deserves praise for speaking up for an often-overlooked region and winning support from across the Labour Party for his strong, unwavering opposition, something, which has undoubtedly been lacking of late.

Though Burnham still remains an ideologically divisive and unpalatable figure to many Labour members, his has given voice to one of the UK’s most vibrant and diverse regions. In opposing not the idea of a lockdown, but a lockdown imposed from “200 miles away” with no extra support, Burnham has captured and highlighted to the highly localised nature of this difficult national issue. The government’s simplistic approach will not work; Andy Burnham has shown that a detailed local understanding and empathy is needed, which cannot be forged from miles away in London.

Brad Baines: Oxford County Council Candidate Profile

Hi! My name is Brad and I’m standing to be your next Labour County Councillor for Isis Division next May. The Isis County Division gets its name from an alternative name for the Thames and stretches from New Hinksey and Iffley Village in the south to the City Centre south of the High Street in the north. It covers colleges between the High Street and St. Aldates including Christ Church, Corpus, Merton, Oriel and Univ.

Like many of you reading, I am a member of the Austerity Generation. A Generation shaped by over a decade of savage cuts to education, children’s services, and local government, and inaction on the big issues facing our communities and planet.

Like those that grew up under the Thatcher and Major Governments of the 80s and 90s, I could not just sit by while the investments and services hard won by previous Labour Governments were slashed and more and more people were pushed into poverty. That is why I joined the Labour Party six years ago. That is why I became a community and political activist – to demand better.

Whilst a student, I campaigned vigorously against Brexit and for a better deal for staff and students on and off campus. After that, I went on to help organise across the county to protect UK Aid and supporting the most vulnerable around the world. Then during lockdown, I volunteered with Oxford Together helping those in need of support. Now I intend to bring this same passion for a fairer society, where all regardless of background can live a fulfilled life, to the County Council.

If elected, my main priorities will be championing youth and family services as well as tackling the climate crisis head on. The current Conservative County Council has done little but slash support and opportunities for young people and families – rejecting Labour proposals for a reinvigorated Oxfordshire Youth Service, hollowing out support for those with Special Educational Needs and now threatening to ship children in care out of the County. Their record on the environment is not much better – scrapped funding for cycling and walking plans, delayed action on their Climate Action Plan and a screeching U-turn on tackling congestion in our City Centre.

I continue to contrast this failure with the pioneering work being done by our elected Labour Councillors, such as Oxford’s pioneering Citizens Assembly on Climate Change and Zero-Emissions Zone, Cllr John Sanders’ push for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to clean up our streets and the Labour City Council’s investment in supporting homeless people off the streets and into long-term housing.

It is clear we need new leadership for our County and Labour is ready to provide it.

I am proud to be one of several young Labour candidates standing for the County Council in May. Councils across the UK, including our County Council in Oxfordshire, simply do not reflect the populations they serve. This needs to change and I am proud that Labour is leading the way.

The average age of a councillor in the UK is 59 years, with almost half (43%) aged over the age of 65%. Similarly, just 26% of councillors are in full or part-time work. Those aged 18-29 make up 17% of Oxfordshire’s population and a whopping 32% of Oxford’s population, yet only one County Councillor is currently aged 30 or under.

One of my most prominent early political memories is watching the 2010 Election debates with my parents and like far too many being taken in by deceptive Cleggmania. Looking back, it just goes to remind us that after a decade of austerity at the behest of the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, elections really do have consequences.

This can be seen no clearer than in local Government, where Councils have seen their budgets slashed by as much as 60% since 2010. What has this meant: closed youth centres, nurseries shut and reduced mental health support. Notice a pattern?

Of course, you do – children and young people’s services have been disproportionately hit hard by local cuts. This has been a conscious choice of previous Conservative County Council administrations over the last decade. Rather than protecting the most vulnerable and investing in future generations – they slashed vital frontline services and the basic building blocks of our communities.

Choices have consequences and so does the choice not to vote.

Tens of races across the County, including those here in Oxford will be decided by mere handfuls of votes come election time. Every vote will matter.

Next May we have a once in a generation opportunity to unseat this disastrous Conservative-controlled County Council, that has been asleep at the wheel for far too long, but that means students and young people turning out and voting Labour. The road to a Labour-led County Council runs through seats like Isis and neighbouring University Parks.

Our generation has amongst the most to lose from more years of Tory rule in Oxfordshire. That is why it is so important we as young people make our voices heard – the best way of doing so is voting early by post.

Labour in May will be offering new leadership for our County. Putting young people and the most vulnerable first. Tackling the climate crisis locally and investing in frontline services.

I hope we can count on your support to make the change we all need happen.

Brad

“It’s brutal, to be honest”- Tory Treatment of the North

Martha Storey

The tangled web of local lockdowns has recently been swept away and replaced with a simpler, three-tiered system of local Covid-19 alert levels. This neat manoeuvre has only highlighted the neglect of areas in existing local lockdowns, making the divide between treatment of London and the rest of the country all the more prominent.

An overhaul of local lockdowns is undoubtedly necessary; this summer has seen a plethora of lockdowns across the UK, each differing slightly in detail. This highly localised approach might make sense in theory; different outbreak patterns being solved by a tweaked set of guidelines. However, the crucial thing that the rules forget is that people have to follow them. When there are too many different guidelines published, people can’t keep up, and many stop following the detail of the lockdowns that they don’t want to be in in the first place. The tiered system aims to solve this, with clearer guidelines based on the broad severity of an area’s outbreak.

The confusion caused by the previous ad-hoc local lockdowns demonstrates the hastiness of the government’s stop-gap method of tackling Covid-19. There has been little monitoring of local lockdowns; once in place, they have not been tweaked to improve either medical or economic prospects. It is clear that in many places, they just aren’t working; my home town has been in local lockdown since restrictions were controversially announced the night before Eid al-Adha (30th July) – but cases continue to rise. In Greater Manchester, an area with similar restrictions, cases are rising by 23% week on week. Even with the tier system clearing up the restrictions in place, it remains unclear whether these stringent measures are helping matters.

There have been questions raised about which regions of the UK have been locked down. Many of the areas which have had prolonged stricter lockdown measures have seen the number of their Covid-19 cases dwarfed by other areas who have somehow escaped a local lockdown. Bolton, with one Labour MP and two “red-wall” Conservative MPs, locked down in July when the cases hit 26.79 per 100,000 – however Boris Johnson’s Hillingdon constituency hit 80.82, and Raab’s Elmbridge seat surpassed 127 cases per 100,000 earlier this month. While both are now under higher Covid-19 tiers, these numbers don’t appear overnight; clearly, lockdowns were delayed for these, and many other, constituencies.

Lockdowns inevitably mean economic hardship for any region, but many of the areas lumped with strict restrictions on socialising are in areas particularly reliant on the hospitality sector. Many of the regions with pre-existing local lockdowns were areas that had not fully recovered from the 2008 financial crash; prolonging their lockdowns and forcing businesses to stay shut will inevitably spell disaster in the long-run. For a country described as the most regionally unequal in the developed world, the government’s approach is ignorant and inappropriate. With such stark differences between the treatment of these regions, seemingly regardless of their number of cases, serious questions must be answered, not only about the nature of lockdown, but about where the lockdowns are.

Perhaps most controversially, the government announced increased economic support for businesses shortly after London was placed under a tier two lockdown. While a positive step for London, the move angered many Northern political leaders, whose constituents had been living under the same “high alert” restrictions for months, with much less economic support. Clearly, the effects of these restrictions were felt acutely in the capital, however it raised serious questions about the approach of the government towards regions it promised to “level up” at the start of this year. It is disheartening for residents and MPs of these regions to see that their pleas for more financial support are only met when their hardships are shared by areas closer to Westminster, despite the months of suffering they endured.

The loudest voice in this debate was almost certainly Andy Burnham, the mayor of Manchester and long-time spokesperson for the North. Much of Greater Manchester had been enduring the harsher lockdown measures for nearly three months, with talks breaking down when Greater Manchester attempted to negotiate a £65 million support package.

One of the remarkable things about the situation was the government’s communication, which was publicly very poor. After talks, Burnham was at a press conference about the situation in Greater Manchester following a week of disgruntlement towards the government. Meanwhile, MPs were in a call being told about the £22 million package that Greater Manchester was to receive. In a well-circulated video, we see Burnham at the press conference, being shown this news on a phone screen. His candid reaction of “It’s brutal, to be honest” seems apt when the third largest city in the UK receives 22 times as much as what London-based entertainment firm Secret Cinema received.

The discrepancy between the amounts in talks and the amount initially handed to Greater Manchester (which has now been promised an additional £60 million in addition to the £22 million) shows that the power of mayors such as Burnham is relatively small. The poor communication also displays a very public disregard for the work of metropolitan mayors and the areas they represent. This is interesting coming from the same party that passed the Cities and Local Government Devolution Act in 2016, which devolved power to mayors of combined local authorities in England and Wales. In the wake of this year, this devolution seems purely performative; clearly the government don’t recognise regional mayors as very powerful at all. Given the slew of elections planned for 2021, this is concerning; devolution won’t work unless real power is handed over and these mayors are taken seriously. Many of the mayors are Labour mayors, and handing over ersatz power could just mean the party is blamed for local decisions that they have no real control over.

This year has created a growing pile of complaints against the government’s treatment of the regions it promised to ‘level up,’ and the lacklustre funding of regions that have been under local lockdown has only brought this issue to greater prominence. In the wake of this, a group of Conservative “red-wall” MPs wrote to the Prime Minister expressing their concern about the issue, warning he must “reflect carefully” on this year. Clearly, the seats gained in 2019 are not to be taken for granted. This signifies a growing divide within the Conservative Party; one that Labour should capitalise on if it wants to win back the red wall at the next election.

It has been made brutally obvious that the government lack concern for many of the regions under local lockdown; and the consequences are already being felt through both economic suffering, and the unrest within the Parliamentary Conservative Party. After the empty promises of devolution and ‘levelling up’ at the start of this year, it is clear that the Conservative Party pay little heed to the wants and needs of the North.

Michael O’Connor: Oxford County Council Candidate Profile


Hi! I’m Michael and I’m standing as the Labour County Council candidate for the University Parks division in the May 2021 local elections. Oxfordshire County Council is responsible for a wide range of things, including schools, social services, mental health and transport. In central Oxford, the County Council’s primary responsibility is for transport, which means that it is has substantial influence on environmental policy. My division stretches from the High Street in the South to Park Town in the North and covers most of central Oxford, including 25 colleges (listed below) – so the chances are that I’m your candidate! 

I’m a student at Balliol and have been studying in Oxford for three years now, first as an undergraduate and now as a graduate. I’m 22. I care passionately about the climate, tackling homelessness, and protecting frontline public services. I’m standing for the Council to put these commitments into action, inspired by the amazing things I’ve seen local Labour councillors do in Oxford and across the county. 

It’s easy to feel that there isn’t much that you can do with the Conservatives in government at a national level. But there are several layers of government and several ways to make change. We can do things on a local level that can’t be done on a national level. We can’t introduce a Green New Deal across the nation until Labour is in power at Westminster. But we can make Oxford a zero-carbon city, following the example of cities like Copenhagen, Bristol and Utrecht. Similarly, we can’t roll back austerity on a national level, but we can ensure that local services are effectively provided to local communities. So too, we can provide a sensible counterpoint to the central government’s chaotic response to COVID-19. Local government plays a key role in keeping the country ticking over and offers an alternative to Conservative national government.

This is a crucial election. At the moment, the County Council is controlled by the Conservatives with the support of some independents. If we win a handful of extra seats at this election, and hold seats like University Parks, we’ll be able to form a coalition and take control of the County Council. If we take control of the County Council, we’ll be able to enact major changes in policy. We’ll be able to press ahead with greening Oxford and Oxfordshire in collaboration with the separate, Labour-controlled City Council. And we’ll be able to protect the most vulnerable in our society and restore effective public services. But that’s only possible if Labour hold University Parks.

Whether or not Labour ends up in control, I’ll advocate for a greener, more sustainable Oxford by calling for the County Council to push ahead with the zero-emission zone, to improve cycling provision and infrastructure for electric cars, to move towards pedestrianisation in the centre, and to implement central bus gates. This will have to be done in a way that takes account of local residents’ concerns, but it has to be done. I’ll be writing a series of blog posts on these issues over the next few months. If elected, I will also fight against the punitive budget cuts being imposed by the County Council, which will see children’s services, social care and investment in walking and cycling slashed across the county.

Two-tier local government means many issues fall within the remit of the City Council rather than the County Council, including housing, planning and rough sleeping. Nonetheless, I will be a strong advocate for students and renters in the city and will strive to highlight the ongoing plight of rough sleepers. The Labour-led City Council has put up record funding to house Oxford’s homeless, but the County Council can do more to support them and I’ll be leading on this.

The best thing you can do at the moment is like both our Facebook pages and volunteer to hand out leaflets. It’s really hard to campaign at the moment as door-knocking is off the agenda; we really need to build up a social media presence and deliver campaign material to get the message out. If you have any questions, or any thoughts, then please get in contact with me at michael.oconnor@live.co.uk. I would like to hear any thoughts that you may have, or any issues that you care about!

The University Parks divisions covers the following colleges: All Souls (on the off-chance you’re a fellow), Balliol, Brasenose, Exeter, Green Templeton, Harris Manchester, Hertford, Jesus, Keble, Kellogg, Lady Margaret Hall, Linacre, Lincoln, Magdalen, Mansfield, New, Queen’s, St Anne’s, St Antony’s, St Catherine’s, St Edmund Hall, Somerville, Trinity, Wadham or Wycliffe Hall.

Michael