Former Treasurer of OULC, Adam Ellison, explains what inspired him to become Labour candidate for Wolvercote in this May’s local elections.
In 2017, students helped to transform politics. Labour’s ability to defy expectations in the General Election was down to a new brand of political leadership; a popular and exceptional manifesto; and, in no small part, the contribution of younger generations. Decades of political self-exile were ended as students and other young Brits hit both the streets and the ballot boxes in unforeseen numbers. Parliament was transformed and the British political landscape shifted significantly leftwards.
Earlier last year, Labour did not see the same success in local elections, with 7 councils and almost 400 councillors lost to the Tories. Labour’s position in local politics hasn’t been this weak in years. A new injection of youthful campaigners and voters, however, could reverse this ill fortune.
Local politics has never been a young person’s game. Dominated by retirees and middle-aged professionals, the contributions of young people are often eclipsed by those of older generations. In Oxford Labour, we’ve bucked the trend a few times: Councillor Dan Iley-Williamson is a DPhil student, whilst two members of OULC, Lucas Bertholdi-Saad and Louis McEvoy, ran for County Council in 2017. Despite this, the average councillor and local campaigner is still retired. It’s hard for democracy to be representative when those taking part are overwhelmingly from certain generations and certain backgrounds. Broadly, young people are left to languish in regards to local issues. Why? Because we aren’t voting and we aren’t running for election.
This year I’m bucking that trend by running for City Council in the currently Lib-Dem held ward of Wolvercote. The standard reaction I get on the doorstep is one of surprise, mild amusement or even anger that a student would dare run for the council. It’s either arrogance or a joke; I must be either trying to prove something or doing it for a lark. The reality, however, is that I’m running because we dearly need more youthful representatives in the local area. Oxford has a large population of young Brits, both students and young professionals. For the most part, they are utterly disconnected from local politics. They do not see it as something worth engaging in and, as a consequence, the council does not listen to their voices. This results in a vicious cycle of youth disengagement, something our generation can break.
The benefits of such a break would be overwhelming both for Labour as a party and Britain as a whole. In party political terms, the wealth of untapped voters is colossal. In the general election, 68.7% of possible voters turned out, in contrast to the local elections five weeks prior where less than half that number did. If all 12 million people who voted Labour in the General Election voted in the locals, our vote share would increase six-fold. There are 5.6 million people in this country between the ages of 18 and 24, and statistically, around 3.5 million of those would vote Labour. If even half of those 3.5 million young Labour voters came to the polls in 2017, we could have overtaken the Tories. We have the capacity to absolutely dominate local politics if we try. The Labour coalition that spans communities, classes and generations can be recreated to achieve a newfound strength. Tory-dominated councils such as Oxfordshire cannot be defeated overnight, but by mobilising an untapped electoral resource we can start to chip away at their hegemony.
Secondly, engaging in local politics will benefit the country, and people of our generation. The more students and young professionals that vote, the more councils across the country listen to our voices. The more of us who run, the greater chance we have of achieving generational representation and fighting staggering housing prices and stagnant wages.
Councils are not as exciting as Westminster, that’s plain to see. There’s no sweeping foreign policy to shape, no Brexit to achieve or avoid (depending on your preference), no great industries to nationalise. What councils do, however, often has a far greater effect on our daily lives. Councils are responsible for supporting small businesses and providing job opportunities in the local area, for managing transport links and education, and deciding how and where housing is built. For decades, councils have prioritised older residents when making decisions on these issues, largely because the elderly are more likely to vote. We can put a stop to that by simply turning out. Hopefully, too, by becoming a part of local debates and winning places on local councils, we can bridge the growing gap between young and old in Britain.
A Labour PM in Number 10 is the most significant thing we can achieve, but that’s a war that might not be fought until 2019 or even 2022. This year and every year thereafter, the diligent, quiet, background men and women who shape our country will be selected. So don’t be idle when the dull elections roll around; when wheelie bins and roadworks fill more headlines than Russia or the NHS. Campaign in order to push the Tories out of their newfound dominance of English councils. Vote so we can have our collective voices truly heard by our representatives. And run so you can be part of a new generation of local politics that finally achieves a fairer, more equal society for Britain.