Why students should vote on May 3rd
Councillor John Hipkin gives his view on why voting in the local elections is important for students
by John Hipkin
Sunday 29th April 2012, 14:02 BST
The local elections come round again on May 3rd and on past form it’ll be surprising if the student vote reaches 10% of those eligible. Low student polls do not of themselves mean that students are apathetic when it comes to local politics. Some are not aware of their entitlement to vote in their place of study as well as at home in local elections and some conscientiously believe that their relatively short stay in the city disqualifies them from voting knowledgeably on contentious and complex local issues. However, most students who don’t vote are too preoccupied with exams or too caught up in their ‘enclosed’ personal and social lives.
I believe that there are powerful reasons why students here should take an interest in the local elections and vote on May 3rd. Although students seldom stay in Cambridge beyond graduation many develop a strong affection for the city and care about it. In that connection it is important to remember that the University is the city’s biggest employer and its impact upon the life of the city is pervasive and sometimes decisive, as for example when in the 1970s it celebrated the marriage of research and development and embarked upon the Cambridge Phenomenon. Today it is involved in major plans for a redevelopment of its many properties in and around Mill Lane, for further extensions to its West Cambridge site and for a massive programme of house building , both for its own key workers and for market buyers, together with community facilities, such as a supermarket and schools, on the University Farm land between the Madingley and Huntingdon Roads. Its burgeoning high tech industries make it a powerhouse of both the local and national economies and simply maintaining its position as the world’s leading university ensures that its presence in the city will continue to be felt and felt ever more powerfully for many years to come. As members of the University, students belong to an institution which is driving the growth and shaping the character of Cambridge and with that membership goes a responsibility to do all that they can to ensure that its influence on the city is benign.
The University’s political involvement in the city is also at work in a number of less obvious ways. Consider, for instance, the University’s decision to allocate all the key worker housing on the North West site to post doc students with none available for non-academic staff such as those working in maintenance or in administration. Is this policy, proposed by the University and approved by a planning body of which the city council is a principal member, fair and reasonable? Many colleges are seeking to sell off their playing fields to developers and any college minded to do so can try to persuade the planning authorities to let them do it. But what would be the impact of large developments on these precious green lungs, and what of the loss to students of conveniently located recreational facilities?
There are many city-wide issues of particular concern to students. For example the city spends a million pounds a year on CCTV but many of its cycle routes are ill-lit and poorly maintained. Have they got the balance right? Increasing levels of crime in the city centre, particularly crimes of violence and crimes against women, also impact heavily on the student population.
I hope student voters will not by-pass these local issues on May 3rdand use the local elections as a convenient means of punishing the government for its record on fees or for its controversial overhaul of the NHS. The time to vote on those contentious issues will be at the General Election planned for 2015. Meanwhile there is enough going on locally of interest to students to warrant their taking a full part in the elections on May 3rd.
Councillor John Hipkin represents Castle ward (where more than 50% of voters are students) and is the only Independent on the City Council. He is a former mayor of the city.