Interview: Ashley Walsh
Jake Thorold talks to third year Historian and Labour candidate for Castle Ward Ashley Walsh
by Jake Thorold
Wednesday 2nd May 2012, 16:31 BST
“You can probably tell which room is mine” Ashley Walsh tells me as we stroll the vast, gloriously symmetrical gardens of Downing College, and indeed the blaring red ‘Vote Labour’ posters on show from one window leave me in little doubt as to the location of his abode. Inside, his bed is made well enough to make your mother proud and on top there lies a Stuart style costume in preparation for the college historian’s dinner, of which he explains ruefully that “I wanted to dress as John Locke, but the fancy dress shop could only muster Charles II”.
As a third year juggling the simultaneous pressures of dissertation deadlines, finals and the small matter of an election campaign it is surprising that Walsh has the time for such frivolities, yet he explains how his experience of having run in the same ward in last year’s elections has given him the enviable ability to balance the pressures of academia and politics. His decision to continue on to an MPhil next year would mean, if elected, pushing that skill to its limit, but Walsh seems driven by the prospect, declaring that “I’m young and I’m fresh and I’ve got a very long summer holiday that I can devote to doing a lot for the council”. He is also cautiously optimistic about his chances this time round, stating that “last year we managed to go from 4th to 2nd place, an achievement that hopefully we can match or improve on come Thursday”.
To achieve this Walsh is very much looking to the student body, and he is anxious to explain the importance of students getting more involved in local politics. In a town which remains so divided between the student body and locals, Walsh believes that the ‘town gown’ divide is still an issue that needs to be addressed, and “a lot of people resent the students for being here or think that they don’t get involved enough”, something that he doesn't think is a totally fair assessment. He uses the CUSU ‘Right to Light’ campaign as an example of an issue which could bridge this gap, calling for dangerous spots such as Parker’s Piece “to be better lit to reduce the risks of crime, something that affects both students and residents.”
Despite declaring himself to sit firmly in the centre of the Labour Party, the policies Walsh details most exuberantly are about redistribution of wealth. A continual theme in the interview is the recent drive to pay university staff the living wage of £7.20 an hour, and Walsh is keen to point out his success in achieving this at Downing and vowing “to spread it to all the colleges” if elected. Yet the point upon which Walsh gets most riled up is regarding the abolition of the Educational Maintenance Allowance, claiming that “if it hadn’t been available when I was doing my A-Levels I would certainly have done a lot worse” and promising to keep at the forefront of his vision of Labour policy.
It comes as no surprise then when Walsh declares himself as being strongly against the coalition cuts, declaring them as the “neo-Thatcherite, monetarist policies of dangerous right wing ideologues”, and scorning his Conservative opponent Nikish Pandit’s claim that there is “barely a cigarette paper between New Labour and one-nation conservatism’. “Even if that was true” Walsh states, “one-nation conservatism is laughed at nowadays by the front bench.” Walsh sees this division as being best demonstrated by Pandit’s refusal to support the Living Wage campaign.
With exams and further campaigning to contend with, we decide to leave it there. One can’t help but feel impressed with the energy and enthusiasm with which Walsh delivers his pitch, and the importance he places upon “getting students down to the ballot box” and fostering a unity to end “800 years of poor relations” between students and locals. He can only hope that come Thursday morning it will be him who they unite behind.