Petty Cury, Cambridge city centreLouis Ashworth

Local elections are not about Brexit, nor are they about austerity. Anyone who tries to convince you otherwise is trying to con you out of your vote.

The media, and the broadcast media especially, tend to see local elections as a measure of public opinion midway through a parliament, often treating them as little more than an opinion poll. This is a misguided view; just look, for example, at the stark difference between the huge Conservative gains in the locals last May, which were shortly followed by Theresa May’s failure to win a parliamentary majority in the general election just a month later. Nonetheless, pundits continue to portray elections this way, and some of the major parties are just as bad.

Cambridge city council doesn’t get a say on austerity, and it doesn’t get a vote on whether we launch missiles in Syria

Opposition parties insist that local elections are a chance to send a message to the government. The Liberal Democrats want to use the local elections to tell the government that we need a People’s Vote and an #ExitFromBrexit, while Labour – who want nothing more than to avoid talking about Brexit – want to use the local elections as a chance for the public to reject Tory austerity. Both want to use these elections to “send a message to the government”, but this viewpoint shows an apathy to real and productive policy change.

Let’s take the example of Cambridge city council. Most Cambridge students (those who are UK, EU or Commonwealth citizens who study in the Cambridge city area) get the chance to vote for city councillors in one of the council’s wards that comprise of just a few thousand voters. Collectively these councillors run the Cambridge city council and what they decide will have a serious effect on the city and on the lives of students and residents alike. The role of councillors should thus not be confused with party politics on the national level.

Cambridge city council doesn’t get a say on austerity, it doesn’t get a vote on whether we launch missiles in Syria, it doesn’t give an opinion on national cuts to public services, and it certainly doesn’t have a seat at the negotiations as Britain leaves the EU.

It is pointless and misguided to cast a vote in these local elections based on your feelings towards a national party leader. Jeremy Corbyn will not be running Cambridge city council, and neither will Theresa May. While you could argue that those who belong to a party will make decisions based on their leaders, this ignores the fact that councils deal independently with completely different issues to national leaders. The ideological divides between national parties are of little importance when determining the kinds of decisions that councillors find themselves making on a day-to-day basis, especially when manifestos and Twitter feeds make it possible to see what the people you can vote for think about the actual issues which they may soon be voting on themselves.

So what does the council do? It runs local services and maintains local infrastructure. This might not sound as sexy as starting nuclear war and fighting over Brexit, but it affects us all. Without a well-functioning council people wouldn’t be able to pay council taxes or receive many benefits, roads would seize up, and traffic pollution would go through the roof. Bins wouldn’t be collected and new developments wouldn’t be approved. I was recently speaking to a councillor who described the work of local government as “doing all the things that people don’t notice until they stop working”.

What the city council does is too important and too distinct from national parliamentary party politics to risk casting this vote under the presumption they are one and the same. If you care about those who these services are there to help, then do not vote for a candidate because you identify with a party at a national level and do not vote to send a message to the current Conservative government.


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So who should you be considering if you want to vote specifically for the best services for Cambridge? Well, if you were inclined to use your vote to protest the national government then you are in luck — every marginal ward in Cambridge is a competition between Labour and the Lib Dems. Anyone who wants to cast a vote with a high probability of actually impacting policy should be voting for one of these parties.

The local election manifestos of each party show policies which address the issues of housing, transport and communities, much more so than ‘the other lot’ (although they put a slightly different spin on the way they would address and achieve such problems). I do not want to tell you how to vote, so if you care about the effects your vote could have, look at the party manifestos or look online at details about the specific people standing in your ward (it makes a great break from revision).

Just please don’t cast your vote based on national politics alone: it is not what these elections are for and it is not something Cambridge city council can do anything about.

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