Have you seen an alarming increase in the number of brightly coloured leaflets you’ve received in the mail? That’s because Bath and North East Somerset (BANES) council elections took place on the 2nd May, and no doubt candidates in your ward have gone out of their way to get your vote.
Whilst turn out is usually pitiful in the local elections, the party equivalent of our SU policy rounds, this year we saw an increase, with 14 out of 33 wards achieving a turnout of over 40%. Sadly, this wasn’t reflected on campus, with only a handful of students turning up to the hustings and a mere 37 votes cast on election day from the library polling station, although the vast majority were away from campus for the easter break.
Despite low levels of engagement from students, there are a few who attempted to make up for the apathy by standing as candidates for various political parties or as independents. Three of the University’s political societies each had multiple representatives standing, as well as one student independent. All had their name on a ballot paper somewhere in BANES.
Being a young person in politics isn’t for the faint hearted – ageism can be a concern, and Bath is no exception. As the only student taking part in the University hustings, I experienced first-hand how easy it is to be ignored by more experienced local activists. I found myself getting up from the panel to introduce myself to the older men who had walked straight past me. Attitudes changed when I delivered the only pre-prepared three-minute introduction speech of the evening, with my party rosette proudly on show. When it came to my leaflet to the residents of Chew Valley, I ensured that climate change and mental health got space alongside local transport and infrastructure policy, keen to start my political career with those key issues on the literature.
The topical issues highlighted by all of the local political parties consisted of transport, the clean air zone, housing and social care. However, the widespread view seems to be that it is Brexit that influenced many voters’ decisions. In my view, this resulted Liberal Democrat support surging, seeing the party eliminate the Conservatives’ majority in Bath, leaving the party with only 11 councillors – taking back the council with the biggest swing of any area in the country.
Speaking to the other student candidates revealed that, despite having very different views, there is a consensus around the importance of young people taking part in local and national politics. Brad Baines, outgoing Chair of Bath University Labour Society, said “age is too often seen as a barrier to political activity…political parties of all colours are eager for young people to get involved and communities often respond well to a fresh face…if there is anything to take away from this year’s results it is that anything is possible if you put the work in!”
“Although it might seem scary at first to knock on someone’s door, or take part in a husting, it is worth doing…it makes you feel like you really are making a difference to people’s lives.”Oliver Dudley, Student & Conservative candidate
Meghan Jones, this year’s Social Secretary for the Liberal Democrat Society (BULDS) told me “the stereotypical white middle-aged man does tend to cover a lot of the people who represent us on a local level… so it was fantastic to see more young people, especially young women, involved.” This sentiment was echoed by incoming BULDS chair, Sarah Norris, who hopes that the local elections send a message to Westminster. Will Hickey and Oliver Dudley, both young Conservatives, also believe young people need a call to arms when it comes to party politics. These students show that it is possible to be taken seriously as a young person in politics. In terms of support, votes ranged from 54-486 individually for student candidates – unfortunately, none of us were elected this time around.
“It was never about winning, it was about representing the students and showing the world we care about our community”Elie Breton Des Loys, Student & Independent Candidate for Bathwick
With the MEP elections taking place in two weeks’ time and a general election potentially around the corner, the time is now, more than ever, to partake in politics! Find out more by looking into the local groups in your area and making sure to vote in the upcoming elections.