The Mancunion

Britain's biggest student newspaper

Students buck apathetic trend to run in local elections

With local elections on May 3rd a number of students are running. Just don’t expect them to win

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Do you think that students are bothered about the local elections?

For the people running to be councillors the answer to this question seems obvious.

“No they aren’t” says Dominic Hardwick, the Liberal Democrat candidate for Hulme and third year Ancient History student at the University of Manchester. “Student turnout is always really low for elections, even general ones, and in the local ones it’s almost always below half. I can’t see students turning out in droves for this election.”

Jamie Williams, the Conservative Party candidate for East Didsbury who studies Theoretical Physics, is a bit more optimistic. “I don’t think the elections have been very well publicised,” he says, trying to explain student apathy.

There are a total of 32 wards up for grabs in the elections for Manchester city council on May 3rd. But with Manchester being solidly Labour and with the Lib Dems, who up until now had been Labour’s strongest challengers in the city, trailing UKIP in some opinion polls for the upcoming elections; many parties don’t think they have a chance of winning.

This has meant that local parties have looked to younger party members to run in this election. And with Manchester having the highest student population of any city in the UK; a high number of students have been selected to run in the city’s local elections.

“Around this time of year candidates from all parties, except the Labour Party, are required to stand in wards where they are not expected to win,” explains Dominic Hardwick, rather glumly.

Charles Bailey – a failed candidate for General Secretary in the Student Union elections this year, who is running as a Conservative in Fallowfield – seems more optimistic. “It’s a democracy and anyone can win,” he says. “I’m not going to deny that [Fallowfield has] had a strong left-wing backing in the past; but you know there’s still plenty of time before May 3rd and I feel that the government’s doing a good job so we’ll see.” In 2011 the Tory candidate in Fallowfield won just 364 votes, finishing third.

Keen to know what the motivation is for running, when they themselves admit that they have little chance of winning, I ask the candidates why they’re taking time out from their degrees to contest the election.

Dominic’s response is typical. “I’m running as a favour to my friends in the local party,” he says. The Hulme candidate – who will be known around campus for spending most of his time at university wearing a fez – later adds, in typical student fashion, that he hopes his friends in the party will “pay him back with drinks.”

In terms of policies, most candidates stick religiously to their party’s line. Both Lib Dems and Tories talk of the need to make “efficiency savings” and bemoan Labour councillors for cutting “front line services” while spending millions refurbishing the town hall. I ask Jamie Williams if by “efficiency savings” he really means people’s jobs.

“Yes but they are non-jobs that were created in the last 13 years of the Labour government,” he says. “They are jobs that just create another layer of management. They could be done in a much more efficient way. We shouldn’t just be giving people jobs for the hell of it.”

Jamie goes on to dismiss Liberal Democrat candidates, saying that the party can “no longer be trusted”. “I’m in favour of what the Lib Dems are doing [in government], but the people see that they have lied,” he says.

Dominic acknowledges that his party’s record in government has turned people off from the Liberal Democrats, but says he hopes people will look past party affiliation when they vote.

When asked why he’s still a Lib Dem he pauses for a few seconds to collect his thoughts, before pointing me in the direction of a UCL survey which showed that 75 percent of the party’s manifesto had been implemented while in government. “Not bad for a party who essentially lost the election,” he says.

Of all the candidates, the one who seems happiest to be running is Nick Wilkinson, another person who failed to win in the recent Student Union elections and who is the Green Party’s candidate for the City Centre ward.

Wilkinson, who grew up in Norway and was elected as a councillor in his home country at the age of just 18 before coming to study in Manchester, seems positively enthralled by the prospect of running; saying that he wants to bring a bit of Scandinavia into British politics by championing left-wing policies. He wants to introduce an Oyster card-style system for public transport in Manchester, create more cycle lanes and lower bus fares.

But for all the candidates there must be some doubt about whether the ordinary people of Manchester will vote for a bunch of students. I ask Jamie Williams if he thinks a 21 year-old theoretical physicist can really represent the people of East Didsbury? He thinks he can.

“Age, education and location are irrelevant,” he says, speaking in sound bites. “If someone’s got the skills to do it, they’ll be able to represent them.”

“Students are passionate. Some of us are naive, but that gives us the will to just go for it,” says Nick Wilkinson. “You never get change when you just put in the same middle-aged white men working for the party whip.”