Oxford stays red as students struggle in council elections

Finn Conway, a second-year Balliol student, lost by just seven votes

None of the nine undergraduates studying at the University managed to win their respective contests in the local elections, as results were announced at the Town Hall early this morning.

It was a strong night for the Labour Party, who remained in control of the council after winning 18 out of the 24 wards up for election. The Liberal Democrats won five wards, while the Green Party had a disappointing night, winning only one ward. The Conservatives again failed to gain a single ward, and will continue to have no representatives on the council.

Some of Labour’s key victories came in wards which were previously held by the Greens, who were elected in 2014, such as in Carfax and Holywell. These are wards containing most of the University’s colleges and therefore are highly populated by students.

In the rest of the main wards of student residence, such as St Clements, Iffley Fields and North, seats were held by Labour, apart from in St Mary’s where Dick Wolff for the Greens kept his seat.

The most dramatic moment of the night came as the announcement took place for Holywell, which houses many colleges, including Magdalen, New, and Christ Church. After several re-counts, the returning officer announced that Labour’s Nadine Bely-Summers had beaten Finn Conway.

Conway, the Lib Dem candidate, is a second year Classicist at Balliol, and lost by 393 votes to 386 – a margin of just seven.

Martyn Rush, a first-year DPhil candidate at Wolfson, was the only successful student: he stood for Labour in Barton,a ward which the party held.

Steve Goddard, a French tutor at Wadham, kept his seat for the Lib Dems in Wolvercote with 1341 votes. Goddard also beat one of his students, Sarah Edwards, who stood for the Greens and came last with 125 votes.

He told Cherwell that the Liberal Democrats “are on the way up” after gaining a seat from Labour and coming a close second in many wards. He said that the Lib Dems were the “only opposition to Labour” in Oxford, noting the poor results for the Greens and Conservatives.

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In St Clements the leader of the Green group in the council, David Thomas, lost his Holywell seat after standing in a different ward in an attempt to unseat Labour’s Tom Hayes. Hayes is a senior Labour councillor and was targeted by the Greens in response to the council’s actions on homelessness.

Keir Mather, Oxford University Labour Club’s co-chair for Hilary term this year, was at the count and told Cherwell that Labour had tried to run a “positive campaign” in Oxford. Mather said that Labour campaigned heavily in Carfax and Holywell, focusing on issues which they believed were important to students. He said that their key priorities in the campaign were “addressing homelessness, reducing pollution levels, and ensuring University staff are paid the living wage.” He said Labour’s policies were “common sense ideas for students, scouts and the community as a whole.”

Anneliese Dodds, Labour MP for Oxford East, also spoke to Cherwell at the count. She said “I am really pleased by Labour’s gains” but that she was “sorry for [their] loss in Quarry and Risinghurst, we had a strong candidate there.” She claimed there were “difficult circumstances for Labour in some parts of the city due to the pact between the Green party and the Liberal Democrats in some seats, so that was tough for us”.

Councillor Craig Simmons from the Green Party said that despite some good results, such as in St Mary’s, it was a “disappointing” night for the party in Oxford. He blamed this on “problems with the electoral system” in which “a handful of votes makes a big difference”.

Referring to Labour’s continued large majority, Dick Wolff, Green councillor for St Mary’s, told Cherwell: “The people of Oxford prefer a one-party state, they don’t want opposition”.

The turnout for the election was 38%, a drop of 1.5% from the last round of local elections in 2016. Half of the City Council’s seats were up for election but the composition of the council has largely stayed the same, with Labour and the Lib Dems gaining one seat each at the expense of the Greens.

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