Kai Pischke, a third-year computer scientist at Somerville, and Janey Little, a first-year PPE student at Lady Margaret Hall, are both running as Liberal Democrats in the upcoming Oxford city council elections. Little, the current president of the Oxford University Liberal Democrats is running in the Holywell Ward, while Pischke, the former OULD president, and current general committee member, is seeking election in Carfax and Jericho.
Personal experience as well as general disappointment with the political status quo have motivated the candidates to run. For Pischke, it was hearing about small issues like the reintroduction of greyhound racing or re-opening former pedestrian roads to traffic, that pushed him to seek election. Drawing on an experience in climate activism as part of the “Green Lib Dems” subgroup, he hopes to lessen Oxford’s environmental impact as a city and a university. Little also has experience in Lib Dem politics as a Young Liberals Policy officer and Lib Dem Women Youth officer.
Pischke emphasised that the local Lib Dems are not solely moderates, nor one-sided, but campaigners who “have a very ambitious program”. Running on a manifesto focused on transport, housing and the environment, they advertise themselves as a local party of concrete actions and plans. This includes promoting cyclist and pedestrian safety, maintaining Oxford’s Green Belt and biodiversity and supporting modern construction methods and standards in new developments. A cabinet post dedicated to the climate emergency and significantly reducing car traffic in the city centre have also been proposed.
Councillors oversee a variety of municipal services including some aspects of transport, housing and social care. There is also a history in Oxford of councillors interacting with the university and colleges. Some have denounced Oriel’s Rhodes statue or supported the Climate League of Oxford and Cambridge campaign in the past. Pischke and Little state that despite these actions, students often face feelings of powerlessness and difficulty enacting change. At times, local politics seem disconnected and overlooked. But, as Pischke says the city council does indeed have “an important role to play”. He hopes to liaise with JCRs, MCRs, the SU and other student groups on important student issues, notably climate change.
Little and Pischke have focused in particular on improving mental health services, cycling provision and help for vulnerable populations like the homeless in their campaigning. Their “unique perspective” as students is one that Pischke feels needs to be shared, especially in a ward dominated by students and young people, like the one in which he is running. There is some precedent for undergraduate students serving in local politics, as the role is technically a part-time job. A student was elected to Sheffield city council in 2012, while a Shropshire teenager became a councillor in 2018 shortly before beginning university. However, the average age of councillors in England is 59.4 years old according to a 2018 census.
Council elections will take place on May 5th. UK students can vote in both Oxford and their home area if properly registered.
Image credit: Oxford University Liberal Democrats Facebook page