The polling stations open at 7.00 tomorrow morning, so it’s time to decide who gets your vote. You can vote in both the European and local City Council elections – I’m only considering the City here. So what have been the big issues in the run-up to the election? Housing? Jobs? Traffic congestion and pollution? The major once-in-a-generation developments in the City (Westgate, Frideswide Square, the station, Oxpens, Northern Gateway)? The sanctity or otherwise of the green belt? Nope. Potholes.
I’m in Headington Ward and I’ve kept the leaflets that came through my door. There are four candidates (no UKIP here), and only Labour, LibDem and Conservative have delivered City election literature. I’ve seen nothing from the Green party or their candidate. The only doorstep candidates I’ve seen have been the LibDems.
Far too much of the literature from all three parties has nothing to do with the City Council. The Conservatives praise the Conservative County Council, and talk about a referendum on EU membership and the country’s long-term economic prospects. Labour tell you what a national labour government will do if elected in 2015. The LibDems opt for a more local but retrospective look at what they have achieved under their “You said We did” slogan, but also have a dig at the County Council over air quality, point to their role in the coalition government and criticise Labour’s stance on Europe.
I should also mention that the LibDem campaign in Headington Ward has been skewed by the current incumbent standing down and an existing councillor, Altaf Khan, standing in Headington rather than his current ward of Headington Hill and Northway. David Rundle, the outgoing councillor, had a strong personal vote and the LibDems have been working hard to establish Altaf as “part of the team” and get his name known in the Ward. In delivering more literature than the other two parties they have given me more material for this article.
Distilling out the candidates’ and parties’ statements about their hoped-for future role in City government, this is what I find.
The Conservative candidate, Theodora Dickinson, will “fight for a Council Tax freeze”. There is no discussion of how this would impact the City budget or what services would be affected. She will also “ensure that potholes in Headington are fixed in a timely manner”, and she invites everyone to report hazardous potholes.
The Labour candidate, David Henwood, promises to “stay in touch all year round” with local residents. His priorities will be “street by street casework” to help residents in their dealings with the Council, working with the Police on speeding and parking issues, and “further promotion of green schemes and youth provision for Headington”. There are no details of “green schemes” or youth provision. However, one leaflet featuring David does set out Labour’s priorities in Oxford and I assume he supports these: building more homes; improving standards in private rented accommodation; refurbishing pavilions in parks; backing local sports clubs; investing in regeneration projects (Westgate); providing food recycling for all flats in Oxford; “getting the best for everyone” from the City Deal.
Several of these are contentious issues and merit much fuller debate, but there is no discussion beyond the plain statements of the priorities. But no mention of potholes!
Their campaign has relied heavily on stressing their track record locally as hard-working councillors taking on all sorts of local campaigns and issues, and sorting out local problems from overflowing bins and overhanging vegetation to, yes, a pothole protest. At City level they criticise the decision to close Cowley Pools and the on-going rent reviews in the Covered Market: they say they would honour the arbitration decision on market rents and want to see “leisure and fitness facilities remain in the Cowley area”, which is not quite the same as not closing the Pool.
They also criticise the Council’s decision to give planning permission to the Port Meadow Flats. They want to bring back local area planning committees. Finally they feature a campaign to “Save Stansfeld” outdoor centre in Quarry, although the future of the site is out of the City’s control unless the Council buys the site itself. No party is committing to this at present.
All this amounts to not very much from the three parties, and they all avoid the major issues facing the City Council in the next few years with which I introduced this article. There’s criticism of the other parties, some relevant to local matters and some not, and where there is information about future intentions there’s no discussion or assessment of costs and implications. After the previous elections in May 2012 I wrote an article titled “A disappointing local election campaign“. Nothing’s changed.