Young people are at the heart of Oxford. It is one of the youngest cities in the country – with nearly a third of its residents aged between 18 and 29. Over 30,000 of Oxford’s residents are in full time higher education across the city’s two universities – the highest proportion of students of any city in England and Wales.
Meanwhile, our city is steeped in Britain’s colonial history and present, and sits in the shadows of the huge wealth and privilege it is famed for. When many people hear the name of our city their first thought is of the over-saturation of privately educated students in Oxford’s colleges and the domination of the university in the UK’s political, cultural and economic life. It is the intersection of these two realities – the city’s youth and the city’s relationship to colonialism and entrenched privilege – that breeds a radicalism within the population. It’s no surprise that Oxford is so often the epicentre of significant political battles, from statue toppling to no platforming fascists. It’s no surprise that radicals who have lived in the city have over the years built renowned institutions and movements that fight to overcome injustice – from People and Planet to Oxfam and from the New Internationalist to We Own It. And it’s no surprise that Oxford was the city where Caroline Lucas was first elected as a Green Councillor.
As new Green Councillors, our intention is to harness that radicalism and channel it into City Hall. We want to harness the power of Oxford’s inspiring grassroots organisers, social movements and community groups to hold the Labour administration to account and to drive change throughout the city and beyond. We’ve already been doing this in our first weeks in office – mapping Oxford’s civil society networks, reaching out to them and working with them for their cause. That’s why within a fortnight of taking office, we’ve been hitting the streets under the Oxfordshire Green Party’s banner as part of the global fight for the Palestinian people’s liberation, meeting with tenants’ unions and discussing with residents’ associations how we can help them improve their local communities.
Because it’s certainly true that Oxford City Council could use a heavy dose of this radicalism. Labour has had four decades of near-uninterrupted rule in our city, and what do we have to show for it? The most unaffordable, and one of the most unequal cities in the country. That manifests in a homelessness crisis spiralling out of control, housing costs pricing people out of the city, and a quarter of children in Oxford living in poverty. Meanwhile, our air is so polluted that at times it’s been illegal, and we are yet to see real and meaningful action on the climate crisis. Undoubtedly the blame for much of this lies with the Tory government in Westminster with its decade long imposition of austerity and the decimation of local government. But blame also lies squarely at Labour’s door in City Hall.
It is young people that feel the brunt of this in Oxford. It is young people who are disproportionately hit by rip-off rents and landlords squeezing more and more money out of less and less space in houses. It is asthmatic children suffering most acutely from the air pollution crisis. And it is young people who will live the whole of their lives with the reality of the climate crisis if governments – local as well as national - fail to step up to the challenge.
These are the injustices that we will be fighting day after day. Centring these injustices in our campaign is what got us elected in the first place.
It is clear now that, after years of disappointing local residents, the tide is turning against Labour in Oxford. The Green Party got the second highest share of the vote in this year’s City Council elections. In Donnington Ward, Lucy was the first Green to win an election in the area since 2012. In St Mary’s Ward Chris – and fellow Green Councillor Dick Wolff – saw off a challenge from the notorious Labour right winger Luke Akehurst, who was resoundingly rejected by voters who gave us an increased majority. Across the city, one in five voters put a cross in the Green box, and with just 300 more votes across four wards we’d have had a group of seven Green Councillors, as opposed to three.
Oxford’s electorate is beginning to stand up and say that we need change. As two new Young Green Councillors, we represent that change – and we’ll be fighting for it every day we are in office