Daniel Stafford is the Deputy Chairman for Membership & Fundraising of Oxford East Conservatives and stood for the City Council in 2014.
The Labour-run Oxford City Council has reached almost Stalinist levels of paranoia in their determination to hang on to every seat they currently hold, scheduling a ward by-election to coincide with 70 per cent of the electorate being absent.
Carfax Ward in Oxford’s city centre is predominately made up of Oxford University students in college halls. For that reason, the seat has tended to alternate between the Greens and the Liberal Democrats, but Labour succeeded in taking Carfax in 2012 at the height of coalition unpopularity over tuition fees.
Despite their best efforts and the continued collapse of the Lib Dem vote, they did not succeed in taking the second Carfax seat 2014, losing out to the Greens.
When Labour councillor Anne-Marie Canning chose to stand down, for “family reasons”, eyebrows were certainly raised as to why the Labour party chose a by-election for early September. At this point of the year only a very small percentage of students (if any) would be in residence, and most long-term residents would be on holiday during the campaign.
Moreover, the local Labour association certainly have form.
A by-election was called for Cowley Ward only two months after the May elections. Rather than save taxpayers the expense of a by-election, Labour scheduled it later – thus ensuring that there would be no risk that the electorate would back an independent candidate campaigning on the sole issue of keeping open the local swimming pool.
As if this were not sufficiently Machiavellian, a further Labour Councillor in a separate ward resigned before the Carfax vacancy arose, but this by-election has been conveniently convened for mid-September – after the Carfax election.
The extraordinary thing is that there is no need for this level of skulduggery. Labour hold 33 of the 48 Council seats, with no other party offering strong, city-wide opposition.
Yet the Labour Party are so frightened of the electorate that they made the conscious decision to hold a by-election when the majority of the voters would not be there. In one sense, their trickery has paid dividends. Labour topped the poll and the opposition Green vote collapsed. But their victory is undeniably hollow – turnout was a shockingly low 8.6 per cent – disputably the lowest turnout ever for a by-election. In context, the most recent City Council by-elections not concurrent with another election saw turnouts of 28 per cent and 23 per cent respectively.
This has not gone unnoticed at the local level, but it must not go unnoticed nationally. In the aftermath of the Rotherham scandal one clear point was recognised – long-term domination by one party is not healthy for democracy or society. Local residents have set up a petition for the newly elected Councillor, Alex Hollingsworth, to do the honourable thing, and resign to contest a fresh by-election when the students have returned. Every political party needs to hear a loud and clear message from the electorate that we do not want to be treated with the contempt which Oxford Labour have shown the voters of Carfax.
We can start by demanding a new, fair by-election.