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On May 5, Go to Vote

Roar writer Paul Spence encourages students to engage with the upcoming local elections. His message – vote.

On Thursday May 5, residents in 146 council areas in England, Scotland and Wales will go to the polls to vote for their local councillors. But what are local councils? What do they do? And most importantly, why should you care?

I know, local politics seems pretty boring. Talk of local councils assuredly brings up images of middle-aged and elderly white people, arrogantly talking about what time the bins should be collected or the streets cleaned with utter conviction of their own importance. Even those invested in national politics often think of local government mostly as a charade: people making inconsequential decisions for small numbers of people.

In fact, councillors and local politicians do a lot more than play-act at being ‘real’ politicians. They take decisions that can have substantial impacts on local communities, particularly the least well off. Let’s consider some examples.

  1. Local politicians largely control local public services  – the upkeep of public parks, sport centres, libraries, museums, etc. Many of us at King’s are lucky enough to not be hugely reliant on these, but this clearly isn’t the case for everyone.
  2. More seriously, since the 1993 implementation of the ‘Care in the Community’ program, local councils have been taking decisions concerning social care – support for people with disabilities, or mental illness. People with elderly parents or siblings in mental health institutions will only be too aware of this.
  3. Furthermore, local councils have control over council housing and building regulations. And this is where it gets dark. In 2017, Grenfell Tower in Kensington – a building which the local council was responsible for through a residents’ organisation – went up in flames. This followed months of complaints from residents and warnings about fire safety. Although the council was arguably only indirectly responsible, councillors have a legal mandate to intervene if pressed by residents. They could have helped those in Grenfell.

Local councils matter. Yes, for students – most of you reading this – these policies may not have the same relevance as they do to others up and down the country. That said, some of you will know the sting of complaining to local authorities about the quality of council housing to no avail, or the struggle of working with social care services. I beg others to stand in solidarity and turn out to vote.

On May 5, please go to vote. It’s not difficult. It’s simple to find out if an election is happening in your area. Being uninformed isn’t an excuse – the manifestos of local parties are freely available and usually made easy to read.

Links to the manifestos of Southwark and Westminster candidates can be found below.

Southwark Labour // Southwark Conservatives // Southwark Liberal Democrats

Westminster Conservatives // Westminster Labour

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