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Two Labour candidates from Lancaster University were elected as Lancaster City Councillors for the University Ward on May 5, gaining the seats from the Green Party. Paul Aitchison and Jonathan Dixon, both first years, gained the seats with 369 votes and 314 votes respectively. They said they were surprised at their victory.
“Labour did a really good campaign but the Green Party supporters tend to be more active and vote when others don’t”, explained Paul Aitchison. “We picked up seats we didn’t expect to and we didn’t think we’d win by so much.”
Despite their success, the overall voter turnout was only 38.75%, something Aitchison says is a positive thing. “For local elections the percentage is actually usually around 30%. But when I was a member of the Youth Parliament, I was involved in raising awareness of elections and encouraging voting through citizenship classes in schools.” Dixon added, “People usually just vote in general elections and also with students living in Lancaster and at home in another city, there’s confusion about where they can vote.”
Aitchison is the youngest Councillor ever elected at 18 and studies History and Politics. He said of his election, “It’s a bit daunting, but I’m not the only student Councillor so I don’t feel there’s much difference between me and the others even though I’m still 18. I felt that Council needed a young student voice.”
Dixon, who is 19 and currently studying Physics said “It helps to be young and a student because we’re representing the University and also the pupils at nearby sixth form colleges. In our campaign we put up posters around campus and put leaflets in bars so we were able to reach students in a way other nominees maybe couldn’t.”
The role of City Councillor is a four year position with meetings held every six weeks. Alongside this, there are smaller committees which are held to discuss issues like housing and transport. Aitchison and Dixon hope to sit on as many as these as possible, alongside their degree.
Dixon said, “I think you always have time to do things outside of your degree. I got interested in Politics through my Economics course at A Level and really wanted to get involved with it. Also, I might be doing a four year course so I’ll be in Lancaster for all my four years in office.” Aitchinson also divulged the reason for putting himslef up for the role as City Councillor; “I’m planning on doing a PGCE in Lancaster after I graduate. Alongside this, I’m considering a career in Politics. It was during the 2008 Presidential election that I got interested, after hearing my Dad have a good old moan about Labour for years”.
Alongside Aitchison and Dixon, Labour gained nine other seats across Lancaster and Morecambe while the Conservatives gained only five. Labour now holds twenty-four seats to the Conservative’s sixteen. Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrats lost all their five seats. It can be seen as a response to the coalition government which has so far raised tuition fees, despite Lib Dem promises this would not happen, and made changes to child benefits.
“People aren’t happy with the government and I think this is a sign of things to come,” Laura Peters, a first year Economics Student, argued. “Of course in this city, with Lancaster and Cumbria Universities, the parties who raise tuition fees aren’t going to be popular. They’ve had a year in power and already made massive mistakes.”
“I think that local elections like this are a good barometer for how the government is doing overall,” agreed Lindsay Rooney, an English Language Student. “But there’s still time for the Conservatives to introduce new policies which might be more popular and win back the trust of the voters.”
Other shocks included the Green Party losing four seats across the city, and the Mayor of Lancaster, Tony Wade, losing his seat in Westgate as a member of the Morecambe Bay Independents. Consequently, he will now be replaced as Mayor by Paul Woodruff, Councillor for Halton.
The Council will meet to elect a leader later this month, who will then form a cabinet.