Well we’re in election time again! I had the pleasure of attending the OUSU-organised student hustings last night at Magdalen College where I got to speak for LibDems on student and other City issues. Here’s what I said:
Hello and thanks for coming to this City Council election hustings tonight. I am Councillor Tony Brett and I’m speaking for all LibDem candidates standing for election to the City Council in the student wards. I’ve been in Oxford over 20 years, since coming as a fresher undergrad, and have served as a councillor for nine years. I’m Oxford’s Deputy Lord Mayor this year.
Let’s get the LibDem thing done first – yes, I am proud to be a LibDem and am proud of Lib Dem policy. No, I am not proud of some things the coalition has done but yes I am proud of the many things LibDems have achieved in government, despite having less than 10% of commons seats and 15% of government seats. No income tax for those earning less than £10k, ending detention of asylum-seeking children, delivering £2.5bn of pupil premium, and protecting freedom of speech are just some of those achievements. I should say also that Oxford LibDems are not in coalition with Tories. There are no Tories on Oxford City Council. It is run by Labour with a LibDem opposition.
So what have we LibDems done and what do we care most about in Oxford? Who has or will live out in a shared house? While we support the council’s attempts to raise standards with the licensing scheme we totally oppose its cap on the numbers of shared houses and its financial penalties on Colleges/University building purpose-built student accommodation. Both these things just make your rents higher and I believe damage the City for everyone. We believe students, as residents just as much as anyone else, have every right to equal housing access as fellow human beings who are a valued and essential part of Oxford’s life and economy.
On homelessness, an issue I know many of you care deeply about, I believe Labour missed a huge opportunity by rejecting a LibDem City Council budget amendment recently to give its support more money following the Tory County Council’s swingeing cuts to this vital social care. I am proud that two of our LibDem candidates, Jean and Conor, nominated the Chair of Oxford Homeless pathways for a Lord Mayor’s Certificate of Honour – which she indeed got! I also volunteer as a Street Pastor – supporting the homelessness and others out on the street in the small hours.
The Covered Market is a jewel in Oxford’s crown and I’ve been appalled at how The Council has tried to bleed it dry with incredibly high rent rises and has reneged on its promise to set the rent an independent arbitrator recommended. It has totally neglected maintenance there too. We LibDems think the covered Market is much more important than that and support it fully.
Who cycles in this room? LibDems have a good track record of pushing hard for safer cycling in Oxford – we want more cycle safety boxes and much better road surfaces and cycle lanes for cyclists. We campaign tirelessly to the Council for improved cycle safety and have had some success.
In full council meetings I have proposed and had cross-party support for motions both on preserving Oxford’s pubs and on human rights for LGBT Russians in our Twin Town of Perm. I was a principal organiser of the first Oxford Pride back in 2003 and I chair of the University’s LGBT Advisory Group, encompassing both staff and students.
Are any of you here student volunteers? We are impressed to see how much support Oxford students give our City, particularly working with lonely, and often elderly, people living right in the City Centre. LibDems fully support that too.
This week saw good news that Oxford University it taking the Living Wage further so everyone working for the University, whether as contractors or staff, will be paid a living wage. This is great news and testament to work the whole City Council, enthusiastically supported by the Lib Dems, in pushing for this.
I hope you’ll agree we’re good for Oxford and give a LibDem your vote in the City Council elections in just over three weeks’ time!
There were some good questions too, about action against violence for women, detention of LGBT asylum seekers, identifying as a feminist, and the immigration bill.
I am pleased to say that I will fully support anything that can be done to help end violence to women and this includes providing more services (like rape crisis and domestic abuse coordinators); better sex and relationship education in schools; more safety initiatives in the community; and more strategic planning by partnership working of bodies like Thames Valley Police and the Oxford Safer Communities Partnership. I pledge City LibDem support for them all.
On detention of LGBTQ asylum seekers, and indeed detention of any asylum seeker, I think my views are clear that human rights really are being abused by doing that and that asylum seekers come to the UK because they are running for their lives, they are NOT spongers or lazy! It is just not acceptable to send an LGBTQ person back to a country where their liberty or even the life would be at risk because of the sexuality or gender identity.
I think all candidates agreed that we were feminists and I made a slightly clumsy point say all prostitutes are victims and should not be called girls, as they are vulnerable women (and men). I was appropriately corrected by Annie Teriba (OUSU Access officer) by being reminded that some women, and men, take a positive choice to work in the sex trade and that if they do then they should be empowered to do that and not criminalised. The victims I was talking about are those that are enslaved, perhaps by drug dealers, who are being used as a commodity to make money rather than working of their own free will. Annie and I had a good chat about this afterwards and I was happy to be corrected.
On immigration, again, I see diverse groups of people and people coming to work in the UK as a really good thing. It boost our economy and gives much better world-vision and harmony to our country. I abhor the sense that some people are more valid or welcome than others just because of their nationality – that’s absolutely wrong! I noted that LibDems are the only party that have pinned our flag clearly to the mast on EU membership too. Labour and the Tories are still dithering and running scared of UKIP.