Wednesday, 23 April 2008

The Local Elections

This piece is from my column in the latest issue of Seren (our SU newspaper) - after writing it I realise I didn't discuss the BNP which I maybe should have - but I am writing an article for the next issue on them. People may also be interested to know that the Student Union passed a motion submitted by Socialist Students (well, me directly) which responded to recent stuff in the local press blaming students for housing problems around Bangor and also opposing cuts to local public services.

In case people haven’t noticed, it’s going to be local election time very soon. So I would suppose the question of the day is who to vote for? In Wales there are four main parties represented in the Assembly Government – Labour, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru.
As for their records – successive Labour and Conservative governments scrapped student grants and introduced tuition fees – so if you have to work whilst you’re at university to support yourself or if you’re worrying about the huge amount of debt you’re going to get into by the end of university here’s who’s to blame.
As for the Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru, although both have not governed from Westminster, both have been involved in coalition governments in the Assembly and have run several local councils. Both have been involved in making cuts to public services – which if students aren’t using at the moment – they certainly will be in the future. In Gwynedd where Plaid Cymru are in control of the council, they have, on the back of some funding cuts from the Assembly, drawn up plans to close 29 schools and merge or federalise many others – similar plans are being attempted to be put into effect by the Liberal Democrat controlled Cardiff Council. In Gwynedd, as well as withdrawing funding from Gwynedd Museum and Art Gallery, the Plaid Cymru-led council are cutting 300 jobs and closing various other facilities.
So what have we? Four parties with very similar policies. I’m sure people have heard of voter apathy – surely if you’ve got four choices and you don’t want any of them you’re not going to vote. Indeed, this seems to be increasing, especially amongst younger people.
For the majority of the population, including many students, there is no party that represents them. Thus a new one needs to be created, resting on policies that the majority of the population want. Fundamentally for most students, the demand for free quality education is a must, with the provision of a living grant for all students to live off, rather than many students being forced into part-time work which research by NUS and the TUC (Trades Union Congress) has shown can lower grades by a whole classification. But alongside this should be the right to a decent job at the end of university, or as an alternative to university (obviously these probably wouldn’t be the same types of jobs), but they should have a guaranteed minimum wage that is above the poverty pay that the level is set at at the moment.
Linked to that needs to be opposition to the policies of privatisation which have devastated the National Health Service (NHS), particularly the Private Finance Initiative (PFI). What happens under PFI is that to keep public borrowing down, private companies are invited to raise the finance for new building projects and then lease the buildings back to the NHS. Not only do these companies reap huge profits by doing this, but they can also re-finance their original loan, as once the building is built because they have a guarantee from a government institution they are going to get the money back, they can borrow at a much reduced interest rate, making even more money. Add in that the NHS is locked into these deals for periods of upto 25 to 30 years when in some cases they may not need the buildings even 5 years into their life, and you have an NHS which is saddled with massive debts which means that other services have to be cut – the most common recently have been mental health and maternity services. And it isn’t just restricted to the NHS: schools, museums, courts, and other public facilities (even police stations) have been built under PFI.
Another issue that many young people and students are interested in is in opposing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. These actions were justified as being part of a war on terrorism – but all they’ve been is attempts at plundering the resources of these countries – if anything they’ve destabilised these countries and increased terrorism in the world – both in these countries and abroad. Additionally, draconian legislation reducing civil liberties and various other measures have seen an increase in state terrorism. Removing civil liberties and invasions of other countries must be opposed. If they were really concerned, then the US and Britain wouldn’t have armed Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden in the first place.
I’m involved in a group that aims to create a party like this the Campaign for a New Workers Party (CNWP – see However, such a party needs to be created still and this doesn’t exactly tell you which party to vote for. I’d look at the election materials of candidates in these elections and see if any match up to what I’ve outlined above. If, as they probably will, they don’t match up then I’d argue that rather than ignore the elections, you should show your disapproval by spoiling your ballot paper. But more importantly get involved with campaigns that argue for things your in favour of, and help create the kind of party that is worth you voting for.

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