Students from the Oxford University Labour Club were out in force on George Street in central Oxford the other day, handing out leaflets emblazoned with the bright red logo of Britain’s main opposition party. Meanwhile, just around the corner on New Inn Hall Street, a banner has been put up outside the Wesley Memorial Church. In a nod to a bestselling book of recent times it reads: ‘Think, Pray, Vote’.
Banners and leaflets on the streets of Oxford can only mean one thing, and that is that Britain is heading towards another General Election, the moment when British people elect a new government, or indeed re-elect an old one.
One of the main issues in the run-up to election day on 8th June is Brexit. Who will be the right leader to take us into our negotiations to leave the European Union? Should we be leaving the European Union at all?
These were just two of the questions on the lips of voters attending a recent hustings (a hustings is a pre-election debate) at the Cowley Road Methodist Church. About 100 people attended the two-hour event, which saw candidates for the Oxford East constituency clash over the post-Brexit fate of thousands of scientists working at local research facilities, many of which rely on European cooperation.
A related concern is future production at the MINI car plant in Oxford should Europe and Britain fail to strike a favourable Brexit deal. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, made a flying visit to the city a couple of weeks ago to try to reassure workers at the car plant that she wanted a “comprehensive free trade agreement” with Europe.
The politician who grew up in the local village of Wheatley before going on to study at St Hugh’s College at Oxford, took a lot of questions during her morning at the Cowley factory; but in the end she probably got a rougher ride later that day. Walking around the marketplace in nearby Abingdon that afternoon she was confronted by an angry voter who heckled the prime minister over cuts to the disability living allowance.
For Brexit is not the only issue on the table in this election. Cuts to welfare are another worry for voters, as are reductions in the police budget, especially in the wake of the recent terrorist atrocity in Manchester.
Then there are the perennial issues of health and education. In another local hustings, this time held at Matthew Arnold School, a group of 18 year-old students quizzed political candidates about nurses’ pay, university tuition fees and free schools.
Simon Wilcox is a tutor at OISE with a background in the media. Holding a Postgraduate Diploma in Broadcast Journalism, Simon has reported for the BBC in England and a major broadcaster in Singapore. He has also worked for newspapers and magazines, and as a website editor for a London-based NGO.