Back in May, there were city council elections in Oxford. In the Carfax ward, the former Labour council leader, Alex Hollingsworth stood. He lost narrowly to the Green candidate, Ruthi Brandt. A couple of months later, something else happened. Each Oxford ward has two councillors, and there are elections for one of them every two years. The other councillor in the ward, Ann-Marie Canning, announced she was standing down. Ann Marie had moved to London for a job soon after she’d been elected in 2012 (beating me into second place), and was finding it hard to do both jobs.

Usually, it’s pretty frowned upon to trigger a by-election immediately after there’s been a city-wide election, as it costs extra resources and it’s easier for everyone just to elect both seats for the ward on the same day. But Oxford Labour have done it three times this summer. They know it’s easier to hold by-elections than to hold seats during the city-wide vote because they can pour resources in from across the county and beat the various smaller parties they have to contend with in each area. Since Greens won the Carfax seat up in May, it seems likely we’d have got two, had both been contested then. Up against the whole Labour machine, it’s harder.

This case is more shocking though. Carfax is a funny kind of a ward. 60% of the people who live there are students living in college. In a move clearly planned for many months by Labour, Ann-Marie announced her resignation at exactly the right moment to ensure that the by-election would be held at a time when students weren’t there. She and the Oxford Labour Party connived to ensure that the majority of voters in the ward would be disenfranchised.

Oxford students tend to vote Green. The non-students in the ward lean more to Labour. Not surprisingly, therefore, among the 40% of the voters who remained, Labour won. Or rather, among the 8.6% of the electorate who voted.

8.6% is apparently the lowest turnout in British electoral history. It provides no mandate at all. Hollingsworth should refuse to take up his seat, and the by-election should be held again. If it was, Hollingsworth may well win again. But he won’t stand down. He’ll instead claim to represent an electorate his party actively chose to disenfranchise, and vote in their name on issues which effect them.

Adam Ramsay

About Adam Ramsay

Adam is Co-Editor of Open Democracy UK and a green activist based in Edinburgh. He co-founded Bright Green in 2010.