Meet the Durham students running in the local elections


All students that are registered to vote are presented with four ballots in today’s elections: Durham County Council, Durham Parish Council, County Durham Police and Crime Commissioner and a referendum on neighbourhood planning in Durham City. Students can vote even if they have already sent a postal ballot to vote at a different home address.

Vote at your local polling stationincluding St. Nicholas Church Hall on Market Square, St. Oswald’s Church, The Hub (near South and John Snow College), and for those in the Viaduct area, The Spiritualist Church Hall on John Street.

Local election polls have now opened, as hundreds of candidates contest 126 county councillor positions across County Durham. In a bumper year due to Covid-19 postponements, such roles as parish councillors and the county’s Police, Crime and Victims’ commissioner are also up for grabs.

This year’s local elections have been markedly shaped by the pandemic. Record numbers of postal ballots have been requested and door-to-door campaigning has been limited by lockdown measures. The City of Durham’s current parish and county councils are currently dominated by the Labour Party, but nationwide the Conservatives are said to benefit, partially due to a so-called ‘vaccine bounce’.

Amongst this year’s candidates are four Durham students, who are juggling campaigning and university commitments in the face of pandemic-era challenges to try to boost student representation in local politics.

Govind Nair: Parish Councillor candidate
Labour – Durham South

Govind Nair

“I’ve always wanted to connect students with the wider area surrounding them”, states Govind Nair, a second-year PPE student at St. Aidan’s who wants to tackle the ‘Durham University bubble’ by increasing student participation in local democracy.

“I think that cohesion between local residents and students is extremely important because both populations want the same thing”, Nair explains. He argues that it would be beneficial to both locals and students to pursue goals like improving the city’s eco-friendliness through electric bus schemes and tackling rising housing prices by creating a landlords’ registry and addressing the University’s ongoing expansion.

“The most important thing is making students realise they have a say in local politics”

Nair also prioritises the problem of sexual harassment on the roads in his ward and the city as a whole. He stresses the need for local government and police to take this issue seriously and involve students in the solution.

“The most important thing is making students realise that they have a say in local politics”, Nair explains, stressing that his ward is home to a lot of first-year students who aren’t currently greatly involved in Durham South’s politics and have been cut off from the city by lockdown measures.

“A lot of people don’t really know that they can have control over the city and their circumstances”, he states, “I think one of the best ways to change them is by getting involved in local democracy and local politics”.

: Parish Councillor candidate
Conservative – Neville’s Cross

“I want to see the vibrant Durham I knew from first year back”, explains Tristan Pahl, a third-year PPE student at Josephine Butler, reflecting on the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the local economy. “The upcoming elections determine how Durham will look as we recover from the economic crisis”, he explains. According to Pahl, “in-person businesses such as nightclubs and bars need to be viable, which can happen more quickly with a Conservative-run County Council”.

Pahl is also concerned about local transport provisions, isolating the A1M and East Coast Main Line as key routes in need of improvement to better connect Durham residents with the rest of the country. He also opposes the city’s new bus lane, instead arguing for “more cycle lanes to enable local people to come to Durham City for leisure pursuits.”

“I care deeply about Durham’s future”

Although Pahl believes that splitting “student issues” and “local issues” can be “divisive”, he states that he’d “like to involve the University by holding meetings on campus and inviting local residents for dialogue”.

“I’ve had the privilege of getting to know it as a student and I care deeply about its future”, Pahl concludes. “Going forward, I’d like to see the County Council deliver value for money – that means good quality public services and cutting waste.”

Declan Merrington: Parish Councillor candidate
Labour – Elvet and Gilesgate

Declan Merrington

“I’m someone who has a lot of pride in Durham”, explains Declan Merrington, an Education Master’s student at Hild Bede. “I want to give something positive which is why I’m running for parish council – it’s the lowest form of government but it’s really something that can help us take pride in Durham”, he states.

As a candidate, he is concerned with the problems of unregulated landlords, strained town-gown relationships and the impact of the pandemic on the high street. He cites “building a partnership between locals and students” as a key step in solving these issues.

“Take pride in Durham”

“We’re doing great things as students, like the students who are raising money to keep the Dun Cow, a local business, open”, he explains, stressing the importance of students to the city’s economy. But it will take student representation in local politics to change negative
perceptions. “I think it’s a great thing that students are getting involved”, he enthuses in reference to his fellow student candidates.

Declan also highlights environmental issues as a personal priority as well as for his party and the wider student population. “You’ve got to vote red to be green” he argues, “it’s like a watermelon: green on the outside and red on the inside”. Issues like diesel emissions, waste management and green transportation would be some of his key focuses as a councillor.

“I believe I have the interests of students at heart whilst also giving a local perspective”, he summarises. “I really do wish that students vote on the day for who they think is right”.

Anna Marshall: County Councillor candidate
Green Party – Elvet and Gilesgate

“I’m very used to representing students’ voices”, explains Anna Marshall, currently the sabbatical Opportunities Officer for Durham Student Union. Marshall has been involved in local campaigning and student politics for several years and is concerned by the limited student engagement in local issues. “You’re a part of this community, you can’t really opt out in my view, so it will be mutually beneficial to have a student voice on the council”, she explains.

As a Green Party candidate, environmental issues are naturally top of her priorities, but she also is concerned about housing problems in her student-dominated ward. She proposes instating a landlords’ tenancy scheme to protect students and limit rising housing prices to help soothe town-gown tensions.

“The Green Party is on the right side of history”

Local election campaigns are the perfect opportunity to strengthen the Green Party’s visibility as a “viable option”, particularly for those who have become frustrated with Labour in recent years, according to Marshall. “I think the Greens have a really great shot at becoming the third main political party”, she explains. Marshall urges students to see local elections as a chance to express what they “want to see in the world”, instead of “seeing it as a two-party race.”

“I really do believe the Green Party is on the right side of history”, she concludes.

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