Students are often accused of a particular kind of crime, one that’s painted as the cause of any and all problems under the sun, and not a symptom of the world we’ve been left to navigate: that crime is complacency. But if there’s one thing that you can’t accuse Patrick Thelwell of, it’s being complacent. Thelwell is running as the Green Party representative for Hull Road ward, canvassing relentlessly between his degree and activism with Extinction Rebellion; as you might guess, he’s running on the platform that widespread change about the way we treat environmental issues needs radical and immediate redressal, starting local and thinking global. We sat down with the second year University of York politics student, to see why he cares about local government so much- and why you should too.
Why are you standing in May’s Local govt. elections?
As a constituent, I can vouch for the fact that Hull Road ward’s environmental and community issues have been systematically ignored, and I want to change that. I’m also running because I believe that students deserve representation in the cities that they study in- not only are we constituents who rely on the services that York Council provide, but we should take pride in our city, and look after our home.
What are your policies?
I want to push the local government to take Hull Road Ward’s issues seriously, with a few key environmental policies in mind. One of the most important things that local governments can do to fight against climate change is to reduce their carbon emissions, and that’s what I want to press upon the council. This would involve being an opposing force in the chamber to the dual carriageway that York Council is currently planning to construct, and campaigning to make the centre a car free zone, by expanding the park and ride scheme and residential parking. I would also campaign to reduce litter in Osbaldwick Park by providing public bins, and monitoring air pollution in the area.
I’m also passionate about involving students in local politics, and having them represented in the council. I want to work closely with the Environment and Ethics YUSU officers to get the university to follow the city’s lead by declaring climate emergency; this way, they can be held accountable for actions towards divestment and carbon neutrality. If the students get on board with this and we organise effectively, but the university doesn’t listen to our demands, my position in the council may mean we are able to get council pressure on the university.
In more general terms, I want to confront the poor provision and upkeep of council housing within the ward, tackle homelessness in the area, and campaign to end austerity so we can put more money into the area’s wonderful community projects. I especially want to improve the culture around volunteering; it’s a vital part of maintaining our communities. I have been leading litter picks in the run up to the election in this mindset.
Why should people care who runs their local council?
There’s a lot of apathy surrounding local government, I think because the work that they do is seen as pretty abstract; it’s hard to know how their influence relates to your every day life. However, local government has incredible power in community services and it’s vital we take it seriously if we want to make our community better.
How do the environmental issues you’ve flagged up factor in to the wider national and international context?
I’m a passionate environmental activist, but my policy has always been to think global and act local. We have the most ability to make an impact in our close communities; on top of which, working people often don’t see the benefits of globalisation and benefit more from local projects. It’s important that we get involved with any small thing that can make a difference: humanity is facing the existential threat of extinction more now than ever before. We need to make radical global changes or face the dire consequences.
Does politics begin and end at the ballot box?
Only if you let it- there are so many organisations and projects you can get involved in outside of conventional politics, but bear in mind that representation also ends at the ballot box. If you want to make a change, vote so that you can hold your politicians to account.
What would you say to anyone thinking of voting for you?
Please keep thinking about it! I think I’ll be an excellent choice for the ward: I have experience in working in positions that require organisation and public speaking, such as Extinction Rebellion and Gardening Society. Because I’m running on the platform of radical environmental change, I’d be happy to work with any party that would help to get the best results. After all, the survival of our planet is more important than party politics. I’d make sure that my position in government took precedence over other commitments, and treat my role seriously.
What advice would you give to students who are thinking about standing in local elections?
It makes for a stressful but interesting couple of months: you get to meet a lot of inspiring people and it’s definitely a learning curve. Go for it, though. We’ve got nothing to lose and running isn’t an old man’s game.
How can people get involved in local politics if standing in elections isn’t for them?
Two things. Vote! Vote for the people who can see to it that your views are represented. But also, and vitally, make sure that your voice is heard so that people know you want to be represented. There are so many community projects that can make a difference and need your help. There are two thousand students in Hull Road Ward: imagine how much of a difference representing their voices could make to local politics. Make sure you register, and vote in these elections.
Patrick is currently studying second year Politics and International Relations, alongside running for local council as a green on 2nd May. Here is a link to his website patrickthelwell.co.uk.