by Cllr Dr Erica Lewis
Last week, we had the pleasure of welcoming Cllr Fabiha Askari to her first Lancaster Branch meeting since her election. Fabiha is going to be an excellent councillor, she already has a history of service & campaigning for both individuals (providing material support to refugees & asylum seekers arriving in Lancashire – donate via Just Giving here) & systemic change (Why is my curriculum white?).
Fabiha also happens to be someone very rare within local government, as she describes herself, she is a ‘young, brown, outspoken Muslim woman’ & she attracted significantly more abuse than those candidates were male & white. A sad reality for too many women in public life today.
Fabiha represents University and Scotforth Rural ward, which is very much a ward of two parts. The numerically dominant part is the students resident at Lancaster University – a younger than average, multi-cultural mix representing a cross-section of England and the Commonwealth. The other part of the ward is rural and agricultural.
University and Scotforth Rural ward is special amongst council wards in that it routinely elects young people – late teens & early twenties. It’s also a ward that has repeatedly elected BAME councillors in recent years, a feature distinct from many others in the Lancaster district.
This does lead to some tensions, there’s one farm where every time I’ve knocked in the last five or so years I’ve had the same conversation. That Scotforth Rural residents feel unrepresented by their young councillors and overwhelmed by the interests of Lancaster University. They assume their councillors to be transient, although Fabiha has lived in Lancaster for a decade, going to school as well as university here. This feeling appears to have led to Scotforth Rural Parish writing to the Boundary Commission urging that they be separated from Lancaster University’s resident student population in the current re-warding that is taking place.
Disappointingly the Boundary Commission appears to have accepted this argument. Doing what is all too often done in public policy and public administration – privileging older people over younger people in the electoral system.
As a researcher and board member of the World YWCA, I know that many institutions are moving to strengthen young people’s voices and participation in public policy and as policy makers. For example take the work currently being funded by the World Health Organisation and the United Nations Foundation working with big six youth organisations (YWCA, YMCA, Scouts, Guides, Duke of Edinburgh Award and the Red Cross/Crescent). As former Leader of Lancaster City Council, I also know that rural issues have strong representation from many wards across the district.
As the county councillor for Lancaster South East, which includes all of University and Scotforth Rural ward, I’m grateful for the opportunity to represent those rural residents, their communities and the issues important to them. I am, after all, the niece of a dairy farmer.
Bringing this all together, while I understand the concerns of Scotforth Rural Parish Council and rural residents of the University and Scotforth Rural ward, I think the larger injustice is for the Boundary Commission to abolish the ward that routinely elects young people to the city council.
If you agree that we should be working to strengthen youth representation and include more young people as policy makers then we ask three things:
- please sign our petition to Save University and Scotforth Rural ward
please share this piece and ask others to sign the petition
- please write to the Boundary Commission – which you can do via https://www.lgbce.org.uk/all-reviews/north-west/lancashire/lancaster