“We stand alone” – Puffles to stand as an independent in Cambridge


***To the great people of Cambridge***

Puffles the Dragon Fairy (@Puffles2010 on Twitter) is standing for election!

See here in the Cambridge News!

This is an appeal encouraging you to take part in local democracy in a way that has not been tried before in Cambridge. Please read this digital democracy pledge at http://www.pledgebank.com/DigitalDemocracy (or see here on Facebook). Please ask questions of anyone standing for election in your area – in particular via email and social media. Please give them feedback using social media, and share your experiences with family, friends and contacts.

***If any of the parties and/or candidates impress or inspire you, please vote for them***

Just as importantly, please tell them why you are voting for them – just as I did with Cllr George Owers in 2012. It’s just as important for local candidates to know what they are getting right as well as what they are getting wrong.

If none of them impress or inspire you…

have a look at our manifesto for Cambridge. Unlike other manifestos, me and Puffles invite you to make suggestions on things you think would improve it – and improve Cambridge. If there are any ideas that you like in the manifesto, please tell the candidates/parties standing in your area and ask them what they think.

If none of the candidates or parties impress or inspire you after all that…

…and you still like the ideas in our manifesto, please write on your ballot paper “#Puffles4Cambridge”. It does not matter which ward you live in. Although nominally standing in Coleridge, both the digital democracy pledge and the manifesto are Cambridge-wide. (The pledge template is universal – if you are outside Cambridge feel free to adapt it to your area). By writing ‘#Puffles4Cambridge’ on your ballot paper, your vote will be counted. It will also make it easier for people at the election count to note the number of ballot papers containing this, rather than a cross in a box for a candidate. This will then show if the ideas in the manifesto are popular with people across the city.

And if you don’t have the vote…

If you are too young to vote, or are ineligible to vote, you can still make suggestions, post questions and demand answers from candidates standing in your ward! Use social media and share the responses you get back! Like the ideas in our manifesto? Please post “Puffles4Cambridge” on the social media pages of the local political parties. Just because you can’t tell the parties what your views are through the ballot box doesn’t mean you can’t use the comments box on their social media pages!

With Puffles, even if you don’t have the vote you can still have your say!

This time, your voice will be heard by the local politicians because a feature of this campaign is to get people who don’t have the vote using their voices en masse.

Interested in helping Puffles spread the word on democracy? Get in touch!

  • We’re on Facebook on The Dragon’s Digital Democracy Challenge
  • Puffles is on Twitter at @Puffles2010
  • Feel free to leave your comments at the end of this post, or on the relevant page of our manifesto (see here)
  • Email – antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com

For this campaign it would be great to see an explosion of creativity, including

  • Making short digital video sketches highlighting local issues
  • Making pictures, paintings and posters advertising the digital democracy pledge
  • Writing songs and poetry on the theme of democracy
  • Making fliers – and distributing them in places where people are most likely to read them and have time to then search online soon after for the pledge & the manifesto

Can Cambridge show that we can go beyond traditional methods of campaigning? It’s your city. Be the difference.

Thank you for listening.


Antony Carpen

(Standing as/with Puffles the Dragon Fairy as an independent candidate in Coleridge Ward for the 2014 Cambridge City Council elections. Promoted by Antony Carpen of Cherry Hinton Road, Cambridge CB1 7DA -> The law says I have to put that bit in)

Puffles the dragon fairy occupying the Mayor of Cambridge's throne in one of the Guildhall's committee rooms.

Puffles the dragon fairy occupying the Mayor of Cambridge’s throne in one of the Guildhall’s committee rooms.


We stand alone

Summary: Some thoughts on crossing the political threshold.

It scares the living daylights out of me. (For those of you not aware, I have a mental health condition known as a general anxiety disorder for which I am on medication. I’m also recovering from mental exhaustion which at the moment means I cannot work full-time). #Timetochange. Setting yourself up for something like this is a very big deal.

I drafted this blogpost having got 9 out of the required 10 signatures needed to stand as an independent candidate in the name of “Puffles the Dragon Fairy” in the ward of Coleridge in the borough of Cambridge City for the 2014 elections. Part of me thinks there will be a last-minute hitch, hence aiming to get the final signature early in the morning before heading to the Guildhall. [Update to add: No hitch - all thanks to Vicky, the deputy returning officer at Cambridge City Council for making the process painless]

‘Cambridge: It’s your city. Be the change.’

These were my final words at the end of the blogpost describing how year 9 students at one of the secondary schools in my ward unlocked democracy. It’s as if some ‘unseen voice’ is now holding a mirror up to me, telling me:

“It’s your turn now”

I can’t say it wasn’t coming. This angry blogpost led to me and Puffles being on the front page of the Cambridge News – see their article here. The closer the deadline date for nominations to close, the greater the pressure I’ve felt to stand.

And yet, as I look around, I see no one by my side. I don’t have a party. I don’t have an agent. I don’t have a ‘running mate’. I don’t have a team of activists to campaign with or go door-knocking with. I am putting myself forward to become a member of an eclectic group of people: Independent candidates.

“What are you standing for?”

First and foremost:

  • Increased voter turnout
  • Increased in the number of people who feel they have cast an informed vote
  • Increased longer term political engagement, particularly through social media

“And…how are you and a cuddly toy going to deliver this?”

Through promoting my ‘digital democracy challenge’ – see http://www.pledgebank.com/DigitalDemocracy the key points of which are:

1) Find the websites and social media accounts of your local political parties. (For Cambridge, I’ve done this bit for you – see links at the end of the Qs)

2) Make two suggestions to the parties/politicians for what you would like to see improved in your area

3) Ask three questions to local parties/politicians – make sure your questions are based on your observations and life experiences, not on newspaper headlines

4) Give four pieces of feedback to the politicians on what you thought of their answers. Did you agree/disagree? Did they inspire you?

5) With five people, share your experiences of 1-4  - family, friends, contacts. Tell them what you thought of the responses you got back from the politicians and encourage them to take the challenge.

The local parties I’ve found

Cambridge Conservatives: 

Cambridge Greens
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Cambridge… - baseline 119 ‘likes’

Cambridge Labour 
https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeLabour… - baseline 107 ‘likes’

Cambridge Liberal Democrats
https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeLDs?fr… - baseline 77 ‘likes’

Cambridge UKIP

Couldn’t find anything online

“What difference will it make?”

It could make absolutely none. Not a single additional Facebook ‘like’ for any of the parties, and not a single additional non-voter turning out.

It could have a negative impact. If citizens make the effort to get in touch with local candidates and get weak/unconvincing responses – or worse, no responses at all, the impact could be citizens being even more cynical about local democracy than they already are.

It could have a small positive impact. A few more people using social media to communicate with politicians, a few more people going online to read the manifestos published, and a few more additional votes helping raise turnout

It could go viral. Which is sort of what I hope – that hundreds – if not thousands of people across the city – in particular young people and women, proactively seek out the parties standing candidates in their wards, and shower them with questions and suggestions on improving Cambridge. On top of that, I hope this will lead to lots of new faces getting involved in local democracy, leading later on down the line to a whole host of new candidates across the piece.

Puffles could get more votes than the Liberal Democrats.

Now ***that would be fun!*** :-D

“Magic dragon Puffles eats Lib Dem candidate in Cambridge stronghold”

I jest! One of the complaints we’ve had in Coleridge is that none of the other parties here campaign. By simply being there, the other parties will have to consider whether they can ignore Coleridge as in the past. The last thing they want is to get fewer votes than Puffles. It just so happens I live in a traditionally safe Labour ward.

Puffles could get elected. Please. Just No. Me and Puffles ***don’t want to get elected*** My local ward councillor who is standing for election is Labour’s Cllr Lewis Herbert - leader of the Labour group on Cambridge City Council. He’s one of the few Labour councillors (given they are expected to take political control of Cambridge City Council) with the experience and competence to lead a council. What Cambridge does not need is for him to get defeated at the ballot box by Puffles. Also, I like Lewis. The week before Easter Sunday he popped round for a chat (he lives up the road) on all things community action. We had a long & detailed conversation. He understands the issues and wants to make an impact both using social media and getting young people involved in democracy. (See item 8 of the open forum at this recent meeting).

“If you don’t want Cllr Herbert to be defeated, why stand against him?”

He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. Simple as. Hence not actively campaigning either against him or for votes in this ward. The problem as I see it is a city-wide one. It goes beyond individual political parties and even the two councils in Cambridge.” I’m aiming for something much bigger – as I described in this blogpost.

At the same time, it sends a very strong message to all of the local parties – and the other councillors up for re-election in 2015. Anyone standing for election for the first time is crossing a big political line. It’s one thing to complain about politicians and politics. It’s quite another to do something about it. It’s off the scale to put your reputation on the line and stand for election – especially if you are not a paper candidate. Put simply, it means that local political parties have to react and respond.

What makes Puffles ever so difficult to ‘risk manage’ at this stage is the ‘unknowns’ – of which there are three:

  1. Puffles’ impact: None of us have any clue as to how the voters of Coleridge – and Cambridge for that matter – will respond
  2. The social media impact: One of the things I want to test is where the people of Cambridge currently are with the idea of using social media for local democracy
  3. Puffles’ unpredictable nature: By extension I mean my own. Although this campaign is going to be a positive non-threatening campaign that breaks lots of stale and narrow conventions, at what point will the dragon turn around and bite?

The first two I don’t know the outcomes of. The third one is where it gets interesting. There’s the ‘day-to-day’ challenges versus trying to predict what might happen in the longer term? Will I stand for election in the future? As Puffles or as myself? In which ward/division/constituency? How do we cope with someone who is prepared to stand against one candidate in one ward while providing free help to another candidate in another ward, when both candidates are in the same political party? Finally, how do the three main parties locally deal with a candidate who has worked inside central government in Whitehall policy teams for ministers in each of their parties?

“Can you make it perhaps a little easier for them?”

That in part is what my manifesto is about. Between now and the 2015 general election, I’m going to continue on the theme of digital democracy in a community context. Again, my aim is to get more people involved for the long term – while showing that you don’t have to be party-political to influence what happens locally. The two factors that will influence whether I choose to stand again or not are:

  1. Diversity of backgrounds of candidates standing for election to local councils
  2. Number of councillors and activists using social media effectively to listen to local residents that otherwise would not take part in local democracy

If we get a significant increase in the number of new faces and people from a greater variety of backgrounds coming forward, combined with a significant increase in the number of councillors and activists using social media to reach out to new audiences, then I won’t need to stand again on that platform. (That’s not to say future democracy issues won’t arise where I may choose to stand). On the other issues I’ve listed in the manifesto, there are other ways of making things happen – ones that I feel more comfortable with.

“Where do you hope to be at after the 2014 elections?”

In a much more calm and relaxed state?!?

In all seriousness, I hope this makes a positive difference. I hope there won’t be too much pain on my part, and that I learn lots of interesting things and meet some great people. I hope that this will inspire others to step forward, get involved in the future of our city and make it a better place for everyone that lives, works and studies here.

“A final message for all those people who indicated support before and just after the announcement?”

Me and Puffles have stood up to be counted. And as things stand, we are alone. Not a good place to be with an anxiety disorder. We need you to stand by us as the going gets choppy. Because it will.

We can’t do this alone.

Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Party politics, Puffles, Social media | 2 Comments

Puffles goes to watch Cambridgeshire Tories at first hand

(…or first paw)


Some thoughts on the Conservatives’ response to the UKIP threat in East Anglia

Tim Haire and Nick Clarke setting up their stall outside the Cambridge Guildhall following the launch of their manifesto

Tim Haire (R) and Nick Clarke (L) setting up their stall outside the Cambridge Guildhall following the launch of their manifesto

First of all, ***Thank you*** to Vicky Ford MEP for the invitation to attend. Interestingly when I got there, I found the first group of people I met were Ann Sinnott and Cllr Ashley Walsh of Labour, there to challenge Eric Pickles to a bicycle race.

As with the Greens and Dr Rupert Read the day previously (see here), my invitations arrived through social media. In Vicky’s case it was through Twitter, and in Rupert’s case it was through Facebook. I also note that the invitations came from the lead candidates of two parties at the opposite ends of the Westminster politics spectrum – and two of their most active social media users.

“Why does this matter?”

It matters because of the way society is using social and digital media in increasing numbers and with increasing complexity. It also matters because it shows that there are politicians in all political parties that are showing much greater understanding and maturity on how to adapt to these changes. It sounds strange to be talking about ‘maturity’ in the context of a seemingly random bloke dressed in a loud suit carrying a cuddly toy into the manifesto launch of a major party by a Cabinet minister (Eric Pickles in this case). But bear with me.

The handlers from Tory party HQ were nervous about me simply being in the room. What they didn’t – and perhaps could not have known – was that Puffles was on first-name-terms with at least a quarter of the people in the room. (I’d say there were about fifty people in the room – including the mainstream TV & print media). Hence as soon as I got accosted by a big burley handler on stepping into the room, former Cambridgeshire County Council leader Nick Clarke stepped in and said something along the lines of ‘Don’t worry – the dragon is safe!’

Following the main speeches and media Q&A (unlike the Greens, they didn’t take any Qs from the ranks of local activists), there was a sort of ‘friendly break out session’ where the 1-2-1 media interviews took place and photos were taken. It was in this session where the likes of Vicky Ford and Nick Clarke were able to explain what Puffles is & why Puffles was there. Again, this is important because in the minds of the party members there, having someone senior within the local party there talking about social and digital media will have a far greater impact in that setting than if it were me and Puffles rocking up randomly. It was also a nice ice-breaker too – something I’ll refer to later.

“What about the manifesto?”

I haven’t read it yet – a slight hiccough in the media sequencing from Tory HQ in not releasing it across social media platforms at the time Eric Pickles was delivering his speech. But as soon as I get it, I’ll link to it & pass comment

“Hmm…that’s a bit of a basic error…What about Eric Pickles’ speech?”

The recent historical context is important here. The Conservatives lost political control of Cambridgeshire County Council (which I blogged about here) and Norfolk County Council (see the results here) in the 2013 local council elections. Geographically, that’s about half of East Anglia. That was – and still is a shock to the system for a party that sees East Anglia as a heartland in the way that Labour sees places like urban Liverpool and Manchester as theirs.

I actually didn’t hear that much of what Eric Pickles said – I was too busy talking to Nick Clarke at the back of the room. But the common theme as with the Greens yesterday was how to deal with their common problem known as UKIP. The Greens went after UKIP over inflammatory posters, while the Conservatives went after UKIP over their ability or otherwise to deliver what they say they are campaigning for. The Conservatives say they can deliver the referendum on Europe and that UKIP cannot.

Chris Havergal strikes again, while another journalist fails to understand the basics of public administration

Having seen Chris on several occasions asking questions of politicians as part of a wider press pack, it’s clear he has a far greater grasp of the essential concepts of politics than many of his companions. I’m not saying this as a ‘plea’ for positive media coverage at any future gathering or event, but rather saying that the mainstream media has got to do far far better than it currently is in cross-examining politicians, & follow Chris’s example.

There was one cringe-worthy moment when one journalist really tried to go after Eric Pickles over the Kings Lynn incinerator (see here). Now, as Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles is constitutionally barred from commenting on any planning application. End. Of. The reason for this is that the planning system has a safeguard where large and/or controversial planning applications can be referred to central government for ministers to take the final decision. (See here for the official guidance). Yes, it is an important local political issue. It’s just that Eric Pickles in this case is not the person to be putting the questions to.

Despite Eric Pickles being ‘on message’ in civil service terms, and trying to explain to the journalist as clearly as he could that as Secretary of State he has a quasi-judicial role, the journalist kept on persisting until BBC Look East’s Andrew Sinclair stepped in to save the day with a question on a different subject.

“What did Chris ask about?”

He hit the Conservatives’ achilles heel.

“Which is?”

The negotiating position, and the outcome of any negotiations on the relationship of the UK with the EU. As I’ve stated in past blogposts (eg here), I have no idea of what the Conservatives’ negotiating platform is. What are their ‘non-negotiables’ and what are the areas where they are prepared to give ground on? What are their key objectives? From the perspective of the EU, what are they prepared to put on the table? What sort of negotiation process does Cameron in particular have in mind?

The bit that the Conservatives get stuck on as a party is which way they’ll vote in the referendum they’ve promised. Hardline Euro-sceptics have stated they want a UK exit come-what-may. Others have said they’ll wait until the outcome of the negotiations. The problem is that few journalists have been able to cross-examine in detail any politicians on the specifics they would like to see emerge from negotiations. That’s why their platform beyond promising the referendum on the EU feels a bit fuzzy.

“Haven’t the Greens backed an EU referendum?”

They have. But the difference here is that the Greens feel they are part of a much wider pan-European movement and are much stronger on the specifics. It’s unfortunate for them that they don’t get nearly as much media coverage. Funnily enough, if they were to get greater media coverage, it would be Labour and the Liberal Democrats that would be the most vulnerable on more populist issues on the political left – such as reining in the banking system to renationalising the railways.

As the main party of Government, do the Conservatives have an uphill battle against UKIP?

Definitely – but they also know that too. I think there’s also a slow but growing acknowledgement of the changing world that is impacting on the thinking of some of them too. Nick Clarke kindly gave me and Puffles a lift back to town in his car. Although I passed my driving test in the mid-late 1990s, I’ve not driven since. I’ve never been able to afford or run a car. Also, all the places where I’ve lived and worked meant that I never really needed one. It’s a luxury for me – one I cannot afford.

Me and Nick had a long and interesting chat – our first since he lost his seat on Cambridgeshire County Council, and also since he took over leading Cambridge Conservatives. (See my blogpost here on this). It’s clear that he’s done a huge amount of thinking over the past year. He still has the same political drive of years gone by, but he’s adapted some of his ideas as a result of the changing local world and political landscape – not least the new structures of Cambridgeshire County Council.

“You mean Nick’s no longer a climate change sceptic?”

He’s still a sceptic, so in that sense he’s not changed those views – to my knowledge. (See here for the disagreement between Nick & Julian Huppert on this in 2012). I think it’s more that he’s had time to reflect on what he learnt when he was leader of Cambridgeshire County Council. Our discussions were more around public administration rather than party politics, and the role in particular of influential local institutions in Cambridge and the impact they have.

Nick on civic responsibility from institutions in Cambridge

The most interesting thing I learnt from my conversation with Nick was how he came to a similar conclusion on civic responsibility from institutions, but from a completely different angle. This is one of my themes in my manifesto – see here. My point is that Cambridge University and its colleges have got to show they care about the communities on their doorsteps – using the example of the unused bingo hall whose redevelopment has been opposed time and again. Nick’s issue is that the rents Cambridge colleges charge small businesses is far higher (up to x4) than other ‘historical’ cities such as York. Hence it makes it almost impossible for small and micro businesses to set up shop in Cambridge – hence ‘clone town Cambridge’. Also, the fragmented nature of who owns what property-wise, along with the fragmented system of public administration means it’s very difficult to get a single ‘strategic plan for the city’ agreed to by all of the influential &/or interested institutions.

Tories hit the city with their Guildhall stall

I stuck around for about half an hour to see how the Conservatives fared with people in the Guildhall. I understand why they chose it – many other parties choose Market Square for their stalls. The problem is that this is the part of the city where all the tourists head to. Hence raising my eyebrows when one elderly campaigner said:

“There are an awful lot of foreigners around”

My jaw hit the floor until it became clear what the context was: There were lots of tourists around and she was struggling to work out which were the tourists and which were the local residents eligible to vote. Cambridge is always full of tourists – 4.1million in 2008 alone. The week after Easter is always going to be one of those weeks where there is a peak in the number of visitors – a favourite time of year for schools in continental Europe to bring their teenagers to visit. So, clumsy language rather than malice.

They had lots of activists around too – I counted about ten dotted around the market. A fair number of people took leaflets though didn’t appear to show too much interest. A few people stopped for long chats. As with Cambridge, you get the individuals who are experts in a very specific piece of policy that completely baffled the campaigners trying to quickly grasp what the issue was. (In this case it was all things ‘digital money’). There was the inevitable haranguing – interestingly from a woman sat next to me and Puffles on the bench. Funnily enough it was the presence of Puffles that helped calm her down.

A dragon? Calming people down?

Yep – it happened on the bus on the way into town too. What struck me was that while Puffles has a habit of calming down screaming little children on the bus just by being there, (hypnotic eyes?) Puffles seemed to have a similar effect on adults who, when I got talking to them had their own mental health challenges and/or difficult life situations.

If I’m honest, at some events I even find having Puffles around as a calming presence – especially when there are a handful of people at the event familiar with Puffles. There are also times where I think: “Why did I bring Puffles?!?” Today however, was an event where more people would have asked me ‘Why didn’t you bring Puffles?’ had I left Puffles behind, compared with ‘Why have you got a big cuddly toy with you?’? as happened today.

“How do you think the Tories will do in the elections?”

My views on the outcome haven’t changed from what I wrote in my previous blogpost (see the end of here). Locally I wouldn’t be surprised if their vote in a handful of wards rose. The reason being is they are being more active and more visible. Also, Nick Clarke is getting them more organised and planning for the long term. Their earlier outreach last year – in preparation for the 2015 general election also seems to have brought in some new faces. I spoke to one of them – Daniel John who over the next few years could give Ian Manning of the Liberal Democrats some interesting competition in the world of community action in Chesterton, north of the River Cam. But as with Cambridge Labour’s 2014 slate of candidates for the city council elections, Cambridge Conservatives need more women – and more younger women becoming active and being selected as candidates.

As I mentioned earlier, the best chance the Conservatives have of causing an upset in Cambridge in the 2015 general election is if they select a personable, competent, intelligent and active younger woman with political nous and excellent local credentials from a small business background. (Easier said than done). The reason being is that Dr Julian Huppert (academic science background) for the Lib Dems and Daniel Zeichner (strong trade union credentials) are from two very different career backgrounds and are both men. The Conservatives selecting such a candidate would give Cambridge the feel of having a very real and noticeable choice between the three main parties, rather than three identikit candidates.

And the Euro-candidates?

Vicky Ford still strikes me as the ace in their pack – not surprisingly she’s the lead candidate. (Their other candidates for East Anglia are here). For the others likely to get elected, I didn’t get the sense from Van Orden or Campbell-Bannerman what’s going to be ‘different’ if they get elected ahead of their political opponents. This is the opposite to what I felt with Dr Rupert Read the day before – where I got the sense that if he does get elected, it will be a mini-political earthquake for East Anglia – one that could have significant long term implications for the local politics scene in Cambridge. Should the UK still be in the European Union for the 2019 elections, it will be interesting to see if and how East Anglia Conservatives refresh their line up. The same goes for the other parties too.

[Updated to add]

Top local BBC journalist Andrew Sinclair posted the following

Was the other journalist right to go after Eric Pickles on the incinerator? Was it cringeworthy? Nick Clarke commented to me during the Q&A session that the line of questioning showed the journalist concerned didn’t understand public administration or the legal duties holders of executive public office have. The issue for me at this point wasn’t the incinerator.

It was perfectly right that the journalist put the issue of the incinerator to the Secretary of State – because it is an incredibly controversial local issue. Perhaps what Eric Pickles should have done straight off (as he often does in Parliament) is to say he has a quasi-judicial duty in his job that prevents him from speaking ‘as a politician’ on the issue. Therefore is referring the question to, say Vicky Ford MEP as the next most senior party representative on the panel to respond on behalf of the party. That, for me would have been a perfectly suitable way to raise a very serious issue with senior politicians and get a comprehensive ‘party line’ from a politician in a position to speak on behalf of the party and also someone who is feeling the pressure directly standing for election.

Finally, this also got me thinking about training and development for journalists on public policy-making and public administration. Basically there’s a gap. A big one. And it’s not just with journalists but politicians and the wider public too. We’re too politically illiterate. As a society we don’t know enough about the essentials of how large institutions function. Why is this a problem? It’s because it means a smaller number of people know a greater amount of knowledge about how the institutions function, and more importantly how to influence them. These people are sometimes known as ‘lobbyists’.

It’s important for me that political journalists have a deeper understanding of how policy-making happens and the essentials of public administration. My (open) question is whether we have the systems and processes to educate journalists and citizens on the functioning of these institutions. Any thoughts?



Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Events I have been to, Party politics, Puffles, Social media | 3 Comments

Green Party launches their East of England manifesto in Cambridge


Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett and lead candidate for East Anglia return to Cambridge once again as Cambridge Young Greens prepare for some mass campaigning over the next few weeks. But will we see a manifesto specifically for Cambridge? And what of the other parties?

Their manifesto is here and the Cambridge Evening News’ write up is here. Unlike previous gatherings I’ve been to, the mainstream media was noticeable by its presence. 2 newspapers plus the BBC and ITN with correspondents and cameras were here. (To what extent the latter two report anything remains to be seen). Oh – and me and Puffles with a digital video camera.

"***Hai!*** I iz meejah!" Puffles with Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett in Cambridge for the launch of the Green Party's East of England manifesto for the Euro 2014 elections

“***Hai!*** I iz meejah!” Puffles with Green Party Leader Natalie Bennett in Cambridge for the launch of the Green Party’s East of England manifesto for the Euro 2014 elections


It was a slick confident performance from both Natalie and Rupert. Although the questions from the mainstream media were not as penetrating as they could have been – Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News probably asking the more tricky questions on trends in Cambridgeshire, journalists were faced with knowledgeable politicians on top of their brief.

Greens park their tanks on UKIP’s lawn

Some of you may remember this blogpost from 18 months ago - when Natalie delivered a speech targeting the Labour vote in a big way. More recently she targeted the Liberal Democrats at this event in Cambridge. Today, as the Cambridge News article indicates, the Greens defined themselves as being the opposite of what UKIP are all about. It was all the more powerful given these particularly distasteful posters released only hours before the launch. Accordingly, Twitter users made very light work of them.

Having met Natalie on several occasions, what was different this time was her mood. I got a sense of anger and aggression that I had not seen before. This wasn’t a ‘lets laugh at a bunch of climate sceptics’ tone, but rather ‘No! This time you have ****really**** crossed the line and we’re going to call you out on it!’ As Cllr Mark Ereia-Guyer of Suffolk County Council said in his remarks, one of the things that will define the Greens’ East Anglia campaign is anti-racism.

On the Lib Dems vs UKIP

Following the Clegg vs Farage debates that were ignored by the Conservatives and Labour, the Greens decided to lampoon both the former parties with what I thought was a humorous video as far as party political broadcasts go.

In one sense, both Clegg and Farage knew that neither had anything to lose on the TV debates. (See here). Clegg knows the Lib Dems are going to take a kicking at the polls due to the regional proportional representation nature of the vote. The current tactics for the Liberal Democrats is to focus on key strongholds and hold as many of those as possible, even if it means losing deposits and being beaten by electoral titans such as the Bus Pass Elvis Party.

Cambridge Young Greens conspicuous by their presence, but what about the rest of Cambridge Green Party?

Cambridge Young Greens appear to have a critical mass of activists prepared to commit the time and effort needed to make their presence more noticeable than in previous years when they stood ‘paper candidates’. Yet at the same time, those paper candidates still pulled in the votes. As I mentioned, the Green vote stubbornly held up. One of the Labour candidates said that this did not surprise her – the Green vote is a very principled one that will turn out come-what-may. Turning that local support at the ballot box into activists on the ground and online is what the party has struggled with in Cambridge. The lack of a county-wide co-ordinator on their regional contacts page stands out like a sore thumb. Speaking to their party political opponents recently, they’ve said that all the Greens need in Cambridge to unlock that dormant voter base is a competent party-political campaigner who understands campaigning tactics and strategy.

“What about their manifesto? You’ve not mentioned that!”

The theme ‘For the common good’ is a stronger one than ‘Fair is worth fighting for’ that they had at the general election. It doesn’t carry as much baggage as ‘socialism’ even though some of their political opponents accuse the Greens of being just that: Eco-socialists.

In terms of design, I’d have gone for a few more photos and diagrams in there, along with working hyperlinks and a much more creative front page. Length-wise, they’ve pitched it about right. The big issue Rupert campaigns on is transport – he’s the party’s transport spokesperson. See his speech below.

Irrespective of the election outcome, what I think Rupert needs to do next for the East of England is really take ownership of transport issues in the East of England. This means going beyond the headline of re-opening closed railway lines and going into the specifics. On his part that will mean doing some research and mapping on all of the local transport campaigns that are active in East Anglia, and raising their profile. When me and Puffles were in Haverhill (see last blogpost), I got the impression that the audience of about fifty people there were an audience that care about their town, but don’t really do party politics. For a party that perhaps doesn’t carry as much of the baggage as the big three Westminster parties, that’s an area worth investing in.

“Will we see a manifesto for Cambridge from Cambridge Greens?”

I don’t know enough about the local ‘non-student’ side of the party to know whether they will be publishing something similar to what Labour and the Liberal Democrats have published. While there are thousands of Green voters & sympathisers in Cambridge (3,800 voted Green in Cambridge at the 2010 General Election), for me there are three key things the Greens lack locally. They are:

  1. A local proactive ‘public face’ for the party that local journalists can go to for a quick quotation or photo opportunity
  2. A cluster of self-supporting social media users (given that in response to the BBC’s Andrew Sinclair, Natalie and Rupert said their biggest target audiences were students and young people – an audience that traditionally is less likely to vote)
  3. A local long term strategy

For 1) compare this to the other parties. Each has a handful of spokespeople who will regularly be quoted in and/or have their profile pictures in the local papers. Not only that, they have developed working relationships with local journalists and will proactively seek them out when they have something to announce.

For 2) this is just as much about getting the basics such as up-to-date content right as it is stepping into the local social media politics bubble in Cambridge. Furthermore, it’s also a means of engaging with an audience that isn’t likely to turn up to council meetings, and one that has traditionally been overlooked by the local political establishment.

For 3) this is about planning and sequencing actions over a number of years. This is the challenge Cambridge Conservatives face – one I blogged about recently here. Despite coming second in the 2010 general election in Cambridge, they only have one council seat on Cambridge City Council. Why have the Conservatives not been able to turn over 10,000 votes into more than one council seat? Hence why the discussion in the above-linked blogpost was around which ward the Conservatives would seek to establish a rock-solid base and presence, before targeting neighbouring wards. The same is the case for the Greens. How will they decide which ward to target in order to establish a solid base? (How will local Labour and Lib Dems react to such a challenge from their left flank?)

“Is the manifesto enough to win the Greens their first MEP for East Anglia?”

I get the feeling the manifesto was written for both a social media audience and specific pockets of the region where there is a strong ‘sustainability’ presence. With good reason. As Rupert said in response to Chris Havergal, the overall rightward-shift from the Conservatives towards UKIP across East Anglia is not a universal shift. Quite the opposite. Relationships between Conservatives and UKIP are not harmonious by any means, as this video featuring Farage and long-time Euro-sceptic Conservative Bill Cash MP indicates.

I think the two determining factors are these:

  1. Will we see a simple shift of the centre-right vote from Conservative to UKIP without a change in the overall total, or will we see (as we did with Boris Johnson first time around in London) previous ‘stay at home’ voters turning out for UKIP in numbers, raising the overall turnout?
  2. Can the Green Party ‘get the younger vote out’ and be the primary beneficiaries of the collapsing Liberal Democrat vote over Labour?

“What’s your preference/expectations?”

From the UK Polling Report website, for the five main parties (Tory, Lib Dem, Labour, UKIP & Greens) it’s striking that all of their lead candidates for East Anglia are oxbridge educated. Make of that what you will.

I expect the lead candidates from the Conservatives, UKIP and Labour to get elected to three of the seven vacancies available for East Anglia. I think the Andrew Duff has his work cut out holding onto his seat given the regional proportional representation nature. Were he defending a small constituency with a solid liberal base, he’d have a much greater chance. But I don’t think either he, Nick Clegg or other senior Liberal Democrats have done nearly enough to take the fight to UKIP and at the same time outline a clear vision of the Europe that they would like. In comparison, the Greens as part of the wider European Green movement seem to have a much more clear vision of what they want – one that’s easier to communicate to the public.

For the four remaining seats? I think Rupert Read will squeeze in – just. That leaves three seats left. I reckon UKIP and the Conservatives will pick up one each. In one sense, the Conservatives are fortunate to have picked their most competent, able and personable candidate as their lead candidate – Vicky Ford who sparred with Puffles recently. (I think we called it a score-draw).

Personally I’d like to see Alex Mayer of Labour succeed because I think it would send out a really positive message to young women encouraging them to get involved in democracy. (At the same time, I’d like to see her being seen to be more ‘independent in thought’ because her website feels a little bit too ‘Peter Mandelson and Alistair Campbell told me to write this’ for my liking. But I think she’ll struggle because Labour’s media profile in the European election campaign thus far has been minimal. Labour Party HQ for whatever reason seem to have allowed UKIP to be the focus of the media’s attention in the hope that the fight between UKIP and the Conservatives will put the rest of the electorate off. The problem with this approach is that the noise being generated by those two parties means that Labour is simply not part of any conversation. They’ve been drowned out – as I described in this, and in this blogpost.

Unlike The Greens, who have clearly linked what they are doing regionally to their sister parties in Europe and a wider environmental movement, I don’t get the sense that Labour have a firm vision for Europe that resonates with anyone outside of their core vote. Is it clear to the public that their policies in Westminster synchronise with what they are campaigning for in the European elections? ie ‘We’re campaigning for policy X in Westminster, linked to campaign Y in the European Parliament where we’re teaming up with our sister parties Z on the continent’. Now, they might actually be doing this on the ground, but by taking a step back and allowing the Tory-UKIP struggles to dominate the media, I feel that the wider population can’t see what Labour is trying to do. They have a month to turn it around.


Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Events I have been to | Leave a comment

Puffles breathes fire into the Haverhill-Cambridge rail campaign


Crossing the county boundary to sprinkle some dragon-fairy dust to help transport campaigners in Suffolk reconnect with Cambridge – and raising the political temperature too

Puffles at Haverhill Arts Centre with a banner for the Haverhill-Cambridge Rail Campaign

Puffles at Haverhill Arts Centre with a banner for the Haverhill-Cambridge Rail Campaign

Actually, it was just as much learning as commenting in Haverhill earlier. It was through Facebook that I found out about the Haverhill-Cambridge rail campaign – see here. I learnt that the campaign has been running for quite some time and a huge amount of work has already been done. In particular the technical work alongside offline campaigning has raised the issue locally to astonishingly high levels – a petition signed by 12,000 people.

Taking the X13 bus journey from Cambridge to Haverhill

It was a lovely sunny evening – nice to see the horse chestnut trees in a state where they are not visibly affected by that horrible moth that turns the leaves prematurely brown. I’m also at the stage where I feel I need a bit of a break from Cambridge – but somewhere that’s not London. If anything just to get away from the noise.

Although not the most picturesque of countrysides – large intensively farmed fields of monoculture crops here – it was nice to get out of the city and see some green and fresh air – even if we were on a bus. We’re at that time of year when, if the sun shines it’s at just the right temperature and intensity, along with a gentle breeze. Anything more and it’s too hot for me. At the same time, I reflected on the loneliness of my escapade. Other than Puffles, there is no ‘partner in crime’ in all of this activism I’ve been doing over the years. Hence feeling even more vulnerable and exposed at doing this – which doesn’t help my anxiety and mental health issues at all.

A high accident route

The road link between Cambridge and Haverhill is full of road signs telling drivers that the route has a history of road accidents. Big red signs that you cannot miss. I spotted a couple of memorials put up by friends and relatives of those that had died in accidents. All the more important I thought that they re-open the rail link between Cambridge and Haverhill.

Rural bus routes don’t make for the easiest of journeys either. Not for the queasy. A reminder of pot-hole-Britain. But again, all the more reason to invest in transport that reduces car journeys and road freight.

Discovering good stuff that Cambridge doesn’t have

It was just as much re-treading a path not trodden since childhood in my case. For some reason I find rail travel much more suitable for ‘turn up and travel’ than buses. There’s something about the weaving and winding routes, along with the irregularity of services due to traffic that creates too much uncertainty for my liking.

The route out of Cambridge going towards Haverhill is south-easterly. Past Wandlebury (where the witches gather for hallowe’en – the first nightmare I can remember having as a child), past Abington where we went for camps (and is now the subject of a campaign to keep it open), past Linton with the zoo, past Chilford Hall where I once helped steward an Oxfam walk, and onto Haverhill. Plus there’s a fair share of inns and farm shops.

Arriving at Haverhill

It’s certainly picturesque in the evening spring sunshine. At the same time, there were tell-tale signs that not all was entirely well with the town. The alcohol prohibition zones indicated that street drinking is a problem. Getting off the bus and heading towards the Haverhill Arts Centre – the old town hall – I got the sense that the economic downturn had hit the town centre too. This despite a growing population and new homes going up. Something tells me there’s some sort of unofficial ‘Cambridge-Haverhill corridor’ that developers and firms have picked up on. Yet at the same time the public institutions haven’t yet been able to put in place the transport and civic infrastructure needed to support it.

Walking into the town hall

When I saw the building, I thought: “Oooh! This is pretty!”

The hall had a proper ‘old school’ feel to it, combined with modern audio-visual support at the back of the room. I noted that the event was being filmed – all the more important from a social and digital media perspective in getting the many important points made at the meeting out to a much wider audience.

Fifty people turned up to an event where we talked about trains

As I tweeted through Puffles, the organisers had clearly done their homework and had put a lot of effort into their campaign over the years. People in Haverhill care. The reason why I turned up with Puffles is that I got this feeling that the campaign probably wasn’t on the radar of Cambridge residents interested in transport. So we went along with the idea of changing all that and connecting their campaign up with transport policy-watchers in Cambridge.

Not the only person from Cambridge in the room

I was pleasantly surprised to meet Peter Wakefield of the Rail Future East Anglia Branch, who was one of the three guest speakers, who is based in Cambridge. As it turned out, he also caught the bus from Cambridge and had similar observations about the route between Cambridge and Haverhill. The third of three speakers, he gave us all a regional picture of where we are. The other two speakers from the Haverhill-Cambridge campaign, Chair Malcolm Hill and Secretary David Edwards gave the audience a history of how we got to where we are. (My thanks to Debra Fox from Cambridge Newspapers (in a Haverhill Echo capacity) for paying closer attention – she was also live tweeting).

“Sounds like #diversityfail on the panel”

This is an industry-wide problem. As an on-off reader of Modern Railways magazine (due to spending lots on train tickets – I want to know where the money goes), adverts for rail events show photographs reflecting a lack of diversity in the industry – particularly at management level.

At the same time, I had a strange admiration for the panel, all of whom are at least a generation older than me. The reason is simple. It will take at least a decade before the rail connection is restored. They’ve all spent decades already campaigning on this issue. Chances are if it is completed, they will be much older than they currently are – and possibly less mobile. I don’t mean that pejoratively – rather they have been and are still campaigning on something, but something that future generations will benefit from. From their knowledge, you could see that all three were passionate about restoring the link and putting right a historical wrong. I don’t know about you, but I think there’s something ‘noble’ about that.

As someone who is a historian by heart, I was also interested to hear the personal anecdotes they retold – ones that stemmed back to a political era that, in our age of social and digital media feels like it is far more distant than perhaps it actually is. To hear about the raw emotion of how people felt when the Beeching axe took away their railways was quite sobering. (See my thoughts here).

Unleashing the power of young people

Well…given that secondary school students in Cambridge can do it (see here)…

When it was my turn to speak at the Q&A session, I told the audience that it was the existence of their Facebook page (see here) that informed me about what they were doing. Peter Wakefield also mentioned the impact of the Wisbech rail campaign’s Facebook page (see here) in opening up not just rail engineering but campaigning and local democracy up to new, younger audiences.

I then said that many of the students from Haverhill that go to Long Road and Hills Road Sixth Form Colleges – both in my neighbourhood – use the No.13 buses to get there. Had they thought about reaching out to these people in their campaigns? Or perhaps secondary school students that may be thinking of applying to those institutions? To my delight, the campaign said:

“Yes – we’ll do that!”

The way I framed the point was about inspiring people to learn both about big engineering in a hyper-local context, and about campaigning and local democracy too. I got the sense that this point clearly resonated around the room. So here’s hoping that West Suffolk College, Linton Village College (which was on the bus route and used to have a station too), Long Road Sixth Form College (whose students have been campaigning for ages for a railway station serving them and Addenbrookes) and Hills Road Sixth Form College will be hearing from the campaign, along with the secondary schools in Haverhill.

Puffles also helped things along a little in Whitehall. One of Puffles’ long time followers on Twitter is Clare Moriarty, Director General of the Rail Executive of the Department for Transport in London.

The Haverhill-Cambridge rail campaign is now on her radar. Can a new generation of campaigners go after their elected politicians (via WriteToThem) to lobby ministers about the case for this link? After all, Cambridgeshire County Council is already on the case. (See here).

“What’s the next step?”

As Debra Fox tweeted quoting the campaign, a business case and feasibility study

“That’s not cheap”

Hence the need to persuade politicians that such things will be value for money. But it needs local people that will benefit from a rebuilt rail link to make the case.

“Aren’t there elections on soon?”

That was my final point – as Debra Fox tweeted.

I invited the room to use the internet and social media to find out the politicians’ views on this.

“A message to people in Haverhill?”

Haverhill has councillors from Labour, UKIP and the Conservatives, and can all be found here. Alternatively, go to WriteToThem.Com where if you type in your postcode, it will give you details of your MP, MEPs and councillors. It also has a template for you to fire off ***lots of questions*** about what they are going to do to help things along.

Even if you don’t have the vote (for example you’re under 18), you can still ask questions, make suggestions and demand answers from politicians. If a group of year 9 students in Cambridge can succeed in changing the culture of an institution by lunchtime – something I failed to do in 2 years of campaigning, who knows what you can achieve?

It’s your future. Be the change.

(And do let me know how you get on!)



Posted in Business economics and finance, Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Charities and Big Society, Events I have been to, History, Party politics, Public administration & policy, Puffles, Social media | 1 Comment

A manifesto for Cambridge – my first draft.


My ideas on (electronic) paper

Well, this is quite a big deal for me – not least because it’s over 6,000 words of ideas. As a result, I have created a separate section on this blog’s title bar to bring the various ideas together. A 6,000 word blogpost is over-kill.

I spent a couple of days writing the whole thing up, by hand in Balzanos Cafe & deli in my neighbourhood. Sometimes you have to do things the old-fashioned way to allow your mind to work. I then typed it up on a single document and copied it onto here, broken down as set out below. Please note this is a ****first draft**** – posted here because I want to hear your comments, views & suggestions.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve still not yet decided whether to stand as proposed in this blogpost. Support and interest has been minimal and broadly negative. (All the more reason why Puffles should kick up a fuss?)

Anyway, my thoughts and ideas are as follows – though please note Puffles’ house rules (see here) apply


Part 1 – A manifesto: Because Cambridge can be better

Part 2 – What problems will this manifesto solve?

Part 3 – Pillars and themes Part 4 – Background

The ten themes 

Click on the relevant theme number to see what I’ve written in each one.

Theme 1) Grassroots challenge

Theme 2) Supporting young people

Theme 3) Community action

Theme 4) Lifelong learning for living

Theme 5) Civic responsibility from institutions

Theme 6) Supporting our friends and neighbours in surrounding towns and villages

Theme 7) On public buildings and public spaces

Theme 8) Green Cambridge

Theme 9) A safe city

Theme 10) A healthy and active city


Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Charities and Big Society, Mental health, Party politics, Public administration & policy, Puffles, Social media | Leave a comment

Liberal Democrats’ manifesto for Cambridge 2014


Liberal Democrats playing it safe too – but they are the ones with the record to defend, warts and all

Following the publication of Labour’s manifesto for Cambridge – which I looked at here, Cambridge Liberal Democrats have done the same. Have a look at their manifesto here.

“First thoughts?”

As with the Labour manifesto, clearly a fair amount of thought and effort has gone into the policy content this. Just not as much as with the Labour manifesto. I’m also surprised that the presentation is so poor compared to Labour’s manifesto. For a start, it’s not even in colour and there are no photographs or pictures. No group photo of the people involved, no single photographs or quotations of individuals concerned, and no links to any online content or even a mention of the website. There’s also not even a contents page.

“So…very off-putting to read then?”

I think the problem is when compared to what Labour have produced – and note they got theirs out first – is that it looks like it was produced for a past decade. At least Labour’s has a consistency of format – albeit one that perhaps betrays a little bit too much ‘central control from party HQ in London, but it comes across as much more… ‘professional’.

“Could they turn it around last minute?”

They could get in touch with some professional publishers, send a few photographs and say: “Look, make this look nicer than theirs!” for a start. But then perhaps this is a document made for mass printing on home printers rather than something produced by expensive professional publishers or printers.

“What about the content?”

The fact is that the Liberal Democrats are defending their record of political control of the council. 14 years of it as they state on in the opening text box. Hence the ‘What have the Liberal Democrats done for us?’ box. Personally I’d have gone with fewer, bolder claims that resonate with people. The one mentioning ‘clearing up after Labour’s mess’ doesn’t feel right – it’s the equivalent of Labour in 2010 talking about what the Tories did in the early 1990s.

Comparing the themes

Cambridge Liberal Democrats have gone for five themes:

  1. A place of your own
  2. A city that works for all
  3. Keeping Cambridge moving
  4. Quality of life
  5. Making ends meet to improve and protect basic services

This compares with Labour’s themes of:

  1. Protecting essential services
  2. Sharing the city’s prosperity
  3. Tackling the housing crisis
  4. Safety and quality of life
  5. Making Cambridge greener and cleaner
  6. Transforming the council

A place of your own

The first theme the Liberal Democrats look at has been scoped reasonably well. Personally I’d have gone for: “A place called home”. With this in mind, they’ve covered the city’s role on planning control and as a provider of social housing, with a column about the local plan. The problem is the column-style layout does not make for easy reading. Hence some of their stronger policy areas – particularly on the environment, and some of the past problems, such as Central Government’s bar on council house building (one of the old Labour Government’s big policy errors in my opinion) could have been more readable and more clear.

A city that works for all

This goes for both parties, but when making statistical claims in your manifesto, please include a footnote to reference them. We’re in a digital age – I expect to be able to click through from hyperlinks to the primary source of your claim. In this case the one that stands out is about Cambridge being the most equal UK city. That may be the case statistically, but I have no effortless way of finding out. Also, it certainly doesn’t feel like it is equal when I see homes in my childhood neighbourhood going for between £500,000 to £1million. (The area being the borderlands of the Coleridge and Queen Edith wards).

In comparing this theme with Labour’s theme of sharing the prosperity, the latter emerge the stronger. The reason being that Labour have a whole series of specific actions and policies. It’s not as clear from the Liberal Democrats what their distinguishing policies are. What are the things that make me as the reader identify with something that makes me think: 1) this is really innovative and 2), this is something that links to the values of the party? Again, the Liberal Democrats suffer because of the document’s layout. Labour have gone for sub-headings for each of their policies while the Liberal Democrats have gone for bold words within the text – the latter being harder to pick out.

Keeping Cambridge moving

Although content-wise there isn’t that much that separates the two parties, Labour’s comes across more powerfully because of how they have presented their content. There is a fair amount of work that the Liberal Democrats could be taking more credit for, if only they had presented their manifesto in a more professional manner. As a result, Labour’s plans come across with a much greater degree of focus than the Liberal Democrats, even though transport-wise they are very similar.

Quality of life

These have been randomly mixed in with the party’s values. The thing is, these values should be resonating with a lot of people – it’s not as if there’s a huge amount in there to disagree with. Again, because of poor presentation, potentially strong content gets lost in the text.

There have been a number of new innovative activities that the Liberal Democrats have piloted – such as restorative justice that many people may not know about. At the same time I also think the party could have taken a risk about being more open and honest with its policy failures – particularly around planning and building control. The developments around Cambridge railway station represent a massive missed opportunity for many of us that live near by.

Making ends meet to improve and protect basic services

The Liberal Democrats should have done what Labour did with this section – and perhaps had it earlier on in their manifesto too. Labour started with the basic numbers of the Whitehall funding cuts. Personally I’d have gone with having the numbers in bullet points to say that the picture is as it is because of decisions taken far outside the control or influence of local councillors.

They finish with a call for a unitary authority – something that Labour also calls for. Again, this is something that can only be delivered through an Act of Parliament. Both parties could have said something about how they will push for this to be included in national manifestos. The reason being is that we have a broken structure of public administration for Cambridge. Without that unitary authority, Cambridge will continue to struggle with the burdens of being a city with a global brand but the civic infrastructure of a market town.

“Does the manifesto inspire you?”

Not really.

“How do you think they could have done it? They have been in political control for over a decade, so it was quite a hard sell!”

As a package it just comes across as a cheap, rushed imitation of what Labour has produced. And it didn’t need to be. I know a number of people in both political parties personally. With the Liberal Democrats, I know that they are better than the document they have produced, hence my surprise and disappointment. Perhaps after 14 years in political control of the council, as well as taking a hammering for the decisions taken by their party members in the Coalition Government in Whitehall they are exhausted. As with Labour in 2010, I can’t help but get the feeling that the fight has gone out of them, and that they need the rest and opportunity to refocus that opposition will provide.

What could they have done differently?

  • Presentation and layout. Any strong content they had was lost in the text
  • Fewer, bolder themes emphasising success and partnership working
  • Acknowledgement of where things went wrong – one or two of the really obvious things that would give some indication of what they’ve learnt
  • Photographs, references, links to online content

“Is this a manifesto to win a local election?”

It isn’t – the presentation gives the game away. Imagine you are a political activist. Irrespective of the content, which document, if printed out would you be more comfortable taking out and about with you to show to people? Comparing the two manifestos alone, the local council elections for 2014 are one for Labour to lose. Theirs comes across as more planned, more focused, better presented and one that has had far more thought put into it than their Liberal Democrat opponents. The question is can they make this advantage count at the ballot box?

“Lessons for 2015?”

Irrespective of who wins and takes political control of Cambridge City Council, there are some big lessons for the Liberal Democrats for next year’s general election and local council elections. The need to produce a manifesto that looks much more like it was made in the 21st century. Not just photographs, maps, diagrams and quotations, but footnotes, references and hyperlinks. The reason being that people will be giving a damn sight more scrutiny to their manifesto of 2015 than what they’ll give for this one. There’s the talent within their party – and through their supporters and sympathisers to produce something far better than what they have produced here.



Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Party politics | 3 Comments

Parkside Coleridge students unlock democracy in Cambridge


Year 9 students achieved by lunchtime what I had failed to achieve in over 2 years of campaigning, as young people show how they can change the cultures of our public institutions

My jaw figuratively hit the floor when one of my local councillors & leader of the Cambridge Labour group on Cambridge City Council, Councillor Lewis Herbert, responded to my question at Cambridge East Area Committee. I asked him what councillors had learnt from their recent visit to Parkside’s Coleridge Campus in Cambridge.

Some of you might be aware that I have been campaigning for quite some time (with probably reduced effectiveness/impact as time has gone on) about the need for local councils and councillors to listen to young people, and for more of them to start using social media. Despite all of my connections in local government and in Westminster, despite a significant social media following on Twitter through Puffles, despite working knowledge of local government policy in Whitehall/Central Government in London, and despite having been to lots of council meetings in person, I cannot match the achievements of what Year 9 students at Coleridge achieved in a single morning: They changed the culture and mindset of an influential institution – or rather the leader of it.

I’d also like to thank Andrew Limb and his team at Cambridge City Council, and to the head of Coleridge Bev Jones and her team for making this visit happen. I’m aware that the significant pressures on the curriculum, as well as demands on councillors’ time mean organising such things are very difficult. I’d also like to thank the other councillors that went along too – including Cllr Richard Johnson who informed me that the visit was taking place. I’d also like to thank Cllr Lewis Herbert too – to come out with a statement like that took a fair amount of courage knowing the past exchanges in previous blogposts I have had with other councillors in his party. (I cover this further down).

“Splendid stuff! Now that the council is more likely to be in ‘listening’ mode, what next for Coleridge students – and young people across Cambridge?”

There are elections coming up on 22 May – for the European Parliament (see here for a video guide) and for Cambridge City Council (see here for the council’s election information). Just because you do not have the vote does not mean you do not have a voice. You’ve already demonstrated that. Now’s your chance to really make a ***massive impact*** on Cambridge.


By using social and digital media to ask questions, make suggestions and most importantly, demand answers to the issues that are important to you. Councillors, political activists and people like me all have our own specific interests, but they won’t necessarily be the same as yours, and they definitely won’t be based on the same life experiences. Now’s your chance to make your influence count – in very big numbers and all at once.

“Where do I find my elected representatives?”

The easiest way is by going to the website writetothem.com - simply type in your post code and it will show you who your representatives are on Cambridge City Council, Cambridgeshire County Council, in the UK Parliament and in the European Parliament. There is also the Cambridgeshire community website ShapeYourPlace. If you want your concerns to be made public, you can post them on there. Also, Ms Ashley Whittaker of Cambridgeshire County Council offers schools and colleges free training in citizen journalism for those of you that want to use the website. You and/or your teachers can contact her via this form.

“What about Facebook, Twitter and things like that?”

I’ve tried to persuade local parties to improve their Facebook presence, but am having no luck. Not least because so few people outside the local democracy bubble make use of them. Only you can change their minds. Before you click on the links below, have a look at the guidance on staying safe online from the Information Commissioner’s Office - click here. The Information Commissioner is the official ‘Watchdog’ responsible for protecting your privacy.

Cambridge Conservatives

Cambridge Green Party

  • Facebook – They are here as a fan page, which at the time of blogging is standard. They also have a Cambridge Young Greens fan page too. While anyone can post content, conversations are limited.
  • Twitter – @CambridgeGreens, though as with the Conservatives, a few broadcast-style tweets. No local regular Twitter activists sparring at a Cambridge City Council level, though @FionaRadic covers at a county level, and @GreenRupertRead at a regional level.
  • Website/blog – they are here.

Cambridge Labour Party

  • Facebook – They are here as a fanpage. While anyone can post comments, only admins can post content. Cambridge Universities Labour Club’s Facebook page (see here) is much more vibrant, and anyone can post content.
  • Twitter – @CambridgeLabour – nothing since 2010! In stark contrast to a wealth of active Twitter users, including deputy leader @CarinaOReilly@CllrRJohnson and@AnnMSinnott.
  • Website/blog – They are here, but the new-style website based on a centralised template (see similarities say to Harlow, here) needs populating – particularly on campaigns and events.

Cambridge Liberal Democrats

Cambridge UKIP

  • Facebook – None
  • Twitter – None, though the (former) UKIP group leader @PeterReeve on Cambridgeshire County Council has been a regular tweeter for some time, and has a sizeable following.
  • Website/blog – the only one I could find was this one.

“What should I ask about – and how?”

Ultimately that’s up to you. You may want to ask about:

  • Something in your neighbourhood that could be improved
  • Something that is stopping you from doing or achieving something you are passionate about
  • An injustice – something that you feel is wrong and needs dealing with

Remember that some issues will be more suitable for discussing in public than others. For issues that are private and/or sensitive, you may want to speak to an adult in a position of trust first. In Cambridge there is also the youth charity Centre33 (see here - they were excellent with me a few years back) and nationally, there is Childline.

“How can we increase our impact – and get the changes we want?”

For a start, getting together with other people. If you and a group of friends post similar questions together to local political parties and candidates, the greater their incentive to respond. Remember at the moment, few people outside Cambridge’s local democracy social media bubble use social media to engage with councillors. You can change that.

There are also local campaign groups that might interest you. How many of you cycle regularly? The Cambridge Cycling Campaign (see here) is one of the most active. For those of you on Facebook or Twitter, are you following them? For those of you interested in the environment, how about Transition Cambridge? (See here). For both of those local groups, it would just take a couple of you from each secondary school or sixth form college in Cambridge getting involved with them to get them campaigning for and with you on like-minded issues.

“Just how significant is the achievement by Parkside Coleridge students?”

Very. It’s a ‘game changer’ potentially.

My blogpost and the conversation stream that followed in here shows just how entrenched the views of different people were. To note in the comments stream, George Owers and Carina O’Reilly are both Labour councillors for Cambridge City Council, and Ian Manning is a Liberal Democrat councillor on Cambridgeshire County Council – all based in Cambridge. Note that as recently as January 2014, both Cllrs Owers and O’Reilly were stating that as far as public administration is concerned, Cambridgeshire County Council has the main responsibility for young people – not Cambridge City Council. (Technically correct).

Fast forward less than three months, and the leader of their party is saying publicly that councillors need to significantly improve their relationship with teenagers. The point being that the way the councils are set up encourages councillors and council staff on Cambridge City Council to put ‘young people’ in a box marked ‘For Cambridgeshire County Council. Cllr Lewis Herbert has effectively said this has got to change.

“Message to students at schools and colleges across Cambridge?”

Start discussing the local issues with friends and family. Come up with questions that you want to put to councillors, candidates and parties. Just as importantly, please give them feedback on what you think of their responses. Did they answer your question? Did their response satisfy you? Did it annoy you? Did it make you want to ask even more questions/make more demands? Did you ask them further questions? Where appropriate, did you share the responses you got with other people? Finally, how will you use the new found knowledge? Will you influence how adults around you choose to vote? Will you join a local campaign?

If community action is your thing…

Have a look at National Citizen Service in the East of England – see here. It’s run 3 times a year and aimed at students in years 11 and 12. There’s lots of outward bound activities and lots of community action where you get to design and run your own project. Have a look at this.

Cambridge: It’s your city. Be the difference.

Posted in Cambridge, Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating, Charities and Big Society, Education, training and exams, Party politics, Public administration & policy, Social media | 1 Comment