Puffles has my local council vote, but with a field of reasonably strong lead candidates The Green Party wins on the politics of hope
This post is an explanation of how I came to this decision rather than saying ‘You should vote X/Y/Z’. If you need help deciding, please see Votematch or the political compass tools. Alternatively take our digital democracy challenge and make your judgements on the responses you get back from the parties.
In praise of Vicky Ford, Richard Howitt and Andrew Duff
Vicky Ford MEP (Conservatives), Richard Howitt MEP (Labour) and Andrew Duff (Liberal Democrats) have all served East Anglia well in their terms of office in the European Parliament. All three of them through their workload alone have in my opinion earned enough respect to make good cases to the electorate to be re-elected. Of course I have my political differences with all of them. But as MEPs representing East Anglia, in different ways they have done very good jobs and should be proud of their achievements over the past five years.
Past record is one thing, looking forward is another
In the grand scheme of things, I’ll be astonished if either Vicky or Richard lose their seats. There is enough of a critical mass of supporters in East Anglia for both the Conservatives and Labour to guarantee seats for the lead candidates. Andrew has his work cut out for him on the back of the long term demise of the Liberal Democrats as they retreat to a limited number of strongholds such as here in Cambridge. For him I fear that it won’t be enough to see the Liberal Democrats holding to their only European seat in East Anglia. Some commentators have said they could lose all their seats in Europe, which would be a catastrophe for the party. Remember that Europe has been a useful nurturing ground for younger party members. Both Nick Clegg and Chris Huhne rose to prominence on the back of being MEPs.
Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Green Party all have reasonably strong policy positions on climate change and the environment. For the Conservatives, it’s not so straight forward – not least because of their policy on shale gas/fracking. I said at a recent hustings that I considered the policy on fracking to be inconsistent with priorities on tackling climate change and greenhouse gas emissions. On UKIP I’ve commented before. Bring billboards of hate and a message of climate change denial into my beautiful city and expect Cambridge to make short work of it. I’m not surprised at the response to the Mill Road poster attack (see here) but please everyone, let’s keep things peaceful in Cambridge – and try and avoid stuff like this. House rules 4 & 5 apply to Puffles’ campaign.
Rupert Read vs Alex Mayer
This for me is what my choice comes down to. I don’t get the sense that anything significant would change in East Anglia as a result of Andrew getting re-elected. Yes, he would continue to work hard and diligently, but I don’t see it leading to a significant change in the political culture in East Anglia. Ditto with the Conservatives’ second and third candidates as they go head-to-head with UKIP. This is before I start unpicking manifestos and political dispositions. This leaves me with the choice of Rupert Read of The Green Party vs Alex Mayer of Labour.
Personally I’d like to see them both elected – but for different reasons. Rupert because having a Green MEP presence in East Anglia would send a short term political shockwave across our region, and have a potential long term impact on the Greens’ presence in Cambridge. As I’ve stated before, I think this would be good from a political plurality perspective. With Alex, having a woman as an MEP for Labour would send a strong message on a slate of top candidates from all parties dominated by men. The question is which of the two to prioritise.
On Rupert Read
Rupert’s prioritised Cambridge in his campaign over the past few months – one that has drawn in a number of students from Cambridge Young Greens. The problem is that while their students have become active, the main party has been relatively dormant in South Cambridge. My challenge to Rupert is that if he’s elected, he’ll open a new base in Cambridge with the funding that will come from Europe to increase the Greens’ presence in Cambridgeshire. Note the party has no Cambridge co-ordinator. This is despite pulling in over 2,000 votes regularly on a slate of otherwise paper candidates. Could a paid co-ordinator mobilise even a handful of them to gain a local presence, and scrutinise an otherwise very active Labour party on the up?
I also want to see The Greens having a much stronger social media presence locally – in particular one where they are engaging in debate with other local councillors and the local media. They need a critical mass of social media using activists – especially when debates become… ‘spicy’. I’d like to see politicians of all parties having better interaction with local newspaper correspondents. See Julian Huppert’s media presence? Look and learn.
On Alex Mayer
I’ve only met Alex once – and that was when she was ‘in the zone’ mindset-wise during Ed Miliband’s visit to Cambridge recently. Thus probably not the best time to get first impressions of anyone. Hence although feeling a little ‘brushed off’ when I introduced myself to her sans dragon, I put it down to the context of the visit rather than any personal coldness. I’ve been in her position on ministerial visits before. It’s a very stressful place to be, because your focus is on the horizon rather than on the people trying to talk to you – even though she is the candidate fighting for votes.
My main challenge for Alex (because I challenged Rupert) is to what extent can she show independence of thought and action in the face of party whips. I don’t mean this in terms of having a representative that rebels against the party line, but rather I’ve not really got a sense of what differentiates her from the other Labour candidates. I’d like to see her have a higher media profile – one where we can immediately associate her with one or two issues that she is really passionate about. For example I know that Richard is really passionate about the environment and tackling extremism. I’d really like to see Alex in the media grabbing hold of an issue and in the long term really ‘owning’ (in the political rather than the urban slang sense) the issue.
The tie-breaker – European campaign vision
This is where the party HQs both won and lost my vote respectively. Labour HQ lost my vote because of a decision they took several months ago. They took a very calculated decision to run their European campaign on domestic issues – something I blogged about here. It was a brave decision – one I can completely understand why they took it. I just disagree with it. I’d have liked to have seen Ed Miliband joining up on the campaign trail with his sister European centre-left parties, giving a sense of a common purpose with whatever it was he wanted to run with. He didn’t do that – instead he did the opposite and effectively ‘banned’ the lead candidate of his group from campaigning in the UK because of policy differences.
The Greens on the other hand welcomed their leader, Ska Keller (who I met recently) with open arms. I get the sense of a party that is also on the up, but one with far more radical ideas as well as an understanding of the scale of the problems. Linking up across Europe along with a much more positive vision – one that stands in contrast to the Euro-sceptics makes for a very powerful campaign. Their leader in the UK Natalie Bennett has performed reasonably well under extended scrutiny – How many other party leaders would take nearly 2 hours of Q&As with an audience?
In terms of scale of impact ultimately I feel that an extra Green MEP would have a greater impact on the politics scene in Cambridgeshire than an additional Labour MEP. A stronger Green presence would also do Cambridge Labour a world of good. Mainly that it would reduce the risk of complacency in some of their more safer wards if they knew the risk of new challengers becoming active with the resources to back them. (This is also why me and Puffles are not really a threat to anyone).
“Should everyone else also vote Green?”
Rather, I encourage people to chose their criteria (ie the things that are important to them) and judge each candidate and party on their merits according to those criteria. Whatever you do, cast an informed vote. In Cambridge, have a look at the links to the four parties with a local presence at the end of this page. Also, once you have voted, I also encourage you to keep a watch on the activities of the candidate or party you voted for. Will they deliver on their promises?
Rupert and The Greens know that they’ve earned my vote over Alex and Labour. But that doesn’t mean they’ll keep it. If elected, I’ll be scrutinising Rupert and the Greens on both their local activities and their use of social media.
Let’s see what the results of the European polls are early next week.