Going beyond ‘set up and record’ with community video – overcoming recurring problems

Summary

Some thoughts following several months of regular filming out and about – in particular overcoming recurring challenges

One of my favourite local artists, Melody Causton, headlined a relaxed evening of acoustic music alongside one of the first musicians I filmed – Rachel Clark. Still getting to grips with my kit at the time, I screwed up the audio recording of her set at AlexFest 2014. (Both Rachel & Melody performed there – see the playlist here).

I’m now at the stage where I’m moving on from simply setting up and pressing ‘record’ to considering a whole host of things that, in the past I’d have been unaware of. Have a look/listen to Melody’s final track:

I was reliant on the audio mixing desk of the venue and the young man operating it – something [operating a sound board] easier said than done. Although I had the correct cable to attach sound recorder to mixing desk, between us we couldn’t figure out how to get my recorder to pick up the signal once connected.

Furthermore, I had no control over the backdrop – in this case windows in bright daylight. From a filming perspective, this is a significant challenge – one that even a high-end ‘prosumer’ camcorder struggled with. In a nutshell, camcorders the next step up are not sold on the high street – you have to go to specialist retailers. Reviewing this video, backdrop is clearly a problem – but the windows had no curtains. Audiowise, I’d have rebalanced the sound to enhance Melody’s vocals.

“Sounds like you need to start planning these things!”

…Which isn’t really the way I have been operating. Normally I just rock up and film, giving a tweet/email/facebookpost notice in advance as opposed to doing a pre-event visits and the like.

Melody Causton


Melody Causton at The Architect Pub in Cambridge

Note the difference between this photo I took on a DSLR camera vs what you see with the camcorder. (Note – I’m more familiar now with improving photos than with video images – ie going beyond ‘auto-correct’ functions).

The thing is, being the one-man-and-his-dragon-fairy-operation, I can’t do everything I’d like to. At any one event I can find myself filming, recording audio (which I often do separately), photographing, live reporting and posting photos onto social media. With Melody’s performance above, I recorded the audio onto a separate specialist sound recorder. The difference it makes compared with onboard microphones or even external ones is huge. The reason for this is microphones are often attached to cameras rather than pointing towards the sound source or being close to the sound source.

It’s the same with local council meetings

In Cambridge, the plan for seating (similar to many other councils) is as below:

A traditional seating plan for council chambers

A traditional seating plan for council chambers

The problem for anyone trying to film a meeting here is that you’ll always end up filming the back of someone. Councillors also don’t always appreciate the need for using microphones – not helped by the very fiddly arrangement many councils have for them. Basically they have to press a button to switch their microphone on in order to speak – and if they forget to switch it off you get horrendous feedback.

The above seating plan, taken from Cambridge City Council’s AGM on 28 May 2015 shows the seating plan in the council chamber of Cambridge Guildhall – something that hasn’t changed in many years other than the people and parties in the seats. You have the mayor in the chair with deputy and senior council officials in a row at the front. You then have the councillors in a semi-circle forming a sunrise/sunset sort of shape. But what of the public? Their seats are either on the far left or the far right edges, or stuck up in a balcony which I would not recommend to anyone afraid of heights!

So the choice for the public – and film crew like me is to be close to the people we want to film – but have them with their backs to us, or sit on the other side facing them but from a long distance away. Whenever school children come along to the Guildhall to see a debate, they often can’t see, let alone hear what is going on. It’s so sad.

“Why does this matter?”

Because people want to see the faces of those speaking, not their backs. Take the locally significant decision on Cambridge Central Library where local people supported by councillors forced Cambridgeshire County Council to think again. The significant moment in the meeting was the concession by the Conservatives group on the county council. Have a watch:

Note the comment from the chair asking Cllr Criswell to speak into the microphone – not for my benefit but for the 50+ members of the public in the room but out of shot. Had I known of the significance of what Cllr Criswell was about to say I would have set up my camera position from the opposite side of the room. As it was, I wanted to be as close as possible to a mains socket to keep my camera going. Again, lack of mains sockets means for extended meetings our filming positions are even more limited.

“What would work better for everyone?”

Split the semi-circle in half and put the mayor/panel in between the two quarters, and have all of them facing the public where the mayor/panel used to be. That way it is much easier to film the councillors and much easier to avoid filming watching members of the public that may not want to be on camera.

“Why would someone not want to be on camera?”

Many reasons – but I don’t see it as my place to argue with a member of the public who is simply there watching but doesn’t want to be on camera. For elected representatives and senior council officials, I take a very different view – but again don’t force it down the throats of people. For public meetings, it’s far better than people know but don’t notice that you are there: ie you have their consent, but you’re not a distraction. I can’t help but think that the way we do public meetings currently helps no one.

“So…how do we improve things?”

On my side, I’ve got to get better at planning filming sessions – including giving organisations reasonable notice of what my needs are and what they need to consider if they want decent video footage.

I also need to help organisations help themselves. This may involve creating a guide on why some seemingly innocuous things like microphones, or what a background is, are actually really important.

Food for thought.

Anyway, after Rachel & Melody’s performances, I raced up to the top of Castle Hill & photographed this sunset.

CambridgeSunset2

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Democracy in action – Cambridge style

Summary

A by-election in the People’s Republic of Romsey (it says so on the t-shirts) along with a citizens’ revolt over library business plans

Told you.

I was the only independent face (ie outside of any political party and not council staff) at the by-election count – one of the most hotly-contested by-elections in recent times.

The results were:

The turn-out was 32.5 per cent.

Romsey was blessed with three strong women candidates. I had threatened to stand myself to help raise the profile of the contest, but in the end I didn’t need to. Labour, the Liberal Democrats & The Greens campaigned the living daylights out of the ward to the extent some of the residents put notices on their doors telling campaigners not to knock!

Too close to call?

The Liberal Democrats party-wise were the incumbent party. They were, however always going to be under huge pressure following their general election losses and a Cambridge Labour Party still buzzing from their success in Cambridge. Had Julian Huppert held his seat in Cambridge, the result may well have been different. The simple reason being that as local MP, Julian was in the media regularly. The profile alone may have been enough to strengthen the resolve of Liberal Democrat-leaning voters and/or demoralise Labour-leaning voters.

Three talented women – I hope all three of them will be holding local public office soon as paper candidates these were not.

I met all of them either during this campaign or during the general election campaign. Zoe I have known for longer as she’s a former Cambridge City Council councillor who stood down in the recent local elections – her replacement being Anna Smith -> @Anna4Labour.

To throw yourself into the frontline as a candidate is a very brave thing to do. Even more so to go door-to-door campaigning. All three parties had well-organised teams campaigning throughout the ward. All three candidates came across as bright, passionate and in their different ways, experienced. Identical they were most definitely not.

The historical context is in Phil Rodgers’ graph below

In a nutshell:

  • The Liberal Democrat vote did not fall further following the general election – could they hold Cllr Catherine Smart’s seat in the 2016 elections?
  • Labour have an additional councillor at Shire Hall
  • The Greens’ share of the vote held up in the face of strong competition from two strong opponents
  • The Tories got only 11 more votes than Puffles got in the neighbouring ward of Coleridge in 2014
  • UKIP hardly registered

“Was this a social media election?”

Not really. As far as local politics in Cambridge goes, only The Greens seem to be going beyond the Cambridge Twitter bubble and making greater use of both Facebook and digital video. The Liberal Democrats and Labour are still very much in broadcast mode. Perhaps it’s all the more stark with the Lib Dems with the loss of Julian Huppert as MP – he was a pioneer for using social media conversationally. While the party has councillors and activists who use social media regularly, inevitably they do not have the influence that Julian had as an MP. Furthermore, being in opposition means there is even less news coverage for them – something compounded by a miniscule Westminster presence – down from the mid-50s to just eight.

The Greens leaving their opponents behind with digital video

Green Party activist Michael Abberton has done a great job for the local party and is now making short local politics videos for fun. This is something that will stand them in good stead throughout the year – in particular throughout the colder winter months. For whatever reason, the other candidates declined offers to feature in videos in the run up to polling day – as is their right. Personally I leave it up to the voters to contact the candidates directly and ask any questions about this should they have any issues with it. I see my role as a community reporter and democracy activist as giving candidates the chance to introduce themselves in their own words & in their own voices. It’s up to the voters to then decide if they want to have a further conversation with the candidates, and on what issues.

“What’s the point of digital video if it didn’t affect the election?”

Two points:

  1. No one has done any research locally on what impact these sorts of videos are making
  2. The data I have from the general election shows there is demand for such videos
  3. It’s too early to tell what the long term impact will be.

Most of us are just making it up as we go along, learning as we go. I’m now at the stage where I’m recording audio separately to video because of the problems I’ve been having with on-camera microphones & the poor acoustics of buildings.

What we’ve not seen locally is the effective integration of social media and video with offline and paper-based campaigning. The Romsey by-election would have been ideal for the commuter traffic to London. People stationed at the Eastern end of the cycle bridge with cards taking potential voters to local party social media pages could have swayed it one way or another.

I managed to get one video from Cllr Zoe Moghadas just after the result was announced – see below

The acoustics in the small hall are not great – hence using a separate microphone for this.

Citizens force council library U-turn

In other news, discontent over Cambridgeshire County Council plans to turn the top floor of Cambridge’s popular central library turned into open revolt as campaigners assailed Shire Hall from all sides. Paul Lythgoe threw Freedom of Information requests over council meetings with the Kora group (which then encouraged more from Phil Rodgers & Richard Taylor – see the list here). An active group on Facebook with over 200 members kept lots of people in touch (see here) and email campaigns targeting county councillors got underway.

The ongoing campaign involving political activists from Labour, Liberal Democrats and The Greens, along with non-aligned activists and the Cambridge People’s Assembly were all involved. The culmination of all of this was Phil Rodger’s speech at Shire Hall on 26 June 2015 after councillors were persuaded to reconsider their decision – the original plans being approved by a narrow vote in the face of protests.

The deeper story for me beyond the library itself is that the campaign uncovered a host of unsatisfactory systems and processes inside Shire Hall – one that left Conservative councillors in particular feeling very angry over the conduct of this issue. What will happen in the very near future is a full council debate on how the county council is run – and in particular the relationship between council officers and elected council committees. In the extended exchanges (which I’ll put more up), county council officials came under close, detailed, forensic and hostile scrutiny the likes of which I had not seen before. In particular, the general public did not accept the assurances that officials were giving them.

Given the number of people (over 50 from the general public alone sticking around for over 2 hours) there, councillors expressed concern that the public did not have confidence – in particular that the issues arising were not around just around the principle of private sector involvement, but over issues of competency, transparency and propriety. In particular, councillors were disturbed over not being provided with all the information they felt they needed in order to make an informed decision, and that there was unnecessary secrecy in preventing the public from scrutinising plans too.

Officers not reading the mood of councillors in the room?

The intensity of questioning from the public (Dr Alison Power here, Phil Rodgers & Hilary Goy here, and on behalf of local town centre residents, Cllr Ed Cearns here) was strong. I hadn’t seen council officials struggling in the face of such forensic and multi-pronged scrutiny before. The bit that made me think: “Hang on, they’ve conceded!” was when Conservative group spokesman Cllr Steve Criswell announced the largest political group on the county council could no longer back the proposals. See the video below from 3 mins 45 seconds in.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANP9q68sadk

What surprised me even more was how officers seemed to plough on defending the scheme as if nothing had happened. From that point onwards it was clear that the proposal to turn the top floor of the Cambridge Central Library into an enterprise centre run by Kora was dead in the water. It was at that point council directors could have conceded that without the backing of elected councillors, all that was needed was a vote to rescind and a decision on what alternative path to take. The longer the debate went on, the more confidence officials seemed to lose from the watching public who were there in numbers.

Lessons learned?

In the near future there will be a full council meeting which I anticipate will become very heated – not least when the working relationship between senior council officials and elected councillors comes under scrutiny. Watch this space…

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Weak political and media responses in the face of very serious global problems

Summary

Some thoughts on global and historical perspectives all too often overlooked in mainstream news reporting – and also in UK policy making.

I awoke from my slumber to find Defra minister George Eustice MP being cross examined by Andrew Neil over the latest migration crisis. (See http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b060kn9g/daily-politics-24062015 – the first item).

I found the minister’s response around 5 minutes in to be laughable.

“We’ve got HMS Bulwark and three Merlin helicopters”

Yeah…like that’s going to solve the problem.

The way I was trained in the civil service with policy making was to try and go to the root of the problem by continually asking: ‘Why?’ and ‘Then what happens?’

For example, if you’ve got thousands of people risking their lives to make the crossing from the shores of North Africa, the question of ‘Why?’ follows, just as for those that (understandably) say we should increase the number of rescue ships, the question that follows is: ‘Then what happens?”

“How do you deal with this arc of instability from the north-western shores of Africa to the Middle East to the Ukraine, through to increased military tensions in the eastern Baltic?”

Personally I don’t think we have the institutions with the capacity & competency to deal with this. I believe part of the reason has been the hollowing out of state institutions and their ability to deal with problems they face. This ranges from local councils dealing with the poor state of roads, to the often reported shortage of equipment and personnel UK armed forces faced given the tasks Tony Blair and Gordon Brown charged them with undertaking. This also covers international issues including the continued leadership vacuum in Europe in the face of some of the biggest crises the EU has faced.

The large-scale movement of people globally.

Why are people moving? I found this article about the lack of media attention given to people and governments in Africa to be interesting. In The Guardian this article mentions the impact of the collapse of Libya as being a factor. Did the presence of ‘strong national leaders’ (AKA dictators) mean that it was easier for wealthier countries to ignore pressures that were building up in those countries? Why did those pressures build up in the first place? Why are so many people moving from their homes to make perilous journeys by land and sea?

Does data on the flow of wealth help explain?

One of the first things I stumbled across when I went to university to study economics in the later 1990s was the debt crisis in developing countries. I remember reading some of the figures thrown around about the level of debt owed by developing countries to the International Monetary Fund & the World Bank – £100billion was one figure thrown around at the time. I remember how sobering that felt at the time…then fast forward to 2008 finding out that the UK banks had been bailed out by over ten times that amount. Ever since that point my view of mainstream finance and economic policy has been very dim indeed. Can’t drop the debt? Can’t fund the housing program needed but can bail out Fred Goodwin and friends? What’s the point…

And who remembers Live8 in 2005 with all of those celebrities desperate to be on stage or in the VIP pit? Tony Blair was there telling us how important it was that the G8 summit made a difference. (Has it? (*Looks around*))

Net flows of wealth from poorer countries to richer countries, and richer countries to tax havens. 

There are numerous articles about the net flow of wealth from poorer countries to richer countries (eg here and here – 2010 figure approx $557bn) and ultimately into offshore tax havens (eg here). It doesn’t surprise me that in an era of neo-liberal governments, people are following the wealth. The economic theory says that to make markets more free, you enact policies that free up the movement of capital, of knowledge…and of people. Then sit back and watch supposedly pro-free market politicians and their newspaper cheerleaders tie themselves up in knots over immigration.

“So…how do you deal with it?”

Funnily enough, Ed Miliband was onto something with his concept of ‘predistribution’. But having picked a rubbish word to describe it and having been subsequently lampooned over it, it died a quick death. But the point was that more of the people that made the goods or carried out the services  got a greater amount of the price received so that they would not need to rely on things like tax credits or other state support – and would be able to pay taxes too. Furthermore, they would more likely to be able to work fewer hours and have time to do other things with their lives – perhaps even live healthier, happier lives.

Now, extend this concept globally and apply basic workers rights worldwide. What would happen if people had:

  • rights to paid holiday, weekends, maximum working weeks,
  • minimum wages that reflected a living wage/realistic cost of living in decent accommodation with access to public services (not just health & education, but public transport & more)
  • the right to working conditions that meant death & injury were not regular occurrences

Yes – costs of cheap goods would go up. But why should we have access to cheap goods at the expense of the health and livelihoods of our fellow human beings who happen to be in a worse situation than us? I discussed this here.

What would the situation be like if wealth flows between poorer countries and richer countries were more balanced? By ‘poorer’ countries I’m talking about people and countries being impoverished by such unfair economic systems. This isn’t about who works harder or smarter. It’s about social and economic justice. What would it look like if the people that made the goods or delivered the services got more for their work than the employer or shareholding firm with their headquarters artificially registered in a tax haven?

Colonialism and after

The above was the title of the first module that I studied at university – probably the only one in my time at university that really got me thinking. (Yes – I still have a ****big chip**** that gets bigger every time they phone me up for money I don’t have. No! Feck off!)

What’s going on in Iraq and Syria is soul-destroying. The most appalling violence being inflicted on civilians as a weapon of war, the destruction of antiquities…all in the shadow of Tony Blair & George Bush’s misadventures in the Middle East. What I don’t understand is why there is no UN mission to deal with this – one not led or driven by NATO members. I don’t understand why there is no global attempt to bring about reconciliation between Iran and the Gulf states.

Forgetting the historical picture

I had a conversation with a longtime family friend who died recently, who lived and worked in East Africa and in Iran during the 1950s-1970s. She told me she could not believe how the UK & US went into Iraq with no postwar plan – not least one that recognised and planned for the complexities of the mixes of groups, cultures & religions there. The same struck me about what happened in the Ukraine which has far deeper and more complex roots than the mainstream media reported. (This example, when viewed in the context of the Second World War was a piece of analysis I thought was missing in the news reports of the time).

International policy paralysis?

Whether it’s migration in the Mediterranean, ongoing war & horrific violence in the Middle East to sabre-rattling on the EU’s eastern borders, the one thing that strikes me is that no one seems to be in control of the EU’s response. Furthermore, it’s not clear how the UK is playing a constructive part & a positive impact in solving the problems.

Given how interconnected the world is, I can’t see how retreating from international institutions EU-exit style is going to help things. With each of the three cases I’ve touched upon – and I’ve not even mentioned climate change yet, I don’t see any solution in sight. I also don’t see any individuals or groups of individuals in mainstream politics as having what it takes to solve them either.

More questions than answers

In the 2015 election campaign we never had the in-depth debates and discussions of the type they had in Scotland’s independence referendum. Other than UKIP or no-UKIP we didn’t get the chance to thrash out the UK’s future place in the world, the EU or the sort of EU within which we’d be comfortable in.

I don’t know what the answers or solutions to those mega problems are. But from my TV-shaped window into the world, the way the mainstream media is presenting, analysing & contextualising the issues doesn’t seem to be helping.

“Why does the media matter?”

Because media influences policy. If broadcast media can get to grips with the complex roots, bring them to the surface where they can be properly analysed, maybe we might get some better policy-making. This is why projects such as The Women’s Room are ever so important – bringing in new, more diverse voices with a greater range of experiences and expertise to bear.

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Ballots, protest marches and ‘doing democracy’

Summary

Unpicking who is saying what on protest marches and elections – and why democracy encompasses far more

A number of friends and social media followers went on the march in London earlier. Poor health (in particular hay fever & mental exhaustion) plus lack of money put paid to any desire by me to go. I had the idea of doing a time-lapse scene in Trafalgar Square but the forecast & subsequent rain also put paid to that idea: my kit ain’t waterproof.

“Hang on – your side lost the election! Sit down, shut up and accept the will of the people you anti-democracy freed0m-h8ting communist!”

Chances are people would still have been protesting had Ed Miliband been returned with a majority given their messages on spending plans & ‘tough decisions’. Also, note the 2002 Countryside Alliance march which was just over a year after the 2001 general election. Marching & protesting is just as much a feature of a healthy democracy as is a sound & transparent public policy process that involves those with an interest & expertise in a range of different areas shaping public policy. (To what extent those taking part in the ‘non-voting’ aspects of democracy are successful in their endeavours, is a different question).

One of my earliest but least-read blogposts asked what impacts on people’s voting preferences. In the run up to the recent general and local elections I asked:

Do you want to vote for:

  • The person you think will best represent the place you live in?
  • The party whose values you most associate with?
  • The party whose policies/manifesto you like the most?
  • The individual who you think will make the best prime minister?
  • The individual who has the best chance of keeping out the party/candidate you dislike the most?

There’s a lot that people can extrapolate from a cross in a box – especially when it comes to the convention of manifestos. The convention is that Parliament (in particular the House of Lords) will not oppose legislation implementing policies listed in a winning party’s manifesto because this is ‘the will of the people’. But how many people at general elections read through all of the manifestos and pick the one they like the best? How many even get through a summary of each one?

Were the 2015 manifestos written as programmes for government or written with an eye on possible coalition negotiations?

This is something we the general public may never find out – or not until the memoirs of those around at the time are written. Which of the policies were included to be dropped as a means of persuading another potential coalition partner to drop one of theirs? Which policies were included in the different party manifestos with the authors knowing that there were serious problems with them? With the Conservatives, the top few include:

  • Scrapping the Human Rights Act
  • Extending the ‘Right to buy’ to housing associations
  • Uncosted cuts to social security budgets

Similar unpicking of Labour & Liberal Democrats’ manifestos could be done, but as they did not win the election, such an exercise is academic. The Liberal Democrats – facing the next five years with MPs totalling single figures don’t have enough to cover the ministerial portfolios.

“So…what did the march achieve?”

I didn’t go on it so don’t feel qualified to comment.

The bit I’m interested in are the experiences of those taking part in a large demonstration for the first time – as a handful of people from Cambridge did. My first experience of a large London protest march was in 2001. My reasons for being there were to protest against exploitation by multinational corporations, and about the debt crisis, and for the environment. It was a miserable rainy day and me and lots of inexperienced new activists found ourselves led by the established far-left and their front organisations straight into a police kettle in Oxford Circus where we stood for 9 hours getting drenched & bored before they let us out. The context was the year 2000 demo the previous year. Hence lots of riot cops in 2001. Being alone having lost my flatmates in the crowds, with no familiar faces around me and being face-to-face with fully-tooled-up riot cops in the days before smartphones was not a fun place to be – and I’ve kept my distance from the organised far left ever since.

“Have there been better marches?”

One of the things easily overlooked on marches is the social side. Lots of experienced activists questioned (again) the merit of A-to-B marches, with speeches by speakers regularly found at such demonstrations – see the list on Urban 75 here. One I went on a few years ago that I got more out of was where I had Puffles with me and was able to chill out afterwards with a mixture of Puffles’ followers and Young Green Party activists in a pub off the beaten track. In a social media age, bringing people together to meet face-to-face who might only have corresponded online is one of the positive things about such gatherings. Personally I tend not to go on marches directly because I don’t feel like I’m making a difference. In recent times I’ve started reporting from, & filming/interviewing because it’s creating new content and giving a voice to those who might otherwise not get the chance to speak out on video.

“How do you ‘improve’ an A-to-B march?”

Putting on such a large demonstration requires the mobilisation of huge resources – the like of which very few organisations have. In 2001 no trade unions backed the May Day demonstration, and as a result a few thousand of us got locked in a kettle for ages and achieved very little. But then some might say A-to-B marches don’t really achieve much more.

Given the diversity of interests & organisations taking part, I’d be interested to see organisers trying the People and Planet methods -> see their summer camp in July here. Rather than having tens of thousands of people watching one stage, why not have say Hyde Park as the end point where you have a massive mix of open space conversations, freshers-fair-style stalls, ‘big speech’ stages for those that want it, & art, music & spoken word alternative stages elsewhere?

“That sounds dangerously autonomous!”

This is the culture shift Labour & those to the left of it have struggled with ever since the development of the Internet. Which of the established institutions – whether political parties, trade unions or campaign groups are prepared to put their resources into something that they don’t have complete control over? With Labour’s affiliated trade unions, would they be prepared to finance something that other political parties such as The Greens, the SNP or Plaid Cymru benefit from? This is already an issue Unite the Union is grappling with in Scotland following the general election. (ie ‘What do you do if the majority of your members voted for a party other than the one your union is affiliated to?’)

“From marchers to locally-active citizens?”

I’m thinking of younger and/or recently politically active people here. There still feels like we have a huge gap between what happens at demonstrations and the day-to-day life of local government and what council & councillors do. The number of ‘uncontested elections’ at a local government level reflects this. Hence one of my starting points for lots of people is to invite them to send an email to their elected representatives simply to let them know they are there, as well as the issues they care about. (See https://www.writetothem.com/)

My take is that there’s far more to democracy than either the ballot box or marching alone. Not everyone will be comfortable marching just as not everyone will be comfortable joining a political party or campaigning at election time. But how do you go about creating the spaces where people (who all too often have very little time) can find out what activity suits their lifestyles & dispositions? Hence the thought about demonstrations, protest marches and gatherings being much more than A-to-B marches sandwiched between speakers.

“Your lot still lost the election!”

Just as with Labour in 2001 & 2005, election victories can hide a multitude of problems. Tony Blair was faced with an astonishingly weak Conservative Party as an opposition just as David Cameron faced a Labour front bench that never looked like a government in waiting. Internally, the Conservatives still have to deal with historically low membership numbers along with the 4million people who voted UKIP. (Just as Labour & the Liberal Democrats have to face up to the 1million people who voted for The Greens).

With the EU in-out referendum due in the next two years, UKIP are unlikely to go away despite their documented internal troubles and the disappointment at the number of seats (one – Douglas Carswell MP) they won at the general elections. The political fault line along the Conservative-UKIP boundary will remain in the news for the foreseeable future.

Democracy and devolution

One of the things the London-based media don’t seem to understand with Scotland is the concept of Scotland being a country in the mindset of the people of Scotland. Those opposed to the Conservatives can understandably say that Scotland comprehensively rejected the Conservatives. And Labour. And the Liberal Democrats. Watching a debate on The Scotland Bill in Parliament (in part implementing the Smith Commission recommendations post-independence referendum), it was interesting to see Conservative MPs saying that the people of Scotland had comprehensively rejected the commission’s proposals 2 months after they were published by voting SNP MPs in 56 of the 59 constituencies. (See the SNP response to the commission at the time here).

Thus you have the largest political grouping in Scotland saying ‘We did not vote for the Conservatives’ policy agenda’ in a similar way that Euro-sceptics say ‘We did not vote for the EU’ – but with the Euro-sceptics in the Commons being predominantly from parties backing the union of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

Devolution in England too?

Since the middle of the last decade, slow progress towards devolving powers to local government has been made. But old Treasury habits die hard. To what extent will The Treasury allow local councils to raise their own fund through taxation, or borrow to invest in essential infrastructure such as housing? In places like Cambridge where housing demand is huge, it feels like a no-brainer.

Yet irrespective of party political persuasion, in order for democracy to work at a local level it requires active citizens. But then this means people doing more than putting a cross in a box once every few years, or going on a march every so often. Hence messages such as this one do no favours – unless an elected dictatorship where you vote once every five years for someone to take all the power to do whatever they like without any checks & balances is what you want.

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Filming alone at festivals

Summary

You get to see some brilliant performances, but…how do you get decent audio? And what do you do with drunk people and photographers getting in the way of filming?

I got lucky at The Strawberry Fair as most of the groups and musicians I wanted to film were on the Cambridge 105 tent. They kindly gave me a copy of the audio they recorded, hence not having to rely on what my microphones were picking up.

The above was originally by Jefferson Airplane in the 1960s. If the lead singer from Jefferson Airplane looks/sounds familiar, she was the lead singer in ‘Nothing’s gonna stop us now‘ by Starship.

I got lucky again with several members of the audience intervening to get some drunk people out of the way while filming Fred’s House. Because I really wanted to clobber one of the drunkards who was oblivious to everyone else around him. In the meantime, others near me had to deal with someone drunk in charge of a mobility scooter steamrollering his way to the front. (Interestingly, there seems to be a legal loophole on this).

I had a great early afternoon at The Strawberry Fair, a number of very talented young musicians – some of whom seem to have been around for ages, such as Ellie Dixon below.

I first spotted Ellie playing support to Grace Sarah, who occupied a much later slot on stage this year. After Ellie & Sophie Winter’s set, I asked them both about why there were so few all-women bands around generally. It’s something they said they would give some thought to in a follow-up interview. I also suggested the idea from this blogpost of getting a group of young women singer/song writers to pick their 3 favourite songs (each) that they’ve written, arrange them for a big band and have The Junction/Music East book some professional session musicians to perform them live with.  Grace Sarah has already piloted this approach with GoldStar.

What do I get out of it?

I’m of the view that every filming session is a learning opportunity – one that goes against the way I was taught to learn as a child. The latter being:

  • Get it right first time, every time
  • Mistakes are bad and bad is sinful and shameful
  • Failure is bad and bad is sinful

You can see how the exam factory screws people up.

This new way of learning was something I only picked up last year – see here. Most of the footage I film does not get uploaded. Editing is extremely labour-intensive.

The past week or so has been a lesson about soundboards – from small hand-held ones to the big studio ones. I’ve effectively had a crash course in what other stuff I needed to get in order to get better audio. (Other than ‘A USB stick’). If you’re going to a gig at a small concert venue and want to record the audio, have a USB stick with you as most soundboards can record the audio directly onto them).

I get to meet more people on a fairly regular basis, which is always nice. Also, given the profile of the groups & musicians I film (ie local/unsigned generally), any extra half-decent video footage is always welcome. For singer/songwriters it works best because picking up a decent bassline is very difficult. Here’s one example by Cambridge Octet Makossa where even my main camcorder struggled. Note how you can hear but not ‘feel’ the bass guitar.

Being alone at a festival and ‘working’

It was kind of a loaded situation for me to be in – 20 years from a summer when many of my school friends were experimenting with cigarettes, alcohol & soft drugs. As it turned out it took me a few months to catch up with them in the drinking stakes. But I missed the Strawberry Fair of that year, everyone singing the praises of how they all got stoned. A couple of weeks later and at the midsummer fair the atmosphere was noticeably more tense & less easy-going than the previous year culminating in a sharp exit before some local nazeez hanging by a burger van spotted us.

Yet just as back then, I found myself feeling not entirely comfortable as darkness began to make itself known. It wasn’t so much having the kit with me – minus an expensive tripod that went missing earlier that afternoon at The Cambridge Union where I popped into the Unlock Democracy event. It was the sense of vulnerability of not being with a long term stable group of friends – despite the presence of more than a few familiar faces throughout the evening.

It was very much the sense of having spent the whole day with people but at the same time spent the whole day alone. But given what I was doing, I had to be. When you’re concentrating, you zone out of everything and everyone else around you. Whoever gets in the way of filming becomes a target of extreme internal rage at the time, only for it to have diminished the following morning.

“Festivals and fairs are supposed to be communal things, aren’t they?”

In part it’s where I show my age, but also where I show my anxiety. As documented in many-a-past blogpost, I never had the camping out festival experience that I should have had either at college or university. Illness put paid to that. In my ‘roaring 20s’ my equivalents of music festivals were probably the ballroom dancing balls in Vienna & Zurich. One of the most well-known of the smaller music festivals – the Cambridge Folk Festival happens every year in my neighbourhood. Every so often I pop along – I even took Puffles one year.

Is time running out for that ‘festival’ experience?

I stumbled across the word Torschlusspanik recently. Essentially it means the fear that time to do things in life is running out, & that the gate will close on the opportunity to do them. Literally it means ‘gate close panic’. Yet having watched one of those fly on the wall documentaries while editing last night [lads go to festival with film crew not knowing their parents are watching the footage etc], even if I did have the stamina I don’t feel a sense of having missed out as such. As far as performers go, I got to see many of the biggest bands around at the time that I wanted to see live in concert. Much of the TV footage reminded me of post-A-level holiday to Newquay & clubbing every night.

Wisdom, experience, growing up, courage – call it what you will, perhaps part of the process of us finding our true selves is acknowledging what we do and don’t like. (And not worrying about whether it’s cool or not). In that regard I grew up far too slowly. Being the solitary community cameraman filming politics and performances isn’t the stuff ‘cool’ is made out of. Yet when I look at the data, clearly more than a few people are watching the results – Charlie & Molly having 250 plays in 24 hours of the Strawberry Fair ending, being one example.

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Please support my work making community films

My 2015 general election videos proved highly popular with the viewing public – over 6,000 views and over 16,000 minutes/250 hours of video footage viewed between 1st April – 10th May 2015 alone.

YTStatsforWebsiteAppeal

I incurred significant expense in time spent filming and editing the video footage, along with further expense in equipment to deal with the challenges of recording decent audio in a variety of different venues. If you would like to help contribute to the costs of producing this content, and/or would like to support my future projects where I will be filming and interviewing local MPs, politicians and civic leaders at length, please click -> Digital Democracy support details.

Thank you for your continued support

Antony Carpen

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

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What impact will Heidi Allen MP have on her neighbouring constituency, Cambridge City?

Summary

Some thoughts on the potential impact of a new, highly-motivated MP for South Cambridgeshire who represents one of Cambridge City’s wards – Queen Edith’s.

Me and Chris Rand, a community blogger in Queen Edith’s ward interviewed Heidi Allen MP over the weekend.

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

I’m uploading the two videos I filmed later in the week as this will form part of a mini-launch of what are likely to become monthly extended interviews with Ms Allen, covering what she has been doing in Parliament and how the Government’s plans are going to affect our neighbourhood.

A significant change for the Conservatives in and around Cambridge?

It was no accident that Ms Allen got over 50% of the votes in South Cambridgeshire – see the full results here. But it wasn’t because the population and the electorate of the constituency growing in the same way as the Conservative share of the vote has done over the years. (See here). Ms Allen’s predecessor was the controversial former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. My experience of him (he was once my MP prior to boundary changes) was that he was absent from our part of the constituency. That said, I hardly ever saw much of Cambridge’s 2005-10 MP David Howarth either. When Julian Huppert became MP in 2010, he set the standard of how to be a strong constituency MP in terms of casework (30,000+ in five years), visibility and availability communications-wise. Dr Huppert’s example hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ms Allen and her team.

Had Mr Lansley stood for re-election, chances are the other parties would have thrown significant national resources into the constituency due to the presence of Addenbrooke’s Hospital – one of the biggest hospitals in the country. His announcement he was standing down meant that one of the safest Conservative seats in the country was up for grabs – and Ms Allen was the candidate successful in gaining the nomination from the local party.

That’s not to say the other candidates didn’t fight – they did. South Cambridgeshire benefited from a line up of competent candidates who worked their socks off. I filmed them at Homerton College’s hustings – see here. Following those hustings I interviewed Ms Allen – see here. Without the extra burden of ministerial/shadow ministerial office, and having only become a councillor in neighbouring Hertfordshire (St Albans) in 2011, she wasn’t nearly as burdened by things like the MPs’ expenses scandal or even voting records during the Coalition.

What does this mean for the new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner?

While both Mr Zeichner and Ms Allen have said publicly they will work together to deal with the issues that both constituencies face together, this is the first time in living memory that there has been a complete change in parliamentary representation personnel-wise across three constituencies in and around Cambridge – the final of the three being Lucy Frazer MP for South East Cambridgeshire.

With Dr Huppert as MP 2010-15, he was in the new position of being a backbench MP of a minority coalition partner, with two parliamentary neighbours who at various occasions held ministerial office. With ministerial office inevitably taking up four days per week plus more, Dr Huppert effectively had most of the Cambridge area to himself. Or so it felt – reflecting his very strong use of social media to keep constituents, campaigners and the local media up to date. Mr Zeichner faces the next five years in opposition – not having the sort of ministerial access Dr Huppert had. Furthermore, he is next door to a new MP on the Government benches who has already shown herself to be more open, approachable and accessible than her predecessor was.

“Will we see a Conservative resurgence in Cambridge as a result of Ms Allen’s presence?”

2010 was a low point for the Conservatives in Cambridge. Despite Cambridge City candidate Chamali Fernando working incredibly hard on the campaign, she scored over four thousand votes fewer than her predecessor candidate Nick Hillman. There are a number of reasons for this. They include:

Ms Allen said prior to the election in an interview with me that she would be focusing her efforts on wards in and around Cambridge (have a watch here) if she were elected. Now that she has been elected, and given her very personable disposition, I expect over the next few years it will begin to pay dividends not just in Queen Edith’s but in others as well. For Queen Edith’s – a traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold, this will be a further challenge for a local party recovering from the loss of Dr Huppert as Cambridge MP.

How will Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens respond?

We’ve got a by-election already in June following the resignation of Kilian Bourke. Given the national results, I’m sure the post-election membership surges for the three parties will have had some impact inside the city – especially the Liberal Democrats. The expected candidates as per Phil Rodgers:

Conservatives: Rahatul Raja
Greens: Debbie Aitchison
Labour: Zoe Moghadas
Liberal Democrats: Nichola Martin

Here’s how things turned out in Romsey in May 2015 -> with Anna Smith elected. Having met Ms Martin and being friends with Mrs Moghadas, we’ve got two strong candidates from the top two parties. Also, expect The Greens to poll well too – especially given their victory in Market Ward with Cllr Oscar Gillespie. I think Mrs Moghadas will win due to being a former city councillor and residents being familiar with her. That said, in Ms Martin the Liberal Democrats have got an energised and personable and relatively young candidate (as Cambridgeshire County Councillors go!) – so much depends on how actively her and fellow Liberal Democrats campaign.

A changing constituency attached to a growing (overheating?) city in a time of further spending cuts

It’s not going to be a walk in the park given the challenges facing Cambridge. Ms Allen has identified housing as the biggest issue for her. The urgency is underlined by the comments from planning inspectors to the Cambridge/South Cambs local plan – see here. Some of her constituents in surrounding villages are not going to like being told that they have to allocate more rural land for housing. Furthermore, The Chancellor is expected to announce a new budget in July which is likely to have even further cuts to government spending – cuts which Ms Allen will be expected to support as a backbench MP of the governing party. Although from Parliament’s perspective it’s unheard of for a backbench MP to vote against their party line on a budget vote, Cambridge Labour skilfully and ruthlessly exploited Dr Huppert’s voting record on Coalition budgets.

Will this mean that Ms Allen and Mr Zeichner will be loggerheads for the next five years?

Unlikely. For a start Ms Allen isn’t a fundamentalist dyed-in-the-wool career politician. I expect she will be far more pragmatic than her predecessor. As for Mr Zeichner, although he has a long record as a candidate for Labour – winning after four unsuccessful campaigns in Cambridge & Norfolk, he’s not the ‘attack dog’ type of politician. When I look back at the many hustings he took part in against Dr Huppert, very rarely did he make personal attacks on Dr Huppert. It was local councillors & activists who were far more aggressive online.

One of the more interesting things to watch out for will be which parties can establish a local presence in the new housing estates that continue to spring up in and around Cambridge. Without the long and established histories of the surrounding villages, these could be the places where the other parties can establish a strong presence.

Given the impact of their student campaigning machine in Cambridge, will Cambridge Universities Labour Club ‘bank’ the Cambridge City result and start regular campaigns in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire? Because just as Ms Allen’s presence in South Cambridgeshire could open some doors to the Conservatives in Cambridge, the growth of Cambridge City beyond the parliamentary boundaries could open lots more doors not just to Labour, but to a resurgent Liberal Democrats and even the Greens, who between Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are heading towards 1,000 members.

We live in interesting times…

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The post-election dust begins to settle

Summary

What can we expect from the political parties?

I’m not going to be one of those commentators who tries to explain how they predicted the correct general election result when the record shows anything but. I didn’t expect the Conservatives to have an absolute majority, nor did I expect the almost total takeover of Scottish seats by the SNP. I also didn’t expect the Lib Dems to get as few seats as they did – and ditto with UKIP.

For the most part, I sat on the fence saying the whole thing was too close to call. Given that neither of the two main parties said who they’d negotiate with in the event of a hung parliament – predicted by pretty much every opinion poll, it was difficult for anyone to see who was going to emerge with the confidence of the Commons to become Prime Minister. That’s all academic now – apart from the opinion polling industry who have some serious questions to ask of itself.

Osborne’s July Budget

It’s due on 8 July if this report is correct. The Financial Times ran a headline predicting 100,000 further job cuts to the civil service. I can’t see how these are going to be delivered without some serious changes to the Whitehall machinery of government. These are combined with further tightening of laws on trade union industrial action. I can understand why politicians are saying there needs to be a minimum level of turnout for votes in favour of strike action to be legitimate – but then shouldn’t the same apply for politicians & elections? I remember in my university days that student union AGMs would be inquorate so budgets could not be passed & thus student union services closed until they got a quorate meeting. (Not having a room big enough to hold the minimum threshold of students to pass a budget didn’t help…). However, the closure of student union bars had the desired effect: lots more students turned up to rearranged meetings. What would happen to democracy if turnouts below say 40% at elections meant bins didn’t get collected until a rescheduled election? ‘Democracy’s not a spectator sport’…and all that

Conservatives hitting the ground running vs opposition navel-gazing?

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently in the extended processes of electing new leaders. Both parties at a leadership level appear shell-shocked (understandably) at the general election result. Their online activist roots perhaps less so – being younger, more energised and perhaps feeling less tied to decisions made by politicians at a time when perhaps some of them were still at school.

Yet just as in 2010 with Labour, do both parties run the risk of sorting out internal issues while the new government sets in concrete a new narrative that becomes impossible to undo for the next decade? Remember the problems Ed Miliband had with TV cross-examination by the public – they were all asking about issues about the 2007-2010 Gordon Brown administration. It was as if they were still waiting for the former Prime Minister to publicly account for his failures in office. The lack of his open public and media appearances over the past five years haven’t helped in that respect. Ditto with Blair. The public has not seen either former Prime Minister scrutinised in detail post-Downing Street in a way that might have drawn lines under the more controversial aspects of their times in office. Not that there’s necessarily precedence for doing so – or that repeated public appearances would help. Think Thatcher during John Major’s years in office.

How can Labour escape the shadow of Blair & Brown? 

It’s one of the reasons why so many seemed to pin their hopes on Dan Jarvis MP, the former soldier, as a new leader. But he declined due to family commitments. For me I’ve felt Labour needed someone from the post-2010 generation of MPs. The electorate took out two possible candidates – Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander – at the recent general election. The recent ‘Progress’ hustings indicated that cabinet ministers under Gordon Brown were more prepared to defend the latter’s legacy than the rest. But as Sunny Hundal said in a talk in Cambridge recently, Labour need to select someone who is a much better communicator than Brown or Miliband were – and pick someone who in the minds of the electorate looks like they are a Prime Minister in-the-making.

Rebuilding from a near-wipe out for the Liberal Democrats

For them it really is a case of going back to their grass roots. Former Cambridge MP David Howarth (who was MP before Julian Huppert) summarised the issues for the Liberal Democrats here. The most interesting part for me is on coalitions. From my perspective, one of the central pillars of the Liberal Democrats is voting reform towards proportional representation; something that increases the likelihood of either minority governments or coalitions. Yet at the same time, experiences from other countries – and now the UK – shows the electorate punishes junior coalition partners harder than the senior ones.

With only eight MPs and one MEP, the Liberal Democrats may find the level of media exposure plummets. With so few politicians in national public office, there will be a huge burden on those nine. This means that the hundred or so peers appointed to the House of Lords for the party will need to step forward and take a fair share of the burden – for so long as the House of Lords remains unreformed.

What will the SNP do for England?

This for me is one of the big unknowns. Historically the SNP have refrained from voting on matters that only affect England. Labour controversially used their Scottish MPs to vote through the Higher Education Act 2003 that brought in top up tuition fees in England that ultimately gave powers to the government to bring in the even higher fees with just two debates in Parliament. This self-inflicted sore remains an irritant for those on the left who in principle don’t like tuition fees. The question for the SNP is what time and resources they’ll use for debates/campaigns that only affect England. The first test of this looks like being on fox hunting – the SNP stance angering anti-hunt campaigners in England.

UKIP and The Greens?

Over 4 million votes, only two MPs. Yet both Douglas Carswell and Caroline Lucas between them seem to have had more influence as backbench MPs than most in terms of influencing agendas. Recent headlines about power struggles in UKIP means it’s too early to know what will happen with them. The massive rise in the number of MEPs plus Douglas Carswell holding onto his seat means that there a growing number of political power bases within the party that are alternatives to Nigel Farage.

As for The Greens, aside from the widely-expected loss of minority control of Brighton Council, progress has continued at a slow but steady pace as far as politicians elected to local public office is concerned. While the Greens have benefited from the decline of the Liberal Democrats, 2015 may mark a low point at which the Lib Dems start fighting back. The challenge for The Greens is to hold onto those that switched.

Cameron with a smaller majority in the Commons than John Major

It will be interesting to see how disciplined the Conservative Parliamentary Party is compared to the Coalition. What concessions will Cameron need to make to his backbenchers to ensure is program for government can be implemented? Will he look to do deals with MPs from other parties (such as the Northern Ireland unionists, or even the Liberal Democrats?) in the face of rebellions? Would Labour or the SNP step in to save the government from defeat in the face of something (in their minds) even worse brought in just to placate Conservative rebels? Expect the House of Commons to play an even more central role in the workings of Whitehall than in the Coalition years.

New views for new ministers with old views?

Something that has been widely commented on has been the attributed views of various new ministers given their new portfolios.

To be fair to Morgan, she changed her mind & publicly said so, as did Lib Dem leadership candidate Tim Farron here. I think it’s refreshing when politicians can account for when they got things wrong & explain how & why they got things wrong. (As well as what they might do differently in the future). It remains to be seen how some of the new ministers get on in their new posts given past comments.

Cameron as a ‘hands off’ Prime Minister

One of the major differences between Cameron and his Labour opponents is how he’s seen to allow his ministers to be ‘the faces’ of his parties policies. Under Blair and Brown, I always got the sense that ministers under them were never really in control of their policy areas. The result in the late 2000s was policy paralysis. They were all too busy looking over their shoulder towards Downing Street – but there weren’t enough hours in the day for the Prime Minister to approve everything. I never really got that sense with Cameron & Clegg. After five years of a more devolved setup, I’d be surprised if Cameron resorted to the Brown-style command and control. For a start Cameron doesn’t have the parliamentary majority to ram through measures unpopular with his party.

The world in 2020 will be a very different place – but will the parties have evolved sufficiently to account for this?

Are we at a stage where the big political names of 2020 are yet to emerge? It might be that both The Greens and Lib Dems go into the 2020 elections with leaders who do not hold national elected public office. UKIP may have imploded, disbanded following an EU-exit referendum victory or they may have solidified their gains to become more of a permanent parliamentary and local government presence. We may have PM Boris or Osborne coming face-to-face with a Labour leader who would have succeeded the one about to be elected by Labour members this autumn.

At the same time, we don’t know how resilient society will be to another round of public sector cuts in the face of ever-rising housing costs, growing visible inequalities and continued global instabilities.

Posted in Elections 2015, Party politics | 2 Comments

How Cambridge Labour councillors on Twitter can help new MP Daniel Zeichner

Summary

Some thoughts on new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner’s way of working.

Mr Zeichner posted the following tweets:

If you want to get in touch with him on constituency issues, he’s at daniel@cambridgelabour.org.uk

This will inevitably be a different way from how his predecessor Julian Huppert used Twitter – as others have noted.

I’m not going to make a judgement call on which is the best way for him to use social media as an individual. This will be different from person to person, and will depend on each one’s disposition. This is more about ‘The Office that is Daniel Zeichner MP’.

MPs and ministers have private offices – ie paid staff whose job it is to help assist the holder of the public office discharge their constitutional duties. Public funds are available to pay for people to work in MPs’ offices. Ministers have their own teams of civil servants – the latter being constitutionally apolitical and helping ministers deliver the policies of the government. This is different from giving opposition politicians a verbal bashing. Hence researching opposition policies is normally out of bounds for civil servants.

“What’s the difference between Mr Zeichner and Dr Huppert?”

People used to the sort of access via Twitter they had with the latter are going to have a bit of a shock when it comes to the former. Dr Huppert would often respond directly to tweets during Parliamentary debates or commuting to/from Cambridge. For whatever reason, Mr Zeichner has indicated he wants a more formal method of communication. (Remember email is a form of social media). This also means using Twitter as a means of broadcasting what he’s doing rather than using it as a means of conversation. That’s not to say it’s set in stone. It might be that as he becomes more used to the role of being an MP, he becomes more comfortable responding to tweets directly. The way I use Twitter isn’t identical to early 2011. My approach to social media has evolved over time.

“Doesn’t that mean there will be people who will throw online brickbats at Mr Zeichner?”

In one sense you can’t win. Some will say politicians spend too much time on Twitter and not enough scrutinising the government. Others will say not using social media for conversations is no way for a holder of elected public office to behave.

What is important however is how Mr Zeichner and his advisers monitor social media and the discussions being had that involve Cambridge. Unfortunately the presence of Cambridge on the East Coast of America and the media circus around William and Kate means that you can’t do a simple Twitter search for all of the things happening here. This is what I relied on in my pre-Twitter days after the 2010 election doing research on Big Society policy. It was only in the autumn that I realised there were a whole host of conversations on lots of topics I wanted to take part in – ones where I didn’t have to worry about being stung by newspapers, which led to me setting up Puffles.

Setting up Twitter & Facebook pages for ‘The Office of Daniel Zeichner’?

It’s an option – I’ve seen other politicians experiment with similar with mixed degrees of success. Much depends on how comfortable an MP’s staff are with the medium concerned. The other one is how much autonomy and guidance the MP concerned is prepared to give to the staff running the accounts.

A good example of how these sorts of accounts are run are train companies – for all the complaints that they get. At the start of each shift, they announce the name of the person who is staffing the account. That then allows conversations to take place. Furthermore, there are a strict set of rules (sort of similar to Puffles’ house rules here) that they abide by. For such an MP-office account, it might include something around: “If you don’t know the answer immediately, say so and given an indication of when you will get back.”

“Why did you say that Cambridge’s Labour councillors have a role to play?”

Because if you look at a number of conversations that have cropped up over the years, many of them could have been dealt with by elected councillors rather than the MP. In Dr Huppert’s case, he was such a prolific tweeter and at the same time did not have this huge wealth of councillors who were using Twitter or Facebook regularly. Mr Zeichner has a critical mass of councillors who can take up the slack.

The most important thing is that:

  • Councillors regularly update Mr Zeichner on issues being raised
  • Mr Zeichner finds a suitable means of updating residents & constituents of what he is doing. A once-a-week blogpost or website update that can be cross-posted/tweeted might be really useful for those that want to remain informed, even if they don’t want to engage in conversation. (These people are likely to be in the majority – even if they don’t shout the loudest!)

“Which councillors are these that can help?”

Let’s take Cambridge City Council and their responsibilities. Going by the council’s constitution and directorates, these are as follows:

  • Planning policy and control of development,
  • Economic Development,
  • Tourism,
  • Environmental
    Health,
  • Waste Services,
  • [Limited] Transport Services
  • Managing the Council’s housing stock and role as
    social housing landlord,
  • strategic issues on
    homelessness and housing provision in the City,
  • arts and entertainments,
  • parks & recreational
    services,
  • community development,
  • grants to
    voluntary organisations,
  • community safety.

Executive councillors on Twitter responsible for these are:

Other councillors for Labour on Twitter include:

They can point you to others – the above three are the ones I have fairly frequent Twitter chats with, or see out & about.

The Green Party has a councillor in Cambridge too:

Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council include:

Cambridge Conservatives have one councillor – Shapour Meftah, but I don’t think he’s on Twitter. Hence I refer interested parties to recent election candidates Andy & Tim

Cambridge is also represented on Cambridgeshire County Council – which covers the following (according to its website:

  • Roads
  • Buses
  • Children
  • Libraries

(See here for the sub-categories in the ‘residents’ tab (that it should land on))

The leader of the Labour group (and the only one I see frequently in tweets) is:

The Liberal Democrats group have the following on Twitter in Cambridge

At a county council level, The Greens, Conservatives & UKIP are not represented in the city divisions.

On Facebook you can find the following:

They also have student groups too:

So if you want to tweet politics to politicians in Cambridge, you now have ****lots**** of alternatives!

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Parties report rise in membership after Conservatives win general election

Summary More thoughts on the next five years – including training, development and support for those with desire and potential to stand for election

I mentioned to a friend earlier today that in Whitehall & Westminster, the traditional big offices of state are:

  • Prime Minister
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Foreign Secretary
  • Home Secretary

Boss, money, outside stuff, inside stuff. Looking back at the general election result, Labour had Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper in those roles. I’ve mentioned to a number of people in times gone by that if a party is going to resemble ‘a government in waiting’ in the run up to the general election, the people in the shadow ministerial roles need to be extraordinarily talented individually, compensate for each others’ weaknesses and collectively look & feel like a competent team. Did that team of four have that? Did they have the dynamism, energy, competence and people-friendliness to inspire those outside the party? The fact that both Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander lost their constituency seats speaks volumes. If they cannot inspire their constituents to vote for them, how could they be expected to inspire the rest of the country? Similar applies to the Liberal Democrats – on the receiving end of a nationwide pounding. Their nominal ‘shadow quad’ of those roles (Scroll to the end here – Lib Dems, is the final row correct?) were Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Tim Farron and Lynne Featherstone. Alexander and Featherstone lost their seats.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats blown wide open – for new talent to step up

There are eight Liberal Democrat MPs left. (Should someone be sacked inside parties for these results?) Clegg’s resigned as leader, which means it’ll be one of seven men (including Tim Farron, Norman Lamb & Greg Mulholland) who will become party leader. Their party rules say the leader must be in the Commons. (Which means it won’t be a woman as the party has no women MPs left). The ejection of Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander also creates two huge voids within the Labour Party at the very top. I’ve found watching the Twitter chatter from both parties to be interesting – as well as the numbers of people joining/rejoining both parties.

“Was 2015 the general election no one wanted to win?”

From a political commentator’s viewpoint, perhaps – given the state of the economy, the world and public finances. But that’s easy to say if you’re not dependent on public services. For those dependent on public services, the prospect of even more public service cuts or job losses is quite frankly frightening. It’s all very well saying that Cameron will have a tough time keeping his Euro-sceptics in line, & that after 5 years of that an alternative centre-left party will come in & sort things out. It’s all very well saying that any other party would have struggled, leading to an even more harsher alternative in 2020, but in five years something that might have been thought of as extreme can then become the political norm. Think tuition fees. What will be the 2015-2020 policies brought in that cannot be reversed by any incoming government?

“So…why have thousands of people started joining/rejoining political parties?”

The Liberal Democrats are claiming over 3,000 since the election, The Greens over 400, and Labour claiming ‘thousands’. (None of these figures have been independently verified, so it’ll be interesting to see if the numbers hold true). I’m going to try and get a sense from the local parties in Cambridge over the next few weeks. My sense is a combination of fear and opportunity. Fear over what’s about to hit us over the next five years, and opportunity because with such a defeat and a clearout of long-standing senior politicians, now is a once-in-a-generation chance to make an impact on political parties from within.

“What will they do with all of these new members?”

The Green Party also faces similar issues regarding new members – as does the SNP & UKIP. One of the things that’s struck me attending local council meetings in Cambridge is how few members of the public who are members of political parties come along to take an active part in those meetings. Much is left to the sitting councillors, few of whom seem to have any desire to change systems & processes to make council meetings more appealing to the general public. While there is a time & a place for formality – especially given propriety & accountability, what we currently have seems to suck the life out of what could otherwise be interested & energised gatherings. Given the further looming cuts to local government, I simply cannot see how the existing models in & around Cambridge are sustainable. (The amount of administrative time spent on working out how to fill in a pothole or how to get cycle racks installed is unreal).

If anything, there’s no time like now to invite people to step forward as potential candidates for the local council elections in 2016. In my ward in recent years, all of the candidates bar myself & Simon Cooper had stood before, and the incumbent this year who was re-elected first became a councillor here when I was doing paper rounds in this ward in the early 1990s. (Phil Rodgers has the lowdown on Cambridge’s election results here).

“What would you like to see on the back of these membership surges?”

Some new faces, some new activists, and perhaps some longer-standing community activists putting themselves forward for elections (whether as party or independent candidates).

But that involves parties and civic society helping prepare and support people to stand.

I keep on saying that Democracy is not a spectator sport – so don’t expect to be spoon-fed. A number of politicians have mentioned to me how they have found the presence of me and Richard Taylor with camcorders filming as intimidating or off-putting. That was one of the reasons why I deliberately made things easy for the candidates with the interviews I did in the run up to the elections – & will continue to do afterwards. Essentially I ask ‘Daytime TV-style’ questions about their human experiences of being in local politics rather than on specific detailed policy issues. My aim is to get local politicians feeling comfortable in front of camera, and the viewer to be able to decide whether the politician being interviewed is ‘a nice enough person to have a conversation with themselves’.

Formal training matters too

After various hustings and public debates I attended, I spoke to a number of candidates and party activists advising them of who needed what training & coaching to improve their performances in the set piece debates. Poor public speaking had a direct impact on the footage I filmed because it meant that I had to edit the audio to artificially amplify some of the voices of the speakers. I could have simply left the footage as was, but chose not to because I felt it was important to ensure the viewer could hear what was said by whom, and not feel the desire to cut off before the following speaker. A number of people have said they found the video footage really useful, but I don’t know of anyone who changed the way they were going to vote as a result – yet! Nationwide, the organisation I recommend is the charity The Media Trust. As local parties there is nothing stopping you from hiring them to do workshops for your activists & potential candidates on:

  • media interview training
  • public speaking
  • social media
  • making short video clips
  • effective newsletters

The above isn’t about turning new members into clone-town politicians.

“What about activism outside of political parties?”

Because there’s a place for it, that’s for sure. A couple of long-standing Twitterfriends who have been longstanding non-party activists have commented that independent political organising had been put ‘on hold’ in the run up to the election. See @MediocreDave here. Given the experience of 2010 when Labour spent months deciding on a new leader & having an internal debate, the Coalition hit the ground running, brought in austerity, shaped the narrative/line of ‘Labour spent too much/all their fault’ which, supported by a sympathetic print media & an uncritical broadcast media meant that it stuck. By the time Ed Miliband had started to get things together, it was too late. We saw that when the Leeds’ audience for the leaders’ TV appearances tore Gordon Brown’s record to pieces in front of Ed Miliband without a response that seemed credible in the minds of the people asking the questions. Clegg and Cameron also struggled on that show to be fair. Campaigns I’ve seen gathering some steam via social media have included:

  • Keeping Britain in the EU – an acceptance that we’re going to have a referendum by 2017
  • Saving the Human Rights Act – given the Conservative policy of replacing it with a British Bill of Rights (and the recent appointment of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary)
  • Reforming the voting system on the back of millions of votes for the Greens & UKIP but only 2 seats to show for it
  • Protecting people with disabilities and wider anti-austerity demos.

I wouldn’t be surprised if something kicked off should tuition fees rise again either. It remains to be seen what, if any interfaces these and other campaigns have on established political parties.

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