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Over 70 MPs have switched parties since 2017. How do re-standing MPs justify this to voters?

Summary: In the face of calls for mandatory by-elections when an MP changes party, how can MPs that change party justify their conduct to constituents? Does the law need changing or does the convention that voters elected ‘the person, not the party’ still hold?

The leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, Cllr Bridget Smith (Lib Dems – Gamlingay) welcomed Heidi Allen MP to her ward constituency at the weekend.

Years ago, Cambridge political commentator Phil Rodgers offered to bake a cake for anyone who posted about an anything-but-great campaigning session.

Above- in the run up to the 2015 General Election in Cambridge.

The number of MPs who left the party under whose banner they were elected under in the 2017 Parliament is very high – though not historically unprecedented. As one of those re-standing for a different party in the same constituency, the MP for South Cambridgeshire, Heidi Allen is getting it in the neck from some constituents over her switch, along with the hordes of spambots, haters, trolls and oxygen thieves that far too frequently accompanies political debate online these days. I covered some of the local issues of Ms Allen joining the Liberal Democrats in this earlier blogpost.

I’m not going to go over the above post in detail. That said, the theme of comparing what the political situation was in early 2017 vs what it is today is a solid place to start. 191009 Theresa May Manifesto EU Deal 2017

Above – have the Conservatives run a smooth and orderly government since that general election?

It’s slightly different for former Labour MPs – now Liberal Democrat MPs Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger, both of whom are standing in different constituencies to the one they are currently in. Again, this is not without historical precedent – history is littered with MPs that represented different constituencies over time. It’s only been in recent decades that MPs would even be seen in the constituencies that they represented. The model used to be that constituents would hardly see their MPs – spending time either in London or on country estates. The more strongly-contested constituencies such as Cambridge (held by MPs from all three main parties since 1990) tend to see more of their MPs out and about than the safe seats. Hence when in government, many of the ministers will be in safe-as-houses constituencies – to the fury of their political opponents. South Cambridgeshire re-elected Andrew Lansley repeatedly from 1997-2010 until he stood down in 2015, opening the way for Heidi Allen to win the candidacy. It’s fair to say that since the 2017 general election, Ms Allen has been more popular with non-party constituents than party-political loyalists. It’s also worth noting that the constituency will have grown by 40,000 people between 2011-2026. Combine that with a constituency with a growing population turnover (it is already high in Cambridge), and the old party political institutions become destabilised.

At the moment, the top two have similar odds for the general election

Above – Phil Rodgers checking the odds. This seat is much harder to call than at any time in recent history, in what was a safe as castles constituency: despite the presence of Addenbrooke’s it re-elected Lansley four times. 

“What has happened in incumbent political parties that led to each MP to switch?”

If the policies and personnel of a political party had not changed, and there was no hint of a political scandal, law breaking  and so on, then understandably such MPs stand being accused of opportunism and careerism. But if we take some of the Labour MPs that left recently – in particular the case of Luciana Berger MP, the vile abuse that she has received has been shocking both in its intensity and the complete failure for the Labour Party as an institution to put a stop to it. The same goes for the Conservatives and the abuse that Baroness Sayeeda Warsi repeatedly called out, that Leadership candidates earlier this year promised a party inquiry into, and one that Johnson ultimately chose not to deliver on. This ain’t no accidental oversight. And for both parties their shortcomings look absolutely awful.

On why Change UK etc crashed

It’s easy to forget but one of the things Ms Allen said in her speech of 20 February 2019 (under 8 months ago – how time flies!) was that Change UK might fail.

‘Why didn’t they all just join the Liberal Democrats in the first place?’ – understandable question to put. One commentator described CUK/The Independents as purgatory for those MPs wanting to join the Liberal Democrats from either Tories or Labour.

But again it’s worth remembering where the Liberal Democrats were in early 2019, and the unforced error (European elections) by the Conservatives that gave their opponents a chance to seize an unexpected political lifeline. On the Tory right, Nigel’s new outfit, and on the liberal left, the Greens and Liberal Democrats. This was reflected in the East of England where of the seven MEPs in 2014-19, three were Tory, three were UKIP and only one was Labour.

In 2019 with the Tories having done zero preparation combined with a non-existent local campaign, they lost two of their seats to the Liberal Democrats, while Labour’s seat effectively went to The Greens, while the UKIP vote reappeared as BXP. Accordingly, Cllr Barbara Gibson MEP, Cllr Lucy Nethsingha MEP (both LDs) and Prof Catherine Rowett MEP have wasted no time in making their political presences felt. The trio know they could be out of office should the UK somehow leave the EU as desired by the PM 31st October (despite the legislative barriers put in place by MPs).

Taking advantage of the many mistakes Change UK made (while their BXP opponents ran an almost textbook campaign in an opposite part of the political matrix), the Liberal Democrats’ campaign to CUK of ‘join us or be destroyed’ turned out to be brutally effective. At the same time, The Greens benefited from the publicity boost the likes of Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion were giving to the climate emergency. Former Green Party leader Natalie Bennett – now Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, said in Cambridge in 2015 that the Green Party was the party political wing of the environmentalist movement. They’ve gone from three MEPs to seven MEPs.

On non-Brexit domestic policies

In one sense there has been very little chance to deal with important domestic policies because the Conservatives have made an absolute hash of the parliamentary timetable as well as transferring a large part of the civil service policy-making capacity over to Brexit. One area that switching MPs and politicians of all parties might struggle with is coming to terms with domestic policies that might not sit easily with them or their past speeches. It might not be a big deal in the next few months, but might cause issues in the more distant future. Again, it will be interesting to see how on the campaign trail the re-standing MPs deal with this.

 

 

Why mainstream media and ministers are struggling to cope with Extinction Rebellion

Summary: The Economist magazine has a look at Extinction Rebellion (XR), and finds it’s not a top-down rigidly organised institution familiar to those in political parties.

In my experience of the Cambridge collective, most of the activists have not. They’ve got better things to be doing – like saving the planet.

Similarities with the student protests of 2010

Some of you may remember the protests on the back of the vote to raise tuition fees. In Cambridge, students occupied Senate House. One of the trade unions I was a member of at the time, the PCS Union (I was still a civil servant at the time) encouraged members to go along to express solidarity with the protesting students – this was a time when the civil service was facing massive job cuts as austerity began. I remember many a weekend being taken up by a protest rally or event in Cambridge or London. What struck me with the occupation in Senate House in winter 2010 was the swift grassroots nature of decision-making. It led to some Monty Python-esque exchanges with the police.

Constable: “Who is in charge?”

Crowd of students: “No one is!” 

Constable: “Then who is responsible for you?”

Crowd of students: “We all are!”

This was completely lost on the officer who was completely confused as to what to do next. It’s a bit like that with the mainstream media trying to figure out how Extinction Rebellion functions today.

“We’re gonna kidnap Pilate’s wife, take her back, and issue demands!”

From one of greatest comic troupes to emerge from Cambridge, Monty Python.

“What are XR’s demands?”

The are listed here – the essential top three are below.

191011 XR Demands

“Who’s in charge?”

If you asked most people taking part in the current occupation in London, they probably wouldn’t know. Some might be vaguely familiar with the names Roger Hallam and Gail Bradbrook, (see the FAQs here, specifically ‘where did the idea come from?‘), but that’s about it. The very simple demands, very simple but bold brand (which raised a few eyebrows at first) and the autonomous nature of the local groups means that most groups have no idea of what the other groups are doing unless they make the effort to research who is doing what. In the grand scheme of things, most people are too busy doing stuff than trying to micromanage a very large network of independent collectives. Which is why this outburst from Transport Secretary Grant Shapps on QT last night was embarrassing.

…and not only because his claims about the UK’s record on climate change is questionable to say the least (i.e. he ignores the emissions from the UK’s consumption of imports, and the emissions from shipping and aviation fuel required to get the goods to the UK in the first place).

Minister: “Why don’t you do as I tell you and go and protest over there in that bloodthirsty dictatorship?!?”

Protesters: “Because we are a network of autonomous collectives that decides what each collective is going to do democratically, rather than having decisions imposed on us by someone like you!” 

On the same show, one of the controversialists on the panel described XR as a cult – which sounds suspiciously like the same insult thrown at it by other controversialists trying to steal oxygen and all too often given broadcasting platforms by media companies that should know better. There are more than a few criticism you can throw at XR but as an autonomous movement trying to save humanity and nature from a climate catastrophe, a death cult is the last thing it is.

The autonomous nature of XR combined with the constituency representation model the House of Commons has means that the relationship between each MP and their local collective of Extinction Rebellion is unique. 

While the Transport Secretary spouted off on TV last night, not long before a former Cabinet Minister was praising the movement.

Over 400 MPs collected a tree from activists raising the need to plant lots and lots of trees.

That’s nearly two thirds of the MPs in the House of Commons. Furthermore, the stronger the pressure, the more likely a [backbench] MP is to speak out on it. In Cambridge the environmentalist movement is larger and more well-informed than in most places. This reflects in the actions local MP Daniel Zeichner (Lab – Cambridge) undertakes in the House of Commons, such as leading the debate on the fires in the Amazon.

Note the link between MP and constituents is one where for such debates, MPs can and will ask constituents with expertise in a given field for information and briefing to inform speeches. With the institutions in Cambridge, he’d have access to some of the most up-to-date and expert advice in the world. Which then makes his contributions harder for ministers to ignore.

For somewhere like Cambridge, current and former MPs will tell you it is one of the most demanding constituencies in the country. Many a weekend is lost on constituency visits, but whenever groups of constituents turn up to lobby their MPs in and around Parliament, both Mr Zeichner and his predecessor Dr Julian Huppert (Lib Dems, Cambridge 2010-15) would make themselves available.

Accordingly, you’ll find many MPs already on first name terms with more than a few environmental campaigners in their constituencies. Hence the outbursts from Cabinet Ministers fall on deaf ears.

The print press – praise or outrage?

A number of high profile people have also gotten involved from outside of the world of politics.

I’m picturing the headlines now:

“We slam TV Benedict for joining eco-crusties’ demo in London! Get his protest-chic look from these fashion outlets!”

One publication slammed the ‘Eco Mob London Chaos’ while chuckling over the increase in orders for vegan meals for those arrested – over 1,000 at the last count.

Of course it’s having a huge impact on policing and resources. But this situation is not without historical precedence – similar points have been made with other very large demonstrations, marches and protests.

Ministers must realise that the police cannot rely on arresting protesters to resolve the situation. The solution is a political one.

I remember watching a documentary years ago about Northern Ireland in the 1960s and the decision by UK ministers to send in soldiers. One of the comments featured was from one of the senior officers who said that while the army could help keep the peace in the short term, they were no substitute for a permanent peaceful political resolution. Tragically that sentiment was not listened to. That’s not to say the same thing is going to happen again with this case despite the similarities of a weak government (in that case, Labour which was about to lose power to Edward Heath’s Tories), Europe dominating the news (on whether to join the EEC), and economic strife.

Old people getting arrested, and people of faith getting involved.

One of the oldest being a 91 year old man.

…in a tweet posted by a teenager. The people taking part are not just ‘the usual suspects’. There are far too many of them, and far too many home-made placards around for a traditional far-left hijacking attempt to succeed. (They have tried).

One of the other groups prominent aside from the Prime Minister’s Dad, are people of faith.

…and again this makes the picture all the more challenging for the politicians in power:

which followed the Prime Minister slamming the protesters as crusties. Picture the scene inside No.10 Downing Street.

Special adviser: “Prime Minister, the Anglicans from South London are protesting in Trafalgar Square against your climate change policies”

Boris: “Christian Crusties again – you can ignore them!” 

Special adviser: “Prime Minister, they are being joined by Muslims at 6pm” 

Boris: “OMG – why didn’t you tell me? This is a National Security situation! Activate Cobra! [COBR] – get me the chiefs of the defence staff! The Home Secretary!”

What will the longer term impact be – in particular with a long-rumoured general election?

Very difficult to call because there seems to be a polarisation/political faultline developing with pro-leave, pro-car, anti-immigration grouping on one side, and pro-stay-in-EU, pro-environment, anti-racism grouping on the other – with the splits *within* those groupings being just as passionate and powerful as the ones between the two poles.

Another mental health awareness day – but where is the rage and anger at successive health ministers?

Summary:

I’m sick and tired of ‘awareness raising’ messages.

I read this stream by Sophie Petzal, and it encompassed much of what I’ve been feeling about my own experiences of my mental health problems.

The thread unwrapped reads like this:

“I’m sick of the way we talk about mental health. I’m sick of the idea that all we need is ‘awareness’. I’m sick of hearing that help is out there. It isn’t. Help is 6 months away when you need it today. Help isn’t telling a friend and then Oh Wowe I Feel Lighter. We’re in crisis. 
“Poor mental health is a pandemic, and we do not have the resources to tackle it. If mental health was cancer it would be all over the news. It wouldn’t be just this one kumbayah day of hand holding and cutesy Ed Sheeran videos. 
“It makes me sick. When I needed help, I had to fucking pay for it. There was no ‘help’. I wouldn’t be told to ‘reach out to my parents’ if I had leukaemia. I’d walk into a hospital and the process would begin. A long road to recovery, but a medical one. Not a hope and a prayer. 
“Every day the people we tell to ‘open up’ and ‘ask for help’ are met head on with the crisis in our national mental health services. A postcode lottery which chooses if you live with suicidal thoughts for 2 weeks or six months. 
“I hate the way we talk about mental health. We aren’t angry enough. The help isn’t there. It doesn’t exist. It’s collapsing around us. Our country becomes more depressing and toxic every day and we all get sicker and the help isn’t fucking there. 
“If your #MentalHealthAwarenessDay tweets aren’t filled with rage about the lack of timely help for those who do reach out, I don’t really want to hear it. I don’t need your pity or your ‘come to me anytime’ (especially if you’re ‘busy’ when I do). I want your anger and action. 

“Here’s what you can do:

“Know a friend is suffering? Stop kidding yourself that they’ll ‘tell you’ if they needed you. Stop expecting them to ‘reach out’. You reach out. Don’t ask ‘are you ok?’ Tell them you want to make dinner. Tell them you want to come round and play games. 

“When I was ill – I had friends who suddenly reeeeallly wanted to watch the football with me. That saved my life. Sometimes we talked about what was going on. Sometimes I didn’t want to. But I didn’t feel like it was on me – the sick person – to broadcast and ask for love. 
“You don’t have to be a mind reader. But don’t kid yourself that your struggling friend/family member will be incredibly clear with you that they need you (especially when an issue may be they feel no one wants them) and you don’t have to dent your busy schedule until they do.
 
“We are all busy. Everyone is fucking busy. That’s why we’re all fucking sick. But there is no ‘help.’ We’re all we have. So let’s give what we wanted for ourselves. Don’t wait. Don’t be the crisis companion who waits until the suicide note to ‘be present.’ Be available. 
“And when they say no. Ask again later. Be available. I can tell you from experience that not being forgotten, that not being expected to behave like a well person who’ll speak up, is what makes the difference. ‘If you told me, I’d have been there’ does not. 

“‘If you tell me when you’re really struggling, I’ll be there’ is not what someone craving companionship wants. They don’t want you as a crisis nurse. They want to know their loved ones are there for them.

Repeat: make offerings. Not demands. 

‘Reach out’ is the new ‘thoughts and prayers.’ 
“Here’s what a lot of people don’t understand. Shame is an issue. But only a part. Once we overcome shame to reach out and are met with ‘sorry, not sick enough/come back in six months’. That’s hopelessness for the hopeless. When you’ve overcome so much, to hear that? That’s fatal. 

“Part of the shame is a fear of rejection. A fear of being told you cannot be fixed.’ Hearing: ‘next appointment is six months’ is being told: you cannot be fixed. You cannot be helped. Suck it up. Live with it.

“The shame is therefore founded. So stop telling us to get over our fucking shame. Stop telling us to put in all that effort when we all know we are going to be rejected, rebuffed, deprioritised. This is not the sick’s problem to fix.

“Where is your outrage? 

“Lads, depression isn’t vaginal warts. It’s not a case of ‘stop being so embarrassed and we’ll get you the magic cream.’ “
Before the 2010 general election, one of the first video music mashups I watched was this one by PartyBen.

 

It’s been a solitary road – solitary since 1998, straight after A-levels. I was suffering from mental illnesses before I even knew what they were. Furthermore, part of me feels that ever since then I’ve been trying to reconcile things that did or didn’t happen in a pre-internet childhood with a ‘with the internet’ adulthood. Shortly after my 20th birthday I moved to Brighton for university and a new way of life that had using the internet at the core became the new norm. Which inevitably led to a sense of “Why did school/college/church not teach us about these things?!?” This was 1999 – Section 28 had a few more years to run.

I’ve said for many years that lack of courage is my greatest moral failing – one that has haunted me since early childhood. At an early age I learnt not to challenge authority for fear of the consequences. It’s only been in much more recent years – in particular in the face of the very public failings of those in authority that I’ve felt much more confident at challenging it.

The meaning of “Take care of yourself”

I’ve lost count the number of people who have said or posted the above line to me – in particular at times when I’ve said things are not OK. Better to say nothing at all – or even “I can’t really deal with this” – as I once had to say to someone else who asked me for help with mental health issues just as I was going through my own mini-crisis. It’s not right and not fair for those struggling to be in a situation where the only people they feel they can approach are those in the same situation – which is why Sophie above is spot on about anger and rage at those in power having starved our NHS rather than resourced it properly to deal with the continued crisis of mental health.

I never found my tribe

I wrote about it in this blogpost a year ago. Having hit the big Four-Zero, the sense of ‘It’s too late’ has really hit home. Hence starting to clear out a whole host of things that were on my ‘to do list’ – such as taking up a language again. The sense of not having the cumulative time left, or even the physical health of my youth left, has forced me to re-prioritise in a way that I’ve never had to do before.

Shared/group intense experiences forming long-lasting friendships

Since my first major mental health crisis in early 2012, I’ve not been able to work or function full-time. Working a full day means I need a day in bed to recover. Working two full days in a row means I need three days in bed to recover. (Spoon theory if you’re interested). One of the things I looked forward to when I got into the civil service was living a lifestyle where the people I worked with would go onto become friends outside of work. That never happened. That never will happen in the future for me either.

As a result of my condition, all too often I can become very… ‘intense’ when I need to take a step back but am unable to. Normally it involves some sort of activism or voluntary work somewhere – my local history work is generally a solitary activity. It also meant having to take a step back with music this year – one of the very few activities in life that I get any pleasure from. But I just could not cope with the intensity of the rehearsals this year.

So… if I come across as somewhat ‘distant’ these days, it’s an acknowledgement that I’ve learnt people can only deal with me in small doses – and that the sort of treatment I’ve needed for decades is professional – the type that has seldom been available. And that’s one of the worst things about it. That lack of provision that ministers should be providing/ensuring provision of has a very real impact on the lives of millions of us. And I’m sick of the weasel words, lies and gaslighting from them.

It’s got to the stage where it’s as if Cambridge the city ‘expects’ a whole host of things from me, but I get little back from it. Certainly not the emotional and social support that perhaps beneath it all I crave in the face of all of that insecurity?

These paragraphs from Sophie nailed it for me:

“We are all busy. Everyone is fucking busy. That’s why we’re all fucking sick. But there is no ‘help.’ We’re all we have. So let’s give what we wanted for ourselves. Don’t wait. Don’t be the crisis companion who waits until the suicide note to ‘be present.’ Be available. 

I don’t want crises companions to ‘go and have coffee with’ when times are bad. I’d rather have people who might randomly drop me a line saying they were going to say Wandlebury for a wander in the countryside and did I want to join them? Or to try out the new ice rink that I set up a campaign page for it to get built, but still haven’t visited yet despite it now being open. Or perhaps to one of the many events at The Junction in my neighbourhood instead of going alone all too often to see some incredible artists and musicians. After all, I’m one of the community supporters of the venue because I value it’s presence and what it does.

“And when they say no. Ask again later. Be available. I can tell you from experience that not being forgotten, that not being expected to behave like a well person who’ll speak up, is what makes the difference. ‘If you told me, I’d have been there’ does not. 

After all, people are happy when I go to public meetings on their behalf, to film what’s going on – and raise issues with local public service providers and elected holders of public office. I do it because Cambridge is home. It’s not just me that benefits or the person making the request.

“‘If you tell me when you’re really struggling, I’ll be there’ is not what someone craving companionship wants. They don’t want you as a crisis nurse. They want to know their loved ones are there for them.

 

This in a nutshell. One of the real horrible feelings is feeling like a burden when things are organised for places that are not easy to get to by public transport (even though I passed my driving test in 1997, I’ve not driven since due mainly due to the expense & lack of parking space).

What will that ‘game-changer’ be to make things better?

I’m working on the assumption that there won’t be one, and that whatever happens with leaving the EU-or-not, collectively we’re all fucked anyway with the climate crisis. That’s my take anyway. Yet I’m still going to campaign and fight for my city because in the grand scheme of things, that’s all I’ve got. I don’t have the mental stamina or health to do the things I took for granted fifteen years ago – such as holidays in continental Europe, or going to and dancing in all night ballroom balls.

I’m also still doing the things that local people continue to say is essential for a city but one which at the same time our economic system won’t ensure people can make a living from. Having just been elected to the executive of the Cambs Association for Local History I want to get far more people involved in researching and showcasing our local history because there’s so much to work with and turn into compelling works such as art, drama and music.

Anyway. It’s nearly 01:30am.

Heidi Allen MP joins the Liberal Democrats

Summary: MP for South Cambridgeshire switches as the Liberal Democrats seek to consolidate their hold on the doughnut around Cambridge City.

It felt from the other side of the road that this was only a matter of time. The city council ward of Queen Edith’s in Cambridge is the only council ward that falls with South Cambridgeshire Constituency – but not South Cambridgeshire District Council. A couple of years ago, the Tories on the county council reduced the number of county councillors on that council, which led to the scrapping of county council divisions that overlapped the city council wards – leading to me living in Queen Edith’s for county council purposes but Coleridge Ward for city council purposes. Makes sense?

Local-authorities-2b

No….me neither.

Unlike 2017, the next general election campaign in South Cambridgeshire risks becoming toxic on the back of Boris and Brexit

In the run up to the 2017 general election, the candidates actually liked each other and generally refrained from personal attacks, focussing on local and national policies. Which made for a refreshing change. As a result, residents could get stuck into some big things. Like nationalisation.

“Yeah Dan, why do you want to re-nationalise the water…and everything else?” was the Q. Mr Greef’s response is worth listening to.

The problem with the up and coming campaign is that the Tories have selected a candidate with a past record of writing inflammatory articles on immigration during the 2000s – and now wants to represent a constituency that has one of the biggest hospitals in the country with specialist staff from all over the world in – staff that treated me during my heart troubles just under 2 years ago, as well as two Cambridge University colleges and two large further education colleges. Personally I am horrified by the prospect that Heidi could lose the seat to such an individual, and am astonished that the Tories could have selected such an individual to be their candidate – a move I can only put down to a backlash against Ms Allen for leaving the party in the first place.

People will inevitably call for a by-election following the switch. For me, I’m not too bothered if a general rule change is brought in as part of a massive overhaul of UK politics and institutions – we’re long over due one. Note before the First World War, when an MP was appointed a government minister they had to re-stand for a by-election. And it’s still strange to think that we are still less than 100 years into having universal suffrage – even though the UK imposed universal suffrage on Germany as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Hence why I take the UK’s historical democracy credentials with a pinch of salt when commentators wax lyrical about the UK Parliament being ‘the Mother of Parliaments’ or ‘the home of democracy’ etc.

It’s worth noting that the announcement has been carefully planned.

Above – Heidi Allen MP with Ian Sollom, former PPC for the Lib Dems in South Cambridgeshire, who is standing aside as their party’s candidate at the next general election so Ms Allen can defend her seat.

In the meantime, the protests on the climate emergency continue…

 

[*Updated to add:*]

Labour’s Dan Greef gave a short interview to BBC Look East (see here) – just as the Labour Party did with the first group of defections earlier this year. So that shouldn’t come as a surprise. Given over 70 MPs switched parties in recent times, and given the reactions to this, there is a case for by-elections to be triggered when this happens. But it needs to be on a consistent basis and applied to all, not just to one group of MPs and not to others. Inevitably it’s the women MPs who get it in the neck more than men, as was recently shown in the Commons which was debating a report by the Committee for Standards in Public Life.

Tory vs Labour in South Cambridgeshire

Given the inflammatory articles the Conservative candidate has written and had published in the previous decade – something picked up by his opponents in the Lib Dems, this may well be something that Labour activists campaign on given the presence of a number of groups campaigning on the issue of migrants’ rights. Not surprising given the presence of not just the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University, but also Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

The other line is the links to the occupant of 10 Downing Street as mentioned here. Additionally, expect Labour’s policy of abolishing private schools to come up given the schooling backgrounds.

Heidi Allen has the Liberal Democrat machine behind her, but how does she defend the past year?

Here’s one of the prominent points from the 2017 manifesto.

191009 Theresa May Manifesto EU Deal 2017

The Tories did not deliver the above, and Theresa May was forced to resign. Then there is Northern Ireland – something that is in the news as Britain appears to be spiralling towards No Deal (as at the time of writing – not including The Benn Act mechanisms kicking in).

191009 Theresa May Manifesto Good Friday 2017

And those are just two examples. My take is that it’s perfectly understandable for any MP to resign from a party that has walked away from both those manifesto commitments – mindful that the 2017 general election was pitched as a Brexit election: to give Theresa May a working majority to deliver it. The electorate said otherwise.

Furthermore, the failure of the Cabinet to defuse the tense atmosphere (Downing Street has done the opposite) is something Mr Greef will pick up on for sure.

 

Being trolled and gaslit by the mainstream media – and it’s working

Summary:

What is Johnson trying to hide behind the noise? Because it’s exhausting having to respond to every single insult that in normal times just would not have been said, let alone hurled across the airwaves.

I’m utterly exhausted by it – and this week is supposed to be National Inclusion Week. Yeah right. The political infernos are still burning. Today, it was the turn of the BBC. As Paul Bernal of the University of East Anglia stated:

This was regarding the BBC selling out Naga Munchetty, and the letter from from Britons of Colour. And when recently knighted Desmond Swayne poured more lighted fluid on the flames, again the response seemed muted.

Given what has been happening in the news, the fact that a senior Conservative MP can make such a statement is just depressing. I pity him that he feels he needs to do so.

“Is this all to drown out the allegations around privileged access and a public grant of over £100,000 to Jennifer Arcuri?”

This is one of the things being picked up in the foreign press – this from CNN. Only a few hours ago Johnson conceded to appearing before the London Assembly to account for his actions while Mayor of London. The allegations of an affair are just another sideshow in the grand scheme of things.

Let’s not forget that Johnson ***should have already resigned*** following the ruling of the UK Supreme Court was unlawful, void and of no effect.

Above – Lady Hale, President of the UK Supreme Court, announcing the ruling of 11 Supreme Court Judges on the legality of the suspension of Parliament.

For me, those are the two issues to pressure the present administration (it can hardly be called a Government) on. Furthermore, opposition political parties need to start communicating their visions for the future much more prominently. Because as David Jamieson writes, feeding the outrage machine is a trap.

190927 Stop feeding outrage machine commonscot

Above – Stop feeding the outrage machine

Easier said than done – but the political parties need to start ramping up their communications functions because at the moment Johnson and Cummings are manipulating the lot of us as several MPs said over the past few days.

I can’t pretend not to have been caught up in it. Something has broken inside me this week.

I don’t normally swear like this. As those who have known me for the longest, when I do they know that something has disturbed me big time.

….like this below

The muted response to the published comments of the Tory candidate for South Cambs has surprised and disappointed me. As was the decision of the constituency party to overlook those published articles to select him given the two more better qualified candidates.

“I predict a riot”

The Kaiser Chiefs (named after a South African football team) wrote a song about it.

…which is one thing, but to go on national TV and say that there ‘should’ be one is something else.

….which was my relatively muted view earlier in the day, while former Newsnight reporter Christopher Cook found something from the history books that will be familiar to longtime political watchers but not many others:

…as did this post on the 2011 riots. Contradiction?

So it’s not surprising that I’ve gotten hold of two Lady Hale-themed t-shirts – I don’t normally do political clothing. When you look like me it’s a red rag to raging-bull-type-fascists looking for excuses to attack ordinary members of the public.

This level of political violence is ***Not Normal***

“How do we even begin to respond to such a campaign?”

Don’t feel you have to fight it alone. The forces are too great.

The answer to [political] violence is more democracy

Which was the response from Norway to a mass-murder of young progressive political activists by a fascist murderer in 2011.

That doesn’t mean everyone has to join a political party and become a grassroots activist 24/7. For those of you with a social group that you meet with on a regular basis, it may be a case that each of you chooses a different local cause or issue to follow, so that in the back of your mind you automatically know that someone else has got the other issues covered while you focus on the one that interests you. So think of who the campaign groups are that campaign on:

  • Education – schools & colleges
  • Healthcare
  • The Environment/Nature
  • Transport (esp non-car transport such as walking, cycling, bus, rail)
  • Housing and planning

Because the next general election looks like it will be quite a bitterly fought one. But it is also one that progressive people cannot run away from either. The alternative outcome is far to frightening to imagine. Because more and more, it feels like ‘Never Again’ is Now.

 

Pouring inflammable liquids on political infernos

Summary:

The fallout of the most toxic day in the House of Commons in recent parliamentary history – even more so than the expenses scandal of 2009 and the Iraq War of 2002/03.

For those of you who want to watch the first day back following the ruling of the UK Supreme Court, you can watch it here. The part featuring the statement from the occupant of No.10 Downing Street, and the fiery Q&A session that followed, is here starting from 7 hours in. The Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell tried to follow up with a point of order – the Speaker asked the PM to stay but he walked out – watch the video here. It was confirmed in the official record as Sky News Political Correspondent Lewis Goodall confirmed below:

And as a reminder, it’s not just the UK that is watching:

…in the meantime, former Prime Minister Sir John Major thinks there is still one way the Government could get the UK to crash out of the EU with no deal.

In the meantime, one of the most distressing scenes to watch was the PM insulting and abusing women MPs who were pleading with him to tone down the tone and rhetoric. He didn’t. He did the opposite. As a result, those women MPs are now being bullied online and in the streets by his foot soldiers and trolls.

And the children of politicians are being affected too.

Former Labour Party leader Ed Miliband also called out a worrying theme that MPs should vote a certain way in order for the threats to stop.

And this encounter below should have resulted in the resignation of the PM’s chief adviser.

Then there was this from the PM’s sister, Rachel Johnson on what might have been influencing her brother’s behaviour. Her comment about wealthy fund managers surely must have raised questions on national security and whether the PM was at risk of blackmail to the extent that it affected government policy.

At the moment, everything feels like this excerpt by The Daily Mash.

Watch the above clip here.

It’s been a grim few days for women in public life, as Jane Merrick states.

I don’t normally do political t-shirts, but I ordered one with Lady Hale’s spider on it as a simple act of solidarity.

Because The Rule Of Law: (You can get your own one here – 30% of proceeds goes to Shelter, the homelessness charity).

But with these chaps on the street…

…and another arrest following an attack on an MP’s office, we are living in very, very dangerous political times. And that’s before considering the climate crisis and the Extinction Rebellion occupation planned for October. Because as this spoof advert from Australia shows, We’re Fucked.

And in our lifetime too.

“So, when are you going to resign, Prime Minister?”

Summary

Opposition party leaders demand Johnson resigns in shame following a unanimous verdict by eleven Supreme Court Judges concluding that the advice he gave to The Queen to suspend Parliament was unlawful.

Lady Hale again was a picture of calm and control.

Lady Hale – President of the UK Supreme Court reading out the ruling of the panel of 11 Supreme Court Judges – their decision was unanimous.

The biographies of the judges are here – and these are the judges in the highest court in the country. Despite the best efforts of supporters of the Prime Minister’s policy to muddy the water with references to the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls in the High Courts of Justice, the Supreme Court of the UK is the more senior court. Hence why this case ended up here following different rulings from the High Court in England and the Scottish Court of Sessions – the highest court in Scotland which for centuries has had a separate and highly developed legal system.

“So why hasn’t Boris Johnson resigned?”

Because he’s a liar, a fraud, a scoundrel and a rogue who has no place in public life? Just putting that there as a possibility – nothing more than that. Or maybe he’s gotten caught up in this political crisis that he’s forgotten that he could just resign and walk away? Or maybe he feels that he needs to see this through to the bitter end for whatever reason? Personal ambition? Promises he made to some of his backers? I don’t know.

South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen called for the Prime Minister to resign earlier today.

…as did Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn

…which conveniently meant that Tom Watson’s speech had to be cancelled (with his agreement) amid rumours that anti-Watson activists in Labour were planning to hijack that speech. But the announcement from the Supreme Court changed all that.

And yet the print press still line up behind a Prime Minister whose advice to a reigning monarch was ruled unlawful by eleven Supreme Court judges.

In 1974, the then Prime Minister Edward Heath asked the electorate the same question following extended union strikes leading to a three day week and extensive power cuts. The electorate replied: “Not you!”

Even the Financial Times has called for Johnson to resign.

But as of midnight on 25 September 2019, he’s still here. So…as Dr Cath Haddon of the Institute of Government asks: What next?

24 hours is a very long time in politics. And it’s only Tuesday night.

“You are failing us!” Greta Thunberg throws down the gauntlet to world leaders.

Summary:

Climate campaign leader channels the voices of millions of protesters across the world and blasts world leaders to their faces.

Some of you may have seen the speech by 15 year old Jean Hinchliffe in Sydney. If not, see below. It’s electrifying:

It’s the UN Climate Summit 2019 as well as the Labour Party Conference. At the same time the big travel agent Thomas Cook has gone into administration, “leading to the biggest repatriation of holiday makers in peacetime” the BBC has just said. In the meantime, The Prime Minister has got himself involved in a sex-and-sleaze-and-why-hasn’t-he-resigned-already scandal. The media can’t decide over whether to have fun 1990s sex scandal style or whether it’s something far more serious involving public money and overruling officials doing their job to ensure propriety. And the Supreme Court rules 24 hours later on whether the Prime Minister lied to the Queen and/or unlawfully suspended Parliament.

“So….we’ve all been screwed by Boris then?”

Possibly.

“It’s like a TV series!”

Careful – it’s the final run in of the disaster series: The UK. It’s got everything! High stakes, real suspense – no one knowing how it’ll end!”

And everyone is watching. Even Greta.

Greta Thunberg: “You have absolutely no idea what I am about to hit world leaders with!”

The last time world leaders were brought trembling over their failures by a teenage girl, Joan of Arc was on the battlefield. Patriarchy is a powerful institution. (*Actually, there are numerous other examples since then, but such figures don’t get publicity in popular history).

Earlier this year, Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell MP (who was the first MP to start following Puffles on Twitter back in early 2011!) was asked by Andrew Marr over his meeting with activists from Extinction Rebellion.

And today Mr McDonnell praised climate activists – including the school climate strikers and Extinction Rebellion, before outlining some of the measures he said a future Labour Government would take to deal with Climate Change.

John McDonnell’s speech starts at 1:38:22.

Minutes after Mr McDonnell made that speech, Greta Thunberg followed that up with this speech where she crushed world leaders with her rhetoric – breaking the convention that children and young people are only supposed to say nice and polite things at such gatherings.

Ms Thunberg’s speech begins at 40:30.

At the same time, Greta Thunberg and 15 fellow young campaigners filed a lawsuit against five countries over the climate emergency.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The UK ratified the treaty in the early 1990s and is now in force in the UK – and has been since 1992. But the Rights of the Child go back a long way – from before the United Nations was founded. Some of you will be aware that the original declaration was adopted by the League of Nations in 1924. Despite the ultimate failure of the League to prevent World War 2, its more successful institutions were carried over into the United Nations – including that 1924 declaration.

And who wrote it? None other than Lost Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb.

Eglantyne Jebb Palmer Clarke Low Res_3 colourised Ivory Dress

Hero – Eglantyne Jebb, author of “Cambridge: A brief study in social questions” (and founder of a charity you might have heard of – Save the Children). (Image from the Cambridgeshire Collection colourised by Nick Harris of Photo Restoration Services)

Save The Children wrote about her legacy here.

Personally speaking, I think it’s wonderful to see one of my contemporary political heroes making use of the legal tools made for her by one of my historical political heroes. If someone is able to turn that into an image – of Eglantyne handing the treaty over to Greta, let me know.

In the meantime, this week is going to see a series of actions on climate change and the climate emergency. This week will be a *very long week* in politics. And Parliament isn’t even sitting.

The day the children roared for nature

Perhaps Troy McLure put it best regarding our previous mindset with this starter:

“Hi! I’m Troy McLure! You may remember me from nature shows such as… “Man vs Nature: The Road to Victory!””

On Friday 20 Sept 2019 there was a massive global climate strike inspired & organised by the movement that was kick-started by Greta Thunberg’s school climate strike (See her column in The Guardian from 26 November 2018). I’m not going to go into detail about her story – far better people have already done a better job than I could do. The politicians cannot say they did not see it coming. But looking at this footage from Congress when 17 year old student Jamie Margolin (one of the lead young climate activists in the USA) took members of Congress (in particular one congressman) to task, it looks like some of them really didn’t.

A few months before her appearance at Congress, Greta Thunberg was in London at the Marble Arch occupation which she gave the speech below:

Me and Puffles also went down to the occupation – if only for the day.

Puffles with Marble Arch in the background during the occupation by Extinction Rebellion activists, including a large contingent from Cambridge. 

But I’m now at a stage in life (40 years) and a situation where the best thing for me to do is to bear witness – with camera and camcorder.  During my university years 20 years ago in Brighton, I spent many an hour volunteering at the Brighton Peace and Environment Centre. It is still going (at different premises from my day), even though the people have inevitably moved on. But the experience & knowledge stayed with me both inside the civil service during a 1 year stint as a policy adviser on climate change, and outside of it later on filming local political meetings, council meetings, and protests.

Above – Dr Rupert Read and the Cambridge Green Party at the Cambridge Central Library, from the 2015 general election that resulted in the highest vote in Cambridge for the Green Party in its history. 

The extended heatwave and drought of the summer of 2018 seemed like a turning point – and not long after, Extinction Rebellion made their presence known.

…and the children of Cambridge started making their presence felt the following year – marching in March 2019 – and forming a new Cambridge Schools Eco Council.

…and when it became clear that children across the country were threatening to have another school strike, the disgraced former Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson (sacked by Theresa May for leaking confidential documents but appointed Education Secretary by Mr Johnson) decided to intervene.

And how did the children respond? With the biggest climate strike the country had ever seen. In the case of Cambridge, the children who took part in the strike in March 2019 returned six months later with a few extra friends. Or rather, a few thousand extra friends.

And this is what they had to say.

Above: Speeches by the Cambridge Schools Eco Council: 20 Sept 2019 on King’s Parade.

You can watch the speeches by the adults, starting with Daniel Zeichner MP for Cambridge.

In the meantime I caught part of the speech of Australian climate activist Jean Hinchliffe – aged 15.

Back in Cambridge…

This was also followed up the following day by another protest/piece of performance art by the Cambridge Collective of the Red Rebel Brigade in the Grand Arcade Shopping Centre. Filming it I noticed how differently the shoppers and passers by reacted to the presence of the women in red.

This wasn’t their first protest, as their protest on Castle Hill, covered by Mike Scialom for the Cambridge Independent shows. Don’t for a moment think that everyone who saw what was going on was supportive – absolutely not. One of the things I’ve learnt about any political movement is that the people who are the most involved in them over-estimate the knowledge and understanding that the general public has of what they are doing – irrespective of the intellectual capabilities of individuals. It’s ever so easy to assume that everyone else has the same level of awareness, knowledge and passion for an issue that you do. (I found this out the hard way standing for election with Puffles back in 2014). Hence the use of political parties of slick, easy-to-remember slogans.

The other really important aspect – perhaps easily overlooked, is that Cambridge is full of visitors from all over the world at any time of year. In particular from countries where protesting is banned and/or involves violent reprisals from oppressive regimes. Hence for global issues such as the climate emergency, I can’t help but feel that Cambridge is one of the places that needs to be hosting, holding and organising such demonstrations so that the impact gets out beyond national borders.

“What next for the children?”

The next six weeks will be absolutely crucial – and not just because of the Brexit count down clock. From now the students return to university. The schools and further education colleges are already back. Existing local parties and campaign groups are going to have to figure out a way of how best to involve the newly politicised children and teenagers in their campaigns. I wouldn’t know where to start on how to do this, nor do I think that it’s my place to tell them. Again, I see my role not just creating the digital footage for the people of the city and beyond, but also for the historical archives too. Community reporting with the mindset of a local historian.

Having had such a busy summer and with political turmoil still in Westminster, we’re in for a turbulent autumn.

 

 

 

The changing of party political positions on leaving the EU

 

At the start of the political party conference season, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, Jo Swinson, stated that she did not forgive former Prime Minister David Cameron for calling a referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU. (See the video here.) Yet as many pointed out, the Liberal Democrats called for such a referendum as far back as 2008. The Green Party called for a referendum in 2013. And interim party leader Harriet Harman committed Labour to agree to a referendum in 2015.

Fast forward to 2019 

And “Bo-Jo-No-Show”

…while the musicians and satirists have been active:

This in reference to the ruling by the highest court in Scotland ruling the suspension of Parliament was unlawful (see here).

In the meantime, Captain Ska returned with an uncompromising message to Johnson with particular reference to the latter’s inflammatory articles on immigration and minority communities.

Captain Ska ft Rubi Dan above

There’s no going back to a pre-Brexit world

This point was powerfully put by Jess O’Brien, the Cambridge University Students’ Union’s Disabled Students’ Officer at a meeting in Cambridge last week. Her point – and I agree with her on this – is that people voted the way they did based on the information they had at the time and on the life experiences that they had experienced – in particular in relation to austerity.

Furthermore, Ms O’Brien made the case that the only options that were on the table were ‘Cameron’s Deal’ or leaving ‘with a deal’. There was no ‘left wing remain’ or ‘green remain’ alternatives. Stung by what happened to both Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Scotland, in the Independence Referendum the previous year, Mr Corbyn stayed well away from the official Remain campaign. Back in 2015 after the general election, the Liberal Democrats were a spent force, having lost all but eight of their MPs.

Much has changed since the EU Referendum

Whether it’s the revelations of who was doing what on social media with what money, through to the rapid rise of Extinction Rebellion and the very visible symptoms of the climate crisis, ecocide, and the tide of plastic waste, we are in a very different place collectively. I think it was Ms O’Brien who also commented that ‘Remain’ was also the wrong branding to use for those that wanted to stay in the European Union, as it implied no movement, no change, no improvements for those who had borne the brunt of austerity – many of the people living in those areas voting to leave because amongst other things it was the only thing that was ‘different’ to keeping on business as usual. And who could blame them?

Locally here in Cambridge things have changed. For a start, the MP for South Cambridgeshire Heidi Allen quit the Conservatives and for now stands alone as an independent MP. The district council – for decades officially Conservative or run by ‘independent’ councillors who were Conservative-leaning, is now run by the Liberal Democrats with 66% of the seats for the next few years. More sinisterly, the selection of Ms Allen’s replacement has caused more than a little concern in these parts – especially with his past record of inflammatory articles about immigration and people from minority ethnic backgrounds.

Finally, there has been a welcome rise in the number of people who are learning about and getting involved in politics and local democracy. On the flip side we saw this counter demo against a pro-EU rally in Parliament Square.

…which feels incredibly dangerous – and is a reason why I think twice about going down to London for political marches.

There has also been population and demographic changes – one that could affect the result of any ‘people’s vote’ or second referendum. The UK’s annual death rate is over 500,000 per year. That means around 1.5million people will have passed away since 2016, the vast majority over the age of 65 given the UK’s ageing population. At the same time, three cohorts of teenagers who could not vote in 2016 (aged 15-17) will be able to vote in such a second referendum that might happen in 2020. Given how politicised that generation has become not just through the EU referendum result but also the climate emergency, that demographic change alone could swing the result back the other way all other things being equal. That last bit being a ***very strong assumption*** because so many other things will affect how a person might vote in a second referendum.

Politicians need to be honest with the public about why they have changed their policies on leaving the EU.

That applies to both pro and anti-EU groups.

Ministers in Cameron’s past government need to account properly for why they did not commission the civil service to do any of the contingency planning, scenario planning or the hosting of public meetings across the country where the public could cross-examine politicians and experts in the field.

On the pro-EU side, politicians need to acknowledge, understand and empathise with those that voted leave where that vote was not driven by hatred and prejudice, but by things like austerity and/or the failure of public and political institutions. Furthermore they also need to explain what politicians tried to do to implement the decision of the electorate in 2016, and explain why Westminster has ended up in a place of political paralysis. Even if it means acknowledging that things politicians did not understand prior to the referendum have since emerged that makes leaving the EU much more difficult as a bureaucratic task, or much more expensive financially that it changes the assessment of the merits of leaving or staying in the EU.

So in the case of Jo Swinson MP and her Q&A session she needed to explain in that Q&A session. (See the link here that takes you to a video at the start of the full Q&A session). Note Mr Corbyn has been accused of changing his mind over triggering Article 50 – see the BBC Reality Check here. Then there is the disgraced former Defence Secretary stating how easy it would be to get a trade deal with the EU in an article from 2017.

And finally…

The current Home Secretary on capital punishment.

With the public now able to verify such things ***in real time*** (something I predicted as far back as 2011) it’s far better for politicians to explain why they have changed their mind on something rather than to pretend they have always had the same opinion come what may throughout their political lives. Otherwise everyone ends up going round in circles over who said what and when rather than getting to the root of problems in society – which is what we use the political processes and political institutions to resolve.