And not everyone thinks young people should be heard, looking at the newspaper comments
The Cambridge News article is here. Scroll to the end of the article in that link to see the comments. I note some of you have taken on some of the negative comments – thank you.
I want to focus on Cllr Lewis Herbert’s quotations at the end of the news article, which are as follows:
Cllr Lewis Herbert, who represents Coleridge, said the city’s bloggers made a “real contribution” to life in the city but added they were only one element of debates.
He said: “Social media and websites are very valuable tools used by many of our councillors and activists although not everyone will use them to the same extent.
“As residents know from our door-knocking week in and week out to discuss issues on their street, one-to-one personal discussion between our councillors and their residents is still at the heart of what we do.
“This way, we talk to everyone.”
I agree that those of us that tweet and blog about what happens in local government in Cambridge are one element of debates. Not everyone interested in local government has access to the internet or social media, and not everyone who uses social media uses it in a manner to help keep up to date with what is happening in their local council. Regular readers of this blog will know that this is something I want to help change.
I take issue with Cllr Herbert’s comments about ‘many of our councillors’ using social media. Clearly in Cherry Hinton and Coleridge, there are no regular users of social media – a symptom of the lack of diversity when it comes to Labour selecting candidates to stand in what are two of its safest seats in the city. A number of Labour activists and councillors have spoken to me privately acknowledging that this is an issue in these two wards. My challenge to Lewis and colleagues is what is he going to do about it? Is he prepared to keep things as they are, or will Labour select some women to stand in these wards? Will other parties make a change to their traditional tactics and campaign more actively and more visibly in both wards?
Diversity isn’t just a age/gender/orientation/ethnicity/ability etc issue. It also covers skills and life experiences. The lack of social media use by the six city councillors covering the two wards mentioned for me feels like a symptom of the lack of diversity across the wards. Interestingly, Labour Councillor Sue Birtles for Queen Ediths is setting an example to her male colleagues by showing both an interest and a desire to learn about how to use social media for social action, having set up a local Twitter account and having booked a session with me and Puffles to see how to improve Labour’s presence on this side of town, where Cllr Amanda Taylor sets a splendid example for councillors south of Mill Road to follow.
Door-to-door knocking – hit and miss
It takes a hell of a lot of courage to go door-to-door campaigning – especially in this environment. It takes a hell of a lot of courage to go up to strangers and ask them anything. Not surprisingly, hardly anyone does it these days (unless they are paid for it).
Much of the time, many people are out. When is the ideal time to go door-to-door canvassing? Safe wards have a habit of being missed out in this part of the world. We have to chase after the politicians rather than the other way around. There’s also still a mindset in some parts of ‘why doesn’t somebody else do something about this stuff we don’t like?’ that persists. Have a look at the comments complaining about the Cambridge Cycling Campaign in this article. Some motorists have taken issue at the achievements of the campaign. Only they’d rather someone else stood up to them!
Group conversations – face-to-face and online
I’ve been to some of the former before (see here) – and have found them to be really useful events. Not only do you get to meet other people you might not have met in your local community, you are also brought together to share your ideas & solve problems that impact everyone who lives in that community. It’s a very different atmosphere to the area committee meetings where we turn up, we moan, listen to problems that get talked about but seldom feel resolved, before the planning applications. Personally I think we can be a lot more imaginative about how we use the area committee processes.
Ditto with things online – are there some things that can be explored online, with key points from those conversations brought into the face-to-face conversations? That way things are not restricted only to those that can get to meetings. Not all meetings are held in places where they are accessible to public transport. The committee that covers issues in the ward I live in has meetings in places that are far harder for me to get to than the one that covers the school I am a governor for.
What are councillors going to do for young people?
Well…Puffles is front page news now so awareness of the issues of using social media and engaging with young people are now slightly higher up the agenda. It also means that anyone else wanting to run with the issue now has a newspaper article to refer to, as well as things like council minutes. At this stage, few people will be using them. But as we start training more people on how to use them – for example through the free Net-Squared workshops, that number will hopefully rise.
Finally, there’s the issue of councillors doing things that are new, innovative and inspiring to get more people involved in local democracy. This is an issue that I intend to come back to again and again at local meetings. I’m going to be asking councillors to update local meetings on what actions and activities they have undertaken since their previous meeting to engage not just with young people but with new audiences, online & offline.
And they can’t say they were not warned.