If we want to get more people engaged in democracy, shouldn’t we start at a local policy level?
Some of you may have seen my recent exchanges with Cambridge Labour Party councillors – and a few Lib Dems as well.
Some of you may have even seen my threat to stand against local candidates over their failure to engage with young people and over their failure to use social media – see the Cambridge News article here. Yet as I have said in previous blogposts, I’m more interested in influencing cultures and policies of local parties so that they are more open to a wider audience. Hence my offer to back those that are more effective at reaching out than the present intake of councillors in South Cambridge.
Interestingly enough, some councillors have started using their otherwise dormant social media accounts, or posting on council-backed websites such as Shape Your Place. With greater awareness and publicity on the things I’m raising – and these are hardly controversial issues, the greater the pressure there is inside political parties to deal with them.
If anything, my issues are more with the pace of progress rather than the merits of individual policies. In my case, engaging with wider audiences and using new methods of communications.
Getting out and about – letting local residents know that you are there
Over the decades, the number of party political posters and boards being displayed at election time in my neighbourhood as fallen. Why is this? Does this help explain why people are less aware of when elections are on? Remember that at the same time, sales of local newspapers has also collapsed. At a meeting for the Cambridge SkillsFest this week, I was told by Anna from Transition Cambridge that a person on average has to see a poster for an event about seven times before making a decision on whether to go to something or not.
If local people cannot influence local policy, won’t any outreach work be doomed to fail?
A fair point. What if emailing a local councillor or turning up to a meeting gives residents the impression that trying to persuade them over something is like shouting at a brick wall? Won’t such outreach be one step forward and five steps back – making people even more cynical than they already are?
Why would a local party want to allow non-members to influence their party’s policies?
This is the chicken vs egg scenario. Councillors and activists have often told me the way to influence party policy is to join the party and influence things from within. But then others have said they don’t want to join a party until/unless they know they can influence policies and see evidence of this.
Who writes your manifesto? What is the process for composing it?
That’s for the local parties to answer – comments at the end of this post please. These questions stem from a blogpost at Left Futures – see here. How do your local political parties decide what is in their local government manifestos? Do local residents know what this process is and know how to influence it? What would an alternative, more open process look like? Do local residents have ideas that you’re not aware of? If so, how can you tap into those ideas?
How would local residents feel if they saw their idea end up in a local manifesto?
Think about it. Would it make them more willing to engage with you – and even join your party? What would it look like if, in your manifestos you attributed new ideas to individual activists and residents? What would it look like if you had discussions – face-to-face and online, where individual ideas could be discussed and improved? (But done in an environment open to everyone rather than just party members?)
But…where do you have your meetings?
Links to the four main local parties are at as follows:
Only Cambridge Greens have a link to a (since passed) meeting. Where are your regular meetings where residents can turn up and ‘talk politics’ in an informal atmosphere without any pre-set agenda? Where are the gatherings where, within your political parties people can come along and talk about specific issues or where you are encouraging people to share ideas to solve specific problems? Do you organise them? If so, where and how do you advertise them?
Interested in responses, not just from those of you in and around Cambridge.