So…should Puffles stand for election in Cambridge?

Summary

Decision time is coming up. Should Puffles stand? 

Puffles with a baby dragon fairy outside a polling station in 2012
Puffles with a baby dragon fairy outside a polling station in 2012

This is something that I’ve been asking a few people about ever since the Cambridge News reported on an angry blogpost I wrote regarding engaging with young people, and social media (see their article here).

The only party thus far to publish a detailed manifesto that I’ve seen is Cambridge Labour Party – which I commented on in this blogpost. Essentially a good but very ‘safe’ manifesto. I’ve also noticed a reduction in informal social media chatter compared to their Cambridge Liberal Democrat counterparts in recent weeks. Both nature and frequency have fallen, and the tone has become more… ‘formal’ if I can put it that way. Understandably so given the narrow margins and the tightly-contested nature between the two mentioned parties.

“So, are you going to stand as an ordinary candidate on a standard manifesto?”

Definitely NOT.

“Why’s that?”

The problem – and this isn’t particularly the fault of local councillors here, is with the system bequeathed by Westminster. Essentially it’s a ‘winner takes all’ with little room for compromise. Furthermore, my historical neighbourhood is one that crosses local boundaries and local committee areas. Essentially the southern part of the Coleridge ward, the northern part of the Queen Ediths ward and the western part of the Cherry Hinton ward. (See Richard Taylor’s map here). The latter two wards have issues covered by the South Area Committee while the ward I live at the edge of – Coleridge – is covered by the East Area Committee. The way the boundaries are carved up simply don’t reflect my experience of growing up and living here. They are artificial.

Conventions on standing and campaigning

Again, the nature of a ‘first past the post’ system is that you pick a ward to stand in, campaign as hard as you can and hope you get elected. But what if the things that I want to campaign on cross ward boundaries? What if the things I want to campaign on are things where I agree with the political parties? What if I quite like some of the candidates standing and don’t want to stand against them – and possibly might want to campaign for them, irrespective of party? Dan Ratcliffe of Labour I think would make for a cracking councillor. I also like Cllr Sarah Brown but also rate her Labour opponent Ann Sinnott – both of whom have raised important issues on equalities.

In a nutshell, I’m anything but a tribalist. I’ve worked with ministers of all the three main parties/seen them in a working environment and have seen some very good and some shockingly poor examples in all three at first hand. Hence not being able to take political party institutions on trust.

Finally, there’s mental health

The simple fact is I would have a big mental health crisis if I stood and campaigned as a standard independent candidate. In the very very unlikely event of winning, I simply would not be able to cope with the burden of being a councillor, with the 20+ hours a week of commitments being a councillor requires. People all too often forget this: Councillors generally put in a hell of a lot of work – which often goes unacknowledged and unappreciated. Until things break down. Then people moan even more.

Sorry everyone, but me as a standard ‘independent’ candidate with the aim of getting elected, and serving as a councillor, is just not going to happen. Even if I was a candidate for one of the two main parties, it still would not happen. My fragile mental health simply is not cut out for the demands of that sort of campaigning or that sort of public office.

 

“So…what are the options?”

To stand as Puffles.

“Say-what?!?!”

To stand as Puffles. And other than complying with the law, break all of the ‘normal’ conventions to show that there is a different way of doing politics – one where the normal conventions don’t apply.

“How does that work?”

First of all, the only reason for standing as a candidate – in this case as ‘Puffles the dragon fairy’ is to gain media profile for the issues I want to raise. And that’s it. This means:

  • Not campaigning for votes
  • Not campaigning against other candidates
  • Directing people to the campaigning email addresses, social media accounts and websites of the candidates and parties standing
  • Encouraging voters to ask questions, make suggestions and demand answers – by using social and digital media
  • Encouraging people that do not have the vote to do the same: Just because you are too young/ineligible to vote does not mean you don’t have a voice!
  • Raising awareness of the policies and campaigns from other parties and candidates that we like
  • Campaigning outside of the ward Puffles stands in
  • Campaigning outside of the council area Puffles stands in
  • Experimenting with fun and imaginative digital media to raise awareness of serious issues

“If you don’t mind me saying so, but that’s effing crazy”

Yeah.

“No – really. No one’s done anything like that before. You’ll get laughed at!”

Yeah. But I walk around down with a dragon fairy. People should be laughing already.

“Why would you want to do that?”

Because my two aims for such a campaign would be:

  • To increase turnout in my neighbourhood
  • To increase the number of people feeling able to cast informed votes – as a result of being able to contact and put questions to the candidates. What those questions are, and what criteria they judge candidates on is entirely up to them. Puffles in this case is just a signpost
  • To show local councillors and candidates the opportunities with social and digital media
  • To show social and digital media enthusiasts (including myself) the limits of a social-media-based campaign that doesn’t have lots of door-knocking/street pounding at its heart.

“So, what would ***you*** want to campaign on?”

Local ‘big picture’ stuff that doesn’t often get debated by politicians or the media in any big way. At the same time, I want to set out a positive vision of what Cambridge could become – if local people and institutions come together. This is not about a big ‘powerful’ city mayor directing stuff from the top. Basically, I have three pillars:

  1. Inclusivity: Many bridges, one Cambridge. Civil rights, civic responsibility, help not hatred
  2. Digital, dynamic, passionate: We must be/embrace all of these together if we are to meet the challenges of today and tomorrow
  3. We’re all in this together: A city greater than the sum of our parts – but only if we give power to the people

“Bland, cheesy…and I kind of like it. But they could be improved”

Hence once I’ve written up my mini-manifesto, I’ll be crowd-sourcing it for comments and feedback. There are eight themes in it. They are:

  1. A co-ordinated grassroots challenge to councillors, politicians and public institutions
  2. Supporting an energised challenge from young people to our elected representatives and our civic institutions – just because they are too young to vote does not mean they have no voice
  3. An exciting vibrant atmosphere of properly-supported volunteering and community action, breaking out of the small-town mindset while recognising the essential long term support we need
  4. A city that supports and values lifelong learning -> learning for living, not just for work
  5. Civic responsibility (including to their students and local residents) from schools, colleges, universities, private institutions – in particular language schools and ‘cramming colleges’
  6. Supporting our friends and neighbours in surrounding towns and villages – whether on infrastructure campaigns like on rail links from Wisbech and Haverhill, or things like the Chisholm Trail and a Cambridge Cycle Orbital, to advertising community events that people in Cambridge can get out of the city to go to
  7. An overhaul of how we build and manage publicly accessible venues, buildings and public spaces – irrespective of who runs them, combined with a single website for community events and booking venues
  8. Green Cambridge – unlocking the talent within our universities and communities to make the city far more environmentally sustainable than it currently is.

“Nothing about the private sector?”

The way I’ve written the manifesto (which I’ve not typed up yet) weaves this into the themes, so as not to have a public vs private sector divide. The way many public sector employees have been outsourced to private providers means the definition of who is and who isn’t public sector is now much more blurred.

“What if someone reading all of this says: ‘Actually, I quite like what dragon dude has written – how do I vote for him if he’s not in my ward?'”

The first thing to do is to get in touch with the local political parties – I’ve hyperlinked all their social media accounts and websites at the end of this blogpost to make it easier. Tell the parties and the candidates what you like about it and start a conversation with them. See if you can get them to commit to the things that you like – and get it in writing if possible so you can post it up online.

If none of the responses convince you enough to vote for them, but you still like these ideas, simply write on your ballot paper: #Puffles4Cambridge. (Which is technically spoiling it but it still gets counted).

If my ideas don’t inspire or interest you, and none of the parties do, please turn out and vote – and spoil your ballot paper. Again it still gets counted. If the number of spoilt ballot papers significantly increases or is particularly high, normally there then follows an investigation as to why.

“Spoiling ballot papers – that’s a bit negative isn’t it?”

Not at all – it’s a positive vote saying ‘I’m not convinced by any of you.’ What I’m calling for is for the people of Cambridge to give the candidates from the main political parties a chance to respond to their questions and concerns first. That for me is positive too. It is encouraging local political debate – in particular on social and digital media. Politicians locally are not convinced about social media. I’ve tried but can go no further. The only ones that can convince politicians about the merits of social media in local democracy are people like you. The more ‘new faces’ that contact and put questions to local political parties, the more convinced they will become of using it. (Please keep questions polite and informed – based on your experiences rather than what you read in the headlines!)

Having met many of the councillors, most of them are pleasant, talented and personable people. Demands of being councillors, political and community activists, as well as jobs and families mean that few have had the chance to do what I’ve done – basically take a big step back and spend a few years listening, learning, blogging, tweeting, getting things right, getting things wrong, and forming a picture of my home town. I’ve also changed and grown in the process – and still am. Personally I’d like to see as many new faces getting in touch with local councillors and candidates to put their questions & concerns to them. You never know, some might even join as new activists, campaigners and future candidates. All the more important for the 2015 general election too.

“So…are you going to stand as Puffles then?”

That depends on you and others reading this. I have until 4pm on 24 April 2014 – the deadline for submitting nominations. (See here).

Some of us are meeting for a pub lunch/afternoon drinks in Cambridge on 13 April (see here) if you’re interested. Even if I ultimately choose not to stand as Puffles, I still want to run a ‘Digital Democracy – Beyond the Ballot’ campaign which I’ve posted here. If you’re interested in supporting such campaigns, do get in touch either in the comments section, via Twitter (@Puffles2010), via Facebook here or via email (antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com)

Other than that, I’ll leave you with this digital video made by some young college students – their version of a Monster Raving Loony Party campaign video, from 2007.

 

 

3 thoughts on “So…should Puffles stand for election in Cambridge?

  1. Go for it. But be warned, my husband stood for Labour in a Suffolk village on the same reasoning – no chance, no campaigning, no leaflets – because the party was desperate to have a name on every ballot paper. And he came within 25 votes of winning.

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