Community reporting & political parties / ballroom dancing jumps shark


Insights into community reporting on all things democracy, and on a vanquished dancing dream

A week of editing footage awaits as filming over a series of days comes home to roost. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it’s just going to take me ages, that’s all.

Throughout this year I’ve been to gatherings of all of the main political parties in Cambridge – somehow keeping hold of my political independence while maintaining a good level of trust. Part of that comes from having worked with ministers from all three parties in my civil service career, part of it comes from having stood as an independent candidate as Puffles earlier this year. Whenever you stand for election, that’s on your political record for all time. In tribal party terms, it effectively means I will never be seen as ‘one of us’ by any political party should I choose to join one.

A well-trodden political path is when a journalist, TV presenter or columnist becomes a politician. Matthew Parris, Michael Gove, Gloria De Piero and Austin Mitchell are all examples of this. There’s also the path of journalist to civil service communications director. Martin Sixsmith and George Eykyn are two examples. But how many go the other way? How many use their knowledge of how large organisations work to report and analyse what happens? The only one that really springs to mind for me is financial reporter Frances Coppola – who I should add is a good friend of mine.

Community reporting and filming for local political parties

One of the things I tried to get local parties to do in the run up to the Cambridge City Council 2014 elections was to produce some digital video materials. The only party that took up my offer to film things was the Green Party – and that was at a national and European level where I gave them film footage of their campaign launch and press conference.

This weekend, Liberal Youth had a gathering in Cambridge in my neighbourhood. So me and Puffles rocked up to do some filming for them. It wasn’t a journalist-to-politician grilling. My view is that there isn’t anything ‘at entry level’ that encourages and inspires people to get involved in politics or local democracy. Hence my approach is filming as many people as possible and asking things like:

  • Please introduce yourself – who are you and where are you from?
  • What got you into politics?
  • Where do you see yourself in five years time in a political context?

On one side I have tripod and camcorder, and on the other I have smartphone attached to handheld tripod/monopod. Apart from trying to compensate for over-sensitivity of the former, I also want to show that most people in party political circles can either afford or already have the kit with the latter in order to make their own digital films. It’s not a question of intellect. Quite often I have found that many people are either not aware of what can be done with the kit they already have or can easily access, and those that do are unwilling to use it. Prior to my intro to digital video making course was in the latter position.

Is there more that unites rather than divides young political activists?

Whatever the stereotype and/or truths about professional politicians, most of the young party political activists are not in it for the headlines or status. Many of the ones I am meeting are and have been campaigning on issues that until recently did not have the highest profile. Online privacy and mental health are two good examples. Go to meetings of Young Greens, Young Labour or Liberal Youth and you’ll probably find in a comparison of the three a great deal of common ground. Mental health, women’s rights, sustainable energy, are all issues where the big principles are very similar.

Dare I say it, but there are also similarities in the personalities of the people that I’ve met as well. Educated, articulate and cerebral people are conspicuous by their presence. At the same time, there is also a level of passion and even ‘intensity of personality’ that comes with it too. This can have positive and negative consequences. Positive in that someone can really go into the policy detail of something that few others would consider (thus being an asset to a team) but negative in that this intensity can sometimes put people off.

Not everyone goes to university

And perhaps that’s what’s missing. I can’t recall meeting the young apprentices, the labourers, the full-time shop workers, the bus drivers, the highway patrol people, the mechanics, the hair dressers etc at these gatherings. What would targeted campaigns about that demographic by the parties look like, and what impact would it have on local parties?

Ballroom dancing jumps shark

I remember nearly a decade ago having really high hopes of what had become a passion of mine sparking something of a mini social life revolution. Having been to Vienna and experienced the formal balls in the grand palaces, along with what was the first series of Strictly, I was hoping that it would create a critical mass of people who would want to replicate the best bits of Vienna’s formal dancing scene in the UK. But that never happened. Instead – and perhaps predictably, subsequent series moved away from the dancing and focused on making celebrities out of the professionals.

With the ex-pros now appearing on other non-dance TV shows (e.g. here), what could have been a renaissance in ballroom – where people from all backgrounds could go to big gatherings and balls in their towns, seems to be over. There are many reasons why it never happened – in the grand scheme of things the non-dance-related media appearances of strictly’s professional dancers wasn’t the biggest by any means. One was a lack of vision and leadership in the governing bodies of dancing, and the other was and is out-of-control land prices that price out many community activities. As a couple of small-business people in the local Conservative Party told me, you could not run a traditional large ballroom venue at a profit in today’s economy. And because of the unstable income that is associated with trying to run a dance school, who can blame the professional dancers for trying to squeeze every penny possible out of their time in the limelight?

I’m still deciding whether to go dancing again this term. I don’t know if I have the physical fitness to get back into it. But for those of you in or near Cambridge who are interested in a dance workout and the option of competing, one of the offshoots from the Cambridge Dancers Club (who are back in October), the XS Latin Formation Team are recruiting new dancers. See here for more details.


One thought on “Community reporting & political parties / ballroom dancing jumps shark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s