There’s more to unlocking democracy than campaigning alone

Summary

Sometimes it takes someone to turn up to events and report from and/or film them.

Here are the results:

Or you can listen to them below

Congratulations to Cllr Viki Sanders (@Taw_66) and commiserations to Rahima Ahammed, Andy Bower and Joel Chalfen. You can view my interviews with each of the candidates at https://vimeo.com/album/3127762.

Citizen journalism matters

I made it matter in this by-election campaign. Not because I wanted to influence the election in any way. If I did, I’d have started much much earlier. No. My role in this was to report without prejudice. That is what I did. It’s for others to make their judgements on the content.

The only reporter at the count

With local media being starved of funds (irrespective of the reasons), democracy and democratic institutions are put at risk by the lack of external scrutiny of what happens. I was surprised to be told I was the only reporter at the election count. I also wasn’t aware of the need to give a week’s notice of a media presence at such counts. But…Puffles being Puffles…

***Thank you*** to Vicky at Cambridge City Council for ensuring there was someone from outside the political parties & the council to report from inside the Guildhall.

Puffles the dragon fairy with Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird.
Puffles the dragon fairy with Mayor of Cambridge, Cllr Gerri Bird at Cambridge Guildhall

Being described as ‘local TV’

I’m quite proud of the dragon fairy for this one – the Conservative prospective parliamentary candidate Cllr Heidi Allen at http://www.heidisouthcambs.co.uk/news/heidi-local-tv describing my digital video account as local television. But if you think about it, that’s sort of what I’ve been doing over the past 24 hours – if not more. Me and Puffles (who was with me for both the hustings and the count) were this ‘one man and his dragon multi-media-machine’. We were micro-blogging (Twitter), macro-blogging (this), sending radio reports for Cambridge 105 and filming, editing and publishing video content – and conducting our own interviews with candidates. Think about it from another perspective. As the results were about to be announced I realised no one was there to capture it on film. Hence pulling out phone and filming it. The quality isn’t great, but it proved the event happened.

Goodwill from political parties

I can’t recall hearing a single bad word from any of the political party activists and elected representatives to my filming. Quite the opposite. Why? From their feedback the following:

  • Trust: When I tell them what I want to film for, what I intend to ask, and describe how the footage will be used, I follow through on it – repeatedly.
  • Transparency: They get to see the full footage that I publish, rather than the ‘edited soundbites’ that you often see in the mainstream media. In the May election campaign I noted how I’d do extensive interviews with the media and only a snippet gets used. Why bother?
  • ‘Shareability’: The format I publish them on means it’s simple and straight-forward for people to share the footage with others. Rather than having to mess about with large media files, all they have to do is copy and paste a hyperlink
  • Control: I’ve made the videos available for the parties to download free of charge and use in their own materials – my only condition is that they attribute it to me. This means they can use footage I’ve filmed for their own campaigns – but also are all in the knowledge that the full footage is available online. Hence an onus to use responsibly & not take a selective quotation to use out of context.

As mentioned in my previous blogpost, the Cambridge Young Greens have been the most proactive in inviting me to events to film. Following interest from some of the local Conservative Party activists who were pleasantly surprised to hear how successful things have been, it’s likely I’ll be filming for them in the near future. [Transparency: Andy Bower is my webmaster for my work things].

At an individual level, a number of Cambridge Labour and Cambridge Liberal Democrats activists are now warming to the concept of digital video. This is even more so for those that saw the footage that I uploaded from the hustings. At the election count I spoke to members of all parties on the ballot paper and mentioned how they could use the hustings videos for training purposes. What worked and what didn’t? Could the candidates have spoken more clearly, more concisely, more passionately? At what points could they have intervened on other speakers? At what point could they have stopped talking earlier? What points needed extending or following-up? Did they get tone and body-language right for the audience? The same goes for the interviews I did. Tone, posture, clarity, content. What worked and what didn’t?

“What about at a ‘group’ level for Labour vs the Liberal Democrats?”

I understand why they are more cautious than the Greens or the Conservatives. Cambridge is already a strongly-contested seat – one which I maintain is too close to call between Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner for the 2015 General Election. This means they’ll be running an incredibly disciplined operation. You only have to see what happens at election counts to watch the parties in operation. It is like clockwork, with activists assigned to tally all the votes counted to get an idea of who is most likely to win. The precious extra minutes/hours give the candidates time to prepare for any responses to the results before they are formally announced.

Me turning up with camcorder is a new unknown that existing campaigning processes haven’t yet accounted for in terms of opportunities and risks. What do you do if I record a major ‘gaffe’, or someone says something highly inappropriate/offensive that on second thoughts they want to withdraw? If they are not ‘in control’ of the person filming or editing, then what? On the other hand, this is all free publicity – which if used well could be incredibly positive. But how best to use it? With such a tightly contested election looming, is it worth taking risks with new things or is it better to focus on the tried & tested?

VideoStatsQueenEdith

The stats above for me speak for themselves. With the exception of the digital inclusion video, all of the above-mentioned videos were uploaded within 24 hours prior to the election result being announced. Over 100 plays in 24 hours? I’m more than happy with that. Chances are most of those views will also have been from people who were not at the event itself. Therefore it’s making something available to a much wider audience. Remember that, subject-wise we are talking about a council by-election in November on the edge of Cambridge. I.e. don’t expect the squillions of hits beloved of marketing men.

What the videos do for even a small number of people is allow them to see and hear the candidates in their own words with their own voices. They don’t need me to ‘tweet-quote’ for them. People can view what they want and come to their own conclusions. At last night’s hustings, I heard a variety of opinions of who did well and who did not. Some I agreed with, others I didn’t. What inspires one may alienate another. That’s a risk you take when you stand for election and submit to cross-examination by the public.

“What does video community reporting mean for future campaigns?”

The challenge is with candidates. The pendulum may well swing back towards strength of individual candidates and away from ‘party brand’. There is a risk that this level of community reporting puts off some people from standing. On the other hand there may be people out there who see a panel of candidates and think: “I can do better than this lot!” and either stand as an independent or join a party and put themselves forward for selection by party members.

The team matters

For all the things social and digital media has going for it, it won’t replace door-to-door canvassing or campaigning with a rock-solid team behind them. Labour, The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats had teams of campaigners out and about regularly in Queen Edith’s. If anything, this is the difference being in a party makes. They can bring in significant backing. In Rahima Ahammed’s case, Labour were able to arrange meetings with both Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman in Cambridge. If you are a first time candidate and your party arranges photo opportunities with the leader and deputy leader of your party, you’re set up for [political] life. In Rahima’s case, I also recorded footage of Ms Harman endorsing her. It also matters in the face of hostile residents – and unfortunately we’ve got a few of those in Cambridge.

Utterly depressing and completely unacceptable. There’s no place for this in Cambridge. Don’t think that the risk of such abuse was not a consideration when I considered standing earlier this year. The despicable inflammatory headlines in the print media have created an atmosphere where people are afraid to get involved in community action and local democracy. Why would anyone put themselves forward in the face of such hostility? Hence having that rock-solid support network is essential to survive in politics. It also gives an insight into why I wouldn’t be good at party politics: I’m too sensitive (and that’s not considering my anxiety/mental health issues – I have always had a sensitive disposition) and don’t have a strong enough support network to deal with the s**te that you get in politics.

Hence looking for alternative ways to ‘unlock democracy’

In my case it was doing something that no one was doing on my side of town. (Richard Taylor mainly covers North Cambridge and focuses on policing and civil liberties issues). It looks like being a ‘community cameraman’ is an interesting niche to explore in the near future. The only problem I have now is I’ve run out of digital storage space! New hard drive needed!

3 thoughts on “There’s more to unlocking democracy than campaigning alone

  1. I share your disgust at the suggestion of racist behaviour towards any candidate. As for a host of other reasons a certain toughness is an unavoidable necessity in standing for election, I’ve found that the best is mainly to ignore it. It’s what I did 35-40 years when my name attracted anti-semitic abuse, mostly in anonymous letters. I kept them as evidence for a time but that was all.

  2. One of my local councillors, Cllr Lewis Herbert, who is also leader of the city council, dropped me an email with the following statement after the result:

    “‘It was disappointing to lose yesterday’s election but the result came as no big surprise. Labour’s Queen Edith’s win in 2012 was our only win in the ward in the 39 years it has existed, and we are now snapping at the heels of the Liberal Democrats in a ward where for decades we came third year after year after year.

    ‘There are also many positives for Labour from last night. We achieved a strong increase in our Queen Edith’s vote share compared to May. We have just had a detailed discussion with over 3500 Queen Edith’s residents on the issues that matter to them, and we will follow up on those concerns and the need for better transport to make Addenbrooke’s more sustainable and less of a bad neighbour.

    Our special candidate Rahima Ahammed will be back, and I’m sure will make a great future contribution to our city. Our campaign team is also back together again ahead of the all-important 2015 elections. While it wasn’t the result we or our many Queen Edith’s supporters wanted, Labour also gained from yesterday’s election.’

    STATISTICS

    1. Labour has 24 City Councillors, Liberal Democrats 15, 9 behind. The Independedents have 2 and Conservatives 1, giving a Labour City Council majority of 6.
    Labour has City Councillors in 9 out of 14 wards compared to the Liberal Democrats who have City Councillors in 7 wards, half of the city.

    2. Comparing the Queen Edith’s byelection result to the May 2014 result in the ward:

    Labour 790 30.9% / 951 29.7%
    LibDem 933 36.4% / 1362 42.6%
    Conservative 614 24.0% / 522 16.3%
    Green 222 8.7% / 363 11.4%

    Both Labour and the Conservatives won vote share from the Liberal Democrats compared to May 2014.
    The total turnout yesterday was 37.2% and total votes 2559.”

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