Shellshocked

Summary

How do I reassure my very concerned Facebook & Twitter communities over what’s about to hit us all over the next five years?

Is it as @Stavvers says here?

Even in the face of adversity, there’s a little bit of me that almost wants to respond like a stubborn child with a statement that is so ridiculous it elicits no possible response.

“This is me. This is my dragon. Bring. It. On.”

Because let’s face it, hardly anyone predicted that the Conservatives would end up with a majority along with the utter collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

Watching the dust settle in Cambridge

I’ve been doing a bit of number crunching on the Cambridge data, trying to compare the parliamentary votes with the local council votes – accounting for Queen Edith’s being in South Cambridgeshire constituency. It looks like over 3,000 more people voted for Julian Huppert in the general election than for Cambridge Liberal Democrat candidates at the local council elections. For Cambridge Green Party, it was the other way around – just over 4,000 voting for Rupert Read (an increase of a couple of hundred from 2010 – but still an incredible recovery from 2013) vs a figure not far short of 10,000 votes at local council level. This figure was enough to elect a new Green councillor for Cambridge – step forward Councillor Oscar Gillespie.

I spent the afternoon after the afternoon local council counts first with Cambridge Green Party and then with Cambridge Labour Party and a couple of Cambridge Conservatives too – basically Tim & Andy.

The Greens were understandably buzzing – the council results being far higher than perhaps they anticipated given Rupert Read’s results the previous night. Party paper candidates in Cambridge normally get between 200-300 votes. On the back of both the general election & the ‘green surge’, Cllr Gillespie scored 1147 – pipping Danielle Green of Labour by a mere seven votes, and Dom Weldon of the Lib Dems by 13 votes. It was that close. As a result, Cllr Gillespie is in office until 2019. Given his rock-solid roots in community action in Cambridge’s vibrant sustainability communities, he’ll be a difficult opponent to shift in four years time – assuming he (and I have no doubt he will) matches his past efforts with his future ones as a councillor.

“What did Labour have to say for themselves?”

A delight for Daniel Zeichner mixed with the grim reality that the party was annihilated in Scotland and that they have five years of a Conservative majority government (Fixed Term Parliament Act – Clegg’s mistake was not putting a sunset clause into the Bill basically saying that as soon as the Coalition dissolved, so did the terms of the Act). Furthermore, they lost Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and now have had the resignations of Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman to take in. Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of what’s left of the Liberal Democrats – eight MPs. Nigel has also gone from UKIP.

We had a number of very interesting conversations about what went wrong for Labour, what the rise of The Greens in Cambridge means, and also the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

For me, the generation of ministers that served under Blair and Brown, and who formed the nucleus around Ed Miliband are now discredited in the mind of the wider public. Miliband & Harman have stepped down while Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander lost their seats. This leaves Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham in the running for party leader – with both Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis also shortlisted in a number of media reports. Yet none of the front-runners or any of the others mentioned – such as Tristram Hunt or Rachel Reeves inspire me. You’ve got to have far more than just intellect. You need to have empathy, be well-organised, energised, hard-working, an excellent communicator & public speaker, calm under pressure, able to think on your feet and have that ‘star presence’. Tristram Hunt is a brilliant writer and a huge intellect, but really struggled in Parliament against Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan in the education policy portfolio. Umunna and Reeves have struggled to convert strong intellect into something powerful communications-wise.

“Any Liberal Democrats about?”

Understandably they seemed to make a quick exit following the count – even though they only lost one seat (to The Greens). Maybe it’s the civil contingencies-trained civil servant in me, but when something bad happens & you see a pile of political rubble, my instinct is to recommend heading towards it, not away from it. This is because it’s the time when those that fell in the election will be licking their wounds, while others might shy away from the huge task that lies ahead. Funnily enough, the Lib Dems have tweeted from their national account that in the past 24 hours they’ve had over 1,000 new membership applications. Looks like there could be a critical mass of people who have looked at some of the announcements coming out from the Home Office policy-wise and have hit the ground running.

“It’s still looking grim – what do you say to those worried about five more years of Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith?”

It’s as I wrote in an earlier blogpost:

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport

Shame we’re going to have to spend the next five years learning this the hard way. Because while the mainstream parties go through another few months of navel-gazing, the Conservatives are going to hit the ground running with all of the pet projects they blamed the Liberal Democrats for blocking. Fox hunting, data snooping, more restrictions on social security, possibly even higher tuition fees – all back on the agenda.

Don’t think it’ll be easy for Cameron to manage though. For a start, the Euro-sceptic right wing of the party will be making itself heard. With such a small majority this could cause the sorts of problems John Major had in the 1990s. Put bluntly, Cameron is a handful of bad by-election results away from losing control of the Commons and running a minority government or seeking support from the Northern Ireland unionist parties.

The other problem is that more and more of our problems are of an international nature. Yet given the distancing of the British government since 2010 from the EU (at a time when really the EU needs Britain at its heart given the political vacuum there seems to be there) the sort of co-ordinated substantial policy responses needed to the various crises on the EU’s borders (to say nothing of the economic problems) seems to be further and further away.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we come back to the article I linked to at the top by @Stavvers. More cuts to public services are coming. The November 2015 spending review is likely to be particularly tough.

“But practically, what can we do?”

Between now and the autumn? Get educated about politics, and get connected. Get connected locally, get connected with communities of interest. If you haven’t already, pick a cause and commit to spending say 1 hour a week reading up about it. Start small – baby steps first. (Don’t overwhelm yourself). Try things like:

  • Find out and get in touch with your (newly) elected representatives -> https://www.writetothem.com/ – start off with email/social media contact first, and then follow it up with face-to-face. Learn which institutions provide which services in your area.
  • Find out about community groups in your area – your local council may be able to help. Commit to going along to a new one say once per month to get an idea of what they do and who participates.
  • Accept that you’re going to get things wrong & make mistakes. Easier said than done I know. But if you want something you’ve had before, or want to stop something that seems unstoppable, you’ve got to do something that you’ve not done before. Finding your limits means being prepared to go beyond them. In my case during this election campaign I found out what my limits were in terms of how many public debates & could film & attend (given my mental health) by going to as many as I could until I almost collapsed with mental exhaustion.

“It’s hardly ‘Man the barricades! Revolushun!’ stuff, is it?”

I’m a community activist, not a revolutionary. If however, you are a wanting to do more active campaigning, get yourself along to the People and Planet’s summer camp in July near Manchester.

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