Jeremy Corbyn to visit Puffles in Cambridge!


With over 300 1,700 people signed up, can Cambridge Labour Party use this opportunity to get more people involved in local democracy?

I chose this headline because Mr Corbyn’s been following Puffles on Twitter for ages. See for event details – the local Unite Union branch is organising this one.


See bottom left of the above screenshot 🙂

Over 400 people have signed up [and over 1,700 on his website] – and given the momentum behind his campaign (which is in the mainstream news almost every night), I’m expecting quite a crowd. The question for Cambridge Labour Party is what to do with them. Easier said than done given the spread of votes for different candidates inside the party across their elected councillors. See Phil Rodgers below:

The leadership campaign has shone a light into just how broad a range of opinions there is within the local party. Some councillors supportive of Mr Corbyn see this as a once-in-a-generation chance for Labour’s left wing to take control of the party, while those opposing Mr Corbyn see his prospective leadership as a one way ticket to electoral oblivion. What we may probably never know is what the breakdown of votes will be in the Labour leadership campaign in Cambridge. Not that the party has any obligation to publish the results – at the end of the day it’s their party & their business. But it would be interesting to get a picture of the disposition of Cambridge Labour Party through the lens of the leadership contest.

It’s not just Labour activists that are going to this gathering

If you look at the list of who is going, you’ll see some familiar faces from other political parties. This approach is the complete opposite to my experience of big-name visitors from the Labour Party to Cambridge over the years. High profile visits have been shrouded in secrecy, only announced to selected media at the last minute by party HQ. Thus it has made it very difficult to get the sorts of numbers going to such visits that Mr Corbyn has been attracting. The reason for this local activists & councillors tell me is that they don’t want their senior party figures to be ambushed by their political opponents. Understandable if you’re trying to write a media script. But for me, any politician worth their salt should be able to handle hecklers and opponents in the crowd. See John Major at 1m30s here. Will any political opponents of Corbyn try to heckle in a room full of Labour activists in their hundreds?

Potentially hundreds of people turning up – some perhaps for the first time to a ‘political’ meeting. What do you do?

Organisers have just confirmed it’ll be at Anglia Ruskin University’s Ashcroft Building. here are some thoughts having organised ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ in the same venue:

UPDATE: Due to very high demand, the venue has been switched to Great St Mary’s opposite Senate House/King’s College Chapel – now on Parker’s Piece.

Make everyone feel welcome 

Have your friendliest & most energised activists welcoming people on the door. Give people a sense of: ‘Yes – this is a group of people I’d like to be involved with!’ For most of the people attending, this will be something that is far outside their normal routine. The venue and agenda may well be something they are completely unfamiliar with, and may feel uncomfortable in. Bear this in mind – especially with any young people there.

Have any elected councillors wearing badges & rosettes

Make them easily identifiable. Brief them to be the ones that are proactive in starting conversations with the public. Even if it’s a case of: “Hi, my name is X and I’m the Labour councillor for Y in Z. What brings you to this event?”

Start conversations before people move into the main lecture theatre

For Be the change – Cambridge we used the same venue. There is ****lots**** of breakout space. There’s nothing to stop you from hosting mini group conversations on different themes in that space and in the courtyards. Someone holding up a piece of A4 card with the topic area for people to spot should be enough. Invite everyone to have a conversation with someone who they’ve not met before.

Q&A – have a strong MC who can strictly limit questions to a maximum of 30 seconds

I was at a gathering of 25-30 pro-Corbyn activists convened by Dan Greef, the Labour candidate for South Cambridgeshire in the general election. Dan started the meeting with a chance for people to introduce themselves and say why they were there. Too many people took far too long to explain while they were there – one taking nearly 10 minutes, forgetting to introduce herself in the process. There will be a lot of people there, and it only takes one person rambling (I have been ***that*** person in the past!) to kill the atmosphere & energy in the hall. Bring a horn, a whistle, a something – and time the questions. Be absolutely ruthless – but above all consistent & fair, about moving on.

Have a means for people to submit questions in advance for those people who are not confident at asking questions themselves. 

The numbers will be intimidating for a lot of people. Ensure you have something in place – for example at the welcome desk for people to submit questions that they don’t want to stand up & ask themselves.

Diversity of people asking questions

There will be lots of men used to public speaking wanting to ask lots of questions – again, I’ve been ***that*** man. Make sure you vary who gets to ask questions. It may be an idea to say “I want the first two questions to come from women/young people”.

You’ll have to decide what you want to do with people and organisations not affiliated to your party or trade union

This could range from opposition councillors attending through to people from other established groupings trying to sell publications. The complexity here involves the terms & conditions of your booking – which may not allow anyone to sell anything on campus (but fine off campus), through to someone trying to be deliberately disruptive & obnoxious. Because of the numbers you have, you’ll need to liaise with ARU staff. Make sure you have your contingencies covered – even though in all likelihood nothing bad is likely to happen.

What’s going to happen after the event?

Will organisers be hosting a post-event drinks say at The Tram Depot over the road? Will there be people to welcome those heading over there, in particular those that don’t know anyone?

Mr Corbyn has spoken of the importance of social media, so why is there so little activity on the Cambridge Labour Party’s Facebook page? How many people turning up will be on Twitter, and are they following local councillors that use Twitter? See here for some examples.

Can organisers encourage people to get involved in local democracy through their area committees? See What about Labour activists just outside Cambridge where the two sitting Conservative MPs got over 50% of the vote in their constituencies in 2015? Both Huw Jones & Dan Greef had their work cut out. Just as the Conservatives have a minimal presence inside Cambridge, Labour struggles outside of the city. Who will be the activists to take campaigns along say the towns & villages along the Cambridge Guided Bus route, or to the villages along the Citi 7/8/X13 bus routes? Bear in mind that the growth of the city means a future boundary review could split the city constituency, resulting in safe Labour wards being joined with safe Conservative wards to form new constituencies. Given the growth in membership & supporter numbers along with the new-found energy from Mr Corbyn’s campaign, is now the time for Cambridge Labour Party to campaign beyond the city limits?

Food for thought.


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