Over to you now, candidates

Summary

Now that we have a critical mass of election videos, how will the election candidates go about publicising them? What will my video stats say?

 

The video playlist that matters for voters in Cambridge is here. At the time of posting, there were 20 videos covering four political parties that are standing full slates of candidates:

“So, who’s in the lead?”

The chart for short election messages looks like this:

  1. Sophie Barnett of Romsey Labour Party, with 86 views
  2. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 58 views
  3. Rosie Moore of Coleridge Labour Party, with 49 views
  4. Stuart Tuckwood of Cambridge Greens, with 35 views
  5. Julius Carrington of Cambridge Conservatives with 29 views

For interviews, the chart looks like this:

  1. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 85 views
  2. Dave Baigent of Cambridge Labour, with 69 views in total
  3. Shahida Rahman of Cambridge Lib Dems with 33 views

“Why do videos matter?”

Much depends on how candidates choose to use them. As stand alone pieces, they’ll be useless as few will know where to find them. Incorporated into a decent campaigning strategy and you have the face/voice of candidates available to potential voters at a time and place that is convenient for the citizen rather than the politician. A video can be a candidates voice working through the night as the candidate sleeps.

It also matters because there are a number of wards where the difference between winning and losing is down to less than 100:

Four out of the fourteen wards being knife-edge marginals? On those alone it’s worth experimenting with every new tool available. But what about the ‘safe’ wards?

Video messages potentially means no paper candidates

Until very recently it was very easy for political parties to stand ‘paper’ candidates in order to avoid embarrassment of not having a full slate of candidates. Certainly for the major political parties, opponents are more than happy to publicise where a party fails to stand a candidate in a council area where they otherwise have a large presence – or should be expected to have a large presence. A ‘paper’ candidate is exactly that – you only see their names on the ballot paper. You don’t see them out and about campaigning. That said, out and about campaigning is not for everyone. Also, given the choice between a ‘paper candidate’ and no candidate, the former can at least give an indication to a political party as to whether it is worth campaigning in such areas in the future given very limited resources.

What video messaging allows is for potential voters to see and hear candidates in their own voices – even if such candidates don’t want to go door-to-door canvassing or appearing at public events. Again, this is highly dependent on the local party having a half-decent social media operation and online presence that ensures local residents are directed to the videos themselves. It allows residents to see/hear candidates at their leisure rather than at a time convenient for politicians going door-to-door. You ever been disturbed by a door-to-door canvasser when the bath/cooker/football is on?

Not just video, but half-decent photographs too

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Above: Cllr Dr Dave Baigent with members of North Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Labour Parties at Warboys, Cambridgeshire on 15 April 2016

I had a bit of a groggy day that Friday and dragged myself to a coffee shop at the end of my road. Dave then phoned and asked if I wanted to come along and film at an event where he and Labour MEP Richard Howitt were giving a talk to a few dozen Labour supporters. Interesting choice of time – late on a Friday night when it was also pouring with rain. But I needed to get out of Cambridge for a bit, so impulsively I agreed. (Declaration, Dave bought me half a coke – most of which I accidentally spilt and knocked over in a pub that didn’t serve coffee. The joys of being a metropolitan luvvie who can’t survive without a latte.

I’m not going to even pretend I’m a decent photographer – I’m still getting to know the camera that I have. That said, the resolution of the photographs that I take is at a level of detail that doesn’t make professional printers irritated. Thus political parties can (and have done in the past) used photos I’ve taken in campaigning material. The photo above for Dave Baigent is one that matters for Labour because for the people that turned up – of which between a third/half had joined after Jeremy Corbyn became leader. I got a sense from the atmosphere in the room that Labour might snatch one or two seats in the districts in these heartlands if they can get those in the room out and about in a small number of targeted seats where Dave Baigent is campaigning on the PCC elections. But again much depends on how Labour use social media to complement what they do offline.

The Tories’ first video

Just keep an eye on Julius Carrington – who like me grew up here in Cambridge and has a mixed heritage background. Assuming he sticks around in Newnham and continues to campaign, this previously Labour/Lib Dem ward could find a Conservative challenge in the near future. In 2015 the party stood Cambridge University student Sam Carr of the University’s Conservative Association as their Newnham candidate and he pulled in 700 votes. Note this was on the back of an otherwise divided general election campaign where candidate and local party were not able to co-ordinate well. With a candidate that has much stronger and more permanent roots who is prepared to do the groundwork over the years, is the only way up for the Conservatives in Newnham? Or are the roots that the other parties have in the ward far too strong to be dislodged?

The acid test for Cambridge Liberal Democrats

These elections really are a big test for them – and also for party leader Tim Farron MP nationally. Locally and nationally, is the party still in free fall following the disaster at the polls in 2015 that all but wiped out their party in the House of Commons? (Hence explaining a much lower media profile). Although they reported a rise post-election from around 46,000 to 60,000 members at their 2015 conference, I’ve not seen the level of activity I would have expected given the shock of losing an otherwise popular local MP in Julian Huppert, whose vote held up in the general election but not enough for him to resist the Labour tidal wave that swept Daniel Zeichner into office.

Their two most vulnerable seats as I see it are in Market and Romsey, where longstanding senior councillors Tim Bick and Catherine Smart are fighting for re-election against strong campaigns from both Stuart Tuckwood of The Greens and Sophie Barnett of Labour respectively. At the other end, Shahida Rahman is running a strong local campaign in her home ward of East Chesterton against a lower profile Labour opponent Cllr Margery Abbott. Given the problems Labour has faced with the city deal proposals on Milton Road, could that be enough to sway the voters towards the Liberal Democrats?

It wouldn’t surprise me if their losses and gains broadly balanced out – losing a longstanding incumbent while perhaps gaining a seat with a first time councillor in. This may not be a bad thing as it’s always nice to see new faces taking to the council benches.

Not all wards have the same social media profiles

I’m almost embarrassed for the activists in Queen Edith’s ward, a number of whom are frequent social media users. This is because none of the candidates seem to be using it. Ditto with Trumpington. For me this matters because of the presence of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and of a number of large schools and colleges in the area along with the growth in housing numbers. Given the looming hustings that are coming up in this ward, it’s a question that I’m going to put to the candidates, in particular on outreach to young people given the number of families with children there.

Has it been harder to recruit candidates this year?

It would seem so given the number of re-standing candidates who have come back after a break from standing, through to new names on ballot papers that seem to have a very small internet footprint. Perhaps it takes time to train up new members into potential candidates. Alternatively it may simply be a sign of the times, and a signal for us in the rest of the city that we also need to do something if we are to get the high calibre of candidates a city like Cambridge demands but perhaps is not prepared to supply.

What would that entail?

I don’t know how we would achieve it, but changing the culture of our city to one where residents see it as a civic duty to be proactive in finding out who is standing for election, when and where for a start. My take is that we cannot leave it all down to the politicians and activists to spoon-feed us our democracy. It’s not a spectator sport. It requires active participation on our part as residents in order to make it work. It’s not like we have a shortage of talent in the city either. We’ve got to get into the mindset that we all have a part to play. My part in the run up to these elections is through making short video clips of as many candidates, activists and politicians as possible. What the political parties (and residents) choose to do with those videos that are now online…is entirely up to them. And you.

[Updated on 17 Apr 2016 to add the following:]

There were a few comments posted on Twitter/Facebook that I wanted to add because they raise one or two interesting issues about covering elections.

160417 James Youd Comment

 

For context, James is one of the organisers of the local Unite Community branch in Cambridge – an initiative I think Unite The Union HQ should put far more resources behind.

Richard Johnson (not to be confused with Cllr Richard Johnson of Abbey Ward) co-authored the book (with Cllr Ashley Walsh) one of the very few political histories of local politics in Cambridge – 100 years of the Cambridge Labour Party. See http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-labour-party-the-first-100-years. If you are interested in Cambridge’s local political scene, this book is a must read as it explains some of the background behind some of the exchanges in the council chamber as well as backgrounds to some big Cambridge landmarks – such as the Kelsey Kerridge Sports Cente.

Clare King is a former Lib Dem councillor in Cambridge who switched to Labour after the Coalition came to power, and is now an active Labour campaigner.

My response to Richard (and Clare by extension)

I’ve read through Richard’s comment/complaint. The issue as I see it is not that I’ve written Dani Greene off, it’s more that I should have mentioned her specifically as the candidate who came within 7 votes of taking Market ward in 2015. If I wanted to write off Dani, I’d have written “Dani Greene has got no chance – this ward is between the Stuart Tuckwood (Greens) and Tim Bick (Lib Dems) alone”. But it clearly isn’t. The simple reason for focusing on is that Cllr Bick is the incumbent candidate and The Greens have made it clear that Market Ward is their number 1 target seat. Furthermore, they have been in regular contact on their Market Ward campaign through social media in a way the Labour Party (as an institution) has not for this ward.

Was it bad form not to have named her as a candidate specifically? Possibly – though it certainly wasn’t deliberate by any means. To imply it was deliberate sexism on grounds of gender is below the belt and I completely and utterly reject such an accusation. In fact, on 12 April I got in touch with Labour councillor Anna Smith, Romsey candidate Sophie Barnett and Dani Greene on Twitter to offer to film an election video

That no one from Cambridge Labour Party has got back to me is not my fault – or my problem. I’ve recorded videos for Anna, Sophie and numerous videos for Dave Baigent who is Labour’s candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner. And people are watching them – Sophie being top of the ‘league table’ as this blogpost shows.

Do I blame Dani for not getting back? Not particularly – not least because she’s got a baby to look after. It was only after my niece & nephew arrived that I realised just how demanding looking after a child can be. In the grand scheme of things, shooting a short video for her campaign isn’t going to be top of her list of priorities, even though getting local election candidates on video is around the top of mine. In terms of those supporting her campaign and doing the organising, again the offer remains open as it does to candidates standing in and around Cambridge to make videos for their campaigns.

It’s not like I’ve made myself difficult to get in touch with either. If I don’t get anything back from inquiries (however made) then what else can I do? Especially as everything that I am doing is unpaid. Perhaps as institutions political parties need to look towards their members and holders of elected public office for examples of how those who use social media effectively (and all local parties have pioneers in this field) can share their knowledge & expertise with the rest of their local parties. Again, that’s for them to do, not for me.

Response to James Youd

Was it a fluke that Oscar Gillespie got in? Not really – because he had put in the groundwork to get within striking distance of the seat in the first place. Given that there were so few votes between three parties, I can see why people say it was down to luck as to who came top. Alternatively, was it something as small as a more prominent social media presence that won it for Oscar over Dani and their Lib Dem opponent in 2015, Dom Weldon? Note at a national level there are three MPs whose majorities are less than 100. Flukes or was there something in their campaigns that allowed the winners to get over the line ahead of their near opponents?

West Chesterton I mentioned as a marginal in the list. Where James makes a very interesting comment is the impact of the student vote, and as he mentioned to be elsewhere, the impact of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. It could be that the popularity of Tim Bick as a local councillor combined with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader takes away some of the votes that might have gone to the Greens in 2015. In which case a  result of 1) Tim Bick, 2) Dani Green, 3) Stuart Tuckwood sounds more likely. Ditto the election of Jeremy Corbyn might be enough to galvanise support around Labour to drive Dani to the finishing line first, with a 1) Dani Green, 2) Tim Bick and 3) Stuart Tuckwood (or with 2 & 3 reversed) likely results too. Thus as Richard Johnson says, Market ward is a 3 way marginal and is making for a fascinating contest.

Why local parties need to do much better to keep everyone up to date online.

My only appeal to Labour and the Liberal Democrats (and other parties too) is to do more to keep everyone up to date online. Because if you don’t respond to posts from us bloggers and community reporters for updates, comments and news, we can’t really write about you. And if we do, chances are you may not feel it’s correct.

Note the comments submitted by other readers – in particular this one. Note at the time of posting, only 4/14 Labour candidates have responded to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s annual election questions here. It’s 7/14 for Lib Dems, 6/14 for The Greens, 1/14 for Conservatives and 1/5 for UKIP.

It’s not like these questions come as a surprise – every year the Cambridge Cycling Campaign asks candidates to submit responses to their questions.

Important given the size and influence of their membership. In the marginal wards, it’s quite possible that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign membership can decide who gets in and who does not. Food for thought?

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Over to you now, candidates

  1. Great article, I am of the opinion that people like you enable greater access to democracy in our city. Using new media is I’m sure a boon for the parties and unlocks their potential especially with younger voters. Once again thank you. Remind me I owe Puffles some jelly belly!

  2. Terrific article. It’s quite an indictment of how little most candidates are using the media that I seem to know more about some of the candidates you mention above in other wards than I do in my own ward of Queen Edith’s. Here, things are, as you say, embarrassing. We’re having a perfect storm of almost all the parties having struggled to find a candidate, and probably all of the parties sending what resources they have to other wards nearby, where the result may be much closer.

    For that reason our neighbourhood association, the Queen Edith’s Community Forum, is taking the unusual step of holding a hustings event where the candidates will present themselves in front of the public. It takes place this Thursday (21 April) and we welcome not only local residents, but anyone from across the city who wants to see how such an event might be run. Wouldn’t it be great if every ward had such an event for every election in future?

    More details at http://queen-ediths.info

    1. Yes it would Chris! It’d be useful to know how best to organise one (apart from the legal side of things which is easy to find out*). I did ask our local area committee a while ago and they seemed up for it.

      But aside from that, I do find it **immensely frustrating** that we get no info about the paper candidates. (Aside from Antony’s efforts here of course, which I will watch.) If they’re not after lots of votes fine, but I would really value having some idea of what they think about the issues facing Cambridge. It drives me nuts that candidates don’t answer the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s poll every year. It isn’t as though it takes ages to fill in (I’d guess.)

      *For example here I mean the importance of inviting _all_ parties not just those you like.

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