“Parents – lend your children your vote”

Summary

On raising transport issues that students, young people – and the rest of us face in the upcoming county council elections on 04 May 2017.

A date for your diaries – 04 May 2017 as it is local elections day across Great Britain. For those of us in areas that have district and county councils, this means that our councillors on our county councils (which are responsible for local transport policy) are up for re-election. This happens once every four years.

Recently I met up with a Cambridge PhD student and a young woman on her year out who went to school locally here. We had a chat about what sort of local projects and actions they could get involved in, ranging from self-starting ones to existing projects being run by organisations such as Transition Cambridge and the Cambridge Hub. We also talked about the ideas coming from groups such as the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, The Smarter Cambridge Transport campaign, and Cambridge Connect – the underground light rail plan.

Actions within a short time frame

I mentioned the Cambridgeshire County Council full council meeting scheduled for 14 Feb 2017, stating that it might be one of the last ones before the councillors are up for re-election on 04 May 2017. (The final full council meeting is on 28 March 2017). This means that there are very few opportunities for residents to raise concerns in public forums about transport issues. This got us thinking: What could the three of us do between now and the 14 Feb?

We talked about the rules and requirements of what the county council demanded of people who table public questions and present petitions – and at familiarising people with the inside of Shire Hall.

We also noted the differences between tabling a public question (which gets a single response from one of the executive councillors) vs a petition (which gives the presenter more speaking time, and allows backbench councillors the chance to comment). See below for an example of a petition being presented to the county council.

The above relates to proposals by the Greater Cambridge City Deal on new bus lanes down Milton Road. See http://www.miltonroadra.org/city-deal. This is an example of local residents getting together to try an influence a proposed transport scheme.

“Can you rely on lots of people doing lots of work in a very short space of time?”

No.

That’s why we talked about keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible, and achieving the bare minimum first before thinking beyond.

“What is the bare minimum?”

The three of us rocking up to the county council meeting on 14 Feb and asking the public questions that council rules require us to have sent into them by 07 Feb. (A full list of rules is here).

“What would the reaction be of three of you asking questions about traffic, buses, cycling & transport?”

Probably something along the lines of

“Oh – crazy dragon dude has brought a couple of friends to ask the questions he wasn’t allowed to ask last time around”

Not all councillors like social media and not all councillors like Puffles either, as this video shows.

Fortunately those councillors seem to be in a minority – but they are there. Bringing a cuddly dragon into the chamber is one thing, but bringing in current and future voters with their own views and experiences is quite another. And that’s the aim of this proposed action: To help people use their civil and civic right to ask questions of the council and councillors elected to represent them. The big thing for me is that people get the chance to enter Shire Hall and get a feel for asking a public question. Because once you’ve done it once, repeating the action becomes much much easier. And if you are there with your friends, councillors tend to take a more conciliatory tone. If you are there with friends and they are filming the whole thing, councillors also tend to behave better than they normally do in the chamber. Some of the behaviour I’ve seen over the past year has been diabolical.

“Outside of asking questions, what else is there people can do from the comfort of their laptop?”

Via https://www.writetothem.com/ we’re encouraging people – especially school, college and university students, to email their county councillors with their experiences of using the roads, using buses, and on cycling in and around the city. In particular those students that come in from outside of the city to get to their place of work or study. The reason being rural public transport has taken one hell of a hit in recent years.

We’re also encouraging people to ask a question of their county councillors at the same time – one related to the experiences that they have had. It’s not for me or anyone else to tell them what that question should be – or to have a ‘copy and paste’ question that people can mass-spam the councillors with. The reason being is we want the councillors’ responses to be considered and personalised.

“And the petition?”

That depends on what people want. The county council has an under-used petitions scheme at https://cmis.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/ccc_live/ePetitions.aspx. The three of us talked about how specific the petition call should be. For example: “This petition calls for the council to build the light rail underground scheme as set out by http://www.cambridge-connect.uk/ ” …will probably get the response of “Nice idea, but we have no money”. At this stage though, activists don’t need to be specific – they just need to get councillors to acknowledge the problems and their impact. For students and young people this might involve a petition calling for the council to work with bus companies, students, schools and colleges to improve the provision and punctuality of bus services across the county.

The most important thing is that it’s the young people that lead on this, not me. I’m just the guide helping them navigate the labyrinth that is local government systems and processes. The email exchanges that happen between councillors and those that contact them in the grand scheme of things is none of my business. Once the contact has been made, that’s my job done. It’s up to them to decide what to do with any response they get back from councillors. For some that might mean further email exchanges. For others it might involve joining a local campaign group such:

Others may want to start school/college/workplace-based campaigns, inviting councillors and MPs to speak to everyone there.

The most important thing is that people take action at a time when politicians are most likely to be listening: election time.

“But we are too young to vote!”

One idea that came up was getting under 18s to persuade their parents and/or trusted adult friends to ‘lend’ them their vote. The idea is this:

Under 18s read through the manifestos of all the candidates/parties standing for election, and email questions to the candidates. The parent/voter then promises in return to vote whichever way their child recommends. That way, candidates automatically have to address the concerns of young people who otherwise cannot vote.

Any thoughts? Could this work with youth organisations?

 

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