An early look at what might come up between now & election day – depending on who gets to drive the debate of course!
The political parties are still going through the process of selecting candidates. Four of the five parties represented on local councils have confirmed they will be standing candidates (Labour, Conservatives, Lib Dems & The Greens, with just UKIP to confirm if they are standing a candidate).
Remember past general elections where TV journalists were like:
“Today the election campaign moves to the economy with the Prime Minister due to make a speech to activists outlining A, B and C – while the leader of the opposition will respond with D, E and F”
Lazy journalism reading out press releases rather than engaging with people on the ground and asking them what they thought the issues were that they’d be voting on. In the run up to elections I’m often invited to comment on what’s happening in and around Cambridge – this example is from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire with fellow blogger & community reporter Richard Taylor.
Challenge for 2017: Cambridgeshire needs more women taking part in analysing what’s happening in local democracy. If you are interested, please get in touch with:
Essentially we need to diversify the voices that commentate and report on what’s happening at a local level. Even more so given the things that are happening in our county.
“But you stood for election in 2014 – doesn’t that make you a politician? You’re hardly neutral!”
Dragon stands for election in 2014…
…and Cambridge City Council install dragon slide at Coleridge Rec in 2015.
Who said standing for election was a waste of time? Next time I might stand under the name of “Giant leisure centre and water park with Olympic-size swimming pool” and see what happens next…you never know!
“So, what are the issues?”
Wisbech (& transport connections between towns & villages)
Actually, to that you can add Chatteris, Ramsay, Cambourne and Soham – market towns in the county (which looks something like this on G-maps) which all struggle with incredibly poor transport infrastructure. Having used public transport to get to three of five of these places for various meetings, workshops and events, the transport infrastructure is a symptom of the failures of party politics, public policy and public administration (amongst other things).
The reason why I picked those places before Cambridge, Peterborough and Huntingdon is that those three places will inevitably command media attention because of population size alone. That’s before considering things like global branding, transport hub statuses and long histories of all three places. In a nutshell, we’re not going to solve the problems of traffic congestion unless we start seriously looking at radical ideas that solve the disconnect between the smaller towns and large villages in the county. With the plans for further house building, roads are only going to get even more congested than they actually are.
So this means:
- Wisbech Rail needs some rocket-boosters behind it to get it delivered
- Haverhill Rail also needs some rocket-boosters behind it to get it delivered
- Cambridge Connect, East West Rail or Network Rail generally may want to look at expanding its plans for a light rail network (and underground tunnels below Cambridge city centre) to link up with the likes of Ramsay & Chatteris in the north, Saffron Walden in the south, and Cambourne & St Neots in the west
- Lessons from the Guided Busway show that the wide and accessible cyclepath has been an unexpected success, with cyclists willing to cycle much greater distances on an uninterrupted cycleway than a motor traffic-heavy urban road network – can this lesson be applied to current or future lines?
- Asking if other parts of the county benefit from extended cyclepaths linking up villages and towns, esp in the north of the county?
Missing legal and financial powers
Several candidates have already mentioned further powers that could be devolved to county mayors. To help focus the debate…:
- What specific legal powers would you like devolved from Whitehall?
- What specific budgets would you like devolved from Whitehall?
- What finance-raising powers would you like devolved from The Treasury?
- What specific public services would you like to see become accountable to mayors rather than through Whitehall?
- What ‘public service turf wars’ do you expect to come across and how will you deal with them? (To add, ***these will happen*** – how will you deal with them when they arise? “They won’t arise” is not a suitable answer).
Predicting the future – always a dangerous thing!
This isn’t about micromanaging the future. A comms seminar I went to during my civil service years mentioned a speech Bill Clinton made in the very early 1990s about the future of the economy over the next couple of decades. Nowhere in the speech I was told was the internet mentioned. Interestingly, the fact checker in me cannot find the text of said speech, so is it urban myth? But the point remains – how many of us could foresee the internet in the early 1990s? I first came across the concept round a friend’s house in 1995. Turns out one of the first football clubs to have a website was… Stevenage Borough!
So rather than predicting what sort of technology we may or may not have, I want to know:
What’s your vision for the county in:
- 5 years time?
- 10 years time?
- 30 years time?
This isn’t about you or any one person being in office for all of that time, but rather I’m asking what potential do you see for our county, how do you see us going about to meet that potential, and what would your role be as county mayor to achieve that vision?
History! Do you know how our county got to here, what mistakes it made along the way and how you will avoid repeating them?
Some of you will have seen my Lost Cambridge blog at https://lostcambridge.wordpress.com/ which for my part of the county is trying to fill in some of the missing gaps. In my experience, the historians in the county’s villages and towns have a much clearer picture of their areas’ past (see http://www.calh.org.uk/ and on FB at https://www.facebook.com/groups/cambshistory/) and are a wealth of untapped knowledge. As far as Cambridge goes, I can ask things like:
Why didn’t Cambridge preserve and expand its tram system?
Why didn’t we get this guildhall in the late 1850s in Cambridge?
…or this one in the late 1890s?
…and why was this county hall built in 1913…
…only to be found to have been too small within a couple of decades? (Hence Shire Hall).
Now, I’m sure Huntingdon, Peterborough, Wisbech and the smaller towns & villages have their equivalents. Do you know what they are and what the lessons learnt are? If not, who are you going to find these things out from and how?
And finally…looking out to neighbouring counties
Some of the towns in other counties feel closer to Cambridge, Peterborough or Huntingdon than they do other towns and cities in their counties:
- Haverhill & Saffron Walden in Essex (to Cambridge)
- Newmarket and Bury St Edmund’s in Suffolk (to Cambridge)
- Downham Market and King’s Lynn (to Wisbech)
- Stamford and Corby (to Peterborough)
- Kettering and Bedford (to Huntingdon)
How will you decide on allocating funding to projects that link up with/require co-funding from other counties? How will you ensure that the costs are fairly split?
Note I’ve not even mentioned the environment and climate change – lots of other topics will come up between now and election day.