You can’t say Heidi Allen can’t be mayor and MP while her predecessor Andrew Lansley was Health Secretary and MP

Summary

…well…you can say it, but expect to be called out on it. The double standard from Cambridgeshire Conservatives reflecting a wider, county-wide political culture that is hostile to women – as LostCambridge is now revealing.

I was on BBC Cambridgeshire with Chris Mann when I made this point.

…and having seen Cambridgeshire County Council up close…

because my research is revealing something

Cambridgeshire Conservatives cannot have it both ways.

170116-tory-statement-heidi-mayor

Here’s the full report.

They cannot say it’s unacceptable for Heidi Allen MP to be a mayor and an MP at the same time while a number of our county’s current and former MPs held ministerial office – the latter being much more than a full time job in itself. Having worked with ministers I saw their workload close up – and the impact of it on them.

So please. Don’t give me that bulls–t about the impact of Heidi’s current role as an MP.

I write the above irrespective of the individual calibres of the candidates they selected.

“Well if you want to have a say on who our candidates are, join the party!”

A line often given to me by members of all political parties – which is a fair point. Hence why generally I’m refraining from detailed comments of party candidates as they fight for selections until we know who from which parties are standing.

“Hang on, what’s this blogpost if it’s not a detailed comment?”

It’s a response to a statement read out on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire by Chris Mann of the BBC shortly after I had finished my interview – just after I had made the point about Heidi Allen’s predecessor, the controversial Andrew Lansley (now in the House of Lords).

“It’s a detailed comment”

But relevant to my research (https://lostcambridge.wordpress.com/), which shows the huge barriers women have had to overcome in order to have an impact on our city. Furthermore, the early progress that they made up until the Second World War seems to have been lost. The comment goes to all political parties. It’s not just “Tories! Sexists! Boo!!!” Let’s not forget that the Liberal Democrats had an all male shortlist too, before selecting Cllr Rod Cantrill as their candidate. Labour and the Greens are still selecting their candidates, and UKIP have gone for their leader in Shire Hall, Cllr Paul Bullen.

Hence my point at the end of my BBC Cambridgeshire interview that the problem in Cambridgeshire is with our political culture: it goes beyond individual parties and it spans the generations too.

What the newspaper archives (both online and at the Cambridgeshire Collection at the Central Library, Cambridge) show.

081016-women-candidates-camcitco-ej-signs-flo-ada-keynes-letter

From the Cambridge Independent Press via the British Newspaper Archive

My Lost Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb was one of the signatures to the letter above, headlined by Florence Ada Keynes, and also by Eglantyne’s aunt, Maud Darwin (who was the daughter in law of Charles Darwin – yes, that Charles Darwin). It wasn’t until 1908 that an Act of Parliament allowed women to stand as candidates for election.

florence-ada-keynes-portrait

Florence Ada Keynes, the first woman to be elected a councillor in Cambridge, and the first woman to be elected as an Alderman in Cambridge too. You may have heard of her son, who founded Cambridge’s Arts Theatre. He was called John. Wrote about macroeconomics too

So…how do we get more women into politics and local democracy?

Ask women of today for a start?

One of my reasons for doing my #LostCambridge project is to use the people I am finding out about as a source of inspiration for the next generation of political activists to pick up and carry on what our founding mothers started. And for me it was Eglantyne Jebb who shaped the modern residential Cambridge that we know. How?

Read her book here.

No – really: I’m still in the process of reading it, but have discovered the following:

Poverty and sex work

While Cambridge University spent a fortune on their constables and proctors (some of whom were church clerics, such as Rev Frederic Wallis who was the proctor that detained the 17 year old patriarchy-smashing hero Daisy Hopkins), Eglantyne’s research demonstrated that one of the biggest drivers was people living in poverty. They needed money for food. Dr Philip Howell’s research into the much loathed Spinning House (Cambridge University’s prison for ‘fallen women’) uncovered some statistics which demonstrated how few women were arrested on multiple occasions.

Alcoholism and its impact

Want to know why the ward of Queen Edith’s has so few public houses? (And Coleridge ward too)? Eglantyne’s research noted the prevalence of small public houses – with Newmarket Road and linked roads having up to one pub every 36 yards of road. Huntingdon Road wasn’t much better, at one pub every 50 yards. Given that this was the days before TV, radio, cinemas and social media, there wasn’t much else to do but ‘pub and drunk!’.

Overcrowding

Eglantyne’s impact on town planning in Cambridge was the design of future housing estates that had far fewer pubs, far larger gardens, much less dense and much more open space. She did a huge amount of data collection to the extent that I’d like to think she was one of Cambridge’s earliest data scientists who collected data and used it for local public policy. Evidence-based policy anyone? Eglantyne was doing it before we were all born. (Unless you were born before 1906).

Leisure time

One of her more controversial comments was how Eglantyne criticised the practice of betting on football matches and how gambling had an impact on poverty. It wasn’t so much the risk of gambling but giving the sense that all gambling and all football is bad, and that people should be educated to appreciate the higher arts instead. What she would make of the ‘bet-n-booze, you can’t looze’ adverts on TV today I dread to think!

eglantynejebbcambridgesavethechildren

No nonsense: Eglantyne Jebb – founder of Save the Children, who prior to the charity’s foundation was not afraid to ruffle feathers with her ground-breaking research

“What’s all of this got to do with Heidi Allen?”

Certainly within Cambridge, Heidi Allen has been a breath of fresh air as a local MP. Part of the reason for this was that her predecessor, Andrew Lansley largely ignored the ward of Queen Edith’s – the only ward currently in the constituency of South Cambridgeshire that is inside the city boundaries for Cambridge City Council. His absence when he was an MP contrasts greatly with Ms Allen’s presence in the ward, and on her ability to cover issues in Cambridge that have a direct impact on the towns and villages in South Cambridgeshire.

My take as I repeatedly mentioned in numerous tweets (and possibly blogposts too) is that the only two Conservatives who could carry the votes and the confidence of people in Cambridge and those in other political parties were Vicky Ford MEP (who lives in a village just outside Cambridge) and Heidi Allen MP. And that’s before you consider things like gender balances in Cambridgeshire politics.

However – and it’s a big ‘however’, politicians still need to carry the support of their local parties. In the case of the Conservatives, the county grassroots perhaps until the EU Referendum was more ‘right wing’ than the mainstream at Westminster, just as with Labour as we’ve seen, the grassroots are more ‘left wing’ than the parliamentary party – reflected in part by the recent resignations from Parliament of MPs Jamie Reed and Dr Tristram Hunt – the latter who authored the excellent history of local government and the growth of cities in Victorian times. (I’ve got a spare copy of the book if anyone wants to borrow it).

“How do we change local political culture?

I’m going to save that one for a separate blogpost, because it goes far beyond one individual, or even a small group of individuals doing things. It’s also something that will take a long time to achieve. As I said, it goes beyond single political parties, and is something that could take a generation. My heart sinks at just writing that. But I’ll leave you with this vloguary post about some of Cambridge’s heroes who shaped modern Cambridge. Because just reading about so many inspirational, high calibre, talented and passionate women taking on some very serious and persistent problems in Cambridge (when our infant mortality rate was 1:8, (or over 100 in 1000) when today it’s less than 4:1000) has actually made me less depressed about politics and more hopeful for the future.

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7 thoughts on “You can’t say Heidi Allen can’t be mayor and MP while her predecessor Andrew Lansley was Health Secretary and MP

  1. It’d certainly be interesting to hear from women currently in the political scene in Cambridge (or elsewhere) how they feel about it – both the positives and negatives.

    Changing local political culture? Would that be how residents interact with local politics or how the parties open up to changing the way they approach politics? (Not their polices.) Or both? I’d guess getting people feeling able to ask questions and motivated to do so is a big part of this.

  2. I’m a woman involved in local politics, and frankly, this is rubbish. Heidi Allen wasn’t selected (as far as I can see) because she could not demonstrate that she was fully committed to the new role she was competing to stand for. Being an MP is a full-time job, or should be, and while there is a constitutional expectation that members of the government will be drawn from their ranks, there is no such expectation that they’ll say, ‘you know what, I’m bored of this, I’m going to go off and do another entirely separate and non-overlapping political job’. Being a councillor by contrast is not full-time, so double hatting at a County/District level is not comparable; neither is being a Mayor a constitutionally predictable outcome of becoming an MP; and she was competing against people who were prepared to give a full-time commitment. Her refusal to drop one for the other meant she looked arrogant, and it would have been a catastrophic weakness when campaigning.

    This has nothing to do with her gender. It’s politics 101.

  3. I agree, Carina, that the female angle wasn’t the clinching factor. But nor was it the ‘two jobs’ angle, whatever some Tories might be claiming (and within the party hierarchy, I can promise you they’re all very aware that this is a lie). Whatever people may think of the mayoral position, the fact that the salary is half that of the Chief Executive they will employ puts things in perspective. Many MPs have lucrative and often time-consuming second jobs.

    Heidi Allen would have opened doors right the way up to the PM’s office, which could be key to the role being a success – not the ability to put 80 hours a week into it. I suspect the mayor we’ll get won’t even know what tube station to get off at to see someone in Whitehall or Westminster.

    No, the reason Heidi Allen was unceremoniously dumped at the first opportunity was because she doesn’t toe the party line unquestioningly. The Tories want the mayor’s office to be an extension of the County Council, and that’s what they’re going to get. She’s considered to be a loose cannon by the Colonel Bufton Tuftons of the Tory shires, and it was a rare opportunity for them to flex their muscles. For goodness’ sake, Steve Count and James Palmer I can understand, but Heidi got fewer votes than the three candidates there to make up the numbers! This had all been negotiated locally before the day. That’s Politics 101.

    (And by the way, the sheer arrogance of the Conservatives, dropping the candidate who would have had by far the widest appeal, is quite breathtaking. Now that’s something you can only do when you know you’re going to win the election regardless.)

  4. Chris – you might well be right. Allen does have a broad popular appeal and was an obvious choice; as you say, internal party issues almost certainly had a lot to do with the selection and she has managed to put plenty of noses out of joint in that respect. The double hatting probably simply provided an excuse to remove her from the shortlist early.

    Again, though, nothing to do with gender.

    I daresay if you look for the patriarchy under every rock you could come up with some reason why it was all about her being a woman. I do wish people would look at the politics first though – especially if you’re claiming the status of a political commentator.

    1. I think it was the BBC who styled Chris a political analyst (which I confess I thought hugely amusing) not Chris.

      But why no women in the running at all? (AFAIK.)

      1. Not half as amusing as I found it!

        We still have a chance of a single female option on the ballot paper, but it’s down to Labour choosing to offer us one.

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