…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…
Cambridgeshire Conservatives cannot have it both ways.
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.
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, 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?
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!’.
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).
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!
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.