Reasserting the dragon’s independence

Summary

On why everything is political – and why lots of institutions (and people too) seem to be saying they are not ‘political’, when they mean ‘party political’.

Who remembers the old Electoral Commission advert?

Politics – my ‘off the top of my head definition’ – The way people collectively resolve their issues through debate and dialogue without resorting to threats, violence, death and war.

Which means pretty much everything is political if you choose to accept that definition.

The WikiP page on the Home Office – and its history – is one I find fascinating. Look at the number of functions stripped away from it, and added to it over the years.

Democracy in action

I’ve been having a number of conversations with various community groups about running some ‘democracy in action’ workshops in and around Cambridge. The reason being is that there’s this gap between people becoming interested in a particular issue, and throwing their lot in with a political party. When it comes to introducing politics to people, the approaches I’ve often seen are based around:

  • The institution that the teacher/facilitator works for
  • The political party the teacher/facilitator is a member of
  • The organisation the teacher/facilitator is a member of
  • The history of the country where the workshop is taking place

My approach here in Cambridge is different – and starts from the perspective of the people taking part in the workshop. Essentially I start with their relationship with this entity we know of as ‘The State’.

We experimented with this in 2016 and people commented that much of what we covered filled in lots of the little gaps that they had in their knowledge, and also equipped them with the knowledge of how to approach institutions, parties, politicians and candidates.

“What’s this got to do with Puffles?”

It’s election time, and I’ve already started seeing various Twitter squabbles breaking out, and hearing accusations by people in one party about actions by people in another. Then there’s the accusations about partiality and neutrality. Hence using this blogpost to explain my motivation and method, and to reassert my independence from party political institutions.

Independence, neutrality, impartiality – and tone.

Independence: No one in a political party can compel me what to do without lawful authority.

It’s that simple.

Neutrality and impartiality: I’ve tried to start using those terms less, because some imply that this means I don’t have opinions. I can’t not have opinions while having posted hundreds of blogposts and hundreds of thousands of social media posts. Having an opinion – a strong opinion on something is also where our passion for something comes from. Take today. I saw social media posts from lots of you taking part in political actions today. Whether it was the NHS march in London, meeting senior elected politicians, to canvassing and campaigning for local elections, there were lots of you ‘doing democracy’ today. ***This is wonderful!***

When it comes to elections, I’m a floating voter and focus primarily on the calibre and competencies of the people on the ballot paper. For others, their criteria will be different. Others may not even have criteria – they may vote and campaign for a political party because of things like a family tradition.

Tone – especially with video footage

Unlike much of the mainstream media, I take the view that everyone who goes into local democracy does so because they want to make a positive difference to their local community. That view remains with all participants until I’m proven otherwise. (No, I won’t give examples of the people who have proven me otherwise – I don’t want to give them the publicity).

Therefore with video footage I take the view that *I want the speaker to do well*. I want them to get across the message that they want to get across to the viewer, and be happy with how they have appeared on video. I try my best to apply that principle across the political matrix.

Does it mean that I interview and film everyone? Helllllllll……no!!!

I do this primarily because I enjoy it and because feedback from many people is that it makes a positive difference to our local democracy.

Reporting like a responsible journalist (even though I’m not qualified as one), but thinking as an historian (which I am).

Spending much time in the archives and surrounded by old books on the history of the borough of Cambridge, I’m very much thinking about the historical record – which is why the cuts to libraries and archives budgets concern me greatly. I’m also very concerned about the inability (for whatever reason) of our local archives to become digitised – and thus being unable to bring in new generations of local historians into our community, and also missing out on potential revenue streams because people simply do no know about the historical treasures (and I’m not talking about bling) that are hidden in the archives. Recently I was speaking to one local archivist who said they have hundreds of old nitrate negatives, lantern slides and photographic negatives that they would love to get developed but can’t afford the tens of thousands of pounds it costs to get them processed. As a result, no one will ever know what is on them.

The other issue I have is that we have no way of systematically depositing digital records to our county archives. I’ve got over 7TB of data waiting to be received, but our archives have been starved of resources due to the cuts from Central Government, and the city has no mechanism to tap into the wealth we’re told Cambridge has, in order not just to preserve our past, but make it far more accessible to much wider audiences.

Back to impartiality

This is where I need to deposit the video archives as they are, not as individual parties or groups would like them to be. Eg not publishing that bad bit or zapping that mistake from the speech they made in a council meeting. For me this is important because I am benefiting from the work of journalists over 100 years ago who wrote transcripts of debates, public meetings and of important speeches. Compare and contrast:

I’ll finish with the wise words of Mayor Florence Ada Keynes:

“The basis of all social life is co-operation, and it is certainly the basis of our local government. In the council itself, it calls for co-operation between voluntary committees and expert officers…

“It calls also for co-operation between the electors and those whom they return to their local parliament. This can be best exercised by a vigilance that is not mere fault-finding but supplies constructive criticism and occasionally goes so far as to mark its appreciation of honest effort for the good of the community.”

Even in ‘the olden days’ the media and electorate would throw abuse at elected representatives. In the days before TV and radio, I get the sense from the archives that things felt a lot more confrontational and intense, despite the nominal politeness. It’s easy to moan and be cynical about politicians and politics. We see it every day. I’ve chosen the harder route of being positive about politics. It has more than a few challenges…but that’s part of the fun of it too!

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