A slow start to the local and mayoral elections?


With the ease of access of social media, should the public expect more from candidates in terms of online content – and should candidates expect more from their electorates in terms of interacting with them?

TL:DR? See Democracy Club at https://democracyclub.org.uk/projects/ and take your pick. Because democracy is not a spectator sport. It requires us to be active and interested for it to work.

I went to my first public debate/hustings of the election season earlier, covering the new Cambridgeshire/Peterborough executive mayor (See the video playlist here). Despite the best efforts of everyone involved – including the candidates, there was nothing anyone said that convinced me that the whole policy was an ill-thought through stitch up by ministers whose political careers are now toast. See this interview with Dotty McLeod of BBC Cambridgeshire from May 2016 on the policy development issues. So in one sense, all of the candidates are lumbered with the millstone of campaigning for a post that does not have nearly enough finance and powers to deliver what they might otherwise want to deliver for the county.

Nominations close on 04 April

For those of you in Cambridge, see the election details here. Don’t know who your local council is for the purposes of elections? Type your postcode into here.

In the grand scheme of things, the campaigns really kick off as soon as the nominations close on 04 April 2017 at 4pm sharp.

“Why aren’t you standing, Puffles? You stood before and beat UKIP!”

True dat.

My DIY results poster for the Coleridge Ward, Cambridge 2014 local council elections

That was one weird campaign looking back on it, but it provided one incredible platform for a whole host of ideas at the time – see my 2014 manifesto for Cambridge here.

Interestingly, a number of policies in that manifesto are being implemented by the local council, including:

  • Funding democracy outreach to secondary school students
  • An audit of community facilities and venues in Cambridge
  • Far greater use of social media – including councils filming their own meetings
  • An annual fair bringing together community groups and local charities to show their work and meet the public

Goes to show that if your ideas are good enough (and you’re not too fussed who takes political credit for them), your local council may well implement them.

“Tempted to stand again?”

Extremely unlikely – simply because I no longer have the health to film and report on the election campaigns while trying to run one myself. Furthermore, given how toxic election campaigns can be – even if you are a local equivalent of the Monster Raving Loony Party. Actually, we have Lord Toby Jug down the road in St Ives.

I’d vote for the sleep alone – though I don’t think my body could deliver on it!

I was recently asked by a few people about standing for election. I summarised by lessons from 2014 as:

  • Be absolutely crystal clear about purpose
  • Note you will still get questions on issues that are not even on your radar, but will be of paramount importance to the person asking the Q
  • Be specific on what you want people to do even if they do not vote for you
  • It will get personal at times – especially on social media. Don’t respond in kind – difficult as this may be. At election time politicians take political testosterone and respond accordingly
  • Make sure you have support (a lot more than I did) – especially online with people who can fight your battles for you when you need downtime, as you will
  • Have fun
  • Be unpredictable – don’t feel you have to follow party political conventions set by others. You only have to follow the law.
  • Remember that you’ll still have to work with the victors after the election
  • Take the view that everyone has a say, even if they do not have the vote – see what happens with under-18s and migrant workers re campaigning. (ie people often ignored at election time).

The one thing I learnt from the 2014 elections is that I don’t have a strong enough support network of family and close friends to stand for public office. One of the things that probably hurt the most was that lots of people indicated on social media that I should stand for election, but when I really needed people to stand up for me, only a couple of people really did to the extent they were prepared to go public with it – Penny Homer and Ceri Jones.

But that was 2014 – before the EU Referendum and Donald.

We are in a very, very different place today. 

We’ve had to learn the hard way what happens when we take democracy for granted and allow one group or another to have a disproportionate impact on our politics. But then isn’t that how it has always been and how it always will be?

This May will see lots of people standing for election for the first time. For those of you who know someone who is standing for election for the first time, they are going to need you to support them – far more than perhaps you might realise. It’s one of the reasons why generally I try not to take a confrontational approach to local democracy round these parts. It’s hard enough getting people interested, let alone involved as it is. I feel it most acutely within my own age group. It feels like there are hardly any people in their 20s & 30s involved in local democracy. It’s like there’s this yawning gap between what the students are doing and the age group of people who are in their mid-40s and older.

In one sense it seems crazy given council tax bills. Why wouldn’t you take an interest in something that you spend over £1,000 on? That was why I started taking an interest in our railways & buying Modern Railways Magazine! – because my season ticket to London cost me over £5,000 a year. That said, I don’t want us to go down the root of “A councillor for your ward! You pay for them! You choose them!” It’s a bit too “A Wife For William – you pay for her, you choose her!” aired by Channel 4 about a decade ago. It also reduces local democracy to a financial transaction when really it should be about people taking an interest and some responsibility for their local neighbourhood. (Even though arguably the economic, financial and political system feels set up to make this as hard as possible).

5 minutes a week for local democracy?

Or even 15? Or half an hour?

It makes me wonder again about how to enable people to stay informed about what is happening in their local areas. I can understand the incredulity some #localgov comms types sometimes feel when the public say they’ve not heard about a big project when it’s been on TV, radio, the internet and newspapers, and on printed literature in cafes, pubs, bars and libraries.

Hence the likes of Democracy Club going back to the basic functionality of our democracy and trying to make the essentials work. Eg. making it easy for the ‘passive’ types to find out who is standing in their area, on what policy platforms and to make getting in touch with candidates and local parties as easy as possible. Know people who are standing for election? Make sure their details are uploaded to https://candidates.democracyclub.org.uk/


3 thoughts on “A slow start to the local and mayoral elections?

  1. I remember standing as an independent in Petersfield, precisely one of my friends helped 😦 it did make me realize just how powerful the party machines are and how they get around the election expenses limits 😦

  2. Cheers Anthony, appreciate your support! Interesting on the secondary school education — something I’m (gradually) trying to understand more about in the UK. Did you see my blogpost from meeting the German agency for civic education last summer? Might be of interest — and grateful for thoughts on ‘what next’! https://joe-mitchell.com/2016/08/15/germany-has-a-publicly-funded-agency-with-a-mission-to-strengthen-democracy-the-uk-needs-one-too/

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