Cambridge – a protesting city


A sign of a healthy democracy or a symptom of failing institutions unable to solve society’s problems?

I posted the above time lapse from the Save Montreal Square protests on my Democracy Cambridge FB Page which sort of serves as a bookmarking page for things happening in town that are vaguely to do with local politics and public services. A couple of hours earlier, the Cambridge Branch of Extinction Rebellion shut down Mill Road for the morning, protesting against the lack of action to deal with climate change.

See the Cambridge Independent’s brief report here. From Mortimer Road to Parker’s Piece, there were about 100 people there at the start – 15-20 at each barricade, and the rest spread out in the space in between on a cold, damp Saturday morning, the police having been informed in advance.

County council cuts creating multiple victims – and backlashes.

On one hand, the Conservatives brought the problems on themselves for not voting through increases in council tax when central government gave them the opportunity to do so. At the same time, it was the Conservatives in national government that slashed grant funding to local councils while not giving them real powers to raise money by other means to pay for services. One of the most striking of these is the county council’s proposed cut to a women’s refuge – Whitworth House. Fortunately it has been picked up not just by locals in Cambridge, but by students at Cambridge University too.

…the result of which has been 40,000 signatures protesting against the proposed cuts.

In the meantime, the petition to keep the historical monument of Castle Mound in public ownership is now heading towards the 1,000 signature mark. The petition’s creator, Isabel Lambourne is standing for election in Castle Ward for Labour at the Cambridge City Council elections in a few months time. Talking of which, with the retirement of longstanding councillor Jeremy Benstead in Coleridge ward, Labour are standing a new candidate in one of their safest wards in the city.

The other parties seldom canvass in this ward, so unless they pick things up, Grace should win comfortably. It also means we have gender parity in the representation of councillors in the ward – something I had been calling for over a number of years. (*And my work here is done!*)

Actually it isn’t – we still have huge problems all over the city that are not going away anytime soon

One of the problems caught me off guard a few days ago – the lack of museum and exhibition space in and around Cambridge for archaeological finds. Now, I’ve written about my desire to expand the Museum of Cambridge in part for this purpose, but I didn’t expect a similar message to come through from the head of archaeology at Cambridgeshire County Council. With all the building work in and around the city, we’re making some big discoveries – but don’t have anywhere to display them. For a city that sells itself on history and tradition this is more than a minor scandal. Hence raising the issue with the mainly retired members of the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History of which I am also a member. This year I’ve started signing up for full membership of a number of civic organisations.

Sorting out transport in and around Cambridge

The staff of the Greater Cambridge Partnership were outside the Guildhall on Saturday lunchtime only to get swamped by the Montreal Square protestors as they marched from Parker’s Piece. They’ve managed to get to a better place regarding consultations, but it has been one hell of a slog from a self-inflicted position of unnecessarily antagonising transport campaigners, community activists and local residents associations alike with unpopular plans for another guided busway. Their extended consultation on choices for better journeys (which ends on 31 March – if we haven’t imploded on Brexit day 2 days before) is one of those things that really should have been done before the original city deal was signed off in 2014.

The Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough falls out with opposition council leaders and the local media

See here – I think I’m going to take Puffles along to the next set of meetings the Combined Authority have, which will be in Cambridge this time around, because local politicians seem to behave better when the dragon is in the room. But it doesn’t bode well given the utterly avoidable problem of transport chaos around Addenbrooke’s Hospital because successive ministers and county council administrations did not build a new railway station for the huge developments happening there. The reality is that they could have done with a South Cambridge Station decades ago. Even the late Paddy Ashdown never got to see the station built – despite lending his support in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

And while Chris Grayling remains Secretary of State for Transport despite his latest policy failures costing the taxpayer even more money, I’m not holding out for big changes this side of Brexit Day. In the meantime, housing remains utterly unaffordable to the people who make the city run.

Campaign for a People’s Vote over Brexit

The uncertainty has been catastrophic across the piece – utterly self-inflicted by the Conservatives again. What’s striking is how the party for business has acted in a way that business groups have come out with the below:

This in the face of the most left-wing Labour Party leader since Michael Foot over 30 years ago. And Labour have their own problems given the recent breakaway group.

South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen quits the Tories

I live in the borderlands between Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, so what Heidi does also affects me just as much as what Daniel Zeichner does in Cambridge City. For example my local library and hospital are both in South Cambridgeshire Constituency. Anyway, Heidi is no longer a Conservative – and she has a new website at – and below is her launch speech in full, from ITN.

Above – from ITV News (I still call it ITN)

South Cambridgeshire a four-way marginal?

If, as many-a-commentator predicts, we get a general election later this year, South Cambridgeshire could become a four-way marginal. The Liberal Democrats crushed the once mighty South Cambridgeshire Conservatives in the 2018 elections – taking 30 of the 45 seats – ones which they’ll hold onto for the next few years due to their lack of annual elections there. In May, it’s the turn of the whole of East Cambs, based in and around Ely, 10 miles north of Cambridge. Given the impact of the Brexit uncertainty on a 60% Remain constituency, the Conservatives have got their work cut out to recover their losses – especially in the face of a constituency undergoing large housing growth and big demographic changes.

In the meantime, the uncertainty continues – and we still don’t know what’s going to happen even though we’re due to leave the EU at the end of the month.

In the meantime, and who can blame them, the school kids are having another strike following the success of the last one. In and around Cambridge, even some of the schools gave their backing – taking a huge risk in the process.

It paid off.

Just as the politicians in Cambridge in the mid 1980s discovered when teenagers in Cambridge protested against the closure of so many music venues at the height of Thatcher’s cuts to public services, don’t think the protesting children and teenagers are going to go away anytime soon. Just as the adults had to give way in 1980s Cambridge – their resulting legacy being The Junction arts centre, the adults of today will have to make concessions as well – and even bigger ones.


One thought on “Cambridge – a protesting city

  1. Local institutions are only failing because national government is failing. Yes there are major issues with GCP (so, so many issues) but these still stem largely from the government. (Obviously city councillors bear some responsibility for accepting the ‘bribe’ of housing in relation to the introduction of a mayor for the wider county, but that housing problem was as result of national government policy.) I think it feels more like trying to save our city and its values than it used to be.

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