“And my work here is done!”
In 2017 I filmed and produced election introduction videos for candidates across the political matrix in and around Cambridge for the Cambridgeshire County Council elections.
Above – the playlist of 17 videos from the Cambs County Council elections 2017.
My rationale was simple: It is good for democracy for as many voters to cast informed votes having had the opportunity to hear from all of the candidates in their own words/voices who have put themselves forward for an election contest. With nearly all of the videos we did multiple takes – ensuring that the candidates were happy with the videos going out.
The format was identical so that no one would have an advantage over the other. It also made filming and following instructions much more straight forward when filming. All candidates were asked to introduce themselves, stating:
- Their name
- The party they were standing for
- The ward/division they were standing for election in
- The election contest and institution they were taking part in/seeking election to
- The date of the election
They were invited to state up to three reasons why they were standing for election – their choices in their own words. Finally they were asked to give any social media links before finishing off with a “please vote for me” sign off.
With the data analytics giving me an average watching time of just over 2 minutes per video, I said to the candidates that they needed to get everything they needed to say all covered in about half of that time.
With so many taking part, it encouraged more to have videos filmed later on. 2017 was very much a tipping point for using videos in election campaigns. Of the videos uploaded to Youtube, many of them had over 100 views each. Several of the candidates uploaded the video files to Facebook directly – thus getting them out to even wider audiences.
Fast forward to 2019
What people did not see in 2017 was the huge amount of (unpaid) work that went into filming and producing all of those videos. Remember that a general election also happened that year.
This year, I don’t have the health to undertake such an exercise – I didn’t last year either only being a couple of months out of hospital following a suspected heart attack just before Christmas.
Candidates doing it for themselves in South Cambridge
In Queen Edith’s ward, Cambridge, both Dan Greef for Labour, and Sam Davies, standing as an independent candidate, are producing regular – almost daily campaign video clips using their smartphones. You’ll be able to see videos of all of the candidates for Queen Edith’s following the hustings on 25th April 2019 at Queen Edith’s Primary School on Godwin Way. I’ve made enquiries about a similar hustings for Trumpington ward as they have two by-elections on the same day (city and county councils) as well as the normal city council election, due to the standing down of Cllr Adey.
Older videos can be used again by candidates who stand in the same ward annually
In Cambridge we have annual elections at a local government level. It works out at three elections in four years for the city council, and in the gap there are county council elections.
I can’t pretend to be a fan of Cambridge’s governance infrastructure but ministers insist we have the above.
This means that some candidates who are not elected get the chance to re-use previous videos. For example Virgil Ieurubino standing again in Petersfield Ward for The Green Party, where he spoke at the hustings of 2017 in that ward.
The circumstances of 2019 are different to previous years – and not just in Cambridge
We shouldn’t be in this position regarding Westminster because in normal circumstances a prime minister that cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons should resign. And being defeated in the Commons on a flagship government policy – in particular one involving international relations – should be a confidence issue. But such is the self-built prison created by ministers that is the timetabling of trying to leave the EU, there’s no other person who commands the confidence of the Commons, and a general election would have meant crashing out of the EU with No Deal – or would have done prior to the extension to 31 October deadline.
Thus we found out last week that contrary to the expectations of the last few years, the UK will be taking part in the European Parliament elections at the end of May – three weeks after the local elections. It may be that the UK candidates returned only stay in office until 31 October – should the UK finally come to a deal to leave the EU, or just crash out. We may also have a general election between now and then as well, even though the Conservatives will be fighting tooth and nail to reduce as much as they can the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. Furthermore, in 2020, all of the Cambridge City Council seats are up for election due to ward boundary changes within the city. Again, my preference is for a nationwide policy of local government reform with a widespread cover from redrawing/abolishing/creating councils, reviewing and overhauling powers and finances – in particular giving councils far greater powers of tax and spend than they currently have. (In particular, revenue raising powers that are completely independent of Whitehall).
Candidate videos not being the magic wand, but being part of a wider and longer term process of improving our democracy
Use the technology that’s available.
Above – From 1926, the Cambridgeshire Collection on new candidates for Cambridge Borough Council. (We only became a city in 1951).
Photographs in newspapers were still a new thing in 1926. Hence the candidates submitting official portrait photographs to the newspapers to use. Second from the right is Dr Alex Wood, the physicist, presbyterian preacher, anti-fascist and anti-war campaigner who became leader of the Cambridge Labour Party and its candidate in the 1931 & 1935 general elections. The party named their HQ after him. If you look at the imprints on Labour leaflets in Cambridge, it’ll give an address of Alex Wood Hall. This is him. On the right is Francis Doggett for the Conservatives. We named a road in Cherry Hinton after him.
Getting used to new campaigning methods – and improving on old ones too
If you are friends with anyone standing for election to a council, ask if you can join them as their guest at the election count. It’s an experience to see democracy in action. Furthermore you’ll get the sense of just how organised and complex the local party political machinery is – and they are machines in Cambridge. The templates that canvassers and activists use to collect data have all been developed, improved and refined over the years. Just as important as finding out what the residents feel are local priorities, is whether they are disposed to voting for you or not. With the rapid growth of Cambridge (along with the growth in the turnover of population too), being able to call up those voters on polling day to remind them to vote can be the difference between winning and losing a council seat that is then in the hands of that party for up to four years.
With video and social media, the techniques and skills that candidates are developing now are ones they can continue to refine and develop in the years and decades to come. For example compare the photographs from 1926 vs the ones used by parties in the last few decades. That’s a move from using a professional photographer to one where activists and candidates use their own photographs. The move from film to digital photography meant that parties did not need to go to a photograph developers to get their prints, but could import digital images into their own newsletters and produce them themselves.
Getting trained up
There are now a number of course providers in and around Cambridge who can train candidates and activists to make their own videos for campaigns. In Cambridge there’s the Cambridge TV School and Sookio are my top two to look at, along with Lenka Koppova’s Meetup Group. It’s also worth looking at the community videos Mill Road TV puts up too.
“Will more candidates put up videos in the 2019 local elections in Cambridge?”
I’m not expecting that many unfortunately. As Phil Rodgers blogs here, eight of the 14 seats up for election are safe Labour seats, and it doesn’t appear that other parties are making a huge effort to take those seats. Phil predicts the more focussed contests will be in Trumpington (due to the number of seats up for election and the large numbers of new homes recently occupied) along with Castle, Market, and the two Chestertons (East & West).
Conservatives hit Newnham with a highly-regarded new candidate.
Dolly Theis has arrived on the Cambridge politics scene having settled in to study for a Ph.D. She is also a director of the Ask Her To Stand campaign and stood against Kate Hoey MP at the 2017 general election in Vauxhall, London. This is her being interviewed by Adam Boulton on Sky News:
Above – Dolly Theis on Sky News.
Again, the advantage of having pre-existing video footage – this one high quality broadcast standard, to share with potential voters. It’s the audio in particular that makes the difference.
Using footage from past council and public meetings
Here’s an example of Sam Davies, standing in Queen Edith’s as an independent candidate, asking about a planning issue at a local council meeting.
Cambridge City Council – South Area Committee, 24 Apr 2017.
…and below is an example of an elected councillor putting on public record that she’s been successful in persuading a local authority to change its policy on something – this from Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dems – Newnham).
Cambridgeshire County Council – General Purposes Committee, 23 Jan 2018.
This enables the public to see for themselves the candidates in action – often at meetings or events they had no idea took place.
The challenge with 2019 – a good challenge to have, is that many of the seats have first time candidates standing for election. This means the amount of -pre-existing video footage is very limited. Message to candidates? Get filming!