Defending democracy protests in Cambridge – August 2019


More people protesting in Cambridge. What happens next?

Isabel Hardman outlines the options here:

Jon Worth thinks these are the options:

…and on what he thinks *should* happen

…while Jill Rutter of the Institute for Government reminds us who is really responsible – and where the buck stops.

Advisers advise, ministers decide.

In the meantime, Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner was back amongst constituents on Saturday.

The playlist of videos is here.

On the pro-leave side, I’ve seen a number of posts similar to this one by Alicia Kearns.

The one thing that has muddied the water somewhat is who is under what obligation regarding the 2016 referendum.

For me, the problems we see today that the political class is struggling with, were of their own making. This is irrespective of whether they align with a strong leave, strong remain, somewhere in the middle, or just a big “meh.”

For the general public, I don’t see what obligation anyone has on having to change their opinions and views as a result of any referendum. In the Scottish Independence Referendum the debate is still going even though the pro-Remain in the UK side (backed by the three main Westminster parties) won 55%-45%.

Should the pro-leavers be directing their anger at those at the top of the Conservative Party for calling the general election of 2017 instead? They had the Parliamentary majority to see through the negotiations and leaving process all the way through to May 2020 under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

One of the other points raised is whether continuing to oppose the UK leaving the EU is undemocratic or not, I wrote the following in response to some comments on FB.

“A single referendum at a single point in history is not the same as democracy. Democracy encompasses far more than that, including but not limited to:

  • 1) general elections,
  • 2) lobbying, asking questions of said elected persons to parliaments & councils,
  • 3) signing petitions,
  • 4) turning up to local public meetings to state your issues,
  • 5) taking part in protest marches and non-violent activities.

“The Conservatives created this mess – Cameron ran away from it followed by Osborne & a host of other politicians who exited stage right. Theresa May had *three secretaries of state* (Boris, Liam Fox & David Davis) and *three departments of state* (Foreign Office, Brexit Dept & International Trade Dept) to make Brexit work – and could not. Nothing to do with Remainers.

“The Tories could not get the deal past their own MPs – the pro-Brexit wing voting it down.  Opposition MPs are under no obligation to support the Govt’s Deal – why should they? Their job is to oppose. Irrespective of merit, Labour had their own proposals to negotiate as is their right in opposition.

“There was nothing on the ballot paper that said “…and everyone opposing leaving the EU will be banned from speaking about, protesting & campaigning for Remain ever ever ever. Brexit is for the Tories to deliver. If they can’t do it they only have themselves to blame. Shutting down Parliament also means MPs cannot scrutinise all of the other non-Brexit policies & work of Government- not an insignificant list of things. That really is undemocratic.

Splits in the pro-leave side and the pro-remain side.

I can’t recall a time when both the party in government and the lead opposition party appeared so split. Interestingly, the move by the Prime Minister to suspend/prorogue Parliament has hardened the splits between what’s left of the one nation tradition in the Tory Party vs the pro-Leave side, while bringing together wildly different factions not just within the Labour Party, but also those to the left of Labour and those to the right of it. Seeing dozens of Liberal Democrats protesting under the same umbrella as far left paper sellers was a surreal sight in Cambridge today. Yet all it takes is an inflammatory remark from one political sect against another and all hell can break loose.

Going beyond defending democracy, to building and strengthening it – Mrs Keynes sets the example

If I was going to make a speech on that theme, it would have been one that referred to the example of Florence Ada Keynes – someone who spent her adult life building democracy in Cambridge as well as influencing Westminster. In 1914 she persuaded Parliament to remove the ban on married women from standing for election. A few weeks later, the people of Fitzwilliam ward elected her to become our first woman councillor – persuading the Conservatives not to stand against her given that war had just broken out.

321230 FlorenceAdaKeynesTheVoteFrontPage

Image: The British Newspaper Archive.

In 1932, she was elected our second woman mayor following Eva Hartree in 1924. She got our present guildhall built – one from the inside at least that was suitable for modern local government and with a large enough council chamber. That was despite the huge opposition (who could not unify behind an alternative).

Eglantyne Jebb building democracy

The founder of Save The Children researched and wrote the first social scientific study of poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge’s history. Published in 1906, it busted many myths about what caused it – the menfolk attributing much of it to ‘ladies with loose morals’. Eglantyne, along with Margaret Keynes (Florence’s daughter) and Gwen Darwin (later Raverat – and a grand daughter of Charles Darwin) did the data collection and analysis, and demonstrated that it was poor town planning and poor public health.

180730 Eglantyne Jebb Cambs Collection_2 Small PicA hero and a pioneer – Eglantyne Jebb, using a social scientific approach to public policy in Cambridge in the early 1900s. Photo: Cambridgeshire Collection.

My take is that there is much we can learn from the example of the Women who made modern Cambridge so far as strengthening our democracy is concerned. It’s not all about speeches and marches, important as they are for raising awareness. I’ll be speaking about Florence, Eglantyne and their network of friends, relatives and activists who transformed our city for the better, at the Open Cambridge Festival. Details of my talk at Anglia Ruskin University are here.