The national manifestos are out…

…but are they worth the paper they are printed on?

“Find out more about the parties’ policies by reading their manifestos in full. Download the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos from the party websites.”

…says The Guardian helpfully in its comparison of the three manifestos in this article. We’re still waiting for The Green Party’s manifesto, though they launched their youth manifesto here with the eye-catching pledge to scrap university tuition fees and write off all student-era debt still outstanding. While my heart & wallet is like ***Oooh!*** my head simply cannot see it happening.

The figures are eye-watering. Opponents will inevitably accuse the Greens of promising the world knowing they won’t ever be put into a position of ever having to deliver on such a promise. Such promises were the ruin of Nick Clegg, and dare I say it, Cameron and Osborne with the EU Referendum that they never stood a chance of winning against 30 years of tabloid drip-drip-hate headlines.

Conservative manifesto – a power grab?

It’s easy enough to tear into a manifesto of any political party that has been in power for seven years – normally it’s around this time that the party concerned begins to run out of steam. It’s also a time when big name critics who were once big figures in past administrations regularly turn up to criticise ministers. In this case, the Conservatives have to deal with George Osborne at the Evening Standard. Just how destabilising he proves to be remains to be seen.

From a ‘looking through the Cambridge lens’ there are a number of alarming things:

  • Setting in stone the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty for a semi-permanent Conservative county mayor covering a city- Cambridge – where they have zero councillors and haven’t had more than a couple of councillors this side of the Millennium. (Policies imposing first-past-the-post (FPTP) despite the second preference system being used in the elections this year, and then stating they will now no longer back mayoralties for rural counties – cashing in their winnings for Cambridge).
  • Proposing switching to FPTP for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – both this and the above policies being slammed by the Electoral Reform Society (Which amongst other things calls for proportional representation as a voting system).
  • The Internet – unfortunately due to the decision on the EU Referendum and the subsequent vote, the institution that would have had a half-decent chance for regulating the internet (for want of another term) is one that the UK is leaving. Having been to OpenTech 2017 not so long ago, I remain of the view that most people in politics and public policy are not nearly as technologically literate to be making policy on all things digital, and that all institutions in/around politics need to train up existing staff and bring in tech-literate staff into policy-making roles. This includes editors and journalists too. My ‘go-to’ expert in the field is @CharlotteJee – editor of @TechWorldNews.
  • Leveson II – scrapped. The paragraph reads as if it was written by the tabloid proprietors and editors themselves. The Hacked Off campaign for a free & accountable press isn’t happy either.

There are more than a few other things I have issues with, but it’s not all bad.

  • Rights and protections in ‘the gig economy’ where big firms are replacing what were permanent jobs & regular hours with faux ‘self employment’ or zero hours contracts. The proof will be both in Matthew Taylor’s report (Head of the RSA) and on what recommendations the Conservatives would implement. Note more and more people are sceptical of manifesto commitments that say “we will look at X report carefully before coming to conclusions” – especially ones published just after general elections!
  • The enforcement by the law of promises made during corporate takeovers – a big issues with Cadbury’s. It was this that led to this clause.
  • Investment in transport schemes – in particular to ease over-crowding on railways. Today, the new Cambridge North railway station was opened – also reigniting the political row as to who should take what credit over it.
  • Strengthening laws to combat modern slavery
  • The review of the honours system

…but inevitably given my own political values, there are things in there that I cannot reconcile eg

“Yeah – but what about Labour? And the LibDems? The alternative is communism!”

The reason why I think Labour will struggle in this general election is because Corbyn’s top team under former Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has committed far too many unforced errors over the past few years. It has been woeful and excruciating at times. If Labour does better than expected, much of it will be down to the huge amount of work their frontline activists have been putting into the campaign.

A manifesto to motivate the core vote?

On a number of policies, Labour is using words that people under the age of 35 will not be familiar with – eg “nationalisation”. This has shifted the political Overton Window because it has forced the broadcast journalists to explain what nationalisation actually is and means in practice – something that has found a receptive ear to some people. The risk is that should Labour face a heavy defeat, they could learn the wrong lessons of the election and assume it was policies rather than comms and competencies that lost it for them.

Repealing university tuition fees, but not the student-era debt

An important signal from Mr Corbyn given that it was Labour that brought in tuition fees in 1997/98 and then raised them in a piece of legislation that enabled the Coalition to raise them far further through secondary legislation requiring only 2 debates in Parliament rather than going through the extended process of primary legislation.

Free lifelong education at further education colleges

Potentially a very important policy due to the changing nature of the economy and jobs market. At school in the mid-1990s we were told our generation would be the first that did not have a job for life, and would have to retrain and re-skill. The burden of that retraining all too often falls on the individuals rather than the firms or the state. Note how corporation taxes and other levies on big private businesses have been cut over the years while the costs of education and training have risen. There will always be a financial incentive for firms to poach trained staff from their competitors rather than train up their own staff. In the end it’s a race to the bottom. Something must be done to reverse this.

Private rented homes

I take with a pinch of salt political promises on house building. In the grand scheme of things, spats over numbers are meaningless. One thing that Labour has mentioned that’s of interest is requiring all homes out for rent to be fit for human habitation. What’s not clear is how such a policy will be enforced, how that enforcement will be funded, what happens to tenants forced to move out, and what happens to properties that landlords leave empty and refuse to do anything with. In some parts of the country, property price rises alone means that the value of such a property will continue to rise anyway.

National Care Service, National Education Service

What intrigues me about these two are how these services will interact with local government. One of the things Labour found out in the mid-2000s was the limitations of over-centralised delivery. You can’t micromanage from the centre. I found this out the hard way during my Whitehall days. Can they make public services such as these and the NHS work seamlessly with local councils?

Leveson II

Unlike the Conservatives above, Labour has stated it will commence with Leveson II. Furthermore, and perhaps as expected, they announced they will launch a review of local and national media ownership. Given the coverage of much of the print newspaper media, calls from within Labour can only grow stronger.

“And the Liberal Democrats? Their leader says they are aiming to be the lead opposition!”

Going from 9 MPs to over 200 is the swing that would be required for that, and for over 326 MPs to form a government. They are standing in pretty much every seat across Great Britain, but even their most devout supporter would concede that their chances of being elected outright into government are slim at best. Indeed, in big letters they state: “Change Britain’s future by changing the opposition”

Pitched to hard remainers?

The opening section is all about how different policy areas will be affected by Brexit and how they would respond to each one. In that sense they’ve accepted that the Conservatives have framed this General Election 2017 as one about Brexit. Labour on the other hand have not, and are campaigning on much wider issues. As things stand today, the commentariat is noting Labour’s rise (from very low) in the opinion polls with the Lib Dems failure to make much headway, and are criticising Tim Farron for pitching so hard for the remain vote.

Similar to Labour on health and education?

As far as high level policy goes, yes. To most people, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens all have a ‘stop the cuts’ theme in these areas – something that people are bringing up locally at the hustings.

As with Labour, the Lib Dems have also covered adult education with a similar sounding policy about ‘individual accounts for funding mature adult and part time learning’ but it doesn’t read nearly as clearly as Labour’s commitment (free adult education at FE colleges) does.

A Good employer kitemark

This reminds me of Richard Murphy’s Fair Tax Mark but expands that concept to cover things like a living wage – the real one, not the Government’s one that stole the branding. It also covers unpaid internships and commits to name-blind application processes.

Fiduciary duty of firms – a big culture change?

“Reform fiduciary duty and company purpose rules to ensure that other
considerations, such as employee welfare, environmental standards,
community benefit and ethical practice, can be fully included in decisions
made by directors and fund managers.”

During my time studying economics many moons ago, I always wondered why the only duty that was mentioned was the one executives had to maximise the profits of the shareholders. Hence the above will make for interesting policy work should it be considered – as academia is doing, for example here.

Devolving revenue-raising powers

For a city like Cambridge this is essential. In my opinion anyway. But this has been a long-standing principle of the Lib Dems and their predecessors. The problem they face is a Whitehall and Westminster culture that doesn’t like letting go of the reins when it comes to taxation. The argument against devolving such powers is the risk of having a chancellor of the exchequer in every town hall in the land imposing a local income tax – as Nigel Evans MP said in this Commons debate in 1996. That debate in 1996 was about funding of local government services and starts off here noting the context that the Conservatives were on a downward losing streak of local council election results, which meant by 1996 just before their landslide loss to Labour in 1997, they controlled relatively few councils.

Legalise cannabis of a limited potency

The headlines screamed about the Lib Dems legalising drugs, but it’s much more nuanced than that. Possession will result in a health-based approach rather than a criminal-based ones, taking small-time users out of the prison system.

“What hopes for a progressive alliance? Because there’s not that much difference between Labour, the Lib Dems and The Greens?”

Ditto UKIP and The Tories – some of the former are standing down to support Conservative candidates on a pro-Brexit ticket. This is being driven locally rather than nationally – mainly because it would be unconstitutional (especially for Labour) to back another party at an election. But it’s a note of caution: not all election alliances are progressive.

The above isn’t a comprehensive look at the manifestos. It’s a scan through, picking out some of the things that the mainstream media might have missed, and picking those that seem to stand out for me for one reason or another.

As some have commented, the closer the party is to winning an election, the more nuanced and caveated the manifesto seems to be. Hence the criticism that the Conservative manifesto is short on costings and specifics. Note also that the opponents of the Conservatives have complained that the broadcast media is not subjecting their manifesto to nearly the same sort of detailed scrutiny that opposition manifestos are getting. The sentiment of former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner of Labour, echoed the sentiments of many Labour activists in particular.

 

 

 

 

 

The general election in and around Cambridge – the first public debates

Summary

Featuring videos of the candidates

It’s a busy time of the political cycle for me as I get out and about filming as much as I possibly can. As with 2015 I’m trying to cover South Cambridgeshire and South-East Cambridgeshire because as otherwise ‘safe seats’ (in these cases for the Conservatives) they get little coverage and even fewer public debates in comparison to Cambridge City, which has got at least 15 this time around.

Democracy Cambridge on Facebook

DemocracyCambridge Screengrab

It’s at https://www.facebook.com/DemocracyCambridge/ and I’m trying to keep everyone up to date on that page. Feel free to ‘like’ it and post links to election events in and around Cambridge. Just like the political parties, I’m also encouraging donations – not least to pay for some of my bus and train fares to hustings, and also for the additional hard drive I now need to buy due to all of the extra events I’m filming. So if you can afford to, please click on the button below.


Donate

You can see all of the video playlists I’m creating at https://www.youtube.com/antonycarpen – feel free to share and embed, but please attribute to Antony Carpen if you are doing so.

If you’re organising a hustings – particular in South Cambridgeshire & South East Cambridgeshire, and would like it filmed, please get in touch ( antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com ).

Cambridge City – Julian Huppert vs Daniel Zeichner, the re-re-match

…alongside Stuart Tuckwood of The Green Party, and Dr John Hayward of the Conservatives. They had their first hustings at The Junction in Cambridge. You can view the full footage of the event here.

Fellow community reporter Richard Taylor filmed the candidates at the Human Rights hustings (see here) and to a predominantly Christian audience at the Eden Baptist Chapel hustings (see here).

South Cambridgeshire – the band reforms

Heidi Allen for the Conservatives faces a rematch with Dan Greef of Labour and Simon Saggers of the Greens, with Susan van de Ven standing for the Liberal Democrats this time around. They faced the public for the first time as a quartet in a good-humoured hustings in Great Shelford – the playlist of videos is here.

South East Cambridgeshire – Lucy Frazer QC vs Huw Jones – the re-match

…alongside Lucy Nethsingha for the Liberal Democrats. They had their first public debate in Waterbeach chaired by Chris Elliott, Chief Reporter of the Cambridge News in a sometimes tense and passionately debated hustings. The playlist of videos is here.

“Yeah – why do you ask them such easy questions in the post-hustings interviews, Puffles?”

For a number of reasons.

The first is my primary aim – to strengthen local democracy. That means encouraging and inspiring people to get involved in local democracy. Therefore I want to create content & footage where the viewer thinks:

“Yes – I could have a reasonable conversation with that person and raise my issues with them”

…rather than:

“Why did that de-humanised individual just recite a bunch of lines to take programmed into them by Party HQ?”

That means interview technique has to be very different.

“Why don’t you ask difficult questions? After all, you’ve been inside the system!”

In one sense that would be too easy. A far harder challenge is encouraging the interviewees to be on top form, at their most passionate and knowledgeable where they can inspire people not just with their answers but also with their delivery – speed and tone of voice.

“Isn’t it your responsibility to ask awkward questions?”

Not in these interviews.

“Why not?”

That’s your job – to get in touch with the candidates yourself having decided they are worth conversing with. My role in all of this is to make the first introductions. What happens *after* that introduction is entirely up to you, and in the grand scheme of things, none of my business.

It’s also not the job of candidates and elected representatives to read your mind. Be an adult, take some responsibility and make the effort to find out who is standing for election in your area. You never know, one of the candidates might positively surprise you. But until you make the 1-2-1 contact, you might never know.

“Which candidates do you think are strongest?”

That’s not for me to say as far as the videos are concerned. That’s for you to make a judgement call accordingly. In the interviews I encourage the candidates to talk about the issues that they are most knowledgeable and passionate about – it avoids the ‘line-to-take’ delivery and means you get a more extended and more informed answer. When you have all candidates speaking passionately and knowledgeably, they are more likely to be at their best – which is what I want. That way you have a level playing field and people can judge accordingly.

“Even though lots of your tweets have been very critical of the Conservatives?”

Two separate mediums. Also, I treat each election almost like a mini filming project – it has a defined end point. Social media on the other hand is an ongoing continuous thing. Furthermore, whichever party is in power inevitably gets more criticism thrown at it because their decisions are more likely to impact on the people than opposition parties.

Finally, I stood with Puffles as an independent candidate at the Cambridge City Council elections in 2014. In that sense, I’ve already established a level of political independence far beyond most people.

Cambridgeshire local elections

 

Summary

Outside the Cambridge bubble, Conservatives take control of the county. What now for Labour and the Liberal Democrats?

The Conservatives have retaken political control of Cambridgeshire County Council, which they lost in 2013. They now have 36 of the 61 seats at Shire Hall – a reduced total of councillors due to the boundary changes instigated by David Cameron to ‘reduce the cost of politics’. Labour have seven seats, and the Liberal Democrats gain one, now with 15. The Cambridge city vs Cambridgeshire County political split remains – there are no Conservative councillors at city level inside Cambridge City.

The thing that struck me about the Conservative vote is that their most prominent and hardest-working candidate, Julius Carrington, got the fewest number of votes for his party in the most affluent ward in the city – Newnham. That ward is something of a Liberal Democrat stronghold. The Conservative vote was twice as strong in some of the most economically deprived wards of the city – places where in the grand scheme of things they stood ‘paper candidates’ – ie candidates that did not do any public campaigning. For Cambridge Green Party, they seem to have been beaten back to their roots by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but still took over 3,000 votes across the city – polling nearly 500 votes in Market and Petersfield wards where they had two competent and articulate candidates in Jeremy Caddick and Virgil Ieurubino respectively.

Was it/wasn’t it a good day for Labour/The Liberal Democrats?

It depends who you ask. In terms of councillors, Labour taking 7 of the 12 vs the Lib Dems taking 5 of the 12 puts things in favour of Labour. On the other hand, the total number of votes in the city were ever so slightly ahead for the Liberal Democrats. That means both sides will be taking heart from the results, promoting the positives and diminishing the negatives. The third contest in seven years between Daniel Zeichner and Julian Huppert will go to the wire.

What about turnout?

It was noticeably higher in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire for the mayoral elections – won as expected by James Palmer for the Conservatives, though the other parties did push him to the second round.

As an aside – what about the mayoral contest?

If I’m ****really**** honest, James Palmer was the only candidate who both really seemed to want the post and was able to articulate what he would do if elected. The other candidates were never able to articulate the specifics of what they would do county-wide in comparison. The particular advantage Mr Palmer had over his opponents – in particular Kevin Price of Labour and Rod Cantrill for the Liberal Democrats is that as a county council, he had more working familiarity with county-wide issues – and also area-specific issues that he could name-check at hustings. The risk that Cllr Price had to deal with was going beyond simply stating ‘I achieved £70m for council houses in Cambridge, I’ll negotiate the same outside Cambridge.’  The feedback I’ve had from politicians outside of Cambridge is that residents there don’t see civic Cambridge and its politicians in the best of lights. The problem that hampered Cllr Cantrill in my view is that vs Mr Palmer, he seemed much less committed to specific transport schemes – such as the proposed Cambridge light rail idea developed by Dr Colin Harris. It will be interesting to see how Dr Harris and Mr Palmer work together to develop the proposals. Campaigners supporting Cllr Cantrill said their concern was that Mr Palmer was making commitments – spending commitments that he would not be able to keep. Time will tell.

Back to turnout?

Higher in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

South Cambridgeshire pipping Cambridge City for the highest turnout

Reasonable for a local elections contest – turnout was lower in East Cambridgeshire, Fenland and Huntingdonshire.

What will this new county council look like?

UKIP vanquished by the Conservatives – all 12 UKIP councillors gone

It won’t have UKIP, and it will have a Conservative majority. That means it will be far easier for the Conservatives to get their agendas through the chamber. It also means that the otherwise toxic relationship that existed between the Conservative councillors and UKIP councillors is now no longer there – with all UKIP councillors losing their seats. Even I was surprised by this – I was expecting both Paul Bullen and Peter Reeve (who was recently awarded an MBE for services to local government) to hold their seats.

New & returning faces for Labour and the Liberal Democrats

The retirements of Paul Sales and Ashley Walsh (hardly a retirement for the latter, who is due to complete his Ph.D soon and is still in his 20s!) meant the door was open for new candidates for Labour in relatively safe seats of Arbury and Petersfield. The voters elected new candidate Linda Jones, and Jocelynne Scutt – the latter having moved sideways from West Chesterton – now merged with East Chesterton to form ‘Chesterton’, won by Ian Manning in a close contest with Labour’s Kelley Green. We also see a new face in King’s Hedges – Elisa Meschini, replacing Fiona Onasanya who is now Labour’s MP candidate in Peterborough. Surprise of the morning was the gain of Castle from Independent John Hipkin, by Claire Richards. Only 40 votes separated the top three candidates. (And only one of them had an intro video made by me – the winner. Just sayin’!)

In Market Ward we see the return of Nichola Harrison for the Liberal Democrats after several years away from all things local government. Outside of Cambridge, Linton switched from Conservatives to Liberal Democrats with Henry Batchelor taking Roger Hickford’s old seat – the latter successfully contesting one of the two seats in the neighbouring division of Sawston & the Shelfords.

Double-hatting – yes or no?

There are a number of councillors that sit on county, district and parish councils. This tells me that there is something structurally wrong with local government in our county. Parties should not need to do this, though I can understand why they do if the individuals concerned are particularly competent and the alternatives are thin on the ground. In Cambridge City, Lucy Nethsingha (Newnham) and Donald Adey (Trumpington) sit on both Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Councils. Donald Adey happens to be the other serving councillor who, alongside Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert, lost 89 votes to Puffles the Dragon Fairy in Coleridge Ward in the 2014 Cambridge City Council elections. Few city councillors will ever be able to have that claim to fame! I don’t think any member of the public has ever asked them:

“You lost 89 votes to Puffles the dragon fairy – how can we be sure you’ll be a splendid councillor if you are going to go around losing votes to that pesky bag of fluff?”

Talking of colourful candidates, we missed the presence of Lord Toby Jug of the Eccentric Party in St Ives, Cambs in these elections.

A new generation of Conservative women

I would say I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on some of them but that sounds creepy. And they were the ones who started following Puffles in the first place, which is how I found out about some of them. Local MP Heidi Allen is mentoring a number of women in her party. One of them, Ruth Benson was elected in a by-election on Bourn ward, South Cambridgeshire District Council, which took place on the same day.

Returning to the county council benches are Anne Bailey in Ely, and Lynda Harford in Bar Hill. Samantha Hoy also returns for Wisbech in a hard-fought campaign against UKIP who until these elections had made significant gains in what was a Conservative heartland. Lina Joseph takes over the seat in Hardwick.

Near misses for people who stood out in the campaign

I was gutted for Sarah Cheung Johnson who missed out by a few hundred votes in Longstanton.

A progressive alliance could well have seen her take that seat.

Nicky Shepard also missed out in Abbey Ward against Joan Whitehead for Labour in what had been a safe Labour ward for several years.

There were only 75 votes between Labour and the Lib Dems in Abbey, Cambridge.

I was also sad for Labour’s Katie Thornburrow, a new face taking on the Liberal Democrats in Trumpington. She hit the ground running both campaigning and with social media – essential in what was a village but now a rapidly growing part of Cambridge with extensive new house building.

Katie came within 300 votes of the incumbent Liberal Democrats of taking Trumpington – something that could well be attributed to the performance and the policies of the national parties in recent times.

Newnham and Petersfield – strong slates of candidates

I was particularly impressed by the collective strength of the slates in Newnham and Petersfield in Cambridge. In both those divisions voters had a genuine choice between the candidates. Past records and policy preferences aside, there was no ‘automatic favourite’. For each, any one of three out of the four candidates would have made excellent county councillors.

Three who were unlucky – Emma Bates for the Liberal Democrats and Virgil Ierubino for the Greens, both in Petersfield, and Joe Dale for Labour in Newnham, all have huge potential as future councillors.

And finally…

Civic organisations outside of Cambridge need to stand up and be counted when it comes to future elections. The number of public debates and hustings organised – or rather publicised, was noticeably higher in Cambridge than outside. This was also the case in the general elections where candidates inside Cambridge took part in up to five times as many public debates as candidates in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire.

If you want to see things change in your village or town, around election time, get together with a few friends and/or a community group and organise a hustings/public debate. See Chris Rand’s guide. Simply said, create the conversation space. It might be that those turning up are inspired by the people that they meet and hear from. It might be that they become so frustrated by the people they hear from that they choose to stand themselves. This is exactly what happened with Lady Trumpington – onetime Cllr Jean Barker, Mayor of Cambridge in the 1970s. If you do organise something, make it easy for local media to come along too!

Want video & social media footage in your election campaign? Make it easier for us community reporters!

Summary

Standing for election in/around Cambridge in 2017? Want video and social media footage of your events? On how to make things easy not just for us community reporter types, but for local journalists too

I’ve written in previous blogposts that my role in these elections are to create social media content – in particular videos, that showcase the candidates as best as they can be, and then let the electorate come to their own conclusions. For the mayoral local elections in/around Cambridge, I created 65 videos covering hustings, debates, interviews and intros. Of those, 17 were short, sharp, introduction videos with candidates from four parties introducing themselves to the general public.

Over the past month or so, my Youtube Channel tells me it’s had over 5,000 hits and over 10,000 minutes of video footage watched. For a niche channel covering local politics over a very limited geographical area, that’s incredible.

Social media commentators have said for some time that the future is with mobile video. Make it easy for someone with a half-decent camcorder to turn up and speeches like this get recorded.

Owen Jones rallying Cambridge Universities Labour Club to campaign for Daniel Zeichner, restanding in Cambridge in the 2017 general election.

Want things like this recorded?

  • Please give me advance notice
  • Consider venues – are they easy for people like me (and your activists too!) to get to using public transport?
  • If there is no public transport, can you give me lifts to and from venues? (I’m incredibly grateful to those party volunteers across the spectrum who have given me transport in the past)
  • Is there free wifi or a decent mobile signal?
  • Does the room have plugs?

Note too that people are turning away from the very highly stage-managed campaigns – noting that Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats is getting plaudits for how he’s dealing with people who don’t agree with him:

Tim Farron facing a member of the public who voted to leave the EU

48 videos for the 2015 General Election

You can see them in the playlist here.

My main principle behind filming is this:

I want more people to take an active part in our democracy – especially locally to me. Therefore I create this content and film meetings, speeches, interviews and gatherings. My aim is to create content showcasing the candidates ***at their best***. If all of the candidates featured are on top of their game, not only are the electorate more likely to be inspired, but they will have a more informed choice to make having seen everyone being as best as they can. What happens after that is up to the electorate and the viewer. I’ll have done my bit.

I put the videos up online free to access, and also break some of them up so that individual parties and campaigns can share the ones of their candidates with their activists and supporter networks. How far and wide the footage gets viewed…well that’s up to you.

65 videos filmed of Cambridgeshire’s election candidates

Summary

Have we reached a tipping point on community videos in election campaigns?

65 videos in five weeks – not bad going is it? With my filming of local council meetings in and around Cambridge, I aim to bring local democracy to your desktop. Please consider supporting my work if you can afford it and haven’t donated already. Click on the button below:
Donate

I’ve broken them down into a series of playlists as follows:

The mayoral hustings are as follows:

Cambridgeshire County Council elections – and the mayoral ones too

34 local councils – mainly the shire county councils – are up for election on 04 May 2017. The county councils – covering large rural areas are traditionally Conservative-voting councils so even though the results are likely to be strong for the Conservatives, they won’t necessarily translate directly to the general election. Furthermore there are the controversial (in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough) mayoral elections.

Irrespective of my personal political views, I’ve taken on the (self-appointed) role of filming as many hustings and community debates in and around South Cambridge in the run up to both the mayoral and the Cambridgeshire County Council elections. I generally leave meetings in North Cambridge to Richard Taylor as that’s the side of the city where he lives and is far more familiar with than I am. See his video channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/RTaylorUK/videos

Have we reached a tipping point with community video and local elections?

Not yet – but there is now clearly some momentum. In and around Cambridge, it is the Green Party collectively, followed by the Liberal Democrats with a handful of individual notable pioneers who have struck out creating their own short video clips for sharing on Facebook. Videos uploaded to FB directly are much more likely to appear in people’s news feeds than links to external sites such as Youtube and Vimeo.

170503 DemocracyCambridgeFBVideoStats

Stats: Data from DemocracyCambridge indicating a greater use of Facebook by the Greens.

Now, I’m not about to say that on the basis of the videos alone that the election results will follow accordingly. What it might indicate in future is how local political parties and candidates might be able to influence the political agenda and what people discuss whether online, at public debates or in general conversation.

Feedback from candidates filmed

The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Note that on my part I have done a fair amount of preparation and planning – along with about three years of learning that goes with it. It’s not simply a case of turning up, pointing a camera at people and saying:

“OK….aaaaaaaaaand-AC-SHUN!!!!”

If you go through the candidate intro videos one after the other, you’ll notice a common theme.

“Hi! My name is Dave and I’m standing for my party in my local ward at my local council elections on the 1st of April”

What is the essential information that people need to know about the individual speaking before a social media notification distracts them? It’s the above. You know that ‘stat-you-read-on-the-internet-so-it-must-be-true’ you heard about interviewers making a decision to hire someone in the first 90 seconds? You can sort of apply similar principles here. The average viewing time for my videos anyway is around the two minute mark. Not long at all. That means the candidates have 60 seconds max to explain why they are standing for election – before a final reminder on when polling day is.

Principles behind the videos

My simple principle is this: I want all candidates I film intro videos for to be at their best when delivering their lines. I want the viewer to see all of the candidates at their best. That way everyone has had an equal chance to put their case, and the voter & viewer can make as an informed choice as possible given otherwise very little time. Because let’s face it: how many of you are going to read through and fact check all of the local manifestos of the parties standing in your area? How many of you are going to do background research on the candidates for local council elections? How many of you will be putting a cross in a box for someone you’ve never met, don’t know what they look like and have no idea about other than they are a given party’s candidate?

Watching previous first time candidates grow in confidence

This is possibly the bit I get the most satisfaction from – watching camera-shy first-time candidates growing in confidence as they appear in more videos and as they come face-to-face with the public more frequently. I

It’s a doddle to tear politicians to pieces. Even more so for me because I’m familiar with the internal workings of the system at a level that most candidates are not. The much harder task is working across the parties to make them all appear in the best light possible to the voters so that at least they might make a judgement call to find out more about the candidates – and even initiate their own conversations following. If that happens, I’ve more than fulfilled my role and met my aims. What happens between candidates and voters after that is none of my business – it’s in their hands.

Future videos over the next few years?

At the moment, the videos fall into three categories:

  • Short head-and-shoulder intro pieces to camera
  • Short-to-medium length interview pieces
  • Speeches and exchanges at hustings or events

What we are yet to see is anything that is artistically and musically creative. Understandable given the infancy that this field is in, and also given the expense incurred at commissioning high quality videos for as yet unquantified returns where total election spending is (quite rightly) limited by law.

One reason why I’m a little surprised that local parties haven’t gone beyond the basics is because over 2 years ago I made the video below for my ‘Be the change – Cambridge’ project.

“Many bridges, one Cambridge – it’s your city. Be. The. Change.”

The concepts I used in this video could easily be applied to a local party election broadcast. Clips of the issues the election is being fought on – eg housing and transport, short vox-pop comments from party supporters, statements from the candidates standing, and an upbeat musical soundtrack underneath to give a subliminal message of hope and inspiration.

It can be done.

What do you think of the candidates standing in your area?

Summary

Some thoughts on the importance of finding out who is standing in your area for both the local and general elections

Background reading: How to organise a local hustings – by Chris Rand

The Cambridge Zero Carbon Society organised a rally outside Cambridge Guildhall on 29 April as part of their campaign to persuade Cambridge University to divest from its £370m of fossil fuel investments. Speaking were the three candidates who had announced their intention to stand/re-stand for the city’s parliamentary seat – incumbent Daniel Zeichner for Labour, his opponent in 2010 & 2015 & predecessor Dr Julian Huppert for the Liberal Democrats, and Addenbrooke’s nurse Stuart Tuckwood for the Greens.

Speeches outside The Guildhall

Two years ago, Cambridge was one of the battle grounds between Labour and the Lib Dems – and also to some extent for the Conservatives and Greens in the battle for third place. I turned up to as many events as possible, creating an extensive video playlist here. Over 3,000 people would have attended the over 30 hustings (even accounting for repeat attendees) in Cambridge alone in what was a bitterly fought contest that Mr Zeichner won by 599 votes.

Risks with a tightly-controlled national campaign

Much has been made about the robotic repetition of ‘strong and stable’ by the Conservatives, hence the awkward opening of the interview between Andrew Marr and the Prime Minister earlier on. In Scotland, people are noting of the Prime Minister’s reluctance to meet voters who have not been pre-vetted by the party. With so few opportunities to ask tough questions on policy, and so few opportunities for the general public to meet senior Conservatives, any mistakes that are caught on film are suddenly magnified. What else is there to talk about if the party in power that called the election doesn’t debate policy in the media?

Furthermore, what we don’t know is to what extent the public will start to resent this sort of campaign. It might be a snap election but there are still six weeks to go before polling day. And to think that 24 hours is a long time in politics.

Local hustings as an antidote for tightly-managed national campaigns

I’ve been filming a host of local election debates and hustings of late (see the playlists here) – we have county council and mayoral campaigns in Cambridgeshire. The first parliamentary hustings I’ve spotted is at The Cambridge Junction on 08 May. Which means I get to ask the candidates about my new concert hall idea which I want named after Florence Ada Keynes, complete in time for the 100th anniversary of the mayoralty of ‘The Mother of Modern Cambridge‘.

Actually, the hustings are even more important this time around given the widely-reported weaknesses of the UK-wide parties – real or perceived. Given Labour’s divisions on Brexit, such local hustings are even more important where they have a ‘remain-supporting’ MP facing a strong challenge from the Liberal Democrats – such as here in Cambridge. But that’s just on the Labour-Lib Dem axis. What we also don’t know is how the election will turn out on other political axes – 40 miles north of here in North East Cambs  is a constituency where in 2015 over 75% of voters voted for either the Conservatives or UKIP, mirroring vote for Brexit where just under that number voted to leave the EU. What do you do if you are in any of Labour, the Lib Dems or the Greens in the face of those election results?

One of the things the Police and Crime Commissioner campaign hustings taught me was just how different the political cultures are between Cambridge, at the southern end of Cambridgeshire, and Wisbech, at the northern end of the same county. The messages from the Labour and Liberal Democrats’ candidates just didn’t resonate with the audience. Ironically, what the audience wanted was a permanent, visible police presence in the town, and none of the parties could offer this – mainly due to the budgetary restrictions coming from Whitehall. The important thing from my perspective was that what happened at that hustings came as a surprise.

Civic society organisations and their roles as organisers of local political debates

The number of hustings events in Cambridge – along with high attendances, reflects a strong civic society culture. Not everywhere has that. Much as religious institutions may wish to stay out of party politics and/or humanist/secular/atheist groups want to exclude religious institutions from political and state institutions generally, one of the things religious institutions have in local communities are premises – halls in which to host hustings. In Sawston just outside Cambridge, the Sawston Free Church has hosted a couple of hustings recently – including for the county mayor. What helped immensely was having the Minister – Rev Bruce Waldron, a figure known in the village, as chair and as a competent chair too.

Again, the civic dynamics differ from village (Sawston) to town (Wisbech) to city (Cambridge). In a village it might be that a church is the best place to host such an event. In a town in an economically deprived town, a council-run community centre might be the best place. In a city, it might be a large institution with access to a massive conference theatre that steps in. In Cambridge I would like to see far more of the science and technology institutions hosting such political debates – not least so as to encourage more people from such backgrounds to get involved in local democracy.

Personally I’d also like to see more opportunities for multiple conversations before and after the formal exchanges at such events. How you arrange for this I don’t know. Much depends on premises and budgets eg for breakout rooms and refreshments.

Hustings feeding into local news

Having someone there filming the exchanges helps local journalists in established publications such as newspapers and local radio at a time when staff and budgets are stretched. In Cambridge me and Richard Taylor do much of the local filming, publishing the full event for people to go through at their leisure. For those without such activists, it might be worth getting in touch with a local media studies department at a local college to see if anyone is interested in videoing the events for you – & offer to pay them via an appeal for donations or a collection bucket at the end.

Remember that having that permanent video record sitting online means that there is a record people can go back to. In recent years the mere existence of an extensive library of Cambridge meetings has been more than enough for candidates and councillors to be more careful with their remarks. They can’t promise one thing to one audience and say the opposite to another without someone picking up on it.

Hearing the candidates in their own voices

I’ve filmed introduction videos for these sixteen candidates for the county council elections on 04 May 2017.

Town planning researcher Joe Dale, the first of the candidates

What the videos do is help even up the political playing field as far as digital content goes – at a time where the more established parties are still cautious about all things digital. What it also does is enable those with mobility and accessibility problems to hear from the candidates in their own voices. For better or worse, the public will probably have decided which candidates are worth voting for/exploring further in the first 30 seconds of a speech or video.

Pressure on those standing for election – fewer ‘paper’ candidates

One of the things I say to all of the candidates I make these short videos for is that I want them to do well. I want them to come across to the voting public as best as possible so that the public can make an informed decision on all of the candidates at their best. The more competent chairs of hustings have expressed similar sentiment about people standing for election & being cross-examined on platforms.

“These people are offering to do a lot of work for our community in return for very little. Please keep things cordial”

Or words to that effect from Chris Rand at the Queen Edith’s hustings recently. When it comes to a local level, you often get first time candidates who have never stood in elections before. Make the experience too unpleasant and they won’t stand again – not good if the individuals concerned have potential to become great councillors. Especially roles that rely on a huge amount of unpaid work as being a councillor inevitably does.

Over to you.

You can find out who you can vote for in your area via https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/

If none of the candidates impress you in your area, how could people in your area go about improving the calibre of people who put themselves forward for election? Do initiatives such as http://beacouncillor.co.uk/ help?

Thank you for your continued support

As always, I can only continue filming with your support. With my filming of local meetings in and around Cambridge, I aim to bring local democracy to your desktop. Even more important now with the general election coming up. Please consider supporting my work if you can afford it. Click on the ‘donate’ button below. Thank you.


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Developers accused of ‘designing in crime’

Summary

Instead of a new buzzing civic hub as promised in 2006, Cambridge Station development has ended up as a place where Cambridge Police now have to direct extra resources – at taxpayers’ expense.

In 2006 this was what was promised – and got planning permission.

Then the original developer (Ashwells) went into administration, a new developer emerged from the ashes (Brookgate), and the next thing we know the commitments for the public civic square evaporate and we’re left with a site that has crammed in as many people as possible onto a small a site as possible, and to no one’s surprise, local council meetings now regularly have reports from the police about criminal activities in the area.

T/DI Nick Skipworth reports about women being trafficked into ‘pop up brothels’ on the CB1 estate by Cambridge Railway Station.

At the same meeting (see the papers here), we heard how the same developers had applied for funding to mitigate the problems created – ones that should have been designed out rather than as they had done, designed in.

Sam Davies’ questions to Cambridge councillors in South Cambridge. 

Two former Mayors of Cambridge, Cllrs Rob Dryden and Russ MacPherson were scathing in their attacks on the developer Brookgate, stating that Brookgate should pay for the mitigation themselves.

Angry – Cllr Rob Dryden (Labour – Cherry Hinton)

Former Conservative councillor for Coleridge Ward Chris Howell blogged back in 2008 about the problems of the various designs of the buildings around the station.

A tragedy he was ignored. See his blogpost here.

Furthermore, Richard Taylor also wrote extensively about the problems of the developments – see here. See also the various posts by local historian Allan Brigham on his FB page Town Not Gown Tours.

I noted the corporate investors behind the CB1 development are these:

Post-development evaluations

One of the things I’ve not seen much of is any evaluation of the new developments in Cambridge – in particular surveying the people who move into the new developments. One thing I’d like to see councillors commissioning are evaluations of developments. For this one given its scale and given the issues raised by the police repeatedly in recent times, there need to be some serious soul-searching and lessons not just learnt but applied by the various institutions concerned – including housing ministers and The Treasury.

Profits 2015 & 2016 from Group of Companies Accounts Jan 2017

Because in somewhere like Cambridge, the financial incentives are as such that it’ll happen again and again.

Mobile video, the elections & local campaigns – case study in Cambridge with Emily Thornberry MP

Summary

Make it easier for community reporters to film & interview your candidates & activists, and you too could get a stack load of free footage that works away while you sleep

Being a community reporter is a surprisingly lonely business even when you are surrounded by lots and lots of people. I counted nearly 30 people who turned up for a canvassing session for the Romsey Labour Party in Cambridge – Romsey Town historically being a working class community in Cambridge where you had lots of people employed on the railways, people who worked in agriculture and also as I found out, a sizeable membership of the co-operative movement. Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was scheduled to pay a visit, and Romsey Labour Party tweeted me in advance.

Emily Thornberry MP and Romsey Labour, Cambridge. 22 Apr 2017

Some of the people who turned out to meet Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry MP on Mill Road, Cambridge.

My video interviews

As I’ve stated before, my interview style is to inform the interviewee of the questions I’m going to ask before recording. This is because I want interviewees to give informed and extended answers without interruptions from me. I could have gone in with a series of hostile questions and an aggressive line of questioning, but that’s what the mainstream media does. I try to be different and go for the challenge of putting politicians and holders of public office in a more positive light – especially given the state of our democracy.

I saved the three interview clips with Ms Thornberry in the playlist of Labour election videos here. As I mentioned at the start of 2017, my deal for local candidates standing for election in and around Cambridge is an offer to film free short introduction videos. (I now have videos from four of the five parties standing in Cambridge). At the same time I also encourage people to donate to help cover my filming expenses.


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So if you can afford it, please do. (Also, ***a big thank you*** for those of you that already have – your support is extremely welcome and helps promote democracy (and an improved understanding of it) across our city). From the Petersfield hustings and the campaigns today, I’ve had over 200 views of videos I have uploaded, so people are watching. For the whole of 2014, so nearly four months, I’ve had over 13,000 views and over 35,000 minutes of footage viewed – an incredible figure given the relatively small geographical area I cover.

Asking about the post-EU Referendum period

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee was scathing about the failure of the Government to do any contingency planning for a Brexit vote – as this newspaper report explains. The select committee itself wrote as follows:

“The previous Government’s considered view not to instruct key Departments including the FCO to plan for the possibility that the electorate would vote to leave the EU amounted to gross negligence. It has exacerbated post-referendum uncertainty both within the UK and amongst key international partners, and made the task now facing the new Government substantially more difficult.” [Para 19]

So I invited Ms Thornberry to comment.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary on the lack of contingency plans for leaving the EU

Open question, allow interviewee to respond at length, publish, publicise – and then let the viewer come to their own conclusion.

Enabling the public to hear candidates in their own voices, and having an historical record of senior national politicians visiting and speaking in Cambridge

It’s easy to forget that in reporting on all of this, I’m not just trying to be a sort-of-journalist, but also I’m creating content for the historians of the future. I intend to be long gone before the historians of 100 years time and beyond try to work out what was happening around the time of the UK leaving the EU. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is because my heart’s sort of in tears because we have no video or audio recordings of the Cambridge Heroes such as Eglantyne Jebb and Florence Ada Keynes in my Lost Cambridge project. It wasn’t for a lack of technology at the time.

Lots of photos, tweets, and video footage for local campaigners

We live in a world where mainstream and local publications are shrinking in terms of readership and funds to pay for qualified full time journalists. Incredibly sad I believe for civic society generally. It also means that there are fewer journalists and publications targeted by the same – if not growing number of institutions for press releases. Basically if you’ve not got that in-house capacity to create your own content, you need someone else to do it for you. Furthermore, the intermediary will also influence how the public judges the content – ie if it’s from an official party source or if it’s from someone independent of those parties.

Pioneers in and around Cambridge

Over the past few years it has been the Cambridge Green Party that has been the most innovative, open and accessible when it comes to media access and content creation. They now regularly create their own video content on mobile phones and upload them directly to their Facebook page.

Not surprisingly, other parties are beginning to pick up on this – most recently some of the Liberal Democrats in Cambridge such as Nicky Shepard standing in Abbey Division. Both parties have noticeably started using paid targeted social media pitches for their video content. It’ll be interesting to see what impact this has at a local level.

I may be an insecure, attention-seeking politics junkie at the best of times, but I don’t want and don’t need to be everywhere

Not least because my health won’t let me. I generally take the view that if someone else is filming a hustings or political debate, especially in the run up to an election, then I don’t need to be there. The nicest feedback I get from people is when they tell me they were able to watch the footage of a meeting that I had filmed. Generally it only needs a handful of people to watch such footage for me to feel that it was well worth attending, filming, editing & publishing. This is because I know there is a high chance that the viewers are going to act upon what they have heard/watched. No one sits through a 2 hour council meeting video and does nothing with what they heard. Whether it’s a conversation, an email, a contribution to a meeting, it’s these hundreds of ‘micro-actions’ that strengthen our democracies.

Message to local political parties?

Just give me a little advance notice and more often than not I can rock up with a camcorder and create some video content. What a lot of you miss is some of the coaching and retakes that I also take interviewees through. I want good quality footage just as much as the interviewee. If the footage is really poor, I won’t publish it. The advantage of video for candidates is that it’s your face and your voice that’s doing the work potentially while you are asleep. Take Lib Dems candidate for Petersfield, Emma Bates below.

Emma Bates of Cambridge Liberal Democrats, standing in Petersfield Division for the Cambridgeshire County Council elections on 04 May 2017.

Over 30 views in the first 24 hours of the video being uploaded, and even more on Facebook where it’s also been uploaded to party pages. Given that the average viewing time of my videos hovers around the 2 minute mark (and was at this level before I started making these short election intro clips), a short intro video is often all that is needed for residents to decide if they want to give your candidate a further hearing or not, and/or whether the candidate is someone they would want to vote for. It may sound like a very small number of views, but remember we are talking a very short space of time, a technique still in its infancy, institutions not embedding social media in mainstream communications, an election where the winner doesn’t end up with a huge amount of power, in a geographically confined area at an event that had very limited publicity. As time progresses, these variables will inevitably change.

It’s not the stuff that’ll replace door-to-door, but it is the sort of content that can easily appear in people’s social media feeds for people to watch/listen to when in a cafe, on a bus, in a waiting room etc. And every other person under the age of 30 seems to have headphones on these days – the very cohort conspicuous by their absence in local democracy.

 

 

This general election is designed to frustrate & infuriate

Summary

The Conservatives’ refusal to give journalists access to senior politicians and policy makers bodes ill for our politics – whichever side of the EU Referendum debate you were on

I woke up to this tweet from Gaby Hinsliff

…followed by this from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

…followed by this extraordinary exchange with Adam Boulton being taken to task by former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner of Labour.

…finished off by a Conservative no-show on a flagship national news programme.

That’s to say nothing of the rightwing tabloid press with one headline inciting fascism

…and then telling everyone to calm down, clarifying that it wasn’t calling for mass killings…which is nice to know.

Compare the stage-managed politics to what John Major was doing in the early 1990s

So it looks like…

  • The Conservative top brass will sit back and let the print media do their campaigning for them…
  • …while giving the broadcast media nothing but the Labour campaign to focus on – hoping that Corbyn and co will be given enough media rope to metaphorically and politically hang themselves on (and with Seumas Milne running the operation, the chances of that are raised given his record of media relations since Corbyn came in – see Paul Waugh here)
  • …and hoping that the Liberal Democrats are still too small and financially stretched to have any impact on the final result, despite their recent spikes in membership – including…

…an additional 50 in Cambridge according to Cambridge blogger and Lib Dem, Phil Rodgers.

Daniel Zeichner vs Julian Huppert – the rematch in Cambridge

This will be a fascinating rematch between two of Cambridge’s most high profile politicians of recent times. This was my take just before the election in 2015.

In the end, Mr Zeichner edged out Dr Huppert – the latter being the incumbent – by 599 votes. The Greens historically got their highest share of the vote in the city’s history – 7.9%, while the Conservatives got their lowest in their history – 15.7%, shortly after which they were to lose their only seat on Cambridge City Council. An incredibly long fall from the 1980s when the Conservatives controlled the City Council and held the parliamentary seat with the historian Robert Rhodes James.

Cambridge Universities Labour Club played a huge role in getting Mr Zeichner elected. The cynic in me says that the Conservatives chose 08 June as the polling day because so many young people will be slap bang in the middle of exams. Thus the ability for anyone doing A-levels or university exams will be extremely curtailed campaigning-wise because they’ll be revising. Or potentially putting their future careers at risk if they campaign at the expense of revising. A horrible, horrible decision by those in power to put young people in such a position. It only goes to reinforce the view that the political establishment views young people with contempt.

The bookies predict Lib Dems, but don’t underestimate Labour’s deep community roots

Social media chatter alone indicates a surge of support for Julian Huppert as an individual, one not matched by Daniel Zeichner. But as I commented in 2015, the election campaigns here was very much Brand Julian vs Labour Steamroller. Despite the problems Mr Corbyn has faced, I don’t get the sense that the Cambridge Labour Party has been significantly damaged by it. They have too many councillors and activists who have been active across the city over an extended period of time for them to be dislodged easily in a single general election. Furthermore, for those on Labour’s left wing, this is their moment: Their leader of choice with their manifesto of choice are now going to the polls. Time to get out of the doors and campaign, because another chance like this for them may not come around for another generation.

In one sense, Labour has a slight advantage in that their team is already large, trained and functioning. The Liberal Democrats have, like The Greens last time around, taken on a huge number of new members, many of whom will not have been through such a campaign/will be new to party politics, so will take time to train up. That said, in terms of numbers of campaigners and morale of the campaigns, both parties are in very different places compared to 2015. Mr Zeichner inevitably has to respond to criticism of his leader’s performance in the EU Referendum, while Dr Huppert is no longer burdened by responsibilities of his party in government, while at the same time knowing that his party is going into this election on the back of an impressive run of victories in local council by-elections across the country.

Return of some experienced hands?

We saw a number of announcements of former MPs restanding, the most high profile being former Business Secretary Vince Cable announcing his candidature in Twickenham.

There are a host of former Lib Dem MPs re-standing – see Mark Pack’s post here. In a “Puffles knew them before they were famous!” spirit, I’ll be keeping an eye on Kelly-Marie Blundell (Lewes) and Daisy Benson (Yeovil) who stuck with the Lib Dems through some very dark times to land the chances to regain seats previously held by Lib Dem MPs in areas seen as their party’s heartlands.

I was delighted to read of Jo Swinson’s intention to stand for election in her former constituency.

I interviewed her when she visited Cambridge. Here’s her message on getting involved in politics.

One of the nicest people in politics, as a former minister, should she be re-elected she’ll be a huge asset to the Liberal Democrats, to the House of Commons, and to the cause of women in politics generally.

I was also glad to see Heidi Allen announcing her intention to re-stand too, as well as Stella Creasy.

“For Remain-leaning people, what’s the best outcome?”

Professor Mary Beard asked this question earlier in this blogpost.

She ends on this:

“So lets trust us citizens to have some serious, informed, technical discussions beyond the slogans of ‘taking back control’, or ‘making Britain great again’ — or patting us on the head.”

The problem is that the print media at least, don’t seem to trust the citizens. The same seems to be the case for too many of the party handlers. Hence why for me, the Democracy Club’s Who Can I Vote For? site becomes more important – along with civic society institutions that are organising public debates in constituencies. For me it’s even more important that these are filmed – even if it’s just the opening statements from candidates. That way local people can see and hear the candidates in their own voices and judge accordingly. It’s why I filmed one hustings in Queen Edith’s for the Cambridgeshire County Council elections earlier, and will be doing the same the day after in Petersfield for the same elections.

***Because Democracy***

They say freedom isn’t free and that democracy is not a spectator sport. With my filming of local hustings, I hope that as many of you as possible can see and hear the candidates standing for election in their own voices. If you can afford to contribute to my costs of filming and editing, I would be most grateful. Please click on the button below.


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Tactically brilliant but strategically weak?

Summary

On the looming general election – assuming Parliament as expected approves the Government’s motion to call a general election under the Fixed Term Parliament Act.

I had a strange sense of foreboding when I read a tweet giving advance notice of the Prime Minister making an important statement outside Downing Street. It couldn’t be anything other than a general election – otherwise it would have been announced in the House of Commons.

Out of all of the social media posts that I saw during the say, the one that stood out for me was Richard Murphy’s one.

Essentially it gives Theresa May an extra two years to manage the post-Brexit situation should there be an economic hit when the UK leaves the EU. You can read his full thoughts in this blogpost.

UK-wide opposition parties starting from weak points

Given the fortunes of Labour, the Lib Dems, and UKIP, if the polls are to be trusted (big ‘if’) then they are all in very weak positions compared to the Conservatives. The Greens, despite polling their highest number of votes ever in 2015 still only have 1 MP – Caroline Lucas. Watching Emily Thornberry’s woeful performance on Newsnight last night indicates that the decision to go to the polls was tactically spot on. When Evan Davis stated that unlike the Tories or the Lib Dems, Labour hasn’t got a strong, clear collective position on Brexit, she responded:

“We haven’t decided which side we’re on yet”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary tried to claw back, stating that as a party wanting to represent the whole country, this was a position of strength – trying to cover all bases. The problem with trying to cover all bases is that you risk end up covering none. If this is “The Brexit Election” as the media commentators are making out that it is, then there is no middle ground.

With the Lib Dems having been crushed in 2015, have they recovered enough to present enough of a threat to the Conservatives? Unlike previous general elections, the Lib Dems don’t have this huge slate of reasonably well-known politicians to appear on the TV shows. Hence lower TV coverage since the 2015 general election. That said, this election is a huge opportunity for them to repair some of the damage done that year. One big question is to what extent has the electorate that voted for them in 2010 but abandoned them in 2015 forgiven them for their record in coalition?

The Greens polled a million votes in 2015 – their highest ever, and UKIP 4 million. With the loss of Douglas Carswell MP (will he stand as an independent?) as their only MP, with Nigel gone off to pastures new – will he really want to restand given that Brexit is, as far as he is concerned, in the bag?, will many UKIP voters switch to the Tories to deliver Brexit? Or will the 2015 UKIP voters feel that Brexit is not secure yet and that UKIP need to stay in place in order to keep the pressure up on the Conservatives to deliver?

Strategically weak?

The decision to do no contingency planning meant the Conservatives already had a structural strategic weakness built in – utterly self-inflicted under Cameron but one signed off by both Theresa May as Home Secretary and her Chancellor Philip Hammond who was the Foreign Secretary. The Conservative Chair of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee didn’t pull his punches in describing that decision as an act of gross negligence. (See the news report in The Guardian here too).

There are a host of other ‘delivery issues’ that have come up since the start of the year as it has become more clear what leaving the EU will ultimately entail – debates that we should have had long before the referendum itself. It reflects badly on Whitehall and Westminster that they did not ensure these issues were debated publicly at a high enough profile so as to engage and inform the public.

Resigned to the Conservatives winning?

It looks like it, doesn’t it?

…If the media noise is to be believed. But then at least one has gone full 1930s rabid.

For pro-Remainers, their only realistic hope is that enough candidates who back their views are returned irrespective of party. As far as England is concerned, that generally means hoping that any gains made by the Conservatives are more than matched by gains for the Liberal Democrats or Pro-EU Labour candidates. Note the Greens will be looking at Bristol West as a target for their second seat in the Commons, given they polled over 17,000 votes there in 2015.

And in/around Cambridge?

I’m going for ‘It’s too close to call’ again.

Phil Rodgers’ analysis is here. Given the two leading candidates – Daniel Zeichner of Labour (the incumbent who won by 599 votes last time) and Julian Huppert have both been very high profile pro-EU figures in the local media, it’s not nearly so straight-forward a call to assume that pro-EU voters in a strong remain-voting constituency will switch from Labour to the Liberal Democrats. Given that both have experience of being MP for Cambridge – one of the most demanding constituencies in the country as far as amount of casework combined with extremely high expectations and demands of constituents, the losing candidate won’t have lost because of lack of effort.

The Greens have got Stuart Tuckwood as their candidate this time around. A nurse at Addenbrooke’s, he stood in Market Ward at the local elections in 2016. The Conservatives and UKIP are yet to declare candidates. There is also always the chance of an independent or two putting themselves forward as happened in the previous two general elections. Puffles won’t be one of them though!

Around Cambridge in South Cambridgeshire to the west, and South East Cambridgeshire to the east of Cambridge, I expect Heidi Allen and Lucy Frazer to re-stand. Despite the strong ‘Remain’ votes in Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire district council areas, I still expect both to be re-elected, though perhaps on smaller majorities than their 50% figures from the last time around. The other complicating local factor in and around Cambridge is the Greater Cambridge City Deal – which has resulted in a number of local protest campaigns against some of the plans over the last couple of years. Will this have an impact on voting patterns not just at the general election but at the Cambridgeshire County Council elections on 04 May? To what extent will the county elections reflect what might happen for the parliamentary elections here? We shall see.