Is politics so toxic that we’re frightened to discuss it in public forums?

Summary

On our collective reluctance to deal with our democratic institutions – what can we do about it?

I was at an event last night hosted by former Cambridge MP Dr Julian Huppert – now the director of the Intellectual Forum at Jesus College, Cambridge – their new public policy institute.

The following morning, I went along to #VibrantCambridge along with several of the great and the good mainly from the business sector but with a few of us community activists dotted around the room too.

The common theme I noticed with both events was the reluctance of participants and speakers to address issues involving our democratic institutions. This felt like a double blow, because at both of the events, people had turned up to deal with very political issues. If debating the futures of our city, our county, or even our planet are not political, nothing is.

Often when people say ‘We’re not political’ they mean ‘Party politics is so toxic that we want nothing to do with it when it comes to dealing with our issue.’ Politicians and political institutions don’t help themselves with things like this

Ditto going all party political on the same day when there is an election coming up. All of the party political representatives in this photograph are Conservative. If I was one of the other candidates I’d be complaining to the Permanent Secretary of the Department for Communities and Local Government over the use of civil service resources on something that appears party political.

Having stood for election before, it’s not a decision anyone takes lightly. For the Secretary of State to say only his party’s candidate cares about every part of our county, is insulting to everyone campaigning in the election campaign.

“Why is it important to talk about democracy and political institutions?”

For one simple reason:

Our society is underpinned by a powerful concept: The Rule of Law. The UK as a member of the Commonwealth is bound by it. The Attorney General in 2014 made a speech on the UK’s commitment to the concept over the centuries. (That doesn’t mean they always stuck to it in their actions, as history tells us!)

For The Rule of Law to function properly, democratic and political institutions need to function properly as well. Once those are undermined, so too is the rule of law. This includes the concept of trust between institutions and of the actions of individuals too.

“Why was an audience of people interested in taking action on climate change, and an audience full of civic-minded businesses in Cambridgeshire so reluctant to talk about democracy and political institutions?”

Other than the toxicity thing, that’s something I’m still struggling with.

Not only that, historically ***we have been here before***.

Cambridge Hero Eglantyne Jebb – founder of Save The Children made a speech in Cambridge in 1910 – at the peak of her social and political action in town.

She does not see how anyone who has the welfare of mankind at heart can fail to take an interest in politics”

“She drew an excellent picture of the “Superior Person,” who at the end of his life declares with fatuous satisfaction that he had kept himself pure from party politics, that the vulgar rivalry of Liberals and Tories had never touched him…and showed how such isolation and ‘superiority’ meant criminal neglect of opportunities [to make a difference]

This was from a speech about religion and politics, where she appealed to an audience of Christian men to take an interest in politics as a means of dealing with the poverty and multiple deprivation in Cambridge. Eglantyne’s research a few years before in Cambridge: a brief study in social questions (digitised here) revealed Cambridge’s infant mortality rate was 1:8. Today it’s closer to 3:1000.

“But you had halls full of people who wanted to take action to deal with big shared problems”

True – and that is a wonderful thing to see and hear.

In the case of #VibrantCambridge the main theme that came out was people either wanting to get involved in local charity work themselves, or wanting to deliver/work on a specific charitable project.

The quality of the ideas was mixed. Some were genuinely excellent and ground-breaking. Others demonstrated an ignorance of what others were already doing on the ground, or an arrogance of ‘business knows better’ than those already working on the front line who are constrained by existing Government policy, or the inertia of previous governments’ policies.

Therein lies the challenge – how do you bring in the excellent ideas into the mix in local democracy while leaving behind ‘Business attempts at doing public administration – and doing it badly’?

Embedding diversity in day-to-day work

It was a challenge I put to my table – which unfortunately ended up being an all-male one. Hence why I probably over-compensated by telling everyone how wonderful our first woman councillor, first woman magistrate and second woman mayor, Florence Ada Keynes was, and how we should build a big new conference/concert hall in Cambridge (my case is here) and name it after her. (It ended up in the news).

The first problem was venue: No public transport access.

The second – a problem on my table was lack of gender diversity. I also got the sense that the diversity of Cambridge’s business communities was also not reflected. It was more ‘suits’ rather than say Mill Road Traders. Hence Paul Smith of @CamCreatives was spot on challenging the prominent members  of Cambridge Ahead on our table to do more to engage with smaller and more informal business networks – rather than run the risk of being seen as an insular clique with eyes towards London, Whitehall and the City.

Business turning the mirror on themselves

It was Matthew Bullock of St Edmund’s who I thought gave some incredibly clear critiques – similar to Dr John Wells on the Greater Cambridge City Deal Assembly, that really impressed me. His challenge to the other business representatives on our table was whether they had enough information about things like travel patterns of their own staff, in order to influence decisions on public transport in and around Cambridge. This comes back to my own criticism of the Greater Cambridge City Deal not having had a ‘year zero’ to commission research and collect data/information in order to inform decisions taken later on down the line.

This brings me onto the other challenges those in business face if they want to influence public policy: Who holds you accountable for the views you put forward as an institution?

This brings me onto my final diversity point: What would the event have been like if it was held say at The Meadows Community Centre on the border of Arbury & King’s Hedges, with half of the people participating being people who live in those two wards? What sort of things would they be telling you, how would they be telling you, how would you respond?

The reason I ask this is all too often the people these sorts of gatherings say they want to help are often conspicuous by their absence.

What would this picture look like if half of the audience had been people on low incomes, young people and/or pensioners?

Public policy and community action is messy – you have to be prepared to get your hands dirty and hear some uncomfortable things said about you and your sector. But then democracy isn’t a spectator sport either

This is also why sound feedback loops are ever so important. Given we were at the Imperial War Museum at Duxford in one of their huge aerodromes, the military metaphor of ‘No plan – however carefully prepared, survives the first contact with the enemy intact’ seems particularly apt. Hence I’d be interested to see what audiences of politicians, public sector staff, people from the voluntary sector, the elderly, and students and children make of the ideas that a predominantly business audience came up with.

Shall we have a ‘Cambridge history hack’?

Summary

Some ideas on what it might be like 

Before we start, if you are on Facebook please can you ‘Like’ the following pages:

Thank you.

After spending some time browsing through the microfiches of old newspapers in the Cambridge Central Library, as well as pondering over the problems and challenges local archivists had presented me with, something sparked in my mind on how to deal with them.

“What is the aim of such a hack?”

Aims include:

  • Making people aware of the existence of local history institutions such as the Museum of Cambridge
  • Making people aware of local historical services such as the county archives and the Cambridgeshire Collection
  • Bringing the staff and volunteers face-to-face with a new, wider audience of people less familiar with what they do
  • Inviting people to bring in their old photographs and objects to be scanned, properly recorded and archived in a digital archive
  • Bringing lots of people together to share ideas
  • Creating a shared timeline of Cambridge’s civic history – collectively recording the major events in our city’s history
  • Teasing out people from inside Cambridge’s large institutions (not just Cambridge University) to get them involved in local historical projects
  • Share our different experiences of ‘doing’ local history
  • Raising money for our local historical institutions
  • To encourage people to think about how our past can inform our future at a time of huge change and growth in our city.

“OK…so let’s go through ‘who, what, when, where, how and why?'”

Who

  • Anyone interested in the history of the city of Cambridge.
  • Top line hosts could include:
    • the Museum of Cambridge,
    • Cambridgeshire County Council at Shire Hall (where the county archive is) or in the Central Library (where the Cambridgeshire Collection is),
    • Cambridge City Council – The Guildhall
    • Cambridge University Library
    • Anglia Ruskin University
  • Spin off events could be hosted by local schools, colleges, local libraries and even Cambridge’s businesses – in particular those that have been in Cambridge for many years

What

A hack. Although this term is often used in digital terms, for me this is very much a paper hack as well as an online one. The reason being is that there are many old books (ones that are not yet old enough to be considered ‘antique’) that offer interesting insights on our history.

Here’s me with a couple of them in mid-2016

There’s also a chance for several of us to help update/refresh some of the web pages and databases held/maintained by our local historical institutions – all too often on a shoestring budget.

When

Whenever we can organise it – though ideally not at exam time. It doesn’t need to be a full 24 hour thing in the first instance. Baby steps first. Possibly a 10am-4pm event to start off with.

Where

As mentioned above.

How?

First of all with this post inviting people to express an interest. Then assuming we can persuade one of the institutions to be our host, approach the others to find out what both their needs are, and also what their aspirations are.

Why?

This is why:

That’s me asking Cambridgeshire County Council transport officers about historical reading in the context of future transport plans. If they don’t know what their institution got wrong in the past, how can they be sure they won’t make the same mistakes again? Given the scale of development in Cambridge this matters. Hence making more people aware of our local civic history (*Like my FB Page ‘Lost Cambridge’ please!) and of our local democracy (*Like my FB Page ‘Democracy Cambridge’ please!)

 

What would the hack event be like?

In part it depends where it took place. An event at The Central Library would enable the Cambridgeshire Collection to bring out and display a number of the old books and maps – while making use of the neighbouring conference rooms for people to use laptops from the wifi connection. Oh – and it has a cafe next to it too. At Shire Hall you have the county archives there (but not for much longer) – though no on site cafe. That said, you do have the lawn and Castle Hill there. Ideal for summer?

As well as the various aspects of data crunching, the two big things I’m looking for are:

  1. Populating a timeline of civic history – one that also covers the various Acts of Parliament and restructures of local government that had a marked impact on Cambridge.
  2. Scanning of photographs brought in by residents especially old ones from families that have lived in the city for generations.

An annual event?

Possibly – with the chance of other local institutions (such as schools, colleges, community groups and longstanding voluntary organisations) hosting their own and adding to the civic timeline and photographic archive.

The need for expert help

Creating and expanding a digital archive is not easy – and also requires resources. (Hence the fundraising bit). Hence before we even start we’d need the guidance of expert archivists and those who are pioneering the digitisation of history in the professional sphere.

So…anyone interested?

Email me – antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com

 

 

How Newnham College helped politicise women in Cambridge

Summary

How 40 years of debates and discussions focused the minds of the well-connected families in Cambridge to deal with poverty and multiple deprivation the towns slums

Some of you may have read about my recent findings from the Cambridgeshire County Archives. (If not, please read as this blogpost will make more sense that way). Some of you may have notice that former Equalities Minister Baroness Lynne Featherstone was in Cambridge very recently. I asked her about encouraging more women into local democracy given that there was only one other woman in the room that evening. Her response was unequivocal.

Public speaking.

It was something I raised with a meeting the following night with the Cambridge Women’s Equality Party – who agreed with Lynne above.

Opportunities in Cambridge to improve public speaking skills.

Cambridge already has an active public speakers club – Cambridge Toastmasters. If you want to improve your public speaking skills, they are a very good starting point.

For students & young people, Cambridge University runs its own Model United Nations club – something I used to take part in during my student days many years ago. (I’m getting old!) The next Model UN Conference in Cambridge is in late October 2017.

“What would a local government equivalent of Model UN look like?”

Personally I’d love to help organise one. The template is almost identical to the Model UN one. Organisers pick themes for different committees to debate and formulate resolutions on, and then at the end of the event the resolutions are put to a vote by ‘the full council’ – ie all of the participants.

For somewhere like Cambridge, I’d set it up for schools and further education colleges, where participants can represent the village or neighbourhood they live in, or represent a political party. Either way, they have to undertake research to find out what the concerns and issues are on the theme their committee is debating. That way, participants not only find out about what local government does, they get to do role plays too. I’d also have The Guildhall as the host venue. The reason being that once you’ve stood up in the council chamber to ask a public question in a role play, doing it for real at a full city council meeting at a later date is a doddle.

“What’s this got to do with Newnham?”

It was at Newnham College that the first meeting of the Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society took place – way back in 1886. When Anne Jemima Clough, Newnham’s first principal, along with Cambridge heroes Eleanor Sidgwick and Mary Paley took part in that first meeting, I don’t think they had any idea what they were about to unleash on Cambridge.

“What did they unleash?”

A local political revolution – or rather ‘evolution’ because it was very much one step at a time, but certainly from that point onwards, there was movement. Had the local male establishment not dragged their feet (and ditto Parliament & Whitehall), the group would have achieved so much more than they did. The problem as I see it was that the law at the time would not let them.

“What did they talk about?”

In a nutshell, ‘how to change the world’. Starting with the most difficult issue of the day.

IMG_0400

Courtesy of the Cambridgeshire County Archives

Poverty and multiple deprivation hit the children the hardest. Two of our town’s most brilliant minds – Eglantyne Jebb (who would later go on to found Save the Children) and Leah Manning – later Dame Leah Manning MP, would sharpen their political and campaigning teeth on this issue from their early 20s in Cambridge. I’ve written about both of them here. Interestingly, it was a 30 year old Eglantyne Jebb who would take the place of her mother (also called Eglantyne but known as Tye) on the committee of the Cambridge Ladies Discussion Society.

Note too that this was a time of huge change in Cambridge as far as our built environment was concerned.

img_0403.jpg

Courtesy of the Cambridgeshire County Archives

A number of buildings that we think of as being centuries old are actually Victorian. The Waterhouse buildings of Gonville and Caius at the northern end of King’s Parade by Senate House (The ‘Harry Potter Tower’ I call it) and the Catholic Church of Our Lad7 & English Martyrs are two examples. People’s palaces – as featured in this BBC documentary were a big thing in those days. In stark contrast to today where too many developers and their financiers do everything in their powers to weasel out of any commitment to provide public and civic buildings beyond the bare minimum they can get away with. And even then, too many game the system.

“Stop ranting – what else did Newnham do?”

It was the early Newnham women that first of all kept the series of termly discussions going in those early years. Florence Ada Keynes – another early Newnham graduate would become one of the pillars not only of the discussion society, but also of the National Union of Women Workers (to whom the society affiliated to in 1913) – later the National Council of Women of which she became president in the early 1930s.

“What’s that got to do with today?”

Everything.

Courtesy of the Cambridgeshire County Archives

Two of the debates on women in local democracy in 1898 and 1908 respectively show that getting more women active was clearly an issue. When the ban on unmarried women standing for election to district councils was removed, Florence Ada Keynes and Maud Darwin – the American daughter in law of Charles Darwin and a Cambridge Hero in her own right (we got women police officers largely because of her) called on unmarried women to put themselves forward for election – as the Cambridge Independent Press below reveals.

081016-women-candidates-camcitco-ej-signs-flo-ada-keynes-letter

The co-signatories to that letter contain some very influential names – including a number of men. Don’t believe me? Have a read below.

The names that stand out include:

  • Dr Neville Keynes – a prominent economist in & at Cambridge – husband of Florence & father of John Maynard Keynes.
  • Lady Caroline Jebb – married to the classicist Sir Richard Claverhouse Jebb (& noting that Eglantyne and her mother, listed as Mrs Arthur Jebb both signed too)
  • Mary Allan – Principal of Homerton College
  • Henry and Eleanor Sidgwick, the latter being the second principal of Newnham (and also the sister of the former Prime Minister Arthur Balfour and niece of former Prime Minister Lord Salisbury
  • Dr Venn – The Venn diagram? Him – but he was a lot more than a diagram.

Historians of Cambridge (town and gown) will be familiar with far more names than I am – note how many couples signed as well. This wasn’t the men tolerating something for their wives and daughters to make themselves useful with, rather this was them supporting them and publicly identifying themselves with the cause. My point here being historical learning point for today’s generation of men who want to campaign against the injustices that women – and many other people across our societies still face. (This is where the protected characteristics list in the Equalities Act 2010 is useful).

“So…what happened to it?”

As Florence Ada Keynes describes, many of the original founders grew old and passed away. The final record in the papers she deposited in the county archives made me smile. Scroll to the end of this blogpost.

“Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone reconstituted the society?”

Yes.

Recall too the founding principle of the society’s founding back in 1886.

That a society be formed in Cambridge with the object of bringing together ladies who are interested in the discussion of social questions

There’s nothing to stop anyone from reforming the above – with exactly the same remit, organising and hosting termly gatherings. One of the things that strikes me is that the regular frequency in which the meetings were held, the large halls they were held in, and the organisers’ abilities to bring in eminent speakers to speak – and more importantly be cross-examined by the audience of women must have been persuasive for the men that spoke before them.

Dare I say it, the changes that Cambridge is currently going through, and the disproportionate impact that austerity is having on women means that if there is a time to reconstitute such a group with a similar, local remit, now is the time to do it.

 

Mayoral candidate loses faith in county transport officers

Summary

How will Cambridgeshire County Council respond if the current bookies’ favourite, Cllr James Palmer (also on the County Council) gets elected mayor?

Before I start, ***Look at all these events and meetings on my Democracy Cambridge Page***

If the local councils won’t give us a one-stop place for interesting and important local council meetings, me and Puffles will have to do it for them.

Mayoral candidate tweet slams county transport officers

Cllr Palmer, who also leads East Cambridgeshire District Council for the Conservatives, sent this response to Chris Rand, editor of the Queen Edith’s newsletter here in Cambridge.

To say that the performance of county planning officers with the Greater Cambridge City Deal has been controversial is an understatement. Out of all of the party political candidates, Cllr Palmer has been the most prominent on social media, posting pictures of himself with a number of cabinet ministers.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Chancellor look so happy.

Cllr Rod Cantrill for the Liberal Democrats hit back, blaming the political leadership of both county council & the Greater Cambridge City Deal for the problems.

None of the other candidates have as yet commented.

The reason why this matters is that this further reflects the complications of a rushed policy which I’ve gone on record as opposing in principle – ie having a county mayor for such a wide and diverse geographical area. (Why are we wedded to the idea of political administration using historic counties anyway?)

Losing faith in senior officials

I can understand why Cllr Palmer has taken the position he has. Having watched the evolution of the city deal and the recommendations that have come forward from officers over the past couple of years – and the growing frustrations of those who wanted to work constructively with them, Cllr Palmer has made his position clear from the start. It remains to be seen what the other candidates say.

Don’t think that local Conservative councillors in South Cambridgeshire have been getting an easy ride over the City Deal issues to the west of Cambridge; they haven’t. The jam-packed local meetings at parish councils and also at Shire Hall that I have attended and filmed on behalf of and commissioned by local communities, is testament to that. Councillors and candidates are also acutely aware that with county council elections coming up, several seats that perhaps previously were not up for grabs might well be. Especially with demographic changes and the impact of the EU Referendum.

The problem for all sides is that this is not a situation that is going to go away. The situation we find ourselves in has its roots in the decisions made by both officials and by elected politicians.

 

The party political mess

The original city deal was negotiated during the Coalition years at a time when Cambridge City Council was under Liberal Democrat control. Less than a year later, after the 2015 general election, the city council was under Labour control and Central Government under Conservative outright, heading straight into their self-imposed EU referendum. This meant that the first politician in the chair of the City Deal Board was my local councillor Lewis Herbert, Labour’s leader of Cambridge City Council. Thus he has responsibility for delivering on a deal he had no say in negotiating.

Then there’s the instability of his Conservative partners. Cllrs Ray Manning and Steve Count, as leaders of South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council respectively, did not remain in post on the City Deal Board for long. They have since been replaced by Cllr Francis Burkitt and Cllr Ian Bates.

Cambridge-City-Deal-1024x680

These chaps signed off the Greater Cambridge City Deal – Cllr Lewis Herbert having less than six weeks to get his head around the whole thing following his party’s victory at the City Council elections that previous month – when Puffles the Dragon Fairy snatched 89 votes off him and the other parties.

A failure by senior Conservatives in Cambridgeshire local government?

It does make me wonder why Cllrs Manning and Count agreed to be on the City Deal Board with Cllr Herbert only to resign later on. Far better from my perspective to have councillors that really want to be on there and make a real good go of it – knowing that the decisions that they will take will be controversial. With that in mind, Cllr Francis Burkitt was the first of any of the senior elected councillors on the City Deal Board and Assembly I saw to publicly reject a paper from officers and tell them to go back and do a better job with stronger recommendations. Since then, and under the chairmanship of Cllr Roger Hickford (Cons – Linton), we’ve also seen a lot more ‘push back’ from elected councillors to county council transport officials presenting to the City Deal Assembly.

A failure by elected politicians of all parties to hold transport officers to account?

In the grand scheme of things, I believe there has been a collective failure of the politicians on the City Deal forums to hold officers to account – particularly in the early days. In those very early days, the only person I can recall being vocal about these things was Cllr Bridget Smith.

A failure to see local residents and community groups as a shared resource to help solve difficult problems – instead they (we) became the difficult problem

This is the thing that makes me particularly frustrated. There was a ***huge opportunity*** for politicians and officers to bring the whole city and surrounding towns and villages to be part of this big problem-solving phenomenon. We could have brought together town and gown, built in the real life problems into school and college coursework so that students and young people could try and solve real life problems and present them rather than hypothetical ones. We could have opened up Cambridge University’s colleges and Anglia Ruskin University to shared events for the whole community. We could have brought the executives of those institutions whose functions cause some of our traffic problems – whether the private schools off Trumpington Road, Addenbrooke’s and the biomedical campus, the estate agents that sell properties, the big developers who don’t engage with communities at design stage – something now required by law in Wales.

“Assuming Cllr Palmer wins, then what?”

The question for him is how he’ll co-ordinate his staff with county council staff who he has effectively declared he has no confidence in.

The question for the county council is how they will work with a potential new mayor who has declared that he has no confidence in them.

This could become all the more awkward if the Conservatives win an absolute majority at the county council elections in two months time. Compared to pre-EU-Ref, I don’t really know how the county council elections will turn out. Much will depend on whether the Prime Minister has triggered Article 50, and on the strength of the Liberal Democrat resurgence especially in South Cambridgeshire where there is much disquiet over the stance of the Conservative Members of Parliament Heidi Allen and Lucy Frazer to back the Prime Minister over supporting leaving the EU. With a higher public profile and a stronger ‘Remain’ vote, Ms Allen has come in for stronger criticism. Note though that the border of Ms Frazer’s constituency is only two wards down the road from me, just as Ms Allen’s is over the road (though not for much longer due to boundary changes).

Jeremy Corbyn calls on Cllr Kevin Price

Mr Corbyn was in Cambridge very recently to give his support to Cllr Price, Labour’s candidate for the mayoral elections. It was Cllr Price who negotiated the concession on council housing for Cambridge.

The event was written up by the Cambridge News here.

As I wasn’t notified of the visit, I have no video footage of the speeches. As the Lib Dems informed me that former Health Minister Norman Lamb MP was visiting, I filmed an interview with him instead.

Ditto with their party’s president (and former councillor in Cambridge) Baroness Sal Brinton) who along with Cllr Cantrill spoke at an event at Hills Road Sixth Form College the previous evening.

The moral of the story for political parties is that if you want video footage of your meetings from me, please give me advanced notice and ensure your venues are easy to get to by public transport. Otherwise you might find that it’s your political rivals that get the video footage. Unlike previous years, I’m not going out of my way to chase after you.

Reasserting the dragon’s independence

Summary

On why everything is political – and why lots of institutions (and people too) seem to be saying they are not ‘political’, when they mean ‘party political’.

Who remembers the old Electoral Commission advert?

Politics – my ‘off the top of my head definition’ – The way people collectively resolve their issues through debate and dialogue without resorting to threats, violence, death and war.

Which means pretty much everything is political if you choose to accept that definition.

The WikiP page on the Home Office – and its history – is one I find fascinating. Look at the number of functions stripped away from it, and added to it over the years.

Democracy in action

I’ve been having a number of conversations with various community groups about running some ‘democracy in action’ workshops in and around Cambridge. The reason being is that there’s this gap between people becoming interested in a particular issue, and throwing their lot in with a political party. When it comes to introducing politics to people, the approaches I’ve often seen are based around:

  • The institution that the teacher/facilitator works for
  • The political party the teacher/facilitator is a member of
  • The organisation the teacher/facilitator is a member of
  • The history of the country where the workshop is taking place

My approach here in Cambridge is different – and starts from the perspective of the people taking part in the workshop. Essentially I start with their relationship with this entity we know of as ‘The State’.

We experimented with this in 2016 and people commented that much of what we covered filled in lots of the little gaps that they had in their knowledge, and also equipped them with the knowledge of how to approach institutions, parties, politicians and candidates.

“What’s this got to do with Puffles?”

It’s election time, and I’ve already started seeing various Twitter squabbles breaking out, and hearing accusations by people in one party about actions by people in another. Then there’s the accusations about partiality and neutrality. Hence using this blogpost to explain my motivation and method, and to reassert my independence from party political institutions.

Independence, neutrality, impartiality – and tone.

Independence: No one in a political party can compel me what to do without lawful authority.

It’s that simple.

Neutrality and impartiality: I’ve tried to start using those terms less, because some imply that this means I don’t have opinions. I can’t not have opinions while having posted hundreds of blogposts and hundreds of thousands of social media posts. Having an opinion – a strong opinion on something is also where our passion for something comes from. Take today. I saw social media posts from lots of you taking part in political actions today. Whether it was the NHS march in London, meeting senior elected politicians, to canvassing and campaigning for local elections, there were lots of you ‘doing democracy’ today. ***This is wonderful!***

When it comes to elections, I’m a floating voter and focus primarily on the calibre and competencies of the people on the ballot paper. For others, their criteria will be different. Others may not even have criteria – they may vote and campaign for a political party because of things like a family tradition.

Tone – especially with video footage

Unlike much of the mainstream media, I take the view that everyone who goes into local democracy does so because they want to make a positive difference to their local community. That view remains with all participants until I’m proven otherwise. (No, I won’t give examples of the people who have proven me otherwise – I don’t want to give them the publicity).

Therefore with video footage I take the view that *I want the speaker to do well*. I want them to get across the message that they want to get across to the viewer, and be happy with how they have appeared on video. I try my best to apply that principle across the political matrix.

Does it mean that I interview and film everyone? Helllllllll……no!!!

I do this primarily because I enjoy it and because feedback from many people is that it makes a positive difference to our local democracy.

Reporting like a responsible journalist (even though I’m not qualified as one), but thinking as an historian (which I am).

Spending much time in the archives and surrounded by old books on the history of the borough of Cambridge, I’m very much thinking about the historical record – which is why the cuts to libraries and archives budgets concern me greatly. I’m also very concerned about the inability (for whatever reason) of our local archives to become digitised – and thus being unable to bring in new generations of local historians into our community, and also missing out on potential revenue streams because people simply do no know about the historical treasures (and I’m not talking about bling) that are hidden in the archives. Recently I was speaking to one local archivist who said they have hundreds of old nitrate negatives, lantern slides and photographic negatives that they would love to get developed but can’t afford the tens of thousands of pounds it costs to get them processed. As a result, no one will ever know what is on them.

The other issue I have is that we have no way of systematically depositing digital records to our county archives. I’ve got over 7TB of data waiting to be received, but our archives have been starved of resources due to the cuts from Central Government, and the city has no mechanism to tap into the wealth we’re told Cambridge has, in order not just to preserve our past, but make it far more accessible to much wider audiences.

Back to impartiality

This is where I need to deposit the video archives as they are, not as individual parties or groups would like them to be. Eg not publishing that bad bit or zapping that mistake from the speech they made in a council meeting. For me this is important because I am benefiting from the work of journalists over 100 years ago who wrote transcripts of debates, public meetings and of important speeches. Compare and contrast:

I’ll finish with the wise words of Mayor Florence Ada Keynes:

“The basis of all social life is co-operation, and it is certainly the basis of our local government. In the council itself, it calls for co-operation between voluntary committees and expert officers…

“It calls also for co-operation between the electors and those whom they return to their local parliament. This can be best exercised by a vigilance that is not mere fault-finding but supplies constructive criticism and occasionally goes so far as to mark its appreciation of honest effort for the good of the community.”

Even in ‘the olden days’ the media and electorate would throw abuse at elected representatives. In the days before TV and radio, I get the sense from the archives that things felt a lot more confrontational and intense, despite the nominal politeness. It’s easy to moan and be cynical about politicians and politics. We see it every day. I’ve chosen the harder route of being positive about politics. It has more than a few challenges…but that’s part of the fun of it too!

Cambridge-based planning, legal & financial professionals: your city needs *You*

Summary

On why our city of Cambridge needs our communities to play a much more active and prominent role in our civic life. (I’ll be making the same call for our scientists & engineers, and many others, in separate blogposts soon!)

The local branch of the Royal Institute of British Architects sparred with the dragon. We were discussing a policy brought in by Bristol City Council on requiring developers to proactively engage with local communities at pre-application stage.

The document I wanted to refer to was this one. I’ve asked a few planning professionals to see if England has the same requirements for pre-application community engagement that Wales has as a mandatory requirement for major planning applications.

Obviously the problem as far as I am concerned originates in Whitehall & Westminster. Ministers have tabled, and whipped parliamentarians into passing legislation that puts far too much power in the hands of developers. Having experienced how developers lobby ministers, it’s sobering to see the results of that lobbying delivering huge profits at the expense of communities.

Property professionals getting a bad name?

It’s something I’m hearing more and more of in political circles – and dare I say it from myself as well. The problem for the professionals and specialists in the field is that the system they work in is designed to produce the sorts of behaviours that local residents get so angry about. The investors – especially those not based in Cambridge – or the UK for that matter – don’t have to worry about what locals think. Not unless said locals go all 1917 on housing and seize them. By which point law and order would have broken down. History tells us that there are very few winners in revolutions – and many, many losers. And I’m not about to wish violence and mortality on anyone.

It’s not like the professionals in Cambridge don’t care about the city – they do

You only have to look at the high levels of participation in the various fund raisers that take place throughout the year to see this reflected. Away from the headlines, there are many who give their free time to local groups, communities and causes. Having people with legal, financial and HR backgrounds on your school board of governors, or your board of trustees for a local charity is an incredible resource to have. During my school governor days a few years ago, we had meetings and workshops in conference spaces that would normally cost a fortune to hire out, but were granted to us for free by one of the city’s most prominent law firms. Again because one of the governors was on the staff there.

“So…where’s the gap?”

As the Cambridge Architects said, we didn’t ask. But then ‘we’ is a very disparate group of community activists dotted about all over the place. That said, we’re becoming a more coherent group the more council and city deal meetings we meet each other at. That plus social media means that it is much easier now to keep people in touch with each other.

While there are a number of highly experienced and qualified people supporting the various different campaigning groups scrutinising the growth of Cambridge, the groups of people who seem to be conspicuous by their absence are:

  • Teenagers/students/young people
  • Recent graduates
  • People from minority ethnic backgrounds
  • People with disabilities

The reason why this matters from my perspective is because the life experiences of all those listed above are less likely to be taken into account when it comes to decision-making on Cambridge’s future. That’s not good.

“What are the solutions?”

I’m no longer young, and I’m not a recent graduate. That means I now have a blind spot where I don’t know what the day-to-day pressures are for young people and recent graduates, let alone having any idea of how we ‘design out’ the problems that they face.

So: here’s my request/plea for action.

Can those of you who work in the field of professional corporate services – such as finance, legal, planning, surveying and so on, get together and host a city-wide event (or events) that brings all of you together with campaigners fighting for a better city, to work out how we can all work together for the benefit of everyone who makes up Cambridge? (Remember my definition covers people who live, work, commute into Cambridge – as well as those that visit regularly).

What I’m asking for:

  • An event – big conference, smaller workshops, teach-ins – your choice

Who I’m asking

  • Cambridge’s communities of professional associations

What I’m not asking for:

  • Money
  • One or two people to take on an additional full-time job
  • Anyone to vote for a specific political party

(If you’re interested in the party politics, The Democracy Club are preparing a guide for residents on who is standing in which wards/divisions at the local elections on 04 May – have a look at https://candidates.democracyclub.org.uk/)

Because if Florence Ada Keynes, the Mother of Modern Cambridge can do all of this, who knows what you can do to build on her legacy and of those that worked so hard with her.

C’mon Cambridge. Let’s do this. 

Re: Creating the disruptive digital archive by John Sheridan of National Archives

Summary

Wrestling with digital archiving at a local level – in a very unique city

A couple of blogposts have been posted on digital archiving of late. This one on the hidden costs of digitising archives, via The Fitzwilliam Museum is sobering reading,  while the head of The National Archives in the UK, John Sheridan writes about their digital strategy.

“Yes, but you’re in Cambridge and Cambridge is loaded and the streets are paved with gold so it’s not like Cambridge has a problem…is it?”

Let’s get this straight: ***Cambridge is not just a university***

If we were to get all town-vs-gown about it, Cambridge University is only there because us townies say they can be there. We took them in when they fled the other place because we are ***nice***. (We did the same when the Belgians fled The Kaiser in WWI, and our first woman Mayor of Cambridge, Mayor Eva Hartree welcomed refugees fleeing from the fascist dictators while UK newspaper proprietors were hob-nobbing with them.

Actually, it’s more serious than that. We’re living in a time where The University of Cambridge is in the process of raising £2bn while our defunct system of 2-tier councils cannot afford to pave the roads and pavements properly. Homes in my childhood neighbourhood, built as family homes in the inter-war period are hitting London prices – a 3-bed semi in Coleridge Ward (which gave Puffles 89 votes in the city council elections in 2014) won’t sell for less than half a million pounds. Which is stupid-crazy-stupid.

“Can’t you just ask Cambridge University for some spare cash? After all, one undergraduate has got money to burn – literally”

A negative stereotype hitting the headlines due to the stupidity of one individual. What the news wasn’t reporting were all of the students in Cambridge collecting donations, food and drinks, then going out to take food to the homeless on cold, wet, dark evenings out of sight of the media lenses. I saw them with my own eyes on my way back from various meetings and events – and still see them now, long after the storm has gone away. The real 21st Century Cambridge is one where town and gown unite and work together to solve the shared problems of our city – as wonderfully demonstrated by the Cambridge Hub.

“What’s this got to do with archives?”

That level of co-operation hasn’t yet reached our archives – and as a city we’ve got more than most inside our civic boundaries.

“Ask the University for some cash and job done!”

If only it was as simple as that.

“Isn’t it?”

No.

For a start, nominally we have two civic public archives: The Cambridgeshire Collection on the third floor of the central library, and the County Archives. Then there is the Cambridge and County Folk Museum – now called the Museum of Cambridge.

I’ve been speaking to a number of people in the local history scene and it’s clear that our civic museums and archives are being run on an absolute shoe-string. It’s testament to the work of the people volunteering and working in the sector in the face of such cuts to their resources that they can keep things going. Digitising anything is the last of the priorities at the moment – and I don’t blame them. Part of the problem is political, part of it is cultural.

“Politicians again?”

While the people of Cambridgeshire continue to vote for politicians that prioritise council tax freezes or cuts ahead of public services, the consequences are inevitable – especially in the face of Whitehall cuts – something tweeted by Labour’s Cllr Dave Baigent (although he made a typo with the year).

If I were a party political type, I’d have that statistic plastered up over every other billboard across the county – in particular in those rural areas struggling with the cuts. But I’m no, so there.

Fortunately, someone in Cambridge far wiser and more sensible than I will ever be, summarised the challenge for voters, councillors and council officers.

The basis of all social life is co-operation, and it is certainly the basis of our local government. In the council itself, it calls for co-operation between voluntary committees and expert officers. This is a matter of careful adjustment, possible only to a people with a real faculty for self-government. It calls also for co-operation between the electors and those whom they return to their local parliament. This can be best exercised by a vigilance that is not mere fault-finding but supplies constructive criticism and occasionally goes so far as to mark its appreciation of honest effort for the good of the community

The above quotation was from Mayor Florence Ada Keynes in her mayoral acceptance speech in November 1932, courtesy of the Cambridgeshire Collection. Basically, tax rises are not without consequences (neither are cuts). She goes on further.

“Underlying the many subjects to which the Council will have to give anxious attention during the year, is the expenditure of public money with that true economy which avoids waste and parsimony.”

I’ve given Mayor Keynes the title: The Mother of Modern Cambridge. She arrived as an undergraduate at Newnham College in the early 1880s. At that time Cambridge University constables were still throwing women they thought might be sex workers into their own prison (until 17 year old hero Daisy Hopkins stood her ground and metaphorically castrated the Vice Chancellor), and the town suffered from multiple deprivation on its doorstep – as another Cambridge Hero and the best MP we never had, Eglantyne Jebb (Mayor Keynes’ mentee, who founded Save The Children) wrote in her epic 1906 study, cited our town’s infant mortality rate as being 1:8 (as opposed to about 3:1,000 today). When she died, she left us with the record of being the first woman councillor, second woman mayor, first woman magistrate, and gave us the Guildhall in Market Square, resolving an 80 year dispute about what to do for a new guildhall. Oh – and her son, John Maynard Keynes gave Cambridge the Arts Theatre.

“What’s that got to do with digital archiving?”

The funding is political. If people want their local archives to be looked after, someone’s got to pay for it. Hence why I’ve taken the issue to full council.

Interestingly my line of questioning got cross-party support

The council’s written response is here.

The problem is that our local archives are in no position to digitise, let alone commercialise the resources that they have. Think of all of the old photographs of the streets of Cambridge they could digitise and sell digital copies of, just as the Francis Frith Collection has done here.

Interestingly, Mr Sheridan of the National Archives hints at an answer.

Collaboration between archives and other memory institutions is essential as we move forward. We’re looking forward to further contributing to the Digital Preservation Coalition (which is a national treasure!), sharing what we’re doing, learning from others, and working together.

The above is from Mr Sheridan’s final paragraph of his blogpost.

From my perspective with their equipment, expertise and resources, the University of Cambridge’s Library (The UL) is in a unique place to be the lead organisation for digitising Cambridge’s civic history – which is a shared history for better or worse. When I tabled the idea of such a project in a public Q to the Vice Chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz at Homerton College recently, he remained non-committal (as he had to be in such a situation).

Given that Cambridgeshire County Council – who are responsible for our civic archives – have their four-yearly elections coming up in on 04 May 2017, now is the perfect opportunity to make this an election issue – niche an issue as it is.

But it will be a very, very long time before Cambridge – and other local civic archives are in a place to become second generation digital archives that Mr Sheridan talks of. That’s not his fault. That responsibility lies with politicians elected to public office. And perhaps collectively too with the rest of us responsible for electing them.

On supporting and growing community reporting

Summary

Including how to take community reporting and democracy education offline

Some of you will have seen my pleas for support for my community reporting and also historical research in and around Cambridge (Even though the button says ‘Buy now’)


Donate

…because freedom isn’t free, and neither is scrutinising democracy. Hence why I welcome the work of local journalists (i.e. the qualified ones) like Josh Thomas of the Cambridge News who stayed at Cambridge Guildhall till about 1am to report on the Cambridge City Council budget debate. I called it a night after 10pm – a good four hours after the meeting started. (See the playlist of videos here). Mr Thomas stayed for the whole seven hours – as did your councillors. In a nutshell, if budgets don’t get passed, bins don’t get collected and the councils get taken over by Whitehall commissioners.

There’s also Ben Comber of the Cambridge Independent, alongside Hannah Olsson of BBC Cambridgeshire who between the three of them cover as much as they can on local politics. They are the trained professionals – of which we have fewer and fewer of due to cuts to local journalism resulting from changing viewing/reading habits.

“How do you/we support independent journalism and community reporters?”

My thinking on this stems from a bit of a Twitterspat last night which upset a number of you online and off. I won’t link to it, but one of the reasons I kept going before blocking is that I’m interested in the concept of people following journalists that they rate, as opposed to the news organisations that they work for. There are some journalists who I will stop what I’m doing to read what they’ve posted (eg The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman), while there might be other writers for the same publication or organisation whose output I consider to be little short of carbon and/or oxygen thievery.

At the independent end, Laurie Penny has raised a significant amount of support for her work. She’s the first person I’ve become aware of who has reached that significant level of crowd-sourced independent financial support to free herself from the restrictions of editors and managers – and thus has the freedom to follow wherever the evidence leads her to.

“Is the model difference for hyperlocal journalists and community reporters?”

I don’t consider myself a journalist because I’m not qualified in the field. What I have is extensive work experience in the field that I comment and report on. In Cambridge too, community reporters bounce off our qualified and salaried counterparts and vice-versa. Sometimes this might as small as a retweet on a feed, to inclusion in a live online website news feed (See the Cambridge News on the council budget here). It might result in a prominent newspaper article (such as described here) through to being an interviewee on TV or radio.

screenshotaclookeastbbcinterview

(This is why you always ask people you are filming to spell out their names alphabetically before interviewing them – forget to do so and they can end up spelling your name wrong – as the BBC did with my surname here).

Note with the broadcast media, they have to be balanced in their political coverage. With limited broadcast time, quite often it’s better for them to go to a non-party-political informed voice (i.e. someone who is either an expert in the field or someone who has followed the news item/subject area in detail).

Women are under-represented as commenters/interviewees in the media in many fields. Therefore the BBC has launched a scheme to get more women involved. Have you specialised in any of the subjects/themes listed here? If so, email expert.women@bbc.co.uk because in Cambridgeshire at least, we need far more women providing expert analysis on all things local government and more. I would rather listen to you than hear the sound of my own voice!

“How do you hold accountable freelance or independent reporters?”

I have an informal agreement with the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations to film meetings of the Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire Local Plan, and meetings of the Greater Cambridge City Deal Assembly and Board meetings. Where I am paid to film something, I declare it in the description on the videos, and also assign the intellectual property to them as commissioners rather than to me. This means that if any third parties want to use the footage, they need to acknowledge the people that paid me to do the filming and editing.

For those of you that have contributed financially to support me, first of all

***Thank you***

Secondly, I’ve also been thinking about some offline gatherings – not least to share what I’ve learnt filming and observing on your behalf. Furthermore, one of the things that is broken in the mainstream media is feedback loops. At a local level, dealing with that broken loop is much easier than at a national or international level. Not least because you are much more likely to know who supports you on a personal level. Interestingly enough, it’s that personal support from across the political spectrum that is the ‘disciplining invisible hand’ to keep things as impartial as possible when filming/reporting. This means separating news from analysis from opinion.

  • News: There was a budget meeting at The Guildhall on 23 Feb at which executive councillors gave summaries on their plans for the next year
  • Analysis: Councillors debated whether Cambridge should have a youth council as part of their democracy outreach to teenagers. This compares with South Cambridgeshire District Council which already has a youth council.
  • Opinion: I think Cambridge should have its own youth council like South Cambridgeshire.

The first is simply reporting what has happened. The second is where you are asking some questions on what has been reported. “How does this compare with A, B, C?” is one of the most straight forward Qs you can ask and answer that would fall into analysis. The third is where you are making a subjective opinion. It’s also why I don’t like seeing the phrase “It is recommended…” in council reports. I’d like to see council officers being more confident and taking ownership of the reports they write and the recommendations they make.

“I am a professional council officer who is suitably qualified in the field of [Planning/Housing/Transport etc] and I have written this report. To deal with the issue above, I recommend [A, B or C]”

It just gives me more confidence that someone is taking ownership of the issue at hand.

“Talks, workshops and seminars – on local democracy and local history too?”

These are what I want to organise for the spring following the success of the first ‘democracy in action’ workshop I convened that was hosted by FECRA at St Phillip’s Church on Mill Road in Cambridge last year. To summarise, the workshop got all of us to illustrate what our neighbourhoods looked like, and also what our city looked like. We examined how the local institutions served us in our neighbourhoods and had an impact on our lives. We then looked at the money trail and the lines of accountability, ensuring that we all had a basic understanding of how our village/town/city functioned, and how it related to Parliament and Government before we started looking at how ordinary residents might influence things and hold those in office to account.

I want to run these ‘Democracy in action’ workshops again – but I need your help to do so

I’ve got the workshop template and the materials to run the workshop. What I don’t have are the venues or the strong links inside the wide range of community groups in and around Cambridge to bring those people together for such workshops. So:

  • Do you run a community group, organisation or network in/around Cambridge?
  • Would those that form the above like to learn more about how our democracy functions with a view to taking [positive/constructive] action afterwards – action that helps strengthen our communities and our local democracy?
  • Could you book a venue and convene such a group of people for such an event?

If so, please drop me an email at antonycarpen [at] gmail

[Also] I want to run some local history workshops – but again I need your help to do so

I want to share the findings of the group of women I am calling the Cambridge Heroes – the women that shaped modern Cambridge. Basically because I can’t shut up about how wonderful the likes of Florence Ada Keynes and Eglantyne Jebb were for our city.

eglantynejebbcambridgesavethechildren

Cambridge Hero: Eglantyne Jebb, who wrote the first social scientific study of poverty & multiple deprivation in Cambridge, in 1906.

florence-ada-keynes-portrait

Cambridge Legend: Cllr Florence Ada Keynes – our first woman councillor elected in 1914, and our second woman mayor of Cambridge – who also oversaw the building of the modern guildhall in Market Square.

Again, if any of you are able to book a venue and gather a group of interested people, please drop me an email.

Many bridges, one Cambridge, it’s your city.

 

 

Tabled Questions for the Gtr Cambridge City Deal – March 2017

Summary

Dragon has been digging and has some awkward questions

My question for the City Deal Assembly is as follows:

“Please can I table the following Q for item 8 at http://scambs.moderngov.co.uk/ieListDocuments.aspx?CId=1073&MId=6848&Ver=4 (three campuses)

Just over a year ago, you published this press release at http://www.gccitydeal.co.uk/citydeal/news/article/35/public_consultation_proposed_to_tackle_congestion_between_cambridge_and_haverhill on the options available for dealing with congestion south-east out of Cambridge towards Haverhill. Much of the traffic coming into Cambridge comes down Cherry Hinton Road – where I live down. I am now on medication because of the impact of the worsening air quality due to the extended traffic jams down that road.
I note the City Deal Board rejected Rail Haverhill’s proposals in Feb 2016. I would like to challenge that decision based on very strong assumptions given to the consultants in carrying out their assessment as described in the draft rail viability technical note Jan 2016.
(It’s appendix B of “REPORT NO 70012014-003 A1307 HAVERHILL TO CAMBRIDGE CORRIDOR DRAFT CONCEPTS REPORT”)
The authors state:
“A Cambridge-Haverhill railway line could also ultimately form part of a more strategic rail link from Cambridge to Colchester, via Haverhill and Sudbury, including the existing Sudbury to Marks Tey branch. However, this strategic option is beyond the scope of this technical note and the current study.”
This strategic option is central to the business case for Haverhill, for it links by rail the two campuses of Anglia Ruskin University (Chelmsford & Cambridge via Colchester)

Who made the decision to restrict this strategic option for Rail Haverhill to be between just the town and Cambridge Station?
I call on you to ask The Board to
A) Run a brief crowd-sourcing exercise to invite people to suggest what refreshed assumptions should be applied to a reappraisal of the rail option
B) Commission the consultants to re-appraise the Rail Haverhill option subject to the following assumptions:
1) That the Rail Haverhill proposals will be as part of the national rail network linking Colchester-Sudbury-Haverhill-Cambridge-Wisbech
and then…
2) That Rail Haverhill will be part of the Connect Cambridge Light Rail proposals”
My question for the city deal board is as follows:
“The City Deal Board announced an award of £50,000 of funding for research into the Cambridge Bullet Bus (reported at http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/news/cambridge-news/city-deal-invests-futuristic-120-12124803). I have not been able to find any explanation into this project online – the complete opposite of the case for Rail Haverhill and for Cambridge Connect Light Rail.
Please can the City Deal Board:
1) release a formal document explaining at least the basics of what the bullet bus project actually is, and the considerations made before approving the release of £50,000 of funding for research for this project (which seemed to come out of the blue)
2) please comment on whether they will be willing to fund the necessary technical and financial feasibility studies for Rail Haverhill and the Cambridge Connect proposals in tranche 2 as part of the research budgets. I find it astonishing that such proposals were swept aside in tranche 1 given the levels of growing public support for both projects which have had extended publicity on the work already done, compared to the bullet bus project
3) please comment on how you will ensure the public – and in particular the academic community & experts in & around Cambridge will be able to scrutinise the assessments you make on the cost/benefits of proposals put forward given the disquiet of your conclusions originally for the rail haverhill project.”
The problem is that all of the detailed papers are not listed or uploaded to the City Deal website – note the few papers listed at http://www.gccitydeal.co.uk/citydeal/downloads/download/1/documents
Recall that Cambridge City Council also has a similar issue with this ***very juicy store*** of planning documents (https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/)  that haven’t been properly listed and publicised. Because if you click on that link and go to ‘RD_STRAT’ (https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/public/ldf/coredocs/RD-STRAT/) you’ll find, if you are an historian that document no. 430 part 1 and no 430 part 2 are none other than scans of the 67 year old Holford-Wright Report of 1950 that shaped the post-war Cambridge that we know today – prior to the building work post-millennium.
Updated to add:
This is the route of my document search I followed:
Via a number of documents I came back to this paper:
Then do a word search for “Rail Viability Technical Note (pdf, 2.1MB)
Then scroll down to 2.2

“What is your vision of Cambridge in 2065?”

Summary

We get lots of reports that get launched with a big fanfare, but who does the progress checks?

Before I start: Democracy Cambridge on Facebook <<<— Please click here and *Like* (and share!)

This in part stems from my blogpost of yesterday and the problems of local government as it continues to move away from being a grant distributor under Labour in the 2000s to this age of rapid technological and social change along with the financial cuts post-2010 in an era of fragmented public services. That’s to say nothing of Brexit or DonnyT.

Losing count of the number of ‘fire and forget’ future visions for Cambridge

Half of them are probably mine and most of those are past blogposts! I jest. Actually, Puffles manifesto for 2014 was nothing if not a future vision for Cambridge. Does it stand the test of time? Have a look at the manifesto and judge for yourself. Furthermore, the city council has started implementing parts of that manifesto – which me and Puffles think is ***splendid***. The council started with doing an audit of community venues and service provision. They are now consulting on their Community Services Strategy that builds on this – an excellent piece of evidence-based policy-making.

Last week, Cllr Richard Johnson (Lab – Abbey), executive councillor for communities announced the council would be spending £10,000 ‘to explore how best to involve the City’s 12 – 15 year olds in decision making’ (See his press release here). I refer Cambridge’s councillors to the Young People’s theme of Puffles’s manifesto of 2014.  The formal details of Cllr Johnson’s amendment to secure the £10,000 is in the document BSR Executive Amendment via this link. (****Why do they bury all of the important stuff?!?!****)

[***Updated to add***]

Cllr Zoe O’Connell (Lib Dems – Trumpington) tweeted the following a few mins ago:

Cambridge Liberal Democrats are calling for the city council to spend £30,000 on democracy engagement with young people, rather than the £10,000 as proposed by Labour. Either way (and I’m not too fussed who wants to take credit), I’m glad that some money is being spent and that the issue is being raised. This marks a significant policy change from this response from former councillor George Owers when he was executive councillor for finance back in 2014.

“In terms of ‘engaging youth’ and visiting schools, I would point out that a) I was the youngest councillor ever elected to Cambridge City Council (21 when elected) and b) schools and young people are a County not a City issue. It’s not a blurred line, it’s the most unblurred demarcation in our two-tier local government system. Why not contact county councillors about these issues?”

You can understand why several people encouraged me to stand for election after reading that reply. It reads strongly now, but this was at a time when I was blogging very critically of the city council generally, and elected councillors were responding with both barrels.

So…that’s 20% of Puffles’ manifesto that the city council are currently working on. On Thursday I get to ask them about air quality and all things green. If Cambridge gets a low emissions zone and/or restrictions on highly polluting vehicles coming into Cambridge, that will bring us up to 30%.

“What about the other visions?”

Here’s 24 from autumn 2015.

To try and summarise each one in a single line:

  1. Lara Allen: “Equality – yay!” But few specifics
  2. Anne Bailey: Overhaul education – drag out of Victorian age & make lifelong
  3. Alan Blackwell: Make Cambridge more self-governing but direct privileges to the poor (‘King’s Hedges College, Cambridge’)
  4. Julian Bowrey: Expand city boundaries & make single unitary authority
  5. David Cleevely: Cambridge to be even bigger than Julian Bowrey says, with driverless cars & smart tech
  6. Ben Cowell: Wicken Fen & the countryside is coming to get you!
  7. Douglas Crawford Brown: 80% of buildings in 2065 around have already been built – retrofit.
  8. @CambsCC: “East West Rail – yay!” “Bikes – yay!” “Choice of transport – yay!”
  9. Bob Dennison/Stagecoach: “Buses/multiple person travel pods – yay!”
  10. Rachel Drury: “Art and science – yay!” “Festivals without pollution – yay!”
  11. Lynsi Hayward Smith: Skills – do we have them? How will demand/needs change?
  12. Rachel Jones: My life in a day – at 95
  13. Peter Landshoff: Old people – more of them (us?) with growing needs
  14. Lewis Herbert: “Here’s our 2015 manifesto” – does it stand the test of time?
  15. Ian Lewis: We’ll grow even more than what David Cleevely said
  16. Theresa Marteau: Smoke-free city, safe booze, healthier population
  17. Anna McIvor: Sustainable green living FTW.
  18. Roger Mitchell: Heritage, culture & leisure connected – all green & sustainable
  19. John Miles: “My bullet bus – yay!”
  20. Tony Raven: How the bloody hell am I supposed to know? In 1965 no one predicted Facebook!
  21. Claire Ruskin: Dammit we’re good!
  22. Jeremy Sanders: University of Cambridge has these needs – which you will deliver on
  23. Emma Thornton: We have World Heritage Status – yeah, back off parasitical developers!
  24. Jane Wilson: We’re going to grow our lovely & green centre outwards, not build more ‘nice centre surrounded by suburbia’ units.

Now, all of the above are a mix of tongue-in-cheek, a bit of humour and trying to take the important bits.

24 people will give you more than 24 different visions. All of the people concerned are either eminent in their fields locally and/or are well-connected due to their workplace. If I took you to meet the Abbey People or to Arbury, The St Matthew’s Estate on East Road, the council houses that friends and children I went to school with grew up in, you might get different views of what Cambridge 2065 might be like. Dare I say it, in some fields they might be even more radical than the above-24 because they are not constrained by professional or institutional boundaries. Also, children in particular generally have a better understanding of what the future is going to be like compared with older adults because they are living and learning with the technology in a way that we never did at school.

Why it’s important to look at past predictions of the future

The map below is from 1958 – a study overseen by WL Waide, our county planner on the future of Cambridge as he predicted for 2011 – showing proposed cycleways and secondary schools. The secondary school for Abbey Ward is under construction. There isn’t one for Fulbourn. The second schools for Histon/Impington & Girton haven’t been built. One of the two predicted in Trumpington has just opened, and the one for Shelford has not been planned. Oh – and we never got the city-wide cycle network.

img_6691

And this was in the days when car was king!

“Are there any principles that stand out?”

Yes – a number. At some stage collectively we’ll have to grasp the nettles, get stung and keep going…or change direction if the stings are too painful!

Governance, controls, structures, systems and processes

The boring but essential stuff. Get this wrong and we can forget about everything else. The thing is there will always be a tension between what businesses want (i.e. a single point of contact and a single decision-maker) vs what residential communities want (i.e. a something that stops the local authority from allowing stuff they don’t like from being built in their neighbourhood). Part of the conversation – that Julian Bowrey quite rightly examined, was on the nature of civic governance our Cambridge of the future should have. Personally I could only see a mayoral model working if an elected legislature around it had real teeth and powers to it – including the ability to veto deputy mayoral appointments and to direct the mayor to undertake specific actions (or block the mayor if necessary).

A civic culture

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve read about the wealth of talent Cambridge has. So why are we blessed with the most mediocre of new building designs and see so little of the scientific, engineering, artistic and cultural talent transferring across to local public policy and party political fields? One of the things I continually challenge our city over is improving our democratic culture – hence launching Democracy Cambridge on FB so that at least people are made aware of what meetings are happening and when across our institutions – compensating for a lack of a single institution to manage all of this.

What institutions and facilities are needed to anchor things like improving health and a strengthened civic culture?

The segregated cycle network is one. Not building gated communities everywhere is another. I tear my hair out over the inconsistencies between what the likes of the Town and Country Planning Association come out with vs what the developers design and build in and around Cambridge. At least it’ll be easier to retrofit the bland facades of the etch-a-sketch designed buildings in and around Cambridge Railway Station with green walls – long after the developers and their financiers have run off with their ill-gotten gains from gaming the planning system.

Clusters – do they work for sports as well?

For me, the Newmarket Road ice rink currently in the pipeline after 30 years of waiting (I’m so getting myself a pair of ice skates to learn to skate properly – so long as the rink is on a bus route, even though I’ll be nearly 40 by the time it opens!) is a huge opportunity to build a multi-purpose sports village at the other end of the city. When I look at the maps of the city, and the predictions of the likes of David Cleevely and others, we’re going to need to plan that infrastructure now. That also includes the proposed rowing lake at Milton Country Park – if only to protect the fauna that gets killed by boats. Ducklings and cygnets are regular victims of rowing crews on a very crowded river.

Transport – beyond local

If we’re going for a city of over 200,000, more of that expansion is inevitably going to be in the east. I’ve given my preference of moving the Marshall’s Airport out to Mildenhall, linking it to Cambridge by rail along the old rail link, then having it extending out to Swaffham, circling Norwich (linking the University of East Anglia and Norwich Airport by rail) and out to Great Yarmouth. Thus it gives Cambridge a direct rail link to the seaside – and also to Great Yarmouth which is currently one of the country’s most economically deprived towns. slide1

I can imagine a few people who wouldn’t mind living by the seaside if it meant a commute to Cambridge of less than an hour and fifteen minutes on a single train. Basically if you’re going to talk of Cambridge as a regional centre – and many books from over the decades and even over a century ago use similar language, then the transport infrastructure has to match that. Again I’d think radically for this. My Cambridge-Mildenhall-Norwich-Gt Yarmouth line would be an extension of East-West-Rail, which I’d have extending out to the Welsh Coastline in the far west. I’d reopen the rail link from King’s Lynn to Hunstanton for those that want a quieter seaside stay. In the even more longer term I’d look at a line extending out from Wisbech to Boston, Lincoln, Scunthorpe and terminating at Hull. By that time I’d like to think you could be running services that could get you from Boston to Cambridge within an hour, and from Wisbech in half an hour.

“Those are big distances and not cheap”

At the moment my only barrier is ambition. Some ideas will chime with people, others won’t.

“Like that concert hall?”

Ah – a new massive concert hall for Cambridge – which I wrote about here with a specific site. It got local newspaper coverage and proved to be quite controversial (see here) but I’ve chosen to respond to the comments and brickbats thrown at my ideas rather than let the negativity reign supreme. Reach for the stars – because although you may only reach the tops of the trees, the view is just as nice.

“And the castle?”

We used to have one in Cambridge

cambridgecastleoldecastles

From http://www.ecastles.co.uk/cambridge.html though I can’t pretend it’s the most accurate representation! cambcastlehogg

There’s this one too via https://www.antique-prints-maps.com/acatalog/Cambridge_antique_prints.html

It stemmed from an exchange with Norwich Castle

They kept their castle, why didn’t we? More to the point, if Cambridge ends up with a unitary authority, that leaves a vacant Shire Hall that could easily be turned into a hotel, and having a rebuilt castle acting as a big extension to the Museum of Cambridge. My thinking on this is that you’d make the castle to be expanded in scale (sort of like the modern ‘Mini’ cars vs their 1960s originals) that could also be home of the city/county archives, rather than in the big warehouse at Ely that’s planned.

Remember it was the gaming of our planning system that led to proposals for the county archives being at Cambridge Railway Station (the old mill silo – see pg3 of this) being dropped. ***This should have been our new historical and cultural centre***

2005spillersmillsilo

but instead greedy developers hoodwinked the city council and instead we’re getting a bland block

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…that will be useless to everyone except the London commuters that live in it – and the landowner collecting rent.

Yes ladies and gentlemen, we can come up with all of the wonderful ideas in the world, but while ministers and senior politicians allow developers and their paymasters to behave like this, ideas is what they will remain.