“Like millions of others, I was fed the myth…It’s bollocks, mate.”


“On the back of Dr Jessica Eaton’s blogpost on council estate academics, how things looked in late 20thC Cambridge”

Dr Eaton’s blogpost is here – do read it first. The indented paragraphs are quoted from Dr Eaton’s blogpost, bar a separate blogpost towards the end.

Have a listen to this:

Lippy Kids by Elbow.

“In conversation with the magazine Q , singer Guy Garvey told about the song that was written to defend the British teenager. He said about this that they are victims of “the anti- hoodie shit that’s in the media, the thought that if you hang around the corner of a street, you’re a criminal.”” (See here)

It was only later on that I found out the above was the reasoning behind it. At school in the 1990s, my response to said lippy kids who disrupted our learning was a desire to have the lot of them put up against a wall and shot. I was a very angry teenager that internalised everything to the damage of my mental health. In many regards I still am that same angry teenager who still hasn’t processed the impact of what I see as those lost years, trying to reconcile the contradictions of life in conservative and Conservative South Cambridge.

“I was desperate to escape my council estate. I used to dream of the day that I ran away and lived somewhere ‘nice’. I fantasised about becoming rich and successful so I could afford the things I needed to live. I hated that council estate so much by the time I was 18, that I continued to be ashamed and embarrassed of my roots until I was at least 26 years old.”

The above was me aged 16 in my GCSEs year, and then again aged 20 just before I left Cambridge to go to university – something that I assumed would be a permanent departure with few return journeys.

“I want to share my 5 reasons for pride and the way my thinking has changed over the last few years; which has transformed my thinking from hating my roots to loving and respecting them.”

In my case, I’m still trying to figure out what my roots are. There are a number of reasons for this. The first is that the part of Cambridge I grew up in was a very mixed community. This didn’t necessarily make mixing easy. We had a couple of small council estates mixed in with traditional inter-war semi detached houses through to the large detached houses around and off Hills Road. In a couple of minutes you could go from one friend’s home which was a council house to another friend’s house which was a large detached house.

How television in particular drove the message of consumerism – which with hindsight fractured more than a few year groups on income lines.

Have a look at this advert.

I vaguely remember my late grandfather doing some grocery shopping at the local continental stores and when given a choice of margarines, I was like

“You’ve gotta get that one because on telly they said it’s got no artificial ingredients!” 

I was about five. Such adverts even persuaded primary-school-aged me that we needed things that we absolutely did not. Like toothpaste for dentures.

Muuuuuuum! Telly says we gotta get dentu-creme because ‘Brush fresh, brush clean, all you need is dental cream!’

It was only in 1999 at my first lecture at university our first lecturer said if there was one thing to remember from the entire degree, just because something is in print or on TV, doesn’t mean that it’s true; question everything.

And newspapers…

…and soft drinks in particular.

Now, imagine living in a world where all the images of people in the media – in adverts, art, music and sport (for me it was football) had pretty much no one who looked like you.

“It’s the music that sells it, isn’t it?”

Yep. And the message that I got was:

“Good little boys like me did their violin practice and went to church every Sunday – they didn’t play football!”

I still remember a former parish priest ranting that he couldn’t recruit enough altar servers in the mid-1990s because all the boys from church-going families played football on Sunday mornings, and he thought that such activities should be banned. Thus my experience of classical music were repeated exams between 1989-1992 and what must have been one of the worst church choirs in the city. Which explains why I recoil in horror at even the prospect of listening to choral music. And that was before the various scandals now associated with said institution hit the newspapers.

Combine that with a message of ‘You have to be good like White Jesus’ – this was before the Millennium – all the churches in Cambridge had depictions of the bearded one with blue eyes and fair hair. Even my grandparents had a couple of the portraits that were mass-produced at the time.

South Cambridge in the face of a decade and a half of austerity

Civic and social institutions everywhere were struggling. It’s only as a result of going through the past newspapers of the time that I now appreciate just how difficult it was for some of the adults at the time to deal with such uncaring ministers in Whitehall. And South Cambridge got off lightly compared to the mining towns and coastal towns that were crushed. The 1980s was also the first decade when schools in Cambridge would have more than just one child or family from minority ethnic &/or mixed heritage backgrounds. Even in the 1980s there were still teachers who had started their careers around the end of the Second World War. I don’t think any of those teachers could have imagined the world that we’re living in today. One of the results of all of this was that things like oppression and racism were never discussed at school – or college even. This was despite the fact that there were too many incidents of it happening. Again, not so much the random angry man or woman shouting in the street. It was more subtle than that.

“We convince ourselves that we can leave our poor pasts behind and reinvent ourselves as these new, successful, educated, accomplished people.”

One of the songs in the charts around the time I left school to go to a different separate sixth form college was this one.

…which is quite a depressing song really.

But such was the antagonism between different groups of us in our specific year group – something that a number of the teachers at the time and since then in subsequent years in our adult lives have commented on, that it was as if we couldn’t wait to see the back of each other.

It was only after university that I realised how ‘institutionalised’ we had become by an education system that was not fit for purpose – something that Baroness Kennedy’s reforms to teaching in 1997 would later make very clear. The rigid segregation children of year groups – something now done away with, is something that still lingers with me in my mindset that I can’t get away from. As a result – particularly in the mid-1990s I don’t have much memory of socialising outside our year group cohort. Even after completing my A-levels a little bit of me felt guilty at not having gone straight onto university because that was ‘the next thing to go onto’ – even though I tried to justify my decision at the time of not following the crowd. The reality was I didn’t think I was ready for it, and this was my first very close brush with failure – crashing and burning with exam results. And in late 1990s Cambridge, exam results were what we were judged by. Even the theoretical concepts of ‘failing’, pulling out or even having a ‘second chance’ was never discussed.

“One of the things that hit me the hardest when working in practice and academia is the way communities and individuals in poverty or oppression are perceived as a bit stupid, unable to become anything and destined for a life of shit.”

This was another myth we were sold, and I didn’t have the courage at the time to challenge it because we were all on that same hamster wheel. It was only when I joined the civil service in the mid-2000s that I bumped into a couple of people I was at school with, but who were streamed in lower academic ability sets, was I pleasantly surprised to find that they had later on gone to university and graduated successfully. Which then made me even more angry at ‘the system’ (and the Conservatives who were in government at the time) that their system of schooling did not allow for children to progress at different rates. It still doesn’t now.

“But generally, these kids that we are sidelining and ‘predicting poor outcomes’ for, will go on to be happy, healthy, successful parents and/or employed people in thousands of different roles in our communities.”

The one thing that really struck me – something I’ve only recently been able to make sense of, is how the entire culture was so incredibly judgemental. Church, with its unattainably high standards – set up almost as if they want everyone to fail, was a big driver behind this. Remember this was the days of Section 28. Shame was – and still is a very powerful weapon as we’ve seen with the recent news about morning daytime TV shows.

“I was always told by teachers and others that us kids on the estate we ‘never going to be anything’ – and why wouldn’t we believe them?”

In my case it was either the opposite – or rather it was something stereotypically ‘respectable’ – and for me it was ‘scientist’. I was going to become a scientist. I didn’t become that scientist because as with so many in my generation we had neither the facilities nor the qualified, passionate and enthused teaching staff. Furthermore, it was a time where only a few brave souls inside Cambridge University were prepared to do something for local school children with science outreach.

“So many of us dreamed of the perfect life away from the estate. We fantasised about how nice everything would be once we had enough money to pay the bills. We imagined our nice new cars that worked. We dreamt of friends and family around our posh houses. We thought about all the amazing jobs we could do when we were big.”

It was similar with me – in particular during my ‘year out’. (I never called it a gap year at the time – I think it was because there was a company at the time with that brand name that sent post-A-level students on placements to other countries, and I wasn’t on that programme but knew people who were). My passport to ‘success’ was to be this economics degree that I was due to start – with ‘development studies’ tagged on so I kept a conscience.

“Money solves some of your problems, like being hungry or having debt collectors trying to force their way in to your house all the time. But it doesn’t necessarily give you the emotional and social things you wanted. The higher you climb, the more you’ll notice how cut throat it is. How individualistic everyone is. How materialistic everyone is. How people are comfortable fucking over the little guy to step up the ladder.”

When I moved down to Whitehall and got to see, experience and live the bright lights of London, I very quickly found out that it wasn’t nearly as glamorous and wonderful as I had been led to believe. The class divide in the civil service fast stream was massive – and I had gotten in during one of the years it was being particularly poorly managed. Such is my luck. Fortunately it has been overhauled – not necessarily to the way I think it should have been done, but it is being properly managed and co-ordinated from the centre in a way that it wasn’t in my day.

“How unfair the world is, even when you think you’ve ‘made it’ to the upper echelons. How much you will be discriminated against in the academic world once they figure out that you’re not one of them.”

It was the ‘networking’ that was where the class divide was most prominent. The private school/oxbridge stereotype that I wanted to pretend didn’t exist turned out to be something that very much did. The one thing I persuaded Cabinet Office do to with my trade union hat on was to refocus its outreach activities towards those universities and colleges that have a highly diverse student body. It was interesting to see that bear fruit with an outreach programme of events hosted at many of the 92-group of universities.  Funnily enough I did find a niche in all things digital government but by that time it was too late – I had already decided to leave in the face of the Coalition’s huge job cuts.

“You have no idea what it feels like to be oppressed by a powerful group of people who see you as inferior and non-human, until you have been the oppressed people. You have no idea what it means to be forced to do things you don’t want to do because you owe someone money or someone is exploiting you.”

One of the reasons I never forgave my first university for my three ‘lost years’ was housing. A student from a wealthy family is less likely to struggle in a difficult housing market than someone who is from abroad or who visibly looks like they are from a minority ethnic background. I know what it’s like to have a racist prospective landlord slam the door in my face because he thought I was this nice well-spoken White student because of the accent he heard on the phone, only to see me rock up and tell me the room was ‘taken’. The place I ended up in was actually being run by the son of a family friend who happened to be studying at the same institution as me, but who I had not seen since I was at primary school. It was a sh-t hole and ended up being condemned as unfit for human habitation by Brighton and Hove Council.

“However, there is something about poverty, crime and oppression that no one can ever understand until they have lived in those environments and situations. You cannot possibly imagine what it is like to have no food and no way of getting any food, if you have always been fed.”

One of the reasons I went into housing policy in the civil service was because I was one of those people living a hand-to-mouth existence in and out of a fortunately friendly travellers hostel in Brighton while struggling with mental health issues in the face of an academic institution demanding tuition fees up front (I still haven’t forgiven Labour for that) while leaving everyone for dead in a very competitive housing market that inevitably caused tensions with locals who were also struggling. Labour might have had a chance of solving the housing problem if it hadn’t spent all that money on the Iraq war, and if they had stability in the roles of ministers for housing and local government. But Blair and Brown squandered both with their annual ministerial reshuffles.

“Like millions of others, I was fed the myth that if I worked hard and went to university, I could escape my social class and I could move up the ladder in society. It’s bollocks, mate.”

Have any of you played this game before?

I get that all too often.

As this article from 2010 explains, “it may not be racist but it’s a question I am tired of hearing.” By Ariane Sherine.

That article goes on further:

 “It’s partly down to exasperation at people thinking I’m less British than them because I’m brown; but it’s mainly down to extreme boredom. The rundown of my convoluted four-continent-spanning genealogy takes ages unless I lie”

My niece and nephew are the first children of our family’s new generation to have been born on the same continent as their parents since the late 1800s. On one side of my family we can trace our ancestry back to Tudor England.

The ‘where are you from?’ Q came up recently again, my interrogator being surprised that I hadn’t been to India because that’s where I was told I look like I am from – before being asked about which specific part of India I was from. I confess I’ve not studied the geographies – human and physical in detail so *would not have a clue* about where the side of my family that has lived in Mauritius for generations, was originally from.

Cambridge, Brighton and London – and six weeks in Vienna in the middle of my civil service career, are all I’ve ever known. In the end I could not afford to settle in either Brighton or London. Hence returning to Cambridge where, because of health I had no choice but to move back into my childhood home – for which I’m incredibly grateful. At least I have a roof over my head, in the face of Cambridge’s homelessness problems.

Going back to Dr Eaton’s blogpost and her conclusion:

“Loving my council estate. Loving what it taught me and what it gave to me. Respecting the people I grew up with and their potentials and abilities instead of seeing us all as broken and poor. Loving my accent. Loving my dialect. Being patient with myself when I can’t pronounce a word I read in books. Fighting the corner of every person living in poverty and oppression – making sure they are not written off or stereotyped. Raising the issue of classism in our research, policies and practice. Being damn proud of who I am, where I come from and what I can offer the world.

In my case, the South Cambridge that I grew up in no longer exists. Too much of it has been demolished, too many of the families that I grew up with have moved on or have been priced out of the neighbourhood due to house price inflation. Furthermore, the employment practices of Cambridge University and other firms has led to a significant rise in population turnover, which has destabilised the city and made it harder for neighbourhoods to fight against speculative development. This has been made even worse by central government’s misguided planning policies that have all-too-often only benefited the wealthy.

“So…what now?”

I think one of my internal drivers for studying the history of Cambridge the town (see my blog on this at https://lostcambridge.wordpress.com/ ) was trying to work out ‘how I got to here’. Why did things turn out as they did? What chances did I have to change the course of my own personal history? To what extent was I sitting in the railway carriage following the tracks that someone else had laid down?

In one sense I got lucky and stumbled across many long-forgotten civic stories that are essential not just to understanding the past that Cambridge went through, but also in terms of shaping its future. And as I found out the hard way, if we’re not prepared or willing to shape our own futures and destinies, someone else more powerful is going to do it for you – and not necessarily in your own interests.






Cambs County Council names preferred bidder for Shire Hall site

Summary: Councillors name controversial Cambridge Station developer as their preferred bidder to redevelop the historic site – but on a 40 year lease rather than a site sale.

I found out via Phil.

…followed by a link to Olly Wainwright’s article from 2017. The official announcement is below:

I could make this blogpost a complete hatchet job about Brookgate (http://www.brookgate.eu/about) and go on a cliched moan on about “…how they’re all ‘orrible parasitical capitalists who think nothing better than to build something that maximises their company profits for their shareholders and financial bonuses for directors while leaving local residents to make the best of a bad job and that when Jeremy Corbyn comes in he’ll sort things out when he overthrows capitalism.” But what would be the point?

“Yeah why do the Tories hate Cambridge?”

Because we won’t vote for them anymore? Or rather, the polarisation of Cambridge vs rural county Cambridgeshire has resulted in Conservatives on Cambridgeshire County Council using their majority on that council (and in Westminster in recent years) to impose their will on a city that continually refuses to return Conservative councillors. The polarisation between Conservatives and their Labour and Liberal Democrat opponents all too often gets nasty on the floor of the council chamber. Much of this has been to do with the cuts imposed by central government, and the impact that these cuts have had on local communities.

When the decision to dispose of Shire Hall was first tabled, I noted that this was the culmination of a series of attempts to dispose of civic and municipal infrastructure in Cambridge City.  Given the big losses of council seats in the local elections last month, and the hit they are expecting to take at the European Parliament elections next week, at a national level the Conservative Government is in the process of trying to transition to a new leader, but trying to work out how to do so without crashing out of the EU with a ‘no deal Brexit’.

There’s even more uncertainty in Cambridgeshire now that the Leader of Cambridge City Council has resigned from his portfolio on the hastily-created Combined Authority for Cambs and Peterborough.

I’ve stopped going along to the meetings of the CA because I can’t bear the toxic atmosphere in them.

“Back to Shire Hall, what reasons did councillors give for their choice?”

“This potential lease arrangement looks likely to exceed figures outlined in our business case, and see the value of our asset enhanced, but still retain ownership of the site for future generations – which strengthens our original decision to vacate the site.”

…Said council leader Cllr Steve Count in an article by Alex Spencer, who has written a detailed account in the Cambridge Independent.

“And what do people posting on social media think?”

See for yourself:

The motion by Cambridgeshire Conservatives to hold the decision behind closed doors (and not to release the news until Friday afternoon) was also controversial.

Cllr David Jenkins (Lib Dems – Histon) wrote a blogpost about the secrecy of the decision and lack of debate. He also published a transcript of his speech – which needed clearing by county council officers.

“So…what do you think will happen if the county council sign the lease?”

First of all, it’s worth looking at some of the history of the Cambridge Station redevelopment and ask why Brookgate seem to be so unpopular going by social media comments. There was great excitement when it became clear Cambridge Railway Station and surroundings would be redeveloped. And lots was promised:

Then the original development company Ashwells went into administration, were quickly taken out of administration by a new firm called Brookgate – which contained a number of former directors, and the promises for things like a health centre and a heritage centre to house the County Archives (now moved to Ely – so the City of Cambridge archives are now there too) were scrapped. Richard Taylor blogged about this at the time in 2010. This was before my time being active in local government – I was still based in London.

There was then the Wilton Terrace fiasco. A large Victorian building was scheduled for demolition in the outline masterplan. Local residents did not realise this until it was too late, and fought a rearguard action to try and save it. See the old twitterfeed here, and the letter from Save Britain’s Heritage here. Yet because the outline planning permission had already been given several years prior, there was very little in law that empowered councillors to refuse permission to demolish Wilton Terrace. Even though the residents put huge pressure onto councillors, persuading enough of them to refuse planning permission, developers appealed to the planning inspector who ruled in favour of them, leaving the city council with a legal bill of a £quarter of a million.

Soulless architecture?

“Functional” is an understated way of describing these blocks of student accommodation south of the main railway station building. A similar block is opposite it, with the main bus stops a bit of a walk from the station. But worse for the developers, was this social media post by the Housing Minister Kit Malthouse.

Applying for public funds to correct mistakes it had made

Sam Davies – now Chair of the Queen Edith’s Forum, tabled a question to councillors just over two years ago regarding an application by the developers to use money allocated through S106 money to pay for further works on the CB1 site.

The above was in the face of the firm being very successful and profitable for its shareholders and directors, as the screengrab below from its 2019 accounts on Companies House’ website shows.

190518 Brookgate profils

Above – from Companies House for Brookgate Ltd.

In 2018 there were further complaints from residents who had recently bought newly built properties on the site – in particular traffic and pollution.

Hence complaints such as the one below from a local residents’ association for the developers to show a much greater sense of civic responsibility.

Further context to the above comes from the residents who moved into new homes on the CB1 estate, and have faced numerous difficulties to try and build their community in an area that has thousands of people walking through it every day, and a large transient population due to the student accommodation. The notes of public meetings going back to early 2018 are here. As I’ve said before, now that people have moved into those homes, there is a big responsibility on existing communities and residents (myself included) to help them settle into our city and make them welcome.

“What’s all this got to do with Shire Hall?”

Everything. It shows why the preferred bidder has more than a few reputational issues with residents and local councillors inside Cambridge City. Note that both Labour and the Liberal Democrats have stated their opposition to the disposal of Shire Hall.

Above – from the deputy leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Anna Smith (which was also supported by Cllr Lewis Herbert). Note their concern – as with Cambridge Liberal Democrats, is the provision of county public services in Cambridge currently delivered at Shire Hall – such as the Registry Office.

“So, if Brookgate and Cambridgeshire County Council do sign an agreement, what will happen?

The worst case scenario for the city is some huge glass/steel/concrete tower blocks towering over the city, increased car traffic congestion as commuters try to get into work by car (the site is poorly served by buses as it is), along with a further increases in taxi journeys to-from Cambridge railway station ferrying passengers to the new hotel planned for the site.

“Hang on – didn’t you want offices and a hotel for the site to pay for an expanded Museum of Cambridge?”

I still do – having assumed that the Conservative county councillors want rid of Cambridge City completely. Having been to so many county council meetings over the past five or so years, I’ve seen more than enough for me to conclude that Conservative county councillors have no love for the city, whether in their statements or their voting actions. As with others, I’ve assumed that at some stage there will be an overhaul of local government – whether for Cambridgeshire or nationwide. Why waste energy trying to keep an institution that doesn’t want to be here, here? My preference is for a unitary council for Cambridge & South Cambs – give or take a few villages and towns on the borders.

“Can Brookgate deliver that expanded Museum of Cambridge?”

In principle, yes. I just don’t trust them as an institution having seen their behaviour over the past decade or so. Hence posting this:

Personally I’d love to have seen an expanded Museum of Cambridge in a re-built and improved Assizes Court (where the car parks at the front of the site now are) that should never have been demolished.

Cambridge Castle Hill from air southwardsShire Hall Court House 28184

I’d be delighted to be proven wrong and that Brookgate could deliver a hotel/office/heritage offering that also safeguards the free public access to the green spaces and to the historical monument that is Castle Mound. I just don’t have confidence in the institutions involved, and no longer have the strong enough physical or mental health to manage going head-to-head with some of the most powerful businessmen in the region. Whether the county council has the number and calibre of staff to go into detailed negotiations with the same group is something that opposition councillors and activists may want to question executive councillors and senior council officers on. The next Full Council meeting is on 23 July at Shire Hall.





Cambridge Airport owners to move out of town

Summary: A huge site in East Cambridge will be freed up for development. But before we cover the runway and grasslands in concrete, there are many things Cambridge needs to consider before the developers move in.

The story was announced not so long ago.

A historic firm moving out

This isn’t just any old firm moving out. Marshall of Cambridge has been around for over a century – read about their history here. The company has been run by successive generations of the family that has borne its name. Cambridge is also no different to other towns and cities with individuals from successful family businesses playing a role in the civic life of the city – Sir Michael Marshall being an example in Cambridge. This is why wherever they choose to move to they keep a strong link with the city – including a high quality public transport link to their new premises, one of which could be at Duxford.

“Right! Let’s get building those luxury apartments for those nice international investors and that student accommodation for cram colleges! Oh the profits for Broken Brexit Britain – we might make a success of it yet!”

Not quite.

For a start, Extinction Rebellion protesters rocked up to Shire Hall yesterday (a little dragon tipped them off) to persuade councillors it would be a good idea to pass a motion declaring a climate emergency.

Note campaigners from Extinction Rebellion Cambridge demanding that the term ’emergency’ be used in the motion from the council leader Cllr Steve Count, in the clip below.

One of the things that perhaps concentrated the minds were events in London, and recent non-violent direct action protests in Cambridge, including blocking one of the main dual carriageways in Cambridge only three days before.

“Tree-hugging communists – bad for business!”

Out of control climate change and ecocide are even worse for business. Can’t make profits on a dead planet.

On why the new communities built on the site have to be of the like that Cambridge has not ever seen before.

There are a host of housing developments coming to completion in and around Cambridge – think South Cambridge (Great Kneighton / Clay Farm), Eddington and Cambourne being three examples. On top of those, there is the CB1 Community where new residents are working their socks off to make the best of bad design by Brookgate who have made a fortune.

On top of Cambridge Airport, there are also very big plans at:

Add all of those together and you’ve got…

“A lot of houses – and a lot of people?”

Developers gamed the planning system for a series of developments in and around Cambridge Railway Station. An area with such huge potential – that could have become like King’s Cross in London with its successful redevelopment (see Dave Hill here – note it’s not without its problems), ruined because of the prioritisation of profits. (In my opinion – I can’t claim this as absolute fact).

Cambridge cannot be allowed to make the same mistakes again

How do we go about ensuring this? It would be easy to say “Ban Brookgate and cronies” but the way the building industry operates, such development companies are all too often formed as limited companies and are dissolved once the building work is complete. Also, it’s not like anyone can go around arbitrarily banning individuals. There are enough dark political forces emerging without opening that can of worms. So how do we get design excellence, environmental and sustainability excellence that create places where people want to live, and can make living healthy and sustainable lifestyles ‘the easy choice’?

Cambridge has to decide what sort of city it wants to become

– because it has far outgrown the vision that Holford and Wright had in 1950 of the compact university city with a maximum population of 100,000 people. Mindful that this also involves overhauling our system of local government.


By Smarter Cambridge Transport – how not to structure local government.

The above is an example of party political gerrymandering – trying to set up a system of governance that keeps political control of a ‘jewel in the crown’ out of the hands of opposing political parties that won’t vote for your party.

Before we start unpicking the structures of local government, Cambridge also needs to look at the civic essentials of what makes a city. I wrote about some of these things in this blogpost. This is why the report released today (15 May 2019) on Hitting Reset – the case for local leadership, is ever so important.

A city of over 200,000 people will have a very different feel to it compared with a city of half of that size. 

Ditto when comparing villages of a few thousand vs towns of 15-20,000. One of the discussion points about new housing developments in the towns and villages around Cambridge is working out at what point a village or town can become a self-sustaining community that can sustain its own community facilities, rather than being a dormitory development.

One of the first people to pick up that an expanding Cambridge would be very different from the stereotype that many at the time had, was Lost Cambridge hero Eglantyne Jebb.

180730 Eglantyne Jebb Cambs Collection_2 Small Pic

Eglantyne Jebb (early 1900s) by Palmer Clark, Cambs Collection

Eglantyne, in her groundbreaking study of Cambridge the town in 1906 wrote about how the character of Cambridge had changed throughout the 1800s when its population grew from 9,000 to over 40,000 – a four-fold increase. The communities that grew up along Mill Road, East Road and Newmarket Road were significantly different to the dreaming spires of Cambridge University and its colleges. She was the first to study these communities in the manner that would become the norm for social scientists. It was her work here that informed much of what she would do when her and her sister Dorothy Buxton founded Save the Children in 1919.

Fast forward to the 1970s and the limitations of post-war plans were beginning to be felt.  Professor Richard Parry in his study of Cambridge in 1974, understood that Cambridge could not grow much beyond 100,000 without an alternative civic centre. As we’ve seen, Cambridge’s town centre gets swamped by tourists and visitors every summer. Successive governments have not ensured Cambridge has had the funding to accommodate all of these visitors who bring in the much needed spending and foreign exchange. And his plans were radical – so radical that they were rejected.


East Cambridge as proposed by Professor Parry in 1974

To give you an idea of just how much development Professor Parry had in mind, have a look at the map below. The light red line is the railway, the blue line is the river.

190515 Cambridge Map Contrast

Above – Cambridge 2019 from G-Maps

Things to note from the above map:

  • The historical north/south of the river divide is visible. North being the Castle Hill side, the South being the Guildhall side. As Cambridge’s colleges grew, they swallowed up much of the south side of the old town.
  • West of the airport (light blue dot) is Coldham’s Common, just south of which is Romsey Town and Petersfield. These were two of the parts of Victorian and Edwardian Cambridge that Eglantyne Jebb writes about in her book – and it was around her time that Cambridge incorporated Chesterton into its council boundaries
  • Post-war development of Cambridge to the year 2000 created the wards of Arbury, King’s Hedges, Coleridge and Queen Edith’s. Cherry Hinton, Trumpington and Fen Ditton, all previously separate villages, effectively became part of Cambridge as housing grew.
  • Fen Ditton and Abbey wards, some of the most economically deprived in Cambridge, are physically separated from the rest of Cambridge by the boundaries of:
    • The River Cam to the north
    • The railway line to the west
    • Coldham’s Common to the south
    • Cambridge Airport to the south-east
    • The A14 to the north east
  • The Eastward development model proposed by Parry was for a level of growth far greater than the redevelopment of Cambridge Airport and North Cherry Hinton contain – his proposals stopping at the A11 so incorporating the villages of Teversham, Fulbourn and the two Wilbraham villages.
  • The two north-west triangles on the map have been filled in by the North West Cambridge development

“So…we’ll need a new civic centre then?”

Yes – and the next question is to decide what to build that civic centre around – something beyond retail. Furthermore, the model of land ownership will shape how successful that alternative centre will be. One example of where the model of land ownership has utterly failed the local community (given what it could have been) is the Cambridge Leisure Park, owned by Land Securities. As I mentioned earlier here, the developments are cash cows for the property owners – targeting a market of London commuters, short-medium stay foreign students from affluent families, and short-stay visitors. Without the local government structures, systems and processes to allow local councils and the police to tax the business functions to provide resources to deal with what are negative externalities of the developments, developers were accused quite understandably at a local council meeting of designing in crime.


Once civic centre at risk

Shire Hall on Castle Hill – the Cambridgeshire Conservatives have voted to move the HQ to Alconbury in a controversial move.

190515 Cambridge Map Alconbury.jpeg

Alconbury – NW of Huntingdon is far away from Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire – where populations are growing. The Conservative Group on the County Council voted yesterday to exclude the press and public from the debate where councillors were informed of the preferred bidder of the site.

“So we won’t get our expanded Museum of Cambridge on the Shire Hall site?”

At the moment the proposal here is not looking good… Which is a shame given that the site where people first settled to create the settlement we know today as Cambridge. The advantage of creating an historical attraction on the Shire Hall site is that it extends the tourist trail up to the top of the hill – one that could have one of the few planned light rail underground stops, thus spreading out where tourists get off.

“What could an alternative civic centre be built around other than retail?”

Given the struggles of the high street and the rise of internet shopping, combined with the very real environmental problems of over-consumption, there are other things that civic centres can be built around. The big one is the arts. This was something I discussed here on Cambridge’s need for a new concert hall with a capacity of at least 2,000 people. Otherwise growing Cambridge will be limited to the genre of acts that the Cambridge Corn Exchange as our largest indoor venue can host. While in the 1990s the Corn Exchange hosted what became some of the biggest bands of the Britpop era as they were on the rise, today it feels like the venue can only host groups and musicians that were big 20-40 years ago, repeat visitors (welcome as they are – they fill the place, give people a good time and help fill the venue’s coffers), or niche acts that happen to have a strong following locally.

The importance of Cambridge’s green lungs

The Cambridge Preservation Society was founded in 1928 with the purpose amongst other things of preserving Cambridge’s green lungs. This was in the context of restricting urban sprawl, in particularly westward and south-eastwards. Hence the existence of Coton Farm and Wandlebury. Local residents from all backgrounds, from wealthy college types such as John Maynard Keynes through to the congregations of local parish churches all raised money to buy up plots of land and take them out of the reach of developers.

Given the proposals of The Anderson Group for what they are calling Burnside Lakes at the foot of the photo above, there is also the opportunity to build some first class sporting facilities and much-needed playing fields to serve the congested communities of Romsey Town, Cherry Hinton, East Coleridge, and Abbey. The far left of the photo above shows how little publicly accessible open green space there is – ie Romsey Rec on Vinery Road.

But if we are to ensure we’ve learnt the lessons of the past, Cambridge needs to decide what sort of city it wants to become so that those values inform the decisions people and institutions take. And as Cllr Joan Whitehead said at Shire Hall yesterday, that means re-visiting recent decisions and having to reverse them in light of those new values and circumstances. In this case reversing the move out of Shire Hall because it is no longer consistent with the declared climate emergency.

By ignoring the EU leader hustings in 2014 & 2019, the BBC broke its charter.



By choosing not to feature the public debates featuring the lead candidates for the European Commission – ***debates that were in English*** – the BBC fundamentality broke its charter and values. We’re still living with those consequences.

In 2014, the EU made history by hosting the first ever EU-wide hustings for the lead candidates of the groups in the European Parliament. The group who got the most MEPs would become the Head of the European Commission. Remember it? Of course you didn’t (unless you were one of those people like me who spends too much time following politics). But because it was being live-streamed online, you can watch it all over again!

Above – video of the 2014 Spitzenkandidaten debate – in English.

“Spitzenkandidaten? That sounds awfully foreign! And they all look German! And remember we won World War 2 without any help from anyone else ever!”

The above was the impression I got that both David Cameron and Ed Miliband and teams had of the mood of the public in the run up to the 2014 EU Parliament elections!

We know that Ed Miliband was hostile to being seen with Martin Schultz, the lead candidate for the Socialists and Democrats in Europe – Schultz being formally rejected by both Mr Miliband in 2014, and by his Shadow Foreign Secretary, Douglas Alexander. Mr Alexander as a politician visited Cambridge a year earlier and I found him to be one of the least impressive politicians I had ever met, both in the media and as a public speaker. So I was utterly delighted for Mhairi Black – then a final year student and SNP candidate who soundly defeated him at the 2015 general election.

Mhairi Black MP would go onto become one of the finest parliamentary speakers since the Millennium. In my opinion anyway – given the hours I spend watching the Parliament TV broadcasts!

David Cameron quits the Conservative mainstream group

He said he’d do this as part of his leadership campaign, taking the Conservatives down stream towards the rapids and ultimately the political rocks. In 2009 he pulled the UK Conservatives out of the European People’s Party group and formed the ECR Group. That group refused to put forward a candidate for the 2014 hustings.

The Liberal Democrats if I remember correctly were nervous about the prospect of Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe, campaigning in the UK in the run up to the 2014 elections. Which contrasts with 2019 being out and about in London at the invitation of Sir Vince Cable.

Note the very different framing to the 2014 debate – going to the UK to campaign with their sister party in the UK.

The first European lead candidate I am aware of to campaign in the UK in the run up to the European Parliament elections was Ska Keller of the European Greens.

So Puffles went along to meet her in London.

“Did Westminster politicians put pressure on the BBC to limit coverage of the EU lead candidates hustings?”

I can’t prove it, but they must have done. Remember this was pre-Chilcott (Iraq Inquiry) and the BBC was still stung by conclusions of the Hutton Inquiry and the Butler Review – widely regarded as flawed by critics and opponents – and with good reason. Then fast forward to 2010 and – as Ken Clarke revealed in 2017, Cameron came to a deal with Rupert & co which inevitably weakened the BBC further.

BBC stands accused of helping create ‘monsters’

This by The National in Scotland is just one example of where the BBC stands accused of giving a disproportionate amount of air time to a politician from a political party that has never had a directly elected Member of Parliament who was never previously a member of another party. (Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless were both former Conservative MPs before switching).

The BBC’s treatment of The Green Party – and later by OfCom in the run up to the 2015 general election was also a cause for concern in centre-left circles given that Caroline Lucas made parliamentary history in 2010 by becoming the first Green Party MP elected to the House of Commons – a very difficult feat given the first-past-the-post voting system. The Green Party also had MEPs – of which Caroline Lucas was one, in the years before 2010. Critics – myself included, felt The Greens had just as much of a case for more political air time as some of the other smaller parties.

On the BBC’s Charter

The 2006 report by the House of Lords reviewing the BBC Charter (See here) re-stated the BBC’s mission to inform, educate and entertain.

“The BBC’s first Charter (effective from January 1927) was simple: it tasked the BBC to entertain and educate by the means of broadcast. This work was to be overseen by a Board of Governors with the licence fee in place to provide funding. The next Charter added “inform” and this simple imperative—inform, educate and entertain—became the BBC’s mission.” (para 21)


“The BBC’s 2006 Royal Charter and Agreement set out the six Public Purposes of the BBC, listed in Box 1. The Charter states that the BBC’s main object is the promotion of its Public Purposes. These outline the values the BBC holds when striving to achieve its mission to “inform, educate and entertain.” The Charter sets out the activities the BBC should undertake to deliver its Public Purposes in broad terms.” (Para 23)

Those six public purposes are:

  1. Sustaining citizenship and civil society;
  2. Promoting education and learning;
  3. Stimulating creativity and cultural excellence;
  4. Representing the UK, its nations, regions and communities;
  5. Bringing the UK to the world and the world to the UK;
  6. In promoting its other purposes, helping to deliver to the public the benefit of emerging communications technologies and services and, in addition, taking a leading role in the switchover to digital television.

By not publicising and broadcasting the EU lead candidate debates – something that the EU seemed to go out of its way to make as UK-friendly as possible, the BBC failed to meet the standards on at least half of the above six public purposes.

“What would have happened if the BBC had publicised and featured the EU lead candidate debate in 2014? Could it have stopped Brexit?”

No. It would be far too simplistic to hope that a single TV programme could undo decades of flawed and biased reporting coming from some of the UK print press. A certain Mr Johnson is identified as one of the individuals responsible for setting that tone – and for repeating ‘Euromyths’ in the run up to the referendum.

It might however, have set a tone of encouraging the public to find out more about the EU institutions and sister parties of the UK political parties – things that we’re only learning about now as a result of finding out that leaving the EU is a damn sight more complicated than the lead campaigners of the Leave campaign in the Conservative Party set out.

“You’re just a bad loser! We won, we’re leaving, Brexit means Brexit and once we’ve left, we’ll be signing trade deals everywhere and everything will be wonderful! It’s time the Prime Minister listened to heroes like Iain Duncan Smith and Dr John Redwood of All Souls College, Oxford and just got on with it!”

Could happen.

Or rather, it could have happened if the Prime Minister did not call that ill-advised general election in 2017. She’s only got herself to blame – as have her MPs for not voting her out in the recent leadership vote.

“So…now what?”



The campaigns for the European Parliament elections are now in full swing. I’ve got my voting card. And if you missed the 2019 lead candidate hustings, you can watch them below:

Above – Lead candidate debate 2019 for the European Parliament elections

“Who should people vote for?”

Whoever they want – it’s not for me to tell them.

My case has always been for making it as easy as possible for as many voters to cast informed votes:

  • ensuring it is easy for voters to find out in what elections they are voting in,
  • what powers they as voters will be delegating to politicians,
  • who the candidates are that are standing for election in their area,
  • reading what the candidates have published
  • hearing/listening to what the candidates have to say in their own voices
  • knowing how to vote and where to cast their ballot
  • ensuring voters can find out shortly after the results are announced, who the winner was.

And people can do that via https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ by simply typing in their post code. Which was created by the Democracy Club.

So please help them too!


Nearly 30 years on from the Blue Peter Green Book


Successive governments were warned about pollution & climate change ages ago.

This was the book that got me interested in the environment in 1990. I was at the supermarket with my parents and am sure the book said it only cost £1 but it turns out it cost £5 – which was a huge amount of money for 10 year old me.

Many of the items in there are as relevant today as back then. The historian in me finds it interesting to see what others thought the future would look like in times gone by. Electric cars get a mention, the internet does not. The one area where there has been progress is with the ozone layer, the late Caron Keating sitting by a table full of hair spray – many of them with ozone-destroying CFCs in. Second hand copies of the book are still available online – and is for me a potential campaigning item to show the public that politicians and society generally knew about these issues for decades. Remember when the book was published, there were only four television channels and no internet. Society was a different place back then. The clip below, from the end of 1987 with the late Caron Keating shows.

“The top highlight of our year was our expedition to the Soviet Union”

Cambridgeshire County Council’s climate change motions

Have a look at the county council’s meeting calendar here. The motions are in the meeting papers here. It’s tabled by the Conservative group that has political control of the council. Quotations from the motion include:

“Explore what steps can be taken to bring this work together into an Environment and Climate Change Strategy that targets progress towards reducing carbon emissions, reducing pollution and protecting biodiversity”

“Proactively engage the community, purposefully including the engagement of young people in the development of the Environment and Climate Change Strategy, ensuring their voice is heard in shaping and influencing the future.”

“Request officers to report to Full Council within six months with a climate change and environmental strategy and a clear action plan that the Council will follow to achieve progress in reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment.”

The above paragraphs are from item 16a. In 16b the council’s focus is on schools.

“…it is important to look at and understand what we can do much more rapidly in terms of protecting our vulnerable children from air pollution.

This Council recognises that work is being undertaken to tackle poor air quality around schools, including working with schools to reduce congestion through promoting safe active travel, park and stride, as well as considering air quality as part of Regulation 3 applications for new Schools, and developing a pilot for a “no car zone” around a Cambridge School.”

The motions will be debated on 14 May 2019 at Shire Hall from 10.30am, which is open to the public. If you want your county councillor to raise any points on your behalf, email them via https://www.writetothem.com/.

More people getting involved in Extinction Rebellion in Cambridge

Which contrasts with this gathering in Peterborough, reflecting on just how polarised even the county is.

Locally I’ve not seen a movement like this in Cambridge – one that encompasses town, gown and village, and one that seems to have gone far beyond individual political parties. Furthermore, despite the loss of Market Ward by the Greens in last week’s local elections, over 5,000 people voted for Green Party candidates inside Cambridge City. This was noted by the Leader of Cambridge City Council, Cllr Lewis Herbert, who said the council would need to look again at climate change.

In the meantime, further local protests and events continue to be organised by Extinction Rebellion Cambridge. There are elements of other social movements that have been adopted here – after all, why re-invent the wheel? One of the things that’s really good to see on such a serious an issue as climate change (and the ecological crisis too) is trying to avoid activist burnout. Have a look at the different working groups – each of whom has a different co-ordinator.

It’s not all doom-and-gloom on the environment front though:

But two-thirds of electricity generation is still coming from natural gas and nuclear. A long way to go, and part of that solution has to involve reducing consumption.


Local elections 2019 reveal a need for an overhaul for local government in England


Despite the pro-Remain headlines from the local election results, the largest ‘vote’ went to the group of people that did not turn up. Can this be turned around? If so, how?

Regular readers of this blog – esp those of you in Cambridgeshire, might be familiar with the diagram below:


By Smarter Cambridge Transport.

Then there’s this from 1945 – proposals for the governance of Cambridge with four shire councils and a series of very small borough councils.

Cambridgeshire 1945

From The History of Local Government 1834-1959: The County of Cambridge

Local elections and the problem of low turnout

Turnout in Cambridge in every single ward was below 50%.

Turnout only rose where there were active campaigns by more than one party. The tactical feature of this campaign was the choice by the Liberal Democrats to focus their resources on a handful of seats, leaving the rest of the city with ‘paper candidates’ – ones that appear on the ballot paper but who are not actively campaigning to win a seat. The result was larger margins of victory for Liberal Democrat candidates in the seats that they won, while Labour scooped up their safe wards.

Despite losing their only seat in Market Ward, The Cambridge Green Party received over 5,000 votes across the city – compared with just over 3,000 in 2018. That increase of 2,000 votes was in part due to the Extinction Rebellion protests as well as the fallout from Brexit – with Labour nationally announcing an updated policy position on leaving the EU that was widely ridiculed just two days before polling day. As Cllr Lewis Herbert announced on a video to the Cambridge News, the council will be doing more on climate change as a result. (Write to your city councillors everyone with your suggestions!)

Low turnout nationwide – historical trends

As the Institute for Government states, the turnout for local council elections is around 30% – and only rises above this nationally when local elections happen at the same time as other elections such as European or general elections. But turnout has always been a problem. Even if you go back half a century, turnout in district council elections has struggled to get over 50%.

190504 Local Election turnout Parliament briefing SN01467.jpeg

Turnout in district council elections in England (Year, % turnout) – UK Parliament Research Paper SN01467

“So, how do we deal with low turnout?”

According to Statistics Norway – the country’s national statistical institute, local election turnout across Europe varied considerably in the middle of the last decade.

190504 Local election turnout EU 2004-08.jpeg

Note the UK third from bottom for turnout between 2004-2008

Localism with locks and chains attached.

Amongst other things, this points to questions around structures, finances and powers of local councils. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve heard the UK referred to as an incredibly centralised country at academic and political events. For all the talk of localism – such as the Localism Act 2011, very little of any significance is actually done to make politicians climbing the Westminster career tree take a step back and stay in municipal government. Even with the recently created mayoralties of cities like Manchester, Liverpool, and before that even London, their powers are limited when compared with some of their continental European counterparts. This is particularly the case where a written constitution for a nation state protects the powers of local and regional government, such as in Germany. Note one of the ironies of the UK’s role in German history after both world wars is to have created constitutions that have given the German people and local government more rights and powers than their UK equivalents. With the end of the First World War, Germany achieved universal suffrage – but the UK did not achieve this until 1928.

‘I’m not having a socialist Chancellor of the Exchequer in every other town hall in the country’

Paraphrasing a Conservative and New Labour argument against replacing property-based taxes with a local income tax. I can’t remember when/where I first heard it. But it reveals the reluctance of Treasury officials and ministers to even consider granting such powers to local government. And when you look at the number of uncontested seats at the local elections in places such as Fenland District Council, you can understand why some senior officials in Whitehall argue that controls, systems and processes are not mature enough to deal with such financial responsibilities. Which then leaves you with the so-called chicken and egg* situation: Do you devolve the powers and responsibilities in the hope the institution will grow into them, or do you wait for the institutions to prove they are responsible – knowing that the chains that are on them  means they will never get the chance?

Overhauling local government

In the grand scheme of things the next government needs to establish a royal commission or public inquiry into the structure of local government in England. As devolved matters, it’s up to the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh & Northern Irish Assemblies to decide if they want to do the same; Whitehall cannot mandate it.

The last time England had a nationwide overhaul of local government – which not only changed boundaries and structures but also powers and public service responsibilities, was in the mid-1970s. We’ve not had one since – despite the huge changes in population, demographics, society, culture and technology.

There have also been big changes in the evolution of political and public policy theory – including the mass privatisation and outsourcing of public services followed by the realisation of the limitations of the models behind them. For example outsourcing cleaning services to the private firm that charges the least may mean lower up-front costs for the commissioning authority/council, but if it depresses wages for people in economically deprived communities, it has a knock on effect on efforts to deal with poverty and multiple deprivation. And we know this is a big issue because the research tells us this.

Dealing with the fragmentation of public services

Earlier today I attended talks by Evelyn Lord of Wolfson College, and Tony Kirby of Anglia Ruskin University at the Cambridgeshire Association for Local History. It was on the growth of market towns in East Anglia. Both looked at the definition of what made a town, and identified a series of things by which towns throughout history differentiated themselves from villages or just a group of houses.

The above definition relates to East Anglia between 1500-1800, so pre-industrial times. So to go through each point, an example of each might include:

  • a minimum number of people – say 1,000
  • The existence of a market or a pre-industrial factory producing a specific type of good
  • the population of that town divided up into different classes and economic functions
  • the existence of a borough charter with a ‘first citizen’ (mayor), and representatives of the people
  • trading relationships with other towns and even a capital city, and/or towns in foreign states.

It’s not just the number of houses or the existence of a borough or town charter that defines whether a place is a town or not. And when you’re in an old market town…

…don’t forget to look up!

Tony Kirby’s speech took us through the development of public and civic institutions as towns evolved. Town halls, court houses, market squares, livestock markets, schools, hospitals, railway stations, libraries and museums were all mentioned. The first mention of anything to do with central government was… one of these:

181006 Petty Cury Post Office 1900.jpg

…A Post Office – this was on the corner of Petty Cury before civic authorities chose to have it demolished and replaced by the Lion Yard Shopping Centre. Yes – I would have this restored down to the last ivy-covered window-ledge.

The fragmentation of public services

The former Chair of the Public Accounts Committee raised this as a huge issue at the height of austerity a few years ago. With the switch from democratic to contractual accountability, and separate organisations running things like bus services to swimming pools, and with different lines of accountability to different secretaries of state with the police, the NHS, academy schools and the courts, it becomes very difficult for any local council or municipal authority to co-ordinate anything.

In Cambridge it’s even more problematic with this huge institution in the middle of town that is Cambridge University (and its member colleges). The Byzantine structures of the University and its member institutions led to the city’s MP Daniel Zeichner – himself a history graduate of King’s College to remark that he still had not fully mapped out the institution in terms of where power and influence lay. And this is an ongoing issue because many a student campaign has been trying for years to try and do the same thing – in particular following the money. What can the city council do to promote independent shops if the colleges that own most of the properties in the centre refuse to drop their rents? The result being shops that aim at the tourist market and/or have a high turnover of goods – meaning more frequent deliveries by lorries leading to damage to the historical environment plus air pollution.

There’s only so far ‘awareness raising’ or ‘public engagement’ activities can go to get more people taking part in local democracy if the systems, structures and processes are not overhauled. It won’t be a quick and easy fix because of decades of top-down politics hard-wired into our political parties and civic institutions.

Reduced access to information we used to take for granted

With consultations about the future of bus services, the public had access to information on which routes were making a surplus and which ones needed subsidising.


We also had maps that also showed the frequency of services


From my historical blogpost: Future of Cambridge plans from the 1970s

The information on costs ever since privatisation of buses in the mid-1980s by ministers that probably never used buses in their lives, is now ‘commercially sensitive’ so is not released.

Where to build new homes – much more ambiguous today than 50 years ago.

The Parry Report on the future of Cambridge published in the mid-1970s published a few options of where to build lots of new homes – plans ultimately abandoned as too ambitious. Can you imagine the reaction of Cambridge if a map like the one below was published today?


Parry’s option for the eastward expansion of Cambridge from Abbey Ward heading out beyond Bottisham village.

Or how about a southward expansion?


The big N circled in a thick circle is a new centre for Cambridge as this assumed that the existing town centre could not cope with such huge economic and population growth. 

Swallowing up the villages of Sawston, Harston and the Shelfords in even a long term expansion if published today would result in uproar – especially with concerns on the environment now much more sensitive. So we don’t see diagrams and maps like the above setting out where the new homes will grow. Instead the maps just have proportional circles plonked on them indicating ‘this area needs new homes’ without stating what this actually means for people.

“If it raised such opposition in the 1970s, wouldn’t it just be a NIMBY’s charter?”

It doesn’t need to be. If the context is set out as a shared problem, and all interested parties are invited to come up with a shared solution, you increase the chances of better design, less opposition and a smoother process through the planning process. But in my experience it is wealthy interests – whether land owners, big development and/or big finance looking to make as big a financial return as possible at the expense of whoever ends up living in new developments. And from the public meetings with the new residents of new homes recently built in Cambridge, occurrences of faults comes up surprisingly regularly. And not just in Cambridge it seems.

“All of the above looks and sounds very complicated!”

“Why do you have to go and make things so complicated?!?!?”

Because local government is complicated. Hence the need for a royal commission or public inquiry to overhaul it not just for the age we’re living in, but for the one we’re heading into, which involves mitigating for a changing climate.

*Re Chickens and eggs. Biological science tells us eggs were around long before chickens were – other species of animal reproducing via hatching out of eggs long before chickens evolved. Oh, and if you wondered about chocolate teapots, see here. Because Cambridge.



Cambridge 2020 elections – preparing for the hustings now


Civic society organisations need to start making preparations now so that the electorate can cast an informed vote on all of the candidates that stand, as the whole of Cambridge City Council is up for election due to boundary changes.

This is Chris Rand’s guide on how to organise a hustings/public meeting featuring candidates standing for election.

With all of the city council seats up for election, I believe there’s a responsibility on wider civic society in Cambridge to ensure that voters have as much opportunity as possible to meet the candidates and question them so that the electorate can cast as informed-a-vote as possible.

Safe seats and paper candidates

The last time any local council candidates in Coleridge Ward, Cambridge faced anyone on the same platform was when Cllr Lewis Herbert came face to face with…Puffles the dragon fairy in 2014. (See the video by Richard Taylor here at the Cambridge Cycling Campaign).

All too often opposition parties stand ‘paper candidates’ in seats where the incumbent political party has a history of winning by a large margin. Coleridge is one of them. The only local council election vote to go against Labour since 1990 was when Chris Howell won the seat for the Conservatives in 2008 when Gordon Brown’s government was imploding. I can understand why opposition parties – especially poorly-resourced ones and smaller ones stand candidates that don’t campaign: campaigning is hard work.

Leafleting over 6,000 houses and flats in any one ward is very hard work. Going door-knocking to collect data on which homes are most likely to contain your party’s voters (in a city with a high turnover of population) requires having to cover the neighbourhood several times over door-knocking in order to speak to everyone. Put bluntly, not a single institution in the city bar possibly the Cambridge Labour Party (plus trade union campaigners and student members) has the capacity to carry out such an operation.

“Hasn’t social media made things easier? Send a tweet and you’ve covered the whole city!”

Ha-ha-ha-ha! No.

Social media and politics is an ever-evolving field, and one that’s got too much toxic abuse and law-breaking for most people’s liking. And it’s a problem mainstream politics is still struggling with.

But that’s not to stop even the most flimsy of paper candidates from setting up a facebook page, typing in the basics, uploading a few photographs and recording a short video message. Back in 2017, I gave 17 candidates a bit of a helping hand for the county council elections by recording their introduction videos for them and uploading them to the internet. Have a look:

Playlist of videos for the 2017 Cambridgeshire County Council elections

The format was simple:

“Hi, I’m Dave, I’m standing in the splendid ward for the S-Club Party in the city council elections this year. My main policies are great things for everyone. So please vote for me at the elections this year, thank you.”

Not hard. Especially when someone else is doing all the technical stuff for you.

Now I know for a fact that the three political parties currently on Cambridge City Council (Labour, Lib Dems, and The Greens) all have at least one activist who is competent enough to record and produce local party videos. So in the grand scheme of things, they already have the collective tools and skills to produce a full slate of videos.

Responding to independent local surveys.

This year, the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Carbon Neutral Cambridge have surveyed candidates standing for election this year.

Low response rates is never a good look for political parties – especially on an issue that is in the public eye.

In the case of Coleridge Ward mentioned above, neither the Conservatives nor the Liberal Democrats have as yet responded to the survey.

For the Cambridge Cycling Campaign, the response rates are higher – reflecting a large (over 1,300) membership that is active, educated, civically engaged and very likely to vote.

Ward-based hustings and surveys

Every year the Queen Edith’s Community Forum hosts a hustings. See Chris Rand’s write up from here. (This contains links to the various speeches by the candidates). Labour candidate Dan Greef asked the audience of over 60 people who had already made up their mind. Over half had not. The turnout showed that a critical mass of people were interested in the election. Combine that with the Youtube analytics that show nearly 1,500 minutes of video footage has been watched by viewers (coming up to five hours) and over 200 views/hits in the 72 hours following the hustings, shows a ward-level of civic engagement that is high given that Queen Edith’s is traditionally a safe Liberal Democrat seat.

Finding a suitable organisation to host such an event

One traditional organisation known for hosting public meetings in times gone by are local churches. Not only do they have the large enough premises, but they also have individuals who are used to public speaking. At Sawston Free Church in recent years the Minister there, the Rev Bruce Waldron, has hosted a number of hustings which have been very well attended by both parishioners and the public alike. Have a listen to his introduction to one hustings here.

Other individuals who I’ve seen host hustings/public meetings include chairs of residents’ associations, local journalists from TV, radio and print media, student union presidents, academics, and leaders of local trade associations.

The four parties that regularly stand full slates of candidates at Cambridge local elections are:

Cambridge City Council also publishes details of elections, including lists of candidates put forward to stand. See their pages at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/elections-and-voting

A Cambridge local democracy working group on climate change

Summary: Some thoughts following conversations with activists inspired and mobilised by recent Extinction Rebellion demonstrations in Cambridge & London.

At the outset, this post is *Not* about a discussion of which is the most effective or the best tactic, nor is it an analysis of the various non-violent direct action protests in either London, Cambridge or elsewhere. This post is in response to a number of people who went to a public meeting hosted by Extinction Rebellion on the edge of Cambridge who said they ‘wanted to do their bit’ but did not want to get arrested – for a variety of reasons including triggering gross misconduct/dismissal clauses in employment contracts.

Thus I am not going to make a judgement/give an opinion on other forms of protest, so please don’t do so in the comments thread as I won’t publish the comments. My blog, my rules.

Cambridge – a protesting city

Cambridge is not a happy place at the moment – with protests springing up on a variety of issues of late. The last time Cambridge had so many protests on so many things was probably the 1980s (Thatcher) and the 1930s (poverty, depression, anti-fascism, peace/war). Those of you interested in the history of what happened before, see my https://lostcambridge.wordpress.com/ blog.

Basically there are people across the city & beyond who are already campaigning on things – some of whom have been doing so for decades. What’s striking with some of them is how they were friends with some of our past historical heroes eg Frida Stewart, or are descended from their families. At the same time, there are many who have stepped forward for the first time because a line has been crossed by an offending institution or decision-maker.

Client Earth – the legal approach

Earlier today I found myself holding up a banner in Cambridge calling for a new law prohibiting ecocide, while filming and photographing the latest Extinction Rebellion action in Cambridge. The late Polly Higgins discusses this below.

Recently passed away, Polly Higgins dedicated her latter years applying her expertise in law to defending the planet.

One organisation that has become more prominent in the news in recent years is Client Earth. What they do is they use the legal system to bring before the courts those that damage the environment, as well as forcing governments and regulators to act via court orders where they might otherwise choose not to. For example they took the UK Government to court over its plans on air pollution, arguing they were unlawful. They won.

A local approach – because Cambridge is growing. Still.

I’m not going to pretend my own efforts on this have worked – they haven’t. (Why should they have worked? I’m just one bloke with a cuddly toy dragon at the end of the day, not some super-hero). Which reminds me, what happened to Captain Planet?

“You’ll pay for this, Captain Planet!”

The reason why a local-to-Cambridge-and-county approach matters is because ministers and markets have decided that Cambridge is the place where all this economic growth is going to be built around. Just don’t tell ministers that Cambridge ceased being a safe Conservative seat in the 1990s and now have zero councillors inside Cambridge City. There’s actually a Ph.D thesis waiting to be written investigating the decline of this once huge civic institution.

Cambridge is currently between a ‘pincer move’ of growth – from one end there’s the London-Stansted-Cambridge corridor, and from the west there is the Oxford-Cambridge-Arc – Milton Keynes having been dropped from the title because…I’ll leave you to finish that one.

Cambridge – here’s one we screwed up earlier

Brookgate says that the plans for the new hotel, multi-storey car park and office will actually reduce traffic.

Do you believe them? Are there any past case studies that have demonstrated new hotels, offices and multi-story car parks have reduced congestion? (And are those case studies applicable to Cambridge?)

The institutions responsible for what is happening in and around Cambridge need detailed scrutiny.

There are a number of organisations that work their socks off to do this, but like all of us have struggled to ‘scale up’ in the face of public sector austerity and huge budgets of wealthy interests. Groups and organisations that scrutinise the growth in Cambridge include:

…amongst many many other organisations and individuals. Have a look at Mill Road TV’s channel to get a feel for some of the ‘town’ based groups.

The public organisations that need scrutinising

To get a feel for how many meetings there are, have a look at the public meeting calendars:

The papers for each individual meeting can, in some cases reach up to 500 pages. That’s a huge amount of reading.

“What could a local democracy working group do?”

Whatever the participants want it to do and are prepared to commit to themselves. This doesn’t mean having every single meeting covered by any means. From my perspective, I see the working group as just as much a learning group as a scrutiny group. This means that those of us familiar with how systems of government function share that knowledge with those new to it. This may involve workshops, and it may also involve asking public questions at council meetings. For example below, I ask Cambridgeshire County Council to set out what its legal powers are to deal with air pollution, and what its duties are – in particular where air quality falls below a specific level.

Q to Cambridgeshire County Council

(I asked Cambridge City Council the same question and in their response they said the county council’s response was incorrect! See the video here.)

It’s also one where people could be encouraged to choose an area – whether subject (town planning), activity (cycling) or geographical area (Romsey Town), and focus their efforts on that in the knowledge that someone else has got other areas covered. For example if you are a regular bus user, one of the links you could make is with the local bus campaign and start raising the profile of demands to replace diesel buses in Cambridge with electric ones.

190108 CamCitCo electric truck

100 years ago Cambridge had electric trucks. So why don’t we have electric buses and electric vans for the city council a century on? Photo from the Cambridgeshire Collection.

The growth agenda planned for Cambridge & Cambridgeshire is so great as to be beyond the available hours of one volunteer – or even full time employee, as the Cambridge Cycling Campaign found out a few years ago.

Geography and neighbourhoods matter

In Cambridge there are four political parties that regularly stand candidates for election to Cambridge City Council:

For some of you, getting to know at least one of your local councillors (type in your postcode here to find who they are) might be one of the things that you want to do – even if it’s a case of meeting up for a coffee with a small group of you to discuss things. Some of you may even be inspired to join one of them and stand for election – something the 50:50 Parliament campaign is trying to encourage more of. It’s not a relationship of the resident sitting back and demanding councillors do everything for them. The latter spend up to 20 hours a week on council business on top of full time jobs and caring responsibilities. Therefore to have friends and volunteers who can be their eyes and ears on local issues can be incredibly useful – which is one of the reasons why the Cambridge Cycling Campaign is so successful: their members are knowledgeable and passionate and highly likely to vote at election time. With a membership of 1,400, that’s not easy to ignore and dismiss.

And finally…

I’m not precious about ‘ownership’ of a local democracy working group. Having been a trade union branch organiser during my civil service days the thought of such a group getting bogged down in bureaucracy and process would fill me with dread.

I see this as a chance for those that want to ‘do their bit’ as mentioned above, to do so, to learn something new, and to meet new people (including & in particular some of their local councillors) in the process.



Cambridge candidates making election campaign videos in May 2019 council elections


“And my work here is done!”

In 2017 I filmed and produced election introduction videos for candidates across the political matrix in and around Cambridge for the Cambridgeshire County Council elections.

Above – the playlist of 17 videos from the Cambs County Council elections 2017.

My rationale was simple: It is good for democracy for as many voters to cast informed votes having had the opportunity to hear from all of the candidates in their own words/voices who have put themselves forward for an election contest. With nearly all of the videos we did multiple takes – ensuring that the candidates were happy with the videos going out.

The format was identical so that no one would have an advantage over the other. It also made filming and following instructions much more straight forward when filming. All candidates were asked to introduce themselves, stating:

  • Their name
  • The party they were standing for
  • The ward/division they were standing for election in
  • The election contest and institution they were taking part in/seeking election to
  • The date of the election

They were invited to state up to three reasons why they were standing for election – their choices in their own words. Finally they were asked to give any social media links before finishing off with a “please vote for me” sign off.

With the data analytics giving me an average watching time of just over 2 minutes per video, I said to the candidates that they needed to get everything they needed to say all covered in about half of that time.

With so many taking part, it encouraged more to have videos filmed later on. 2017 was very much a tipping point for using videos in election campaigns. Of the videos uploaded to Youtube, many of them had over 100 views each. Several of the candidates uploaded the video files to Facebook directly – thus getting them out to even wider audiences.

Fast forward to 2019

What people did not see in 2017 was the huge amount of (unpaid) work that went into filming and producing all of those videos. Remember that a general election also happened that year.

This year, I don’t have the health to undertake such an exercise – I didn’t last year either only being a couple of months out of hospital following a suspected heart attack just before Christmas.

Candidates doing it for themselves in South Cambridge

In Queen Edith’s ward, Cambridge, both Dan Greef for Labour, and Sam Davies, standing as an independent candidate, are producing regular – almost daily campaign video clips using their smartphones. You’ll be able to see videos of all of the candidates for Queen Edith’s following the hustings on 25th April 2019 at Queen Edith’s Primary School on Godwin Way. I’ve made enquiries about a similar hustings for Trumpington ward as they have two by-elections on the same day (city and county councils) as well as the normal city council election, due to the standing down of Cllr Adey.

Older videos can be used again by candidates who stand in the same ward annually

In Cambridge we have annual elections at a local government level. It works out at three elections in four years for the city council, and in the gap there are county council elections.


I can’t pretend to be a fan of Cambridge’s governance infrastructure but ministers insist we have the above.

This means that some candidates who are not elected get the chance to re-use previous videos. For example Virgil Ieurubino standing again in Petersfield Ward for The Green Party, where he spoke at the hustings of 2017 in that ward.

The circumstances of 2019 are different to previous years – and not just in Cambridge

We shouldn’t be in this position regarding Westminster because in normal circumstances a prime minister that cannot command the confidence of the House of Commons should resign. And being defeated in the Commons on a flagship government policy – in particular one involving international relations – should be a confidence issue. But such is the self-built prison created by ministers that is the timetabling of trying to leave the EU, there’s no other person who commands the confidence of the Commons, and a general election would have meant crashing out of the EU with No Deal – or would have done prior to the extension to 31 October deadline.

Thus we found out last week that contrary to the expectations of the last few years, the UK will be taking part in the European Parliament elections at the end of May – three weeks after the local elections. It may be that the UK candidates returned only stay in office until 31 October – should the UK finally come to a deal to leave the EU, or just crash out. We may also have a general election between now and then as well, even though the Conservatives will be fighting tooth and nail to reduce as much as they can the prospect of a Corbyn-led government. Furthermore, in 2020, all of the Cambridge City Council seats are up for election due to ward boundary changes within the city. Again, my preference is for a nationwide policy of local government reform with a widespread cover from redrawing/abolishing/creating councils, reviewing and overhauling powers and finances – in particular giving councils far greater powers of tax and spend than they currently have. (In particular, revenue raising powers that are completely independent of Whitehall).

Candidate videos not being the magic wand, but being part of a wider and longer term process of improving our democracy

Use the technology that’s available.

261013 election candidates camcitco Alex Wood Francis Doggett

Above – From 1926, the Cambridgeshire Collection on new candidates for Cambridge Borough Council. (We only became a city in 1951).

Photographs in newspapers were still a new thing in 1926. Hence the candidates submitting official portrait photographs to the newspapers to use. Second from the right is Dr Alex Wood, the physicist, presbyterian preacher, anti-fascist and anti-war campaigner who became leader of the Cambridge Labour Party and its candidate in the 1931 & 1935 general elections. The party named their HQ after him. If you look at the imprints on Labour leaflets in Cambridge, it’ll give an address of Alex Wood Hall. This is him. On the right is Francis Doggett for the Conservatives. We named a road in Cherry Hinton after him.

Getting used to new campaigning methods – and improving on old ones too

If you are friends with anyone standing for election to a council, ask if you can join them as their guest at the election count. It’s an experience to see democracy in action. Furthermore you’ll get the sense of just how organised and complex the local party political machinery is – and they are machines in Cambridge. The templates that canvassers and activists use to collect data have all been developed, improved and refined over the years. Just as important as finding out what the residents feel are local priorities, is whether they are disposed to voting for you or not. With the rapid growth of Cambridge (along with the growth in the turnover of population too), being able to call up those voters on polling day to remind them to vote can be the difference between winning and losing a council seat that is then in the hands of that party for up to four years.

With video and social media, the techniques and skills that candidates are developing now are ones they can continue to refine and develop in the years and decades to come. For example compare the photographs from 1926 vs the ones used by parties in the last few decades. That’s a move from using a professional photographer to one where activists and candidates use their own photographs. The move from film to digital photography meant that parties did not need to go to a photograph developers to get their prints, but could import digital images into their own newsletters and produce them themselves.

Getting trained up

There are now a number of course providers in and around Cambridge who can train candidates and activists to make their own videos for campaigns. In Cambridge there’s the Cambridge TV School and Sookio are my top two to look at, along with Lenka Koppova’s Meetup Group. It’s also worth looking at the community videos Mill Road TV puts up too.

“Will more candidates put up videos in the 2019 local elections in Cambridge?”

I’m not expecting that many unfortunately. As Phil Rodgers blogs here, eight of the 14 seats up for election are safe Labour seats, and it doesn’t appear that other parties are making a huge effort to take those seats. Phil predicts the more focussed contests will be in Trumpington (due to the number of seats up for election and the large numbers of new homes recently occupied) along with Castle, Market, and the two Chestertons (East & West).

Conservatives hit Newnham with a highly-regarded new candidate.

Dolly Theis has arrived on the Cambridge politics scene having settled in to study for a Ph.D. She is also a director of the Ask Her To Stand campaign and stood against Kate Hoey MP at the 2017 general election in Vauxhall, London. This is her being interviewed by Adam Boulton on Sky News:

Above – Dolly Theis on Sky News.

Again, the advantage of having pre-existing video footage – this one high quality broadcast standard, to share with potential voters. It’s the audio in particular that makes the difference.

Using footage from past council and public meetings

Here’s an example of Sam Davies, standing in Queen Edith’s as an independent candidate, asking about a planning issue at a local council meeting.

Cambridge City Council – South Area Committee, 24 Apr 2017.

…and below is an example of an elected councillor putting on public record that she’s been successful in persuading a local authority to change its policy on something – this from Cllr Lucy Nethsingha (Lib Dems – Newnham).

Cambridgeshire County Council – General Purposes Committee, 23 Jan 2018.

This enables the public to see for themselves the candidates in action – often at meetings or events they had no idea took place. 

The challenge with 2019 – a good challenge to have, is that many of the seats have first time candidates standing for election. This means the amount of -pre-existing video footage is very limited. Message to candidates? Get filming!   







Making Cambridge an inclusive city – at FeCRA’s AGM for 2019


More lessons from Bristol, and a re-look at some old blogposts.

In some recent conversations, I was reminded of a couple of diagrams. At the annual gathering of the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations recently, we had another expert speaker from Bristol – Professor Robin Hambleton. (See the video playlist here). The first was the shambolic state of the governance of Cambridge.


From Smarter Cambridge Transport, the fragmentation above does not cover the privatised bus services, the academised schools, the hospitals & health services, and the police all outside the reporting and accountability structures of municipal councils. Prof Hambleton was spot on saying that the UK is one of the most centralised of states in the world. Having taught in other countries, he commented that regional and local government in Germany were protected by their constitution. Hence central government could not dictate to local and regional councils in the way that happens in the UK.

The second was from a study I discovered during my civil service days.

What does your community look like?

The above was from 2008 – which pre-dates the explosion of multitude of social media tools bar email and Facebook. There was no Twitter for politics. back then. This, the growth of mobile video, and the impact of Brexit and Donald means that some of the above-figures may well have changed. Furthermore, the above-model does not account for those that might or do behave in a way that might be destructive to communities and societies.

Clouds and silver linings

The implosion of functioning government is at a level that I have not seen in Westminster and Whitehall. We should not be in this situation constitutionally – the convention is that when a prime minister loses the confidence of the House of Commons, he or she should tender their resignation to the Queen and either advise on a replacement, or recommend a dissolution of Parliament to make way for a general election.

But that cannot happen while the clock is ticking down for – as things stand a car-crash-no-deal Brexit. The UK leaves the EU by the automatic functioning of the triggering of Article 50 of the Treaty of The European Union. Thus we have paralysis in Whitehall. The House of Commons has repeatedly rejected the Prime Minister’s deal, and everything else too. The hung parliament cannot as yet come to an agreement on the way forward.

One of the few silver linings of all of this is the significant growth of people wanting to find out more about politics and our system of government – warts and all. Furthermore, I’ve noticed that ever since the EU Referendum we are seeing more and more new faces involved in local democracy. This year’s Cambridge City Council elections could see the biggest slate of first time candidates winning their election contests. I predict as many as eight of the 14 council seats at Cambridge Guildhall up for election could be won by first time candidates in Cambridge.

The biggest petition in the UK’s history

For online petitions on Parliament’s website, that award goes to the Revoke Article 50 petition – ten times the size of the Leave the EU Now petition. (The latter with over 600,000 signatures is still a very significant number of signatures). Can it be compared with the millions that signed the Chartist petitions of the mid-1800s? Not really because of the extra efforts that went into collecting the signatures for the latter, and also because the freedoms that we enjoy today are not the same conditions that the Chartists faced. Essentially the Chartists were taking bigger risks.

Heidi Allen MP and the ‘Tiggers’ 

The local elections on 02 May 2019 will be the first real electoral test for both Conservatives and Labour since the breakaway group of MPs now led by the MP for South Cambridgeshire. Essentially both political parties have had sand kicked in their face by different sections of the media over how they’ve handled Brexit. Keep an eye on Peterborough and East Cambridgeshire in particular.

“What’s all of the above got to do with making Cambridge inclusive?”


My previous blogpost of Cambridge being a protesting city was well made given the rise in the number of protests that happened shortly after. Hundreds of people from Cambridge went down to London for the million-person protest calling for a people’s vote. (That’s not to say it was entirely representative of the whole country – the march was in London for a start. But to get that many people out on the streets marching against a government policy shows a significant level of unhappiness as it takes a huge amount of effort to agitate people to an extent where they are prepared to travel to the capital for a big protest).

More protests

Primary school children and parents marched against cuts to schools

Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner spoke to a separate rally against leaving the EU, in Cambridge.

….While secondary school students marched on strike against climate change.

…while the housing protests haven’t gone away either – here with Cllr Anna Smith and Montreal Square residents & supporters.

Not just the ‘usual suspects’ protesting

There are too many protesting about too many different things for any one organisation to try and monopolise any of the protests. The huge number of home-made signs reflects this. This makes it much harder for the politicians to dismiss. Furthermore, the line between taking direct action that causes inconvenience, and the line that says follow the official channels to make your case, is becoming much more blurred. This blurring has been led locally by the Cambridge collective of the Extinction Rebellion network – who blocked Mill Road not so long ago, and did the same on Hills Road for about half an hour during rush hour.  And with good reason. Asking questions of politicians alone has not worked. I’ve tried – this from 2 years ago. Air quality has gotten even worse despite actions and petitions from hundreds more people.

Blocked at every turn by restrictive structures and institutions

One of the most frustrating things to see in Cambridge is the level of homelessness on the streets – in the face of all of the headlines about the wealth the city supposedly generates. From the fragmentation of local state and civic institutions, to the hoarding of powers and finances by Ministers and The Treasury in London, to the planning system in the eyes of local residents appearing to favour speculative developers looking for a quick buck rather than a system that incentivises developers and communities to work together to solve shared problems, attempts to solve our city’s problems seem blocked at every turn. And then the city gets blamed for the inequalities within the county even though the political decisions that lead to said inequalities are taken by politicians not elected by the wards and divisions inside Cambridge City, but in Cambridgeshire County’s rural wards and divisions. Ask most transport campaigners inside Cambridge and they would welcome – and campaign for significantly improved public transport links to surrounding towns and villages. For a start such links would significantly reduce the car traffic on the roads. I’m all for rail links to Wisbech and Haverhill. I’m all for light rail links to places like St Ives, Ramsay, Chatteris and Cambourne. But successive governments have never had the courage or imagination to put in the structures or finances to deliver any of this. And as a result, no one wins. In the current quagmire of Brexit, much of the civil service policy capacity has been diverted to solve self-created problems rather than the very real long term and persistent problems the country and the world faces. And we’re not going to get those five-or-so years back.

“So…what next?”

For a start, find out the candidates standing for election in your area. The Democracy Club crew prepare a big database of candidates with video and social media links for such things – though much depends on the goodwill of crowd-sourced volunteers cleansing the data and inputting candidate links. Elections aside, it feels like everything is on hold due to the Brexit mess. At a social gathering with some of my Lost Cambridge local history community earlier, I learnt how the uncertainty was having a huge impact on small to medium sized businesses, and how pro-no-deal MPs were claiming that the increase in orders from firms were signs of a strengthening economy rather than realising that this was evidence of firms stockpiling as contingencies, leading to a shortage of warehouse space. That’s in the face of changing consumer habits as people have moved away from the traditional high street shop to shopping online – leading to a residual increase in demand for warehousing space aside from Brexit contingencies.

On educating people about democracy and politics

The points I made in this blogpost from late 2017 apply here. We had a really good discussion about politics and current affairs as mentioned above. There were six of us at the local history gathering. I learnt first hand from people running their own businesses about the direct hits they were taking, and they learnt from me about the insights from my time inside Whitehall. These included the legal differences between the Scottish Independence referendum that had automatic triggers in the event of a Yes vote, versus the EU Referendum whose result in law was only advisory – and that everything that had stemmed from it was the result of conscious and deliberate actions by Government ministers. (For example if/when to trigger Article 50). The list of things the Government has completely missed out was powerfully listed by Lord Bilimoria who robustly slapped down former Home Secretary Michael Howard in his speech here. <<– Enjoy.

When the dust has settled in national politics, we’ve got to deal with educating the public about democracy and politics – not least to deal with the problem of misinformation and ‘fake news’.