Over to you now, candidates


Now that we have a critical mass of election videos, how will the election candidates go about publicising them? What will my video stats say?


The video playlist that matters for voters in Cambridge is here. At the time of posting, there were 20 videos covering four political parties that are standing full slates of candidates:

“So, who’s in the lead?”

The chart for short election messages looks like this:

  1. Sophie Barnett of Romsey Labour Party, with 86 views
  2. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 58 views
  3. Rosie Moore of Coleridge Labour Party, with 49 views
  4. Stuart Tuckwood of Cambridge Greens, with 35 views
  5. Julius Carrington of Cambridge Conservatives with 29 views

For interviews, the chart looks like this:

  1. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 85 views
  2. Dave Baigent of Cambridge Labour, with 69 views in total
  3. Shahida Rahman of Cambridge Lib Dems with 33 views

“Why do videos matter?”

Much depends on how candidates choose to use them. As stand alone pieces, they’ll be useless as few will know where to find them. Incorporated into a decent campaigning strategy and you have the face/voice of candidates available to potential voters at a time and place that is convenient for the citizen rather than the politician. A video can be a candidates voice working through the night as the candidate sleeps.

It also matters because there are a number of wards where the difference between winning and losing is down to less than 100:

Four out of the fourteen wards being knife-edge marginals? On those alone it’s worth experimenting with every new tool available. But what about the ‘safe’ wards?

Video messages potentially means no paper candidates

Until very recently it was very easy for political parties to stand ‘paper’ candidates in order to avoid embarrassment of not having a full slate of candidates. Certainly for the major political parties, opponents are more than happy to publicise where a party fails to stand a candidate in a council area where they otherwise have a large presence – or should be expected to have a large presence. A ‘paper’ candidate is exactly that – you only see their names on the ballot paper. You don’t see them out and about campaigning. That said, out and about campaigning is not for everyone. Also, given the choice between a ‘paper candidate’ and no candidate, the former can at least give an indication to a political party as to whether it is worth campaigning in such areas in the future given very limited resources.

What video messaging allows is for potential voters to see and hear candidates in their own voices – even if such candidates don’t want to go door-to-door canvassing or appearing at public events. Again, this is highly dependent on the local party having a half-decent social media operation and online presence that ensures local residents are directed to the videos themselves. It allows residents to see/hear candidates at their leisure rather than at a time convenient for politicians going door-to-door. You ever been disturbed by a door-to-door canvasser when the bath/cooker/football is on?

Not just video, but half-decent photographs too


Above: Cllr Dr Dave Baigent with members of North Cambridgeshire & Huntingdonshire Labour Parties at Warboys, Cambridgeshire on 15 April 2016

I had a bit of a groggy day that Friday and dragged myself to a coffee shop at the end of my road. Dave then phoned and asked if I wanted to come along and film at an event where he and Labour MEP Richard Howitt were giving a talk to a few dozen Labour supporters. Interesting choice of time – late on a Friday night when it was also pouring with rain. But I needed to get out of Cambridge for a bit, so impulsively I agreed. (Declaration, Dave bought me half a coke – most of which I accidentally spilt and knocked over in a pub that didn’t serve coffee. The joys of being a metropolitan luvvie who can’t survive without a latte.

I’m not going to even pretend I’m a decent photographer – I’m still getting to know the camera that I have. That said, the resolution of the photographs that I take is at a level of detail that doesn’t make professional printers irritated. Thus political parties can (and have done in the past) used photos I’ve taken in campaigning material. The photo above for Dave Baigent is one that matters for Labour because for the people that turned up – of which between a third/half had joined after Jeremy Corbyn became leader. I got a sense from the atmosphere in the room that Labour might snatch one or two seats in the districts in these heartlands if they can get those in the room out and about in a small number of targeted seats where Dave Baigent is campaigning on the PCC elections. But again much depends on how Labour use social media to complement what they do offline.

The Tories’ first video

Just keep an eye on Julius Carrington – who like me grew up here in Cambridge and has a mixed heritage background. Assuming he sticks around in Newnham and continues to campaign, this previously Labour/Lib Dem ward could find a Conservative challenge in the near future. In 2015 the party stood Cambridge University student Sam Carr of the University’s Conservative Association as their Newnham candidate and he pulled in 700 votes. Note this was on the back of an otherwise divided general election campaign where candidate and local party were not able to co-ordinate well. With a candidate that has much stronger and more permanent roots who is prepared to do the groundwork over the years, is the only way up for the Conservatives in Newnham? Or are the roots that the other parties have in the ward far too strong to be dislodged?

The acid test for Cambridge Liberal Democrats

These elections really are a big test for them – and also for party leader Tim Farron MP nationally. Locally and nationally, is the party still in free fall following the disaster at the polls in 2015 that all but wiped out their party in the House of Commons? (Hence explaining a much lower media profile). Although they reported a rise post-election from around 46,000 to 60,000 members at their 2015 conference, I’ve not seen the level of activity I would have expected given the shock of losing an otherwise popular local MP in Julian Huppert, whose vote held up in the general election but not enough for him to resist the Labour tidal wave that swept Daniel Zeichner into office.

Their two most vulnerable seats as I see it are in Market and Romsey, where longstanding senior councillors Tim Bick and Catherine Smart are fighting for re-election against strong campaigns from both Stuart Tuckwood of The Greens and Sophie Barnett of Labour respectively. At the other end, Shahida Rahman is running a strong local campaign in her home ward of East Chesterton against a lower profile Labour opponent Cllr Margery Abbott. Given the problems Labour has faced with the city deal proposals on Milton Road, could that be enough to sway the voters towards the Liberal Democrats?

It wouldn’t surprise me if their losses and gains broadly balanced out – losing a longstanding incumbent while perhaps gaining a seat with a first time councillor in. This may not be a bad thing as it’s always nice to see new faces taking to the council benches.

Not all wards have the same social media profiles

I’m almost embarrassed for the activists in Queen Edith’s ward, a number of whom are frequent social media users. This is because none of the candidates seem to be using it. Ditto with Trumpington. For me this matters because of the presence of Addenbrooke’s Hospital and of a number of large schools and colleges in the area along with the growth in housing numbers. Given the looming hustings that are coming up in this ward, it’s a question that I’m going to put to the candidates, in particular on outreach to young people given the number of families with children there.

Has it been harder to recruit candidates this year?

It would seem so given the number of re-standing candidates who have come back after a break from standing, through to new names on ballot papers that seem to have a very small internet footprint. Perhaps it takes time to train up new members into potential candidates. Alternatively it may simply be a sign of the times, and a signal for us in the rest of the city that we also need to do something if we are to get the high calibre of candidates a city like Cambridge demands but perhaps is not prepared to supply.

What would that entail?

I don’t know how we would achieve it, but changing the culture of our city to one where residents see it as a civic duty to be proactive in finding out who is standing for election, when and where for a start. My take is that we cannot leave it all down to the politicians and activists to spoon-feed us our democracy. It’s not a spectator sport. It requires active participation on our part as residents in order to make it work. It’s not like we have a shortage of talent in the city either. We’ve got to get into the mindset that we all have a part to play. My part in the run up to these elections is through making short video clips of as many candidates, activists and politicians as possible. What the political parties (and residents) choose to do with those videos that are now online…is entirely up to them. And you.

[Updated on 17 Apr 2016 to add the following:]

There were a few comments posted on Twitter/Facebook that I wanted to add because they raise one or two interesting issues about covering elections.

160417 James Youd Comment


For context, James is one of the organisers of the local Unite Community branch in Cambridge – an initiative I think Unite The Union HQ should put far more resources behind.

Richard Johnson (not to be confused with Cllr Richard Johnson of Abbey Ward) co-authored the book (with Cllr Ashley Walsh) one of the very few political histories of local politics in Cambridge – 100 years of the Cambridge Labour Party. See http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/cambridge-labour-party-the-first-100-years. If you are interested in Cambridge’s local political scene, this book is a must read as it explains some of the background behind some of the exchanges in the council chamber as well as backgrounds to some big Cambridge landmarks – such as the Kelsey Kerridge Sports Cente.

Clare King is a former Lib Dem councillor in Cambridge who switched to Labour after the Coalition came to power, and is now an active Labour campaigner.

My response to Richard (and Clare by extension)

I’ve read through Richard’s comment/complaint. The issue as I see it is not that I’ve written Dani Greene off, it’s more that I should have mentioned her specifically as the candidate who came within 7 votes of taking Market ward in 2015. If I wanted to write off Dani, I’d have written “Dani Greene has got no chance – this ward is between the Stuart Tuckwood (Greens) and Tim Bick (Lib Dems) alone”. But it clearly isn’t. The simple reason for focusing on is that Cllr Bick is the incumbent candidate and The Greens have made it clear that Market Ward is their number 1 target seat. Furthermore, they have been in regular contact on their Market Ward campaign through social media in a way the Labour Party (as an institution) has not for this ward.

Was it bad form not to have named her as a candidate specifically? Possibly – though it certainly wasn’t deliberate by any means. To imply it was deliberate sexism on grounds of gender is below the belt and I completely and utterly reject such an accusation. In fact, on 12 April I got in touch with Labour councillor Anna Smith, Romsey candidate Sophie Barnett and Dani Greene on Twitter to offer to film an election video

That no one from Cambridge Labour Party has got back to me is not my fault – or my problem. I’ve recorded videos for Anna, Sophie and numerous videos for Dave Baigent who is Labour’s candidate for Police & Crime Commissioner. And people are watching them – Sophie being top of the ‘league table’ as this blogpost shows.

Do I blame Dani for not getting back? Not particularly – not least because she’s got a baby to look after. It was only after my niece & nephew arrived that I realised just how demanding looking after a child can be. In the grand scheme of things, shooting a short video for her campaign isn’t going to be top of her list of priorities, even though getting local election candidates on video is around the top of mine. In terms of those supporting her campaign and doing the organising, again the offer remains open as it does to candidates standing in and around Cambridge to make videos for their campaigns.

It’s not like I’ve made myself difficult to get in touch with either. If I don’t get anything back from inquiries (however made) then what else can I do? Especially as everything that I am doing is unpaid. Perhaps as institutions political parties need to look towards their members and holders of elected public office for examples of how those who use social media effectively (and all local parties have pioneers in this field) can share their knowledge & expertise with the rest of their local parties. Again, that’s for them to do, not for me.

Response to James Youd

Was it a fluke that Oscar Gillespie got in? Not really – because he had put in the groundwork to get within striking distance of the seat in the first place. Given that there were so few votes between three parties, I can see why people say it was down to luck as to who came top. Alternatively, was it something as small as a more prominent social media presence that won it for Oscar over Dani and their Lib Dem opponent in 2015, Dom Weldon? Note at a national level there are three MPs whose majorities are less than 100. Flukes or was there something in their campaigns that allowed the winners to get over the line ahead of their near opponents?

West Chesterton I mentioned as a marginal in the list. Where James makes a very interesting comment is the impact of the student vote, and as he mentioned to be elsewhere, the impact of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. It could be that the popularity of Tim Bick as a local councillor combined with Jeremy Corbyn’s election as Labour leader takes away some of the votes that might have gone to the Greens in 2015. In which case a  result of 1) Tim Bick, 2) Dani Green, 3) Stuart Tuckwood sounds more likely. Ditto the election of Jeremy Corbyn might be enough to galvanise support around Labour to drive Dani to the finishing line first, with a 1) Dani Green, 2) Tim Bick and 3) Stuart Tuckwood (or with 2 & 3 reversed) likely results too. Thus as Richard Johnson says, Market ward is a 3 way marginal and is making for a fascinating contest.

Why local parties need to do much better to keep everyone up to date online.

My only appeal to Labour and the Liberal Democrats (and other parties too) is to do more to keep everyone up to date online. Because if you don’t respond to posts from us bloggers and community reporters for updates, comments and news, we can’t really write about you. And if we do, chances are you may not feel it’s correct.

Note the comments submitted by other readers – in particular this one. Note at the time of posting, only 4/14 Labour candidates have responded to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s annual election questions here. It’s 7/14 for Lib Dems, 6/14 for The Greens, 1/14 for Conservatives and 1/5 for UKIP.

It’s not like these questions come as a surprise – every year the Cambridge Cycling Campaign asks candidates to submit responses to their questions.

Important given the size and influence of their membership. In the marginal wards, it’s quite possible that the Cambridge Cycling Campaign membership can decide who gets in and who does not. Food for thought?





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More #LostCambridge


…and some of these are really heart-breaking

I spent more time earlier on in the Cambridgeshire Collection to see what I could find. I wasn’t told earlier but there is a £10 daily charge for people like me taking snapshots of items the staff pull out from the archive for us – which for me is a bargain in the face of the cuts to libraries. See here for the county’s archive pages.

As an aside, there is a new Friends of Cambridge Central Library group that launched this year, and they are having their inaugural AGM on Sat 23 April at 3pm in the Central Library (normally on 3rd floor meeting rooms). I’ve set it up as events on Be the change’s Meetup group here and also on its Facebook page here. Please share widely if you are Cambridge/Cambridgeshire based.

Without the staff and the facilities, I would not have picked out the photos I found.

Lost churches

Now, when I talk of lost churches, I’m thinking from the perspective of keeping a nice looking building but just using it for a different purpose.

The above used to be on Hills Road – where now resides a featureless set of offices. How did we end up allowing this building to be demolished?

The above are an interesting pair because this was before the early 20th C developments along Hobson Street that led to the construction of the magnificent art deco cinema and magnificent buildings along Hobson Street. But being a major bus artery there is no way that street will be pedestrianised short of a bus tunnel.

The magnificent ‘New Theatre’ that I referred to in my previous blogpost (that got demolished in the 1960s) looked like this on the inside. Again, a tragedy that it could not be turned into a more flexible venue at the time.

The above are photos of the old Playhouse on Mill Road…and what you see below is what a community venue with its heart ripped out looks like

IMG_3077What’s worse is that all this damage was done for a short-lived supermarket before it was turned into the Salvation Army’s charity shop ‘Sally Anne’s which it has been for the past thirty years – certainly as long as I have been around.


There have been some stupendously interesting ones – like this of the old town gaol by Parker’s Piece on Gonville Place – where these days instead of being chained up, people exercise on Kelsey Kerridge sports centre or are stuck in cars in the Queen Anne Car Park. Someone tweeted that they should have kept the gatehouse as a pub & demolished the rest.


This one fascinates me – Hills Road/Station Road corner before the First World War (you can tell because there’s no war memorial) with the original Kett House in the background. Note the tram rails in the middle of the road – we had horse-drawn trams in Cambridge at the time.

So…yeah…more ‘Lost Cambridge’

See #LostCambridge 2 for more old photos courtesy of, and copyright of the Cambridgeshire Collection. See also Lost Cambridge 1 for the first set.

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#LostCambridge – the demise of our city’s social venues


I’ve been doing lots of online research, and over the past 50 or so years Cambridge has lost too many community gems. 

This links from my previous blogpost on photographing Cambridge. It’s been an eye-opener spending time wandering around Cambridge looking up at the easily-missed tops of buildings. Have a look at my Flickr album here.

Lost cinemas and theatres

Have a look at the post here.

I can’t ever remember having gone to the Arts Cinema, but am sure my parents took me there to see something as a child. It has since moved from where the B-Bar now is to the building above the Weatherspoons. I can’t help but feel that the building is somewhat wasted as a mega-pub, not least because of the amount of trouble you get outside there on Friday and Saturday nights. That said, it is by far one of the cheapest and most convenient places to get a meal during the daytime in the more expensive part of town. Something all too easy to forget.

Mill Road has also lost its cinemas – the Playhouse now wasted as the Salvation Army’s shop (when you think about the alternatives it could be used as) and the old Kinema demolished and replaced by a building so non-descript and bland that I can’t even find a word to describe it.

Elsewhere, we had the Tivoli – turned into a pub and now undergoing reconstruction following a major fire.

There’s also the old theatre on Newmarket Road that is now Cambridge Buddhist Centre – have a look here. There are more photos here – and this article from 2010 when it briefly reopened.

We also lost – unbelievably the Theatre Royal on St Andrew’s Street. A theatre that according to this website had a capacity of ***almost 2,000 people****


See the building labelled on the top right, which is where Maplin/Sainsbury’s and some non-descript offices now reside. If you take the length of the two rectangular buildings just behind the Maplin/Sainsbury’s building on the top right, that’s about the lenght and the width of the existing Cambridge Corn Exchange. You could easily fit a big theatre/concert venue there – one that is 2 minutes walk from Drummer Street and Emmanuel Street bus stops/station.

Footprint of Theatre Royal St Andrews St GoogleMap

In the late 1990s when I worked for a bank, I would sometimes have to pop over the road to staff who worked there – me working on the other side of the road at the time.

Astonishing. Absolutely astonishing that we lost what could have been such a wonderful venue. Again, in a money-no-object world and given that Cambridge Assessment are due to move out of what is actually quite a nice building on St Andrew’s St/Park Terrace, I would flatten the non-descript buildings, keep the nice one and incorporate it into a new theatre or venue that is bigger than the Cambridge Corn Exchange.

[Quick update]

Compare the Ordnance Survey map from today vs one from the 1930s below

Old Theatre Royal New Theatre Comparison Map

The footprints of the old Theatre Royal/New Theatre match the Maplin/Sainsbury’s building and the offices behind it. My plan? When Cambridge Assessment move out of their current building next to it, flatten the Maplin/Sainsbury’s building & offices behind it, keep the Cambridge Assessment building and build a modern large venue on the site. 2 minute walk to Emmanuel St bus stops, not much more to Drummer Street, 5 minutes to Lion Yard car park, bike parks by Pizza Hut & not far from the railway station. Ideal site for such a place.

Note the one big barrier to this is the presence of the 70+ roomed accommodation block – South Court of Emmanuel College. Could that corner of the College be reconfigured after Cambridge Assessment move out so that the College doesn’t lose rooms, doesn’t lose a huge amount of income that it currently gets from the offices & shop rental, but can allow a large theatre venue to be constructed? Call me an optimist or a fantasist by all means, but I’d like to think there are enough passionate and knowledgeable people who could solve that problem – even though it might not be me who solves it.

Finally, there is the old Rex/Rendex-vous/Cambridge County Rink Cinema/old roller skating rink. One of the things people are not generally aware of is the roller-skating craze of the early 1900s.


Photo http://cambridgestuff.xillennix.com/cinemas/

This was a venue that hosted a number of great bands at the time according to this lovely booklet from i-SpySyd in Cambridge. (In reference to Syd Barrett, who lived for many years in recluse locally throughout my childhood).

From rollerskating rinks and dance halls, to shops

From a similar booklet by I-SpySyd  we can also see how what were once dance floors or rollerskating rinks became cinemas and finally shops. In Cambridge’s case, Waterstones occupies the old Dorothy Ballroom, and Marks & Spencer occupies the old Victoria Cinema. Then we have the crime against the city that is the continued derelict Odeon cinema/bingo hall.

photo (3)

The old bingo hall that has remained unused for far longer than is sensible

The old YMCA building also, according to i-SPySyd was a gig venue – one that’s hard to find photos of. Here’s a rare one by former councillor Colin Rosenstiel below.

OldYMCA ColinRosenstiel

The old YMCA building before it was demolished to make way for the Lion Yard shopping centre. Behind it is St Andrew the Great, and to the far left you can just make out Christ’s college and Hobson Street where the tree and the minaret/tower are.

See also these photographs taken by the late Peter Soar as part of historic Cambridge Town was demolished to make way for the much maligned Lion Yard shopping centre.

Talking of old religious buildings…

160314 OldEdenChapelGraftonCambridge

I find this one absolutely haunting in the Grafton Centre. Over the past few days I’ve been wandering around the old Kite part of town just to try and get my head around what happened to this area when I was a baby. Note what it used to look like below, as the demolition men ripped the heart out of this community.

The Kite Area, Cambridge, 1980s Burleigh Street

The old Eden Chapel on the corner of Fitzroy Street and Burleigh Street. Cambridge, 1980s by Roy Hammans

The above is taken from http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/SLIDESHOW-Kite-Grafton-Gold-Street-Cambridgeslost-community-heart/story-22778319-detail/story.html#1 – note the photographs show that people were prepared to fight for their homes.


Only a few days ago from posting this blogpost, I found this old Sunday School chapel, now flats. I had no idea this place existed. Turned out it has a very colourful history – as @IwasID found here.

So…what does Cambridge have in their places?

This has been my longstanding question: Since the millennium, what addition to Cambridge’s entertainment life has there been other than the new bowling alley & cinema on the old Cattle Market site? I’m thinking in terms of significant additions. Even more so as Cambridge’s growth rate means that Cambridge will need to provide far more than it currently does – and have the transport infrastructure to get people to and from venues.

Recall I wrote this in 2015 about Cambridge Leisure – and that was based on anecdote more than anything else. What we have seen that is much welcomed is the conversion by a number of larger churches into community centres which are much more flexible than what they were in the past. The four that spring to mind are St Paul’s, St Philip’s, United Reformed Church and St Barnabas, all of whom have ripped out their pews and replaced their flooring with a much more versatile wooden flooring suitable for indoor sports & leisure. There has also been the growth of coffee-shop-style mini-gig venues such as Relevant Records, Hot Numbers and CB2. Huge achievements in themselves given the costs and work involved. Yet for the significant large scale improvements, these require the backing of larger, wealthier institutions as well as political support. At present I just don’t see that coming in the near future.

It’s a long read, but have a look at this 2013 Cambridge City Council document. Also this document from South Cambridgeshire which has probably been forgotten about.

My take is that transport and leisure have to go hand-in-hand. When I talk to people dependent on public transport, lack of availability, and high costs for what is there is incredibly prohibitive.

That’s why the city deal authorities really need to get it right on future infrastructure – and why I’m not just following, but scrutinising the whole process.


After a heavy post, I want to finish with this photo from what seemed like one of the funkiest boutiques of the time in Cambridge – long since demolished & now buried under the Lion Yard. This one’s from the Frank Bird Collection and was part of a photoshoot for the Alley Boutique in the old Falcon Yard. Does the woman in the picture remind you of South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen?




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Photographing easily-missed Cambridge buildings


Photographing our city – and discovering parts of the city that I had not stopped to look up at before


It never occurred to me that above this grand entrance to what is now Jamie Oliver’s Cambridge branch of his restaurant chain was a coat of arms and the sign of the free library.


This entire complex as far as I’m aware used to be where the old central library used to be. The building poking out just behind is the large hall now part of the Guildhall complex – though it used to be separate to it once. To the left is the ‘Peas Hill’ building – which again used to be separate to the Guildhall but got incorporated into it.

Before the library was built, the old buildings were destroyed by fire


Via http://technicalmoves.com/blog/2013-blog-posts/a-look-back-at-cambridge-changes-to-the-town-1888-1988/ and again you can see the magnificent large hall behind.


Before that, Cambridge Market Square looked like above – from Fonz Chamberlain’s excellent collection http://cambridgehistorian.blogpost.co.uk

Then the ‘Peas Hill’ building got built – see below. Note that building looks like…a quarter of the new Guildhall. Then the old Guildhall (which I think dated from the mid 1700s but was clearly far too small – though note the presence of the ‘large hall’) got demolished to make way…

Market 1937FonzChamberlain

…for what we have today, which is below. You can just pick out the slightly different tone to the brickwork in this photograph below that reveals the different ages of the building.


I still think it’s a shame we didn’t get the other designs that were put forward. For example:


From 1860 above – via http://archiseek.com/2009/1860-the-guildhall-cambridge-cambridgeshire/


From 1890 http://archiseek.com/2009/1893-new-municipal-buildings-cambridge-cambridgeshire/


Above design from 1898 via http://archiseek.com/2014/1898-design-guildhall-cambridge/

During my wanderings, I headed down Hobson Street and found the old county council building – again easily missed due to the traffic that flows down that road.

160406 CambridgeshireOldCountyHall.jpg

Isn’t our old county hall lovely at the front? The thing is, that building was found to be far too small within about 20 years of it being completed. Hence the construction of Shire Hall at Castle Hill.

I’m putting the photographs here that I’m taking for the purposes of some new neighbourhood planning documents that residents associations will be using to help influence the design of new homes and buildings going up in Cambridge.

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Which politicians will make digital video work for them?


Asking why politicians and candidates are not making use of digital videos they already have

Liberal democrat former councillor in Reading Daisy Benson set the standard six years ago with this video:

In an ideal world, far more candidates would be producing content such as this. Most of the candidates already have the kit to make videos such as this, but lack the skills and confidence to pull this off. That has certainly been my experience in Cambridge, where I am going out of my way to make it as easy as possible to to provide candidates for the parties standing candidates in the city to have video footage.

“Hang on – making videos is hard, and so is speaking into a camera”

It’s certainly something that’s very easy to take for granted once you become competent in producing them. Think of all of you who drive cars. Think of the knowledge you have to have in order to drive a car. Once you get used to driving it’s second nature. But when you first start, being in control of such a huge machine is quite terrifying. Well…it was for me.

Sophie Barnett of Labour in Romsey, and Sharon Kaur of The Greens in Petersfield setting the pace

Note to self, get some consistency with the titles and captions

The above are their first short video clips for the campaign. My aim here is for voters to see and hear candidates in their own words, rather than having a series of still photographs of candidates at various places – nice as it is to see evidence of candidates out and about.

“How do parties make those videos go further?”

For a start, have one video ‘pinned’ to the top of websites and social media accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. Short video clips are much more ‘clickable’ than extended ones – which can be linked to on separate pages. They don’t need to be on the landing page.

Take Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dems’ mayoral candidate for London. She visited Cambridge last year and I interviewed her – see here. Recently there was a well-received feature of her in the Evening Standard. Furthermore, her performance, along with Sian Berry of The Greens, was well received at the LBC Radio hustings. The problem with all of these is that short video clips of Caroline and Sian are not prominently featured, if at all. Given the media is focusing on their male opponents in Conservatives (Zac Goldsmith) & Labour (Sadiq Khan), it’s essential that Caroline and Sian – and Sophie Walker of the Women’s Equality Party use video to try and compensate for the media gap.

With video, my take is that (assuming they are reasonably well done and have a half-decent audio), they will work for you while you are asleep. They allow residents and voters to hear you in your own voice at their convenience rather than at your convenience. But with individuals and parties still at the ‘dipping toes in the water’ stage or wanting to leave things to the professionals, political parties are not making nearly as much of the opportunities digital and mobile video can provide for their campaigns.


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How should Cambridge communicate with its residents?


Collating thoughts following a short twitter exchange recently

This was a theme throughout the Be the change – Cambridge events of 2014/15 but didn’t end up taking off in the way I anticipated. Hence bringing my thoughts together here following the recent progress both on the Greater Cambridge City Deal, and my own improving skills using digital video. Furthermore, this post follows up an offer from the Master of Selwyn College, Roger Mosey who was the director of the BBC’s operation for the London 2012 Olympics.

Scoping the problem

There is a small community of us journalists, commentators and community reporters that cover local democracy in Cambridge. At a time when local newspapers and broadcast media are struggling, it’s all the more important that local public organisations are subjected to proper scrutiny. Even more so for Cambridge and surrounding villages as this is a time of huge change and rapid growth for the city. Having grown up in the city and returned twice (after university and post-civil-service), I have a unique perspective of knowing my childhood neighbourhood inside out while at the same time being familiar with a fair bit of the public policy detail given my past as a policy adviser in Whitehall on local government reform.

The problem from a communications perspective is that too many people and organisations are chasing too few reporters and publications that have that large generalist reach. Having seen the hours that Jon Vale of the Cambridge News puts in – and his predecessor Chris Havergal, I don’t know how they manage to cover all of the meetings that take place. Actually, in recent times – and with good reason, they have sourced articles based on the video footage that the likes of myself and Richard Taylor have filmed. (Naturally they sought our consent before publishing).

As well as meetings of Cambridge City Council, South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council, single local government reporters also have to cover the Greater Cambridge City Deal and any community actions that are vaguely political. That is a massive remit even with the support of a friendly team of community activists/reporters to source news stories from.

Too many people relying on too few people?

This was a point former Mayor of Cambridge Paul Saunders mentioned to be about the problem with contemporary local democracy. I’ve found similar with the reporting of it too. We don’t have a resident community activist/reporter based in Cambourne, where South Cambridgeshire District Council is, and I don’t have a car. So getting to meetings there using public transport is a hassle.

At the same time, more and more people are becoming interested in local democracy and in what is happening. My Youtube channel stats since January 2015 are around 35,000 hits and 135,000 minutes of video footage viewed – which for a channel covering mainly local democracy is huge.

Yet when we look at existing output generally, there are only so many print pages that the local media can print, and only so many web pages that journalists will be able to update at the same time. Hence the growing importance now of professional journalists working with community reporters and having the two feeding off the work of each other.

How do we co-ordinate the institutions that cover local democracy?

Not being part of an institution means I do not have the gravitas to convene a gathering of participants and decision makers in organisations. Someone like Roger Mosey as the Master of one of Cambridge’s colleges and a former BBC executive however, does.

What might such a gathering look like? 

In terms of participants, the easy part is picking the local government and/or political correspondents from the local media. However, we need to go beyond just the mainstream reporters.

An executive from each of the local media institutions – ones that ‘can commit the institution’ to borrow a Whitehall phrase, in my view are also essential. The reason being that nominally some of these organisations (such as the BBC and ITV Anglia) are in competition with each other across a wider area. I don’t know nearly enough about broadcast media organisational structures to know how to navigate around that problem.

I would also want to have the communications managers from a cross-section of organisations across the city and beyond. I want to challenge them to go far beyond their standard communications strategies and press releases.

With non-mainstream media, having a mix of community reporters, bloggers, short video makers, photographers and also the student press is essential. One outcome I’d particularly like to cover is how our institutions interact with students who are either studying related subjects such as media or politics, through to those who work with media as a passion or hobby.

Easily overlooked are the politicians – representatives from political parties that regularly stand in elections and who have holders of elected public office that cover the city and surrounding villages.

Finally, I would also want there anyone who is passionate about the future of our city and could provide some constructive external scrutiny to discussions – otherwise it risks being a media echo-chamber cut off from our target audiences.

How might it proceed and what could it achieve?

I’d prefer to have such a gathering run broadly on open space principles. Although I’ve in part scoped the problem, I’ve merely touched the surface. First and foremost though, I want participants to think collectively ‘as the city’ rather than being a representative of their employer or organisation. If everyone approaches the challenge with the mindset of what can they or their organisation alone get out of this, the whole thing is dead in the water. In my view, we’ve got to demonstrate that as a diverse collective, we can think collectively about the problems we have identified.

I’d then invite people to pitch (30 seconds per pitch max) workshop sessions based on the problem-scoping session. We piloted this at Be the Change in late 2014 and the concept of moving from problem scoping to problem solving seemed to work. Following summary feedback, I would then invite/challenge all participants to commit to one small one-off action along with one small behaviour change they will make as a result of participating. For example it could be as simple as all press releases in an organisation going on an easy-to-find corporate web page at the same time as they get emailed to media contacts. (Actually, they should be sending hyperlinks rather than attachments…)

What difference might participants and the public notice as a result? 

We’d all have a much clearer picture of what is being scrutinised by whom. For example I’d like to see a clear picture or diagram of all of the public services delivered in and around Cambridge, along with who the service providers are accountable to – and how to contact the latter as well. That alone might persuade more collaborative working between our fragmented public sector – a challenge raised in the last Parliament by the Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Margaret Hodge MP.

Having knowledge of which journalists or reporters were covering what meetings might also save time and effort for many – especially where there are conflicting meetings on the same day. On a couple of occasions at the last minute some of us have managed to ensure clashing meetings had at least one reporter or videographer at them to ensure that what was said/decided could be reported accurately.

The public as a result would find an improvement in the quality, quantity and curation of local politics as well. One example of this could be the timely announcement/publicity of important local meetings that arise – or even the routine publicity of regular local meetings such as area committees. Personally I think area committees need an overhaul – in particular the East and South ones. I’d love to see at some point at the start the chance for multiple conversations between councillors and residents rather than having sometimes a room with dozens of people in with only one speaker at a time. Because it’s through those multiple conversations that good things start to happen – like Volunteer for Cambridge – which has now become an annual event!


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What would a tour of local councils be like?


…because who else would undertake something like this?

I’ve been pondering something like this for quite some time, and sort of attempted a random tour of parts of southern England in the summer of 2000 during my university years. Me and an old school friend literally stuck pins in a map and decided to go wherever the pin landed. Hence ending up in Colchester, Portsmouth (where I found HMS Warrior to be far more interesting than HMS Victory, the latter of which had much of its superstructures & armaments replaced by tacky plastic replicas), The Isle of Wight and Chatham naval base!

In recent visits to various places locally, I’ve always found myself drawn to the town hall to ask myself the question of what the town hall tells us about the history and its people.


What does the above tell you about the port of Ipswich? (Other than they have a better town hall than Cambridge? Note at the time Ipswich’s hall was being built, Cambridge’s one was as below – the current one being a 1930s design)


Image via Fonz Chamberlain at https://www.facebook.com/fonzchamberlain79/?fref=ts

At the same time Cambridge going through monumental changes and growth – I counted fifteen cranes from one vantage point in my neighbourhood of South Cambridge on a walk recently. At the same time, there is a growing interest in local history of Cambridge the town. Fonz Chamberlain is the person to go to at https://www.facebook.com/fonzchamberlain79/ and http://cambridgehistorian.blogspot.co.uk/. See his picture albums of Cambridge in the 1970s and Cambridge in the 1980s and you get a sense of just how much history we lost with the development of both Lion Yard and The Grafton Centre.

“What would a tour of town halls achieve?”

It’s not just the town halls – which are of a personal random interest, but also of the local councils themselves. I want to get a feel for what other local councils are doing in this social media era to see if there is anything that we can use and apply in Cambridge. At the same time, I want to document it using digital video and social media. Also, it might be the chance to meet long time social media followers face-to-face while seeing other parts of the country while I still reasonably have the health for it. Also, I can bring a dragon with me. A sort of #PufflesOnTour project.

Actually, that pretty much encapsulated what I’d like to do in an ideal world. Spend a couple of days in each place, go to a community action gathering followed by a full council meeting the following day. That way, I get to meet and film both community activists and councillors at the same time. Furthermore, putting something like this together might just get one or two more people active or interested in what local democracy in their area is all about. (I’m not going to claim that the presence of Puffles will lead to the public galleries being packed out…)

It’s more likely that it’ll be the smaller things that will make the difference – such as activists seeing a meeting filmed for the first time, to me filming something that is then picked up on by councillors in Cambridge that they can apply here or to their wards.

“Being dependent on public transport”

That’s also going to be part of the fun – given the cuts they’ve had to face. How does Cambridge compare to other areas in terms of availability and prices? This compares to past visits during my civil service days when I could turn up somewhere by train and go everywhere by taxi, claiming it all back as work expenses. This, being self-funded I won’t have such luxuries – or if I do, it’ll be me paying for it. Also, where I stay overnight I’d want to not stay in one of those corporate identikit hotels but in places where people know the area. This could range from a ‘jewel in the crown’ landmark venue in a town through to a pub with a B&N to crashing out on a mattress at a friends flat.

“Could your area host me and a cuddly dragon fairy?”

Have you got anything interesting coming up that might benefit from having someone film it?  Would you like your area to feature in such a tour? If so, please leave a comment in the comments field.


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Devolution in East Anglia


Policy shambles following the Budget 2016, and rising opposition to the Government’s plans for a mayor for East Anglia.

There’s a petition doing the rounds on Parliament’s website calling for Parliament to reject the Government’s proposals on devolution for Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire – https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/124849

“What’s the deal all about?”

You can read the deal at http://democracy.cambridge.gov.uk/documents/s33604/Appendix%201b%20-%20The%20East%20Anglia%20Devolution%20Agreement.pdf

Essentially it creates a new tier of government with the aim of improving infrastructure by taking powers and spending from ministers – according to Communities Secretary Greg Clark in his letter to the people of Cambridge – whose council has already rejected the deal in its current format. See Cllr Lewis Herbert’s letter here.

“Why the opposition?”

The main reasons put forward by various people, parties and groups against the deal are as follows:

  • The geographical area is too large for a total amount of funding that is too small over such a long period of time to deliver anything more than half a motorway through the region
  • The current deal ignores Cambridgeshire’s western (towards Oxford), northern (towards the midlands) and southern (towards London) links
  • We don’t need an expanded state with another tier of decision makers. People in rural areas already have a parish council, district council, county council, an MP and MEPs – why do they need to add to it?
  • The Coalition scrapped Labour’s last attempt at regional government – with the East of England regional assembly (Do you remember this?) going under Eric Pickles’ cuts – see his statement here from 2010 when he was Communities Secretary (And Dr Clark was a minister in his department).
  • The timescales in which this policy has been developed is too rushed, has had little public debate, has had no public consultation. Due process as far as sound open policy making is concerned has not been followed.
  • The inclusion of Cambridge and Cambridgeshire is party-political. The repeated failure by the Conservatives to succeed electorally inside Cambridge City means that the only way they can get their hands on the city is through this process – and the prospect of ‘Mayor Andrew Lansley’ will horrify many people who do not identify as Conservatives and/or who opposed Lansley’s controversial NHS reforms or his controversial policies on lobbying politicians. (How Lansley was trailed as a favourite in the mainstream media is a mystery to most people).

I’ll leave the party politicians to argue over Lansley – but also note the fallout at the Local Government Association that Cambridgeshire Times editor John Elworthy uncovered.

My main issue with the plans is the lack of due process – as I explain in this freedom of information request to the Government. The lack of care and attention in the main document that has ***not*** been widely circulated speaks volumes. For the creation of such a high profile post, I would expect to see a formal policy publication – such as a green paper – inviting the public to comment on the Government’s proposals. This we have not had. Indeed – the devolution offer until recently has been directed at ‘northern powerhouse’ areas – see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/radical-shake-up-of-power-puts-communities-in-control

“Is this getting bogged down in politics as Claire Ruskin of the Cambridge Network says?”

If it is, it’s because of the way ministers have handled this entire process. (Note Mrs Ruskin’s comments at http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Business-chief-warns-devolution-getting-bogged/story-28964695-detail/story.html.

“I’d like to keep emphasising that there are some good parts to the offer and that we should be considering it objectively not politically,” said Mrs Ruskin.

Are there some good parts in it? Anything that is ‘new money’ to be spent on transport and infrastructure in the region inevitably is. But where I disagree with Mrs Ruskin is that the devolution of political power – including spending and planning powers – is inherently political. Giving an individual the powers to make decisions on spending taxpayers’ money and on planning and infrastructure issues is a political action.

You cannot take the politics out of it. Where you draw the boundaries on where the new mayoral post begins and ends is inherently political. Look at how politically polarised Cambridge is with its surrounding neighbours. The Conservatives have only one councillor on Cambridge City Council, while Labour and the Liberal Democrats are barely represented on South Cambridgeshire and East Cambridgeshire district councils. Whether you run with a regional mayor, or go with (as is my preference) a unitary authority for Cambridge and its surrounding villages, the decision either way is a political one.

Ministers have not prepared the ground with councillors – they have selectively briefed audiences which always ends badly

The lack of transparency is alarming with this policy. Ministers have not created that open playing field where everyone – councillors included – have had access to the same information at the same time. That would have allowed councillors and campaign groups to examine the proposals collectively. For example the Haverhill Rail Campaign would have been very interested in a well-put-together case that links up Cambridge with Suffolk towns and villages. But by rushing their proposals, potential supporters have been missed. Instead, ministers have alienated the public unnecessarily and created the impression that they are trying to cover up their proposals or create a new role for a party political friend. Accordingly, all of the non-Conservative parties on Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Council have publicly stated that they oppose the Government’s proposals.

Shire Hall votes

Cambridgeshire County Council will vote on a motion at full council on 22 March at Shire Hall. This will be followed by what’s likely to be a formality at the Guildhall when Cambridge City Council approves of Cllr Herbert’s actions for Labour – scroll to the end of this document for the motion.

I have a tabled public question at each of the above-mentioned meetings…watch this space!

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Be the change Cambridge returns…


…due to popular demand for a community event all about the Greater Cambridge City Deal

…which we’re planning for June 2016 – see http://www.meetup.com/Be-the-change-Cambridge/events/229647023/

Turns out the Greater Cambridge City Deal has proved to be something of a catalyst as far as energising and mobilising community groups in Cambridge is concerned. You only have to look at the list of video playlists I have (see here) to get a feel for the level of community interest that has grown throughout 2015.


160121 MiltonRoadRA2The above two photographs, one from west Cambridge, the other from north-central shows the interest (mainly critical rather than supportive) from residents from just two of the initially proposed schemes.

Conspicuous by their absence? The views and input of young people – something I have consistently and persistently raised with the city deal authorities. So I asked a couple of Puffles’ Twitterfriends at their demo in support of striking sixth form college teachers.

…because anecdotally, teenagers and young adults in their 20s are not being included nearly as well as they could be – as this video also shows.

Big challenges lie ahead for all of us. As I mentioned on the Be the change – Cambridge Meetup page, the aims of this half-day gathering are to help people:

• To find out what the basics of the CIty Deal are

• To meet the grassroots campaign groups scrutinising the processes

• To hear about the ideas being put forward on the future of our city

• To meet and converse with people from other parts of the city that they might not have met

• To update their social media accounts so as to keep up to date with city deal developments – in particular up and coming community meetings

If you’re interested in taking part, please let me know.

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Learning about planning and building design


Some thoughts from an event organised by the Prince’s Foundation for Building Community and the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations.

I’ve inserted the above summaries of issues raised by participants at a reception the previous evening (11 March 2016) at Murray Edwards College, Cambridge. We had an all-day workshop earlier today where we were taken through a detailed process of how to come up with a neighbourhood plan that hopefully will help our city improve the design of new developments – and do something to stop the more speculative developments going up.

Details of this process are at http://www.princes-foundation.org/content/enquiry-design-neighbourhood-planning, and also the toolkit is at https://www.bimby.org.uk/. By the looks of things, one of the residents associations in Newnham will be piloting this process on behalf of the rest of the city. If it succeeds, it’s something that could be adopted by the rest of the city (or communities within it) to improve the design of buildings and planning applications. We did a number of exercises on both days, another one being mapping the city in terms of areas we like, don’t like & think could be improved.

We’ve reached a stage in Cambridge where residents are becoming more active and mobilised as a result of controversial plans with the Greater Cambridge City Deal. It is these that have let to calls from some quarters for more independent election candidates to stand – such as at ‘Experiments with Democracy’ very recently.

It remains to be seen what impact the City Deal has with the local council elections – speaking of which, Democracy Club needs your help mapping every seat up for election. See https://democracyclub.org.uk/everyelection/ for details.



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