My social media stars of 2015

Summary

A few names with reasons who have made 2015 bearable

Whitehall and Westminster

As mentioned in video review of the year, the general election dominated the first five months of the year – and the result will linger on for a long time to come for better or worse. So my ‘Member of Parliament social media star for 2015’ is:

Heidi Allen MP – South Cambridgeshire -> @HeidiAllen75

I first met Ms Allen long before she was famous – I sound a bit like that die-hard music band fan who was like ‘Yeah – remember those early gigs when it was three men and a dragon fairy at the local boozer? They like totally sold out when they started doing those stadium gigs right?’ From that first interview I knew she was going to be a very different MP to Andrew Lansley, and that her nearest rival, Lib Dem Seb Kindserley was going to have his work cut out.

Yes, she’s a Conservative, but then South Cambridgeshire is a safe as houses Tory seat. (They returned Andrew Lansley on more than one occasion!) Out of all of the MPs that we could have got, South Cambridgeshire has got lucky: A bright, personable, accessible and hard-working constituency-focussed MP who is not worried about climbing the ministerial career pole. How many Conservative MPs would have held a series of public meetings to otherwise hostile audiences to discuss Jeremy Hunt’s plans for the NHS? (See a video of Ms Allen’s speech here).

She’s spoken out publicly against her party’s whip on a number of issues – more in the past six months than his predecessor did in his entire parliamentary career.  Ah – but it’s the vote that matters! When it’s on a knife-edge, yes. But remember that South Cambridgeshire voted by about 50% for Ms Allen, so one could argue that by going against what was in the Conservative manifesto is against the wishes of her constituents.

Shout outs also go to Daniel Zeichner MP, succeeding Dr Julian Huppert with the extremely demanding seat of Cambridge. Furthermore, Mr Zeichner has sailed his political ship with a good level of judgement given the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour Party. Mr Zeichner has taken on the role of shadow local transport minister (thus incorporating cycling policy) as part of his close friend Lilian Greenwood‘s shadow transport team.

Honourable mentions also go to Dr Stella Creasy MP  and Liz Kendall MP in the face of hostile social media attacks, coming out stronger than their attackers. Dr Sarah Wollaston MP for her work chairing the Health Select Committee, Meg Hillier MP charing the Public Accounts Committee and former Mayor of Cambridge Barry Gardiner MP for what I thought was the most powerful speech content-wise in the Syria debate. Big losses to the House of Commons as well as Dr Huppert include Jo Swinson – former Business Minister, one of the nicest people in politics that I’ve met.

A final honourable mention goes to Cat Smith MP – one of Puffles’ earliest followers when she was a little-known councillor. It’s been a pleasure to follow her rise up through the ranks of Labour, where she is now shadow equalities minister and making a positive impact in Westminster.

Beyond Westminster – young women activists

Political campaigning group of the year for me has to be the machine that was Cambridge Universities Labour Club that swept all before it. With Elinor Clapson and Imogen Shaw now heading things up, I’m expecting to see even more women activists becoming active in Cambridge.

The ‘Most inspirational young politician’ award however, goes to the brilliant Amelia Womack – deputy leader of The Green Party, who visited Cambridge on a couple of occasions this year. I think that politics generally will be a better place if she gets elected to the Welsh Assembly, in which she’s standing in her home constituency.

Honourable mentions go to a huge wave of young women political activists who I’ve met and/or had Twitter/Facebook conversations with this year – giving me (& others) hope in the face of such darkness in the political world. These include (and I’m withholding some details for obvious reasons):

Conservatives (yes – really)

Lisa @FenWench for courage in the face of adversity and for genuine niceness outside of the politics bubble

Greens

Laura @Tweetypie_Laura for her persistent campaigning on mental health, and providing a strong, sympathetic ear during hard times

Sharon Kaur @senlanoire for being selected as a first-time candidate for Cambridge Green Party in the highly-contested Petersfield ward of Cambridge in 2016.

Sophi Berridge @Firecat79 I was at college with her in the mid-late 1990s. A heart of gold who stood in her home ward for the first time, and from nowhere polled over 500 votes.

 

Labour

Holly Higgins @HollyJesHiggins – if Labour haven’t given her a medal for her campaigning in 2015, someone should be held accountable for that oversight.

Rachel Barker @Rachellybee is a mini campaigning dynamo who is standing for chair of Young Labour. They’ll be in very good hands if she’s elected.

Sophie Barnett @sab1985 who I sing with in the Dowsing Sound Collective and who is a welcome new face campaigning in my neighbourhood

Stef Lehmann @Steflehmann who is giving Labour a much-needed kick up the backside on all things Europe – vital in the runup to the referendum.

Cllr Emma Toal @emma_toal One of Labour’s youngest councillors active in the Tory heartland of East Anglia. Now deputy leader of the Labour group on Harlow Council

Kerri Prince @Kerri_Prince Elected a councillor ***while still doing her A-levels***. Labour activists, look and learn.

Steve Doran @GirlSteve not only for trying to explain that girls can be called Steve, but also for this video on nicer politics.

Liberal Democrats

Sophie Bell – @SophieBell2812 who when I met her at the Mill Road Winter Fair had this confidence, passion and depth of knowledge that I’ve not seen in a young activist for quite some time.

Sophia Nash – @SophiaNash_ for speaking up against bullying in politics

Chloe Hutchinson @CHutchinson96 for persistently making the liberal case despite the election setbacks

Daisy Benson @_DaisyBenson for continually setting high standards on campaigning that the rest of her party need to aspire to. An early adopter of digital video.

Millicent Scott @MissMillicent for giving up so much to stand for her party in the general election in her home constituency that was also a safe Labour seat. How many of us would do the same?

Scottish National Party

Miriam Brett @MiriamBrett from whom I learnt lots about politics north of Hadrian’s Wall. Listen to her here.

Personal supporters of the year

There are so many people I could mention here, from the Be the change – Cambridge team including David Cleevely, Anne Bailey, Ceri Jones, and friends, to those in the Dowsing Sound Collective that kept me going through tough times including Angela Jameson, Esther McNeill and Erin McAllister. Also in the political world from Cllr Anna Smith. ***Thank you for all your support***.

Also, longtime Twitter friends – Puffles is ***five years old!*** so a big thank you to those who have stuck around over the years and who I also saw this year, including Penny Homer, Frances Coppola, Sarah Baskerville, Jon Worth, Lou Woodley, Michelle Brook, Jennifer Jones & Sophie Warnes

Journalist/commentator of the year

There’s one writer whose analysis and commentary has become essential reading this year. Interestingly she’s spotted more often in the conservative press than the liberal press. Step forward Isabel Hardman of the Spectator. I can’t think of a single journalist who has consistently met the high standards she has set for herself this year. The Political Studies Association named her Journalist of the Year (see p13) – a well-deserved award.

Gig of the year

Two awards: One that I took part in and one that I was in the audience for. In terms of taking part, it was Dowsing Sound Collective’s Lung Jam event to celebrate the launch of the Cambridge Live Trust.

For the many performances that I saw, it was Fred’s House at The Junction in Cambridge

Honourable mentions for top performances go to:

Cambridge political event of the year outside of elections

Easily it was Mr Corbyn’s visit to Cambridge

The atmosphere inside Great St Mary’s was electric.

Campaigns and campaigners of the year in Cambridge

The winner here is Jim Chisholm of ‘Chisholm Trail’ fame. After about 30 years of campaigning we’re getting a much-needed north-south cycle route through the city that’s away from motor traffic. For 2016 the campaigns/campaign groups to watch are:

Both have the potential to influence the future of our city. The first on our infrastructure and the second on transforming our community groups by linking university societies with local civic groups – the latter kicking off with ‘Volunteer for Cambridge’ on 30 January 2016 at The Guildhall.

Honourable mentions go to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and to Positive Investment Cambridge/Fossil Free Cambs for progress on all things climate change – for which The Green Party were indirect beneficiaries with the election of Councillor Oscar Gillespie, bringing a much-needed environmentalist perspective to the city council.

Watch out for the following in 2016:

 

There are many people I’ve missed off this post – apologies to you all. I’m very picky with who I follow on Twitter – whether as me or Puffles. If I’m following you, it’s because you’re doing something right. (Even if I may disagree with some of your policies!)

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2015 – thank you for the music

Summary: A review of the year

…because let’s face it, it’s been a bit crap for lots of us – and I’m not just talking about the general election result either. That, or from the vantage point through the lens my poor mental health, it just looks that way. Yet when I produced my first draft of a video review of 2015, it didn’t seem as bad as it feels in my heart. Have a watch below.

 

When I look at the stats from my Youtube Channel alone, nearly 30,000 views and over 110,000 minutes of video footage viewed looks like quite an achievement given the localised and niche nature of what I film & upload.

2015YoutubeStats

The stat I’m noting with interest is the average view duration, which indicates the sort of length of video I should aim for. 2015 was also unique as a general election year, and also one where the constituencies in my neighbourhood (Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire) all changed MPs together for the first time in a generation.

It wasn’t all filming – it was singing too

With the Dowsing Sound Collective we had a big sing-song for the launch of the Cambridge Live Trust

I’m in a tiny bit of the above around 0m53s. We had a number of guest singers with us for that event – a few of whom I watched audition for the gig. The biggest find for me was sixth former Daisy Hill with this number below.

I also got to see the London collectives of the Dowsing Sound Collective – something I hope continues in 2016. (They’re continually on the look out for more singers to get to the size of what we have in Cambridge – see http://thedowsingsoundcollective.com/joining-dowsing/singers-wanted – the energy you get from lots and lots of singers on stage (plus big audiences too) is huge).

At The Strawberry Fair and the Mill Road Winter Fair I got to see a number of musicians, groups and choirs. Ditto at a number of venues across the city including The Portland Arms, The Junction and Relevant Records. A number of themes have emerged, including improving the acoustics at small venues through to encouraging more women into local music given how nearly all of the bands I’ve seen featured on the ‘up and coming’ circuit in Cambridge are all-male groups.

Elections and politics in 2015

All is not well in Cambridge, and the overall general election result doesn’t fill me with confidence that central government policy will allow Cambridge the powers & flexibilities it needs to solve our own problems. That said, Labour never looked like a government in waiting under Ed Miliband – the ejection of Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander being an illustration of this. The Liberal Democrats were always going to take a kicking, but few predicted a Conservative absolute majority – which is what we have.

One area of hope I’ve seen is the collective performance of women MPs in the House of Commons. As a regular parliamentary watcher there have been many debates where speeches by women MPs in terms of content and delivery has been consistently superior to those of their male counterparts. The abuse and threats that too many women in politics have faced though has been one of the most depressing things in 2015. Too many good people are being bullied off the internet and out of democracy. It’s got to stop.

Local democracy in Cambridge

I’ve filmed more than my fair share of it, and it’s also good to see more people taking an interest. There are new faces entering local democracy in Cambridge, and in 2016 we’ll see some of these standing for election for the first time. My intention is to apply what I learnt from the 2015 general election to the local elections in 2016.

The most interesting development for me is the growth of various campaign groups and networks about the future of our city. My biggest concern is that Cambridge’s public organisations do not have the capacity or the vision to make the best of the energy and ideas that are coming up from the grass roots. It’s a theme I’m going to come back to again and again in 2016.

Mental health

It’s not been a great year for me health-wise. The black velvet of depression plus continued mental exhaustion has put paid to various plans and activities I wanted to get going with. The outlook into 2016 doesn’t look great either. Hence being grateful for the support I’ve received from friends and family – which I continue to be dependent on.

Thank you to everyone who has been a positive part of a difficult year. Here’s to a better 2016.

Happy New Year!

 

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Mindweasels, Paris climate talks, and Euro2016

Summary

On events at home and abroad

I had a lot of people looking out for me on Saturday night – the first time I had properly gone out and stayed out till stupid o’clock since…this time last year. And for the first time in ages, I stopped worrying…for a couple of hours. (Which feels like a lifetime when you have a chronic anxiety disorder!)

So a *****big thank you***** to everyone who looked out for me this weekend.

The thing is, when your mind worries about everything all the time, what is a normal night out for most people on a Friday/Saturday night (and once was for me 15-20 years ago) suddenly becomes an operation that requires military planning – accounting for things that 99.9% of the time won’t happen. Yet your mind still makes you pay interest on it!

Spending Saturday catching up on sleep

…because my sleep patterns have been all over the place for ages, and my niece & nephew who stay over on Friday nights are normally up and about at 7am on a Saturday morning. Any of you who have little children know that ‘the patter of tiny feet’ is anything but. (I love them to bits though – despite the noise in the mornings). But it meant pondering how much caffeine to have to keep me awake without setting off the anxiety spiral. As a result, in my mind I spent much of the day pondering over:

  • how much to eat/drink, and what, bearing in mind I might not be back late
  • what’s the right caffeine/alcohol balance to keep me awake, relax my mind/body but not set off anxiety or nausea (or tiredness)
  • synchronising bus times to get to different places
  • working out what time I needed to be up in the afternoon to wash & change
  • dammit did I charge my phone? (turns out I did)
  • dammit did I charge my camera (turns out I did)
  • dammit did I put a memory card in camera? (turns out I did)
  • work out what my options were in terms of getting back home safely given my dislike of the atmosphere in Cambridge town centre late at night
  • which of the many outfits I’ve collected over the years & used to wear regularly but no longer do, should I wear
  • dammit I should have given myself more time to choose!
  • which shoes are best for comfort, wet weather and dancing in?
  • how much I can afford to spend
  • how much of what medication should I take given I’m not due a new prescription till next week.
  • I always forget something – what will it be this time? Not my entry ticket surely? (Turns out it was the bottle of wine – which meant having to buy another one en route – which fortunately turned out to be a better bottle).

Now, imagine all of the above going through your head over-and-over-and-over again to the extent that your mind cannot switch off. (The CBT weekly appointments I have, and the work I have to do for them are utterly exhausting in trying to combat this – hence coming around to the view that ‘distractions’ rather than confrontation of negative thought patterns are a better route for me). The point being that things that are routine for many people are anything but for people like me with anxiety problems. Your mind is constantly thinking.

“How can your heart be racing when you’re sitting still on a bus?”

My friend Hester said ‘come over for dinner & the Strictly semis’. Eventually I accepted – hesitating on whether I had enough spoons to cover two social gatherings in one evening. (See spoon theory here – the biggest usage of spoons for that evening were the bus journeys). Fortunately it also meant not having to worry about what to cook that evening. These days, meal planning is one of the things that occupies more ‘mind time’ than it should – not least because I want to have a more healthier diet & reduce food waste.

It was also a chance to catch up on all things local democracy – Hester being one of the people who runs the Cambridge Cycling Campaign. When it came down to explaining what The Dowsing Sound Collective was, I struggled to find the words to do it justice. So I played a clip off Youtube – which was streamed onto a big screen. It was then that I realised just how powerful the sound and visuals were when videos were streamed through decent hardware

Put the above through a big screen/speakers & you’ll feel the difference.

“Yeah – whatabout strictly?”

I didn’t tweet much because I had people in the same room to talk to about it.  At this stage, the judges are getting increasingly technical with their critiques – which lost the non-dancers in the room. ‘Yeah – I had no idea what Len just said then’. Fortunately we had enough floor space for me in pink shirt & silver trousers to demonstrate the footwork he was referring to. Far easier than trying to find the words to describe it.

Actually, what made things a bit easier to explain was that some of the errors the dancers made were basic technical errors that were quite easy to spot. For example too much daylight between dancers in hold (chest-to-chest) in the slow waltz. It’s also interesting to hear people with different experiences of dancing (from zero to lots) expressing similar views on how the TV programme has evolved over the years – backing dancers and too much ‘non-dancing acting’ with tacky props not going down well.

“And the party afterwards?”

It was hot, sweaty, alcohol-fuelled and filthy. And we loved it! And no, you can’t see the photos. Actually, my main camera really struggled with the low lighting in the rooms so it ain’t me with the evidence😛

Being in a venue with many familiar faces and it not being post-gig (like it was this time last year) – enough of whom were familiar with my personal battles made a huge difference too. When you’ve got a critical mass of people who are like:

“We know stuff is shite and has been for a long time – we’re going to make sure it doesn’t stay that way”

…is the sort of thing that helps change my mindset for the better – similar to the audience reactions from our Christmas gig this time last year – see here.

Basically what I’m saying is that you can make a positive difference to your friends who suffer from anxiety disorders – and so many people on Saturday night proved it to me in spadefuls. And for that I am incredibly grateful – especially given how difficult this year has been for me.

Dancing vs dancing

I don’t think I’ll ever get used to not dancing with a partner after spending most of my spare time in my 20s at partner-dance classes of various types. Just over a decade ago, me and a dancing friend were the odd couple dancing a viennese waltz to The Divine Comedy’s drinking song at the Cambridge Folk Festival. Yeah – I’m one of those types. Sorry.

Despite having not regularly danced this side of 2010 – and (as I found out last night) being horrifically out of shape physically I probably did more exercise on that dance floor last night than all of the days put together this side of the general election. Thank you DJ George for playing continuous music all the way through till 2am and Cathy for refusing to let go of my hands…even though this meant towards the end getting into a bit of a tangle when I was expecting you to let go & you didn’t!

Trouble en route back?

There were a few police cars & officers parked outside one night club – which I noticed officers tweeting about a couple of hours later. I managed to share a cab back with Alex & Paul – which meant not having to clock-watch for the hourly night buses that Cambridge has on Friday & Saturday nights. But yeah – got back safely to find the results of the Euro 2016 draw.

“Oooh! Who’s got who?”

England vs Wales is the standout tie for the traditional ‘home nations’ with the Republic of Ireland in the closest to what can be called a ‘group of death’ – Belgium, Italy & Sweden against them. Also, Northern Ireland are back – facing World Cup winners Germany. Because of repeated disappointments over the years, I’m tempted to back Puffles’ home nation of Wales in that face-to-face. Although man-for-man the pundits favour England, Wales have a much stronger team spirit plus the most influential player from the home nations in Gareth Bale.

And the Paris Climate Change talks?

Big business lobbyists got to them – but at least its something. Read it here for yourself -> http://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/l09.pdf

My worry is without shipping & aviation emissions included in the text – along with multinational corporations, there are too many big gaps where no one nation state will account for those emissions. Furthermore, I’d like to see something about the environmental footprint of consumption rather than just production. On paper the UK might not have all of those coal-fired power stations and factories compared to days gone by, but have we simply outsourced those polluting industries to other countries?

Next week in Parliament will be interesting as there are a number of debates in the Commons & on select committees where ministers will have to account for what was achieved at Paris, and also how Government policy will change as a result of the agreement. For example we cannot go full-steam-ahead with fracking if we need to keep some fossil fuels in the ground.

Furthermore, big oil has questions to ask itself & account for. How much of the estimated fossil fuel reserves have to stay in the ground to achieve 1.5 degrees C? Because reserves that have to stay in the ground are effectively stranded assets that cannot be made use of, and whose value cannot be financially realised. What impact will that have on their balance sheets and how will their shareholders react? Are those who are divesting from fossil fuels already ahead of the game?

Food for thought.

 

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‘Bringing mental health out of the shadows’

Summary

Parliament are debating mental health, but why am I not feeling the difference on the ground?

The debate in Parliament is at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=12:49:15

South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen’s contribution is at http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=15:07:25

Labour MP Angela Rayner’s contribution covered the economic drivers behind mental health problems – including cuts to services and also of debt. http://parliamentlive.tv/event/index/66466a3d-8ceb-43ce-9018-cbd0655338a7?in=15:18:25

Nearly four years since my own breakdown…and still no visible improvement

My music director asked me earlier this week if anyone was looking out for me.

“Well…not in the way that I’d like”

…was my response.

The past few months – in particular since the general election have been extremely difficult for me. Yet at the same time I feel that I can’t talk too much about it because I don’t want to be seen as a burden on others, knowing that doing so inevitably drives people away from me.

The vicious and unbreakable circle of doom

When I was working in London, I noticed – certainly in the early days how issues from my childhood & distant past fizzled away. Compare that to now – being back here in Cambridge where I can’t seem to get away from them. The prospect of anyone who is confined to working part time having a place of their own in this housing market is non-existent. That’s assuming you can get part-time work that both matches your skills and talents while being flexible enough to compensate for the periodic mental health crises that arise every so often.

Relying on family support – grateful though I am for it (for I’d be destitute without it) solidifies the dependency that I sought to break away from when I first went to university back in the late 1990s. I remember leaving with the mindset of ‘this was leaving home’ even though my housemates at the time didn’t see it that way themselves. When I moved down to London in the mid-late 2000s I also had a similar mindset of ‘breaking free’ and standing on my own two feet. Yet I find myself not so much back to square one but not even on the board.

In the workplace

One of the things I’ve been lacking for quite some time is working with a team of people on a regular, consistent basis on something that is for the greater good. As someone said last year, I’m qualified for a job that in Cambridge has not been invented yet for an institution that is yet to be created – yet is sorely needed. (ie a unitary authority with the proper powers & funding to respond to the demands placed upon it). As a result, it feels like I’ve been fighting an ever-lonely battle against fossilised institutions paralysed by funding cuts and by inertia.

What they don’t tell you at school (well, there’s lots they don’t tell you) is just how challenging it can be moving from an institution where you see lots of people day in, day out to one where you hardly see anyone. I remember this during my year out before university when I was working in a small office in a bank, wondering what it would be like if the next 35 years of my life involved coming to a place like that every day – as it was for many of the other staff there. I couldn’t get my head around it – in particular where some members of staff held some of their fellow colleagues in complete contempt.

Impact on friendships…

When you have a limited number of ‘active hours’ during the day, there are only so many things you can do, events you can go to and meetings that you can attend. If you’ve not read about spoon theory, have a look at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/blogs-ouch-22972767. If I don’t have enough spoons, chances are I won’t have enough money either. I’ve lost track of the number of events & receptions in central London I’ve been invited to that I’ve been unable to make because of the two. When you’ve got to self-fund, that 2 hour reception in London leaves you with little change from £50. Obviously that’s had an impact on staying in touch with people since leaving the civil service.

Not being able to attend every other gathering with people more locally has also meant I’ve felt more ‘frozen out’ of things – whether it being having to leave early or not being invited at all. A couple of other Twitterfriends have mentioned a similar phenomenon where because they are not in a ‘primary group’ of friends, they are the ones who have to do the asking. Yet when it’s them that does the organising, people are like bees around a honey pot before the inevitable few pull out at the last minute. When you’ve put money down as deposits for events, it’s incredibly frustrating. It’s also gut-wretching having to then ask people to compensate you for being out of pocket.

…& relationships too.

I stopped looking years ago. It’s a bit sad really, because I’ve got a huge amount of love to give. But given the life situation I’m in – only able to work part-time, at nowhere near the level of health I’d like to be and know I can be at, and still living with my parents while being in my mid 30s…yeah…I’m like ‘whack that in any profile and everyone wouldn’t touch it with a barge pole’. Not that I’ve tried. I think the last time I did online dating (or dating of any sort) was back in 2010. My viewpoint is that it’s hard enough living as myself without wanting to inflict me on anyone else. Again, that’s the depression talking.

At the same time, my heart really wants to be with someone. Not just ‘anyone’ for the hell of it, but with someone who is best friend, emotional soul mate as well as lover. I’ve not met her yet. (At least, I don’t think I have).

Losing the vision of what being cured/recovery looks like

…And feels like too. After so many years I guess it’s understandable that some things can feel permanent. I’m also mindful that sporting-wise I’m also past my physical peak. Much as my heart wants me to go out & play football or go ballroom dancing again, the networks that I had that once sustained those activities (& which also made them fun) are no longer there.

Without the stability of employment, without the goal of a team project that has a tangible ending, and without the certainty that I’m going to make a recovery, there have been times where I have lost almost all hope. This comes back to the point I made at the start – not getting the sort of support I feel I want & need. There are times where I feel I need someone else to fight my battles/my demons for me because I’ve just lost all the energy to stand up to them myself. Someone to grab hold of me, look me in the eye & say something like:

“You are going to get through this because I’m going to make sure you do. I’m going to be with you every step of the way, and here’s how we are going to do this…”

…and through sheer force of personality, drag me through it.

 

 

“We value what you do, but not enough for you to earn a living from it”

In 2015 on my Youtube Channel (youtube.com/antonycarpen <- Please subscribe!) I’ve had over 25,000 hits and over 100,000 minutes of footage viewed (plus another 8,000 hits on my Vimeo page in the same year). It’s a sector-wide problem in journalism: how do you get people to pay for well-made content to allow creators to make a living & pay their bills? I’d love to be in a position where I could reward monetarily those whose content I rate – as the notices from news sights that pick up my use of an ad-blocker continue to remind me. (Without the blockers though, their content becomes unreadable with the pop-ups).

And in part therein lies the problem not just at a personal level, but also at a macro level. The political rhetoric we hear does not match what’s happening on the ground. We heard in Parliament the importance of mental health, but see little on dealing with the things that make our mental health worse, let alone ensuring we have enough resources to help those of us in need. We hear about the housing crisis all the time, yet a generation of ministers has been unable or unwilling to deal with it. We hear the rhetoric of all things ‘big society’ only for ministers to undermine the very things that make big society work.

“You’re not going to do anything to hurt yourself, are you?”

No – I have enough safety mechanisms to see to that. That said, where I am now is not a sustainable place to be mindset-wise. How I get out of this space…that’s my challenge for 2016.IMG_2658.JPG

The side of me you don’t see – when I’ve run out of spoons and have to spend the day recovering from what was once otherwise a normal working day.

 

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The Oldham West/Royton by-election

Summary

Some thoughts on the media getting things wrong, and risks of Labour drawing the wrong conclusions too

The official result is from Oldham Council at http://www.oldham.gov.uk/info/200960/oldham_west_and_royton_parliamentary_by-election_results

I can’t think of any media commentator or pundit who called this by-election right. I can’t think of any polling organisation that did either. Alberto Nardelli is spot on in his blogpost here. Did the media try to (deliberately or subconciously) lead the voters to deliver the news story that they wanted to write, rather than writing about what was really happening on the streets? Because for me the tweet below spoke volumes:

In Cambridge on polling day in the general election, Cambridge Universities Labour Club mobilised 100 activists to get their vote out. That alone could have been the difference between Daniel Zeichner being Cambridge’s MP and Dr Julian Huppert staying in post. Multiply that number by seven and it’s a huge army of activists.

My past visits to Oldham

Oldham was one of the places I visited during my time in the civil service. In fact it was a place I visited on more than one occasion – meeting the late, great Michael Meacher on one such visit. His niece, Chloe, was also a former colleague in a previous policy area. During that time I fought tooth-&-nail to secure funding for this community facility in an area that at the time was once one of the most 40 economically deprived wards in the whole of England. With that facility also came a new health centre – the deal being me & my team would secure funding for the community centre and the local NHS would secure funding for the health centre. There were times when it nearly fell through, but we delivered a multimillion pound centre for a ward that really needed it. Out of all of the things I did in the civil service, working on this project (& securing the funding) is the one I’m most proud of.

It was during those visits that I got a real sense of what the people were like, what the economy was like and the challenges that everyone there faced. Observing how the different projects were being run also helped shape my future thinking about how much control Whitehall should have, thinks it has and does have on programs & projects being managed from the centre-bypassing local councils.

Young activists from the south take to Oldham

Puffles’ Twitterfeed picked up lots of tweets from various young Labour activists heading towards Oldham to campaign for the ultimate victor, Cllr Jim McMahon – leader of the council there. It got me thinking about the baptism of fire some of the first-time campaigners would receive if they got things wrong – especially given what the media was spinning in the years since I had last visited the town. But campaign they did – in their hundreds.

In the end, a well-run campaign with a huge number of activists campaigning for a well-known & liked local figure ended up sweeping away all that came before – raising Labour’s share of the vote from 56% to 62% on a 40% turnout on a cold, rainy December day in Greater Manchester.

It wasn’t all good news for Labour though

Note campaigning dynamo Abby Tomlinson in the series of tweets here

The response was by no means a unified pro-Labour one. Furthermore, a few people in & around the local Labour Party also informed me that such was the scale of the operation from outside activists that local activists felt sidelined, despite offering to help early on.

Evaluating the campaign

This is one perhaps for Tom Watson to have a look at as deputy – in particular given the furore around social media and politics at the moment. (There have been a number of news items on social media abuse and politics this week on telly). It might be worth setting up a web page with a series of questions to invite activists to submit their experiences of campaigning – and perhaps going beyond the ‘how was it for you?’ type questions (or ‘what worked/didn’t work?’). I’d be fascinated to see people’s descriptions of ‘what problems did you see in Oldham that were similar/different to the ones you see in your own local area?’ for example.

Labour won’t have 700 activists from outside bussed in to help on poling day in Oldham in the next general election. Well…not unless there is a completely unexpected surge in membership in political parties. So how much can you read into the result?

“A disaster for Labour moderates!”

So said Conservative commentator Tim Mongomerie (who I otherwise reasonably rate with the caveat that he’s open about what his politics is). But then ‘Labour moderate’ Liz Kendall MP (who I also quite like) happened to be campaigning out in Oldham for Labour…

…as was Tristram Hunt MP, whose book on the history of local government in England is a masterpiece – you can get it here (again, a book that has shaped my thinking on local government).

“So…did any socialist firebrands turn up?”

If you mean John McDonnell MP, then yes, he campaigned in Oldham as well.

Note Ms Tomlinson is in photos with both Mr McDonnell and Dr Hunt! There’s also a chance that she could be studying in Cambridge next year – in which case Cambridge Universities Labour Club won’t know what’s hit it!

“So…Cllr McMahon managed to unite disparate and quarrelling strands/wings of the Labour Party in a cold, rainy miserable autumn on the back of a general election defeat?”

For me, the two most important things for Labour were that his campaign gave hundreds of activists a feeling of what it is like campaigning when Labour is united behind a single cause or person. The second is that more and more people are beginning to call out the mainstream media on what they are reporting and how they are reporting it. It’s made all the more easier for those of us calling out the mainstream media because so many commentators predict what will happen, and find themselves in an awkward situation when things don’t work out that way.

“What about the other parties?”

UKIP are leading with complaints about postal votes – a legitimate issue but one they have been accused of using it to divide communities for political ends. As it turned out, even if all of the postal votes were removed from the total, Labour would still have one with a majority of several thousand. As it was, Cllr McMahon’s majority was over 10,000 votes.

For the Liberal Democrats, Tim Farron didn’t hide his disappointment in this message to activists. They got just over 1,000 votes and lost their deposit – as did The Greens with 249 and Sir Oink-a-lot of the Monster Raving Loony Party with 141 votes. The latter did manage to end up trending in the UK for a short while on Twitter though. Clouds and silver linings eh?

MonsterRavingLoonyTrending

As it turned out, ‘Asians’ was trending not because of Oldham but because of random content featuring people from the Far East.

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After the dust settles from #SyriaVote

Summary

So the air strikes have begun. What happens next for MPs?

I sat through watching the debate on telly from mid afternoon through to the vote itself and beyond. Click here to Parliament.tv and scroll downwards to pick out the MPs of your choice to hear what they said.

Details of who voted which way are here on Public Whip. Outside the Palace of Westminster/Houses of Parliament were anti-war protesters. Whatever you think of their case, taking to the streets on a cold December evening in central London is not something most people take lightly.

“So, was it a case of blood-thirsty MPs going all gung-ho?!”

Not from where I was watching. Nor was the consent given by many MPs that spoke in favour of the air strikes unconditional. A blank cheque this was not – going by their speeches. To show this was not a blank cheque by their actions MPs will need to haul ministers before the Commons and cross-examine them on all of the weaknesses & shortcomings that MPs raised in the Syria debate. Indeed – as Pete Wishart MP of the SNP said, ministers should have given much more time for an extended debate.

“So…we’re now at war then?”

As Fleet Street Fox (Susie Boniface) said in her column, we’re already at war. Note the monthly list published by the Government on air strikes in Iraq. The motion tabled by the Government covered expanding those strikes to the same network but in Syria. Note the final bullet point here.

“How did Cambridgeshire MPs vote?”

On party lines as expected.

“And your take?”

For me, the most compelling speech that stood out for me (of those I heard) was from former Mayor of Cambridge, Brent MP Barry Gardiner.
http://videoplayback.parliamentlive.tv/Player/Index/4e6d04ee-df49-4789-a54a-42f2c7be53b2?in=2015-12-02T18%3A35%3A10%2B00%3A00&audioOnly=False&autoStart=False&statsEnabled=True
(If the above-embedding doesn’t work, have a watch of Mr Gardiner’s speech here).

Similar points were made by Green Party MP Caroline Lucas

(Click on the link in Ms Lucas’s tweet)

“What about Hilary Benn’s barnstorming speech that got applauded by the Tories?”

Mr Benn gave what many commentators said was the speech of his life. Watch it in full here. As a parliamentary speech, it was excellent. As the choice framed by the Government was concerned – i.e. ‘Do something vs do nothing’, it hit home and convinced a number of wavering MPs to follow ministers through the Yes/Ayes lobby.

Note too that Tim Farron of the Liberal Democrats also gave a similar speech – one that didn’t get nearly as much coverage as it would have done had he delivered it 9 months ago. Just as with Mr Benn, Mr Farron – perhaps to the surprise of many Liberal Democrats, spoke in favour of air strikes. Interestingly, two of the eight Liberal Democrat MPs voted against air strikes – including Mr Farron’s leadership opponent Norman Lamb MP.

Note that Mr Farron made clear that his support was highly conditional – stating that this vote was the toughest call he has had to make, and that there were huge unanswered questions on choking off funding of terror networks, safe havens for refugees and issues over regional powers.

“So why didn’t Mr Benn or Mr Farron persuade you?”

Because as Mr Gardiner said, the Government had presented Parliament with a false choice. The Prime Minister needed to come up with something far more comprehensive than he has done. Note the issues that the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee raised in the summary here.

“But even as you acknowledge, you’ve not explored the details. So how can you make an informed call?”

This is where I sort of fall back on my civil service training: As I tweeted to a few MPs: ‘Select your criteria wisely & examine the evidence diligently. For now you owe your constituents your careful judgement’.

My point being that it’s possible with the same set of criteria and the same evidence bases to come to different conclusions – as MPs did. These were ones who had access to national security briefings that the rest of us did not. Hence the point about examining the evidence carefully and cross-examining officials effectively in those private briefings.

“What about the sending of abuse to Labour MPs?”

Anecdotally they seem to be taking more heat than the Government ministers whose policy this is. What’s even more surprising is that even if the entire Parliamentary Labour Party had voted with Mr Corbyn, the Conservatives had enough support from its own benches and the Ulster Unionists (that traditionally support the Conservatives) to have won the Syria Vote.

“Hang on – the media was all about Corbyn in the run up to the vote!”

Labour MP and digital policy lead Louise Haigh MP made this very point. As the Chief Executive of Ipsos Mori, Ben Page tweeted to Puffles & others, the Labour splits made for a ‘better’ media story than scrutinising the details of Government policy.

This was something that I tweeted to a number of journalists, such as Laura Kuennsberg of the BBC

There was minimal mainstream media focus on the concerns Conservative MPs had – as it turned out seven of them voted against the Government and a further seven abstained. This matters because the Government only has a working majority of 17.

In practice, Ulster & Democratic Unionists tend to side with the Conservatives (or the governing party of the day) on big international issues that commit military intervention like this, raising that total to 27. But on paper, those rebelling MPs plus all of the opposition MPs voting together against the Government could have defeated the Government. You’ve also got to note the MPs that could not make it to the Commons to vote – on the opposition side, at least one is on maternity leave and another is in hospital. Hence the totals not adding up to the total number of MPs in the Commons.

“What about the abuse though?”

Long overdue, but it looks like Labour will finally be taking action.

The problem Labour face is that a lot of the abuse is coming from those outside of the party. What can the party do with, for example far left organisations outside of the party that call for specific MPs to be deselected? (This is separate to calls from people inside a political party calling for MPs to be deselected. Essentially if you are a party member, you get a say on who gets to stand as candidates for your local party).

There’s only so much social media guidelines and policies on bullying can do. The problem is cultural and social – it goes far beyond Labour and far beyond party politics. That said, the labour movement is big enough and influential enough to lead on addressing the problems.

I’ve stuck by Puffles’ house rules in various forms for the best part of five years. These work for me and also ‘set the tone’ of how I communicate & who I choose to engage with.

“Going back to the Syria vote, what do MPs need to do now?”

It’s as Mr Farron said. Basically MPs need to be relentless in continual scrutiny of ministers, hauling them up in front of the Commons through urgent questions if necessary. There are so many policy gaps that MPs raised in the debate that need focussing on. Select committees too need to consider what issues they can hold hearings on – because those hearings alone could force the Government’s hand and lead to much more improved policies on ‘non-military actions’.

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What happened to Cambridge’s Liberal Democrats?

Summary

They used to have a much higher profile, but these days outside of council meetings I seldom see or hear from them compared to the pre-2015 election days

It can’t be much fun being a Liberal Democrat given the fall from being in Coalition to being completely ignored by the political media. The start of a vicious spiral where less media coverage translates into fewer votes and so on? Or will social media become their saviour as Jim Murphy alluded to in his speech in Cambridge today?

As I mentioned pre-2015, at a local level the Cambridge Green Party are doing the most with digital video. I’ve filmed more than a few for them (See my Green Party playlist) but perhaps more importantly their spokespeople are now producing their own short pieces to camera and uploading them directly onto their Facebook page. Furthermore, they are keeping that page updated and are getting into a positive habit of linking online and offline activities and ‘soft’ political gatherings.

“So…why aren’t the Liberal Democrats doing similar?”

Given the number of people that joined the Cambridge Liberal Democrats straight after the election, I’m surprised that so few have become prominent. Dare I say it, it sort of saddens me that they haven’t had the run of events & gatherings that they had this time last year, when they had a number of senior party members & ministers visiting on a relatively frequent basis. My Liberal Democrats video playlist is here, but since the general election I can’t think of any Lib Dem events where I’ve filmed a prominent speaker for their party making a passionate case for liberalism & social democracy. Party president Sal Brinton did this before the election here, and we also had a visit from Lynne Featherstone in February 2015. Yet since the election, their profile seems to have been diminished.

“What could the Liberal Democrats in & around Cambridge be doing?”

Similar to what The Greens are doing – being their own media where the mainstream media won’t cover them. The difference between the two parties at a local level is that the Greens have got a critical mass of younger, digital-savvy activists who can create new content for fun. The Greens are also benefiting from the raised awareness around the Paris Climate Talks – which has resulted in increased social media publicity for them as the main ‘party political wing’ of the environmentalist movement. This was the term Green Party leader Natalie Bennett used on one of her visits to Cambridge this year.

“Will all those Green Party social media posts convert into votes and seats – at the expense of the Liberal Democrats?”

Liberal democrat roots in their ‘safe’ wards go incredibly deep. Even at the deepest trough in mid-2015 their safe wards were still returning Lib Dem councillors. Yet as well as being numerically inferior compared to where they were a few years ago, as a cohort they are perhaps more softly spoken and collectively older than a number of their high profile opponents in Cambridge Labour Party who, in the grand scheme of things I think have done a pretty good job so far of running the council.

A future council executive in waiting?

What I don’t yet see with the Liberal Democrats locally at the moment is new political talent coming through that could help form a fresh, new council executive in waiting. I don’t yet see the new members rising through and taking their political fight to their Labour opponents. Perhaps the same could be said nationally of Labour given their current problems: They don’t look like anywhere near a future government in waiting.

One of the other reasons why this matters locally from political pluralist perspective is that traditionally it is the Liberal Democrats outside of the city that form the main opposition to the ruling Conservatives on district councils. The number of council seats on South Cambridgeshire and East Cambridgeshire district councils held by Labour is tiny. Hence my recent blogposts saying that Labour’s impressive university campaigning machine (Cambridge Universities Labour Club – CULC) could be put to work along the Cambridgeshire Guided Bus corridor in 2016 to see if they can unexpectedly capture some rural local council seats similar to the manner in which they captured the Queen Edith’s ward in 2012.

The Women’s Equality Party – potential electoral candidates?

The Cambridge Branch had their third meeting this week – I counted about 30 people this time around. (Which for a cold November evening at a pub not on public transport routes is ***massive*** for a party only a few months old). In a nutshell they have the numbers and the potential to make some sort of an impact – even if it’s simply a case of raising awareness of their six core principles. For me, the stage their at now locally is where the branch starts to develop its own distinctive character away from the London HQ – similar to what the Cambridge Green Party did in 2013/14 when it rebuilt. In the grand scheme of things though, if you agree with the principles of the WEP and don’t want to join any of the other political parties, now is probably the best time to join a WEP branch because it’ll be over the next few months they’ll be shaping their local policies.

Although I’m familiar with the group of people who run the local branch, few people outside of the party are. As far as local media is concerned, they will need to decide who their main local contacts are going to be so that the likes of Jon Vale of the Cambridge News, Julian Clover of Cambridge 105 and Dotty McLeod of BBC Cambridgeshire know who to go to (or vice-versa if the branch sends out a press release).

“What have Labour and the Conservatives been doing on social media locally?”

I’ve been following with interest the low profile but growing presence of South East Cambridgeshire MP Lucy Frazer QC. (I interviewed her just before the 2015 election here). The reason being that, like Daniel Zeichner MP in Cambridge, she’s not comfortable using social media as a conversational medium in the way Dr Julian Huppert did when he was Cambridge’s MP, and in the way Heidi Allen MP for South Cambridgeshire is currently doing now.

Since becoming an MP however, Ms Frazer has gone about her constituency work diligently and has given a particular focus on schools and young people. It doesn’t matter whether it’s her or her private office doing the updates. What people see is that on a regular basis there are photographs of her with constituents both in schools & workplaces, and in Parliament too where she has invited her young constituents to take part in debates in some of the big rooms they have there. I remember going to Parliament for my first time in 2007 & being awestruck. Imagine what it’s like for someone from a small rural Cambridgeshire village at secondary school.

Having recently been elected to the Commons Education Select Committee (one of the more higher profile select committees), Ms Frazer is picking up a wealth of information which, combined with her legal training I’m sure will come to bear at a future hearing. Remember at select committees, MPs can ask a series of questions one after another – a gift to anyone like Ms Frazer who is trained on the art of cross-examination.

“Still…I kinda miss being able to tweet suggestions for PQs to Julian when he’s on the floor of the Commons”

Inevitably – though note my thoughts in this blogpost which also explores wider issues. Mr Zeichner too has further responsibilities as shadow local transport minister – which also means being Labour’s national policy lead on cycling policy, something not lost on Cambridge’s residents.

At a local level, two of the most active student political campaigners in Cambridge, Imogen Shaw and Elinor Clapson have taken over the reins of Cambridge Universities Labour Club

In 2015 CULC were particularly successful at bringing women into politics en masse. What’s noticeable as well is CULC have started holding events at Anglia Ruskin University’s East Road campus. (The plural ‘universities’ denotes CULC covering ARU as well as Cambridge University students). During my post-grad days there, there wasn’t that much politics around. So it’s good to see CULC not just bringing politics to ARU, but also bringing Cambridge University students in numbers to meet and debate with their ARU counterparts who are often from a different demographic.

“But back to the Lib Dems?”

Their climate spokesman Lord Purvis is visiting Cambridge in early December – just off Mill Road. In the event listing they’ve stated they will be hosting a formal launch of Cambridgeshire Liberal Youth in early 2016. Cambridge Lib Dems lost some of their hardest-working and highest profile young activists through inevitable academic turnover – including former Hills Road Sixth Form College student Callum Delhoy who went off to university a couple of months ago. Although Cambridge-based, he rescued the Lib Dems in Daventry by standing as their candidate in the general election despite preparing for his A-level exams. (Here’s my interview with him).

In the short to medium term though, the Liberal Democrats will need to ‘sweat their peers’ in the House of Lords as some of the few politicians who have any chance outside their MPs of gaining media time. The higher the profile the likes of Baroness Dr Julie Smith (who’s one of the most impressive all-round politicians I’ve met) can get – in particular with big audiences, the better it could be for the party locally. For me, the Lib Dems need to have a strong showing in the run up to the EU referendum if they are going to be within striking distance of taking back some of their previous ‘safe’ seats in the 2020 general election.

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Tabled question for Cambridgeshire County Council, Dec 2015

I’ve tabled the following oral question for Cambridgeshire County Council, because I’m bored of getting stuck on buses & being late to things in the evening.

“Buses I am on regularly get blocked at the Hills Road/Lensfield Rd junction by the big church in Cambridge. Many years ago there used to be box junction penalties. No longer, and with no enforcement drivers regularly block the junction to traffic going north/south from Hills Road/Regents Street.

1) Who needs to do what to get that box junction re-instated – and if it is the county council, why are councillors & officers not taking action?
2) Who would be responsible for enforcement to get the message to anti-social drivers who choose to jump the stop line and block the entire junction
3) What considerations will councillors give to proposals for smart traffic management at http://www.bettercitydeal.com/smart-traffic-management/ tabled for the city deal?”
If you want to ask a public question to Cambridgeshire County Council, you need to email your question to democraticservices@cambridgeshire.gov.uk by 08 December for answer at the full council meeting on the morning of 15 December http://www2.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/CommitteeMinutes/Committees/Meeting.aspx?meetingID=1076
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Multiple packed community meetings in Cambridge

Summary

Is this a sign of good health for local democracy, or the opposite? To what extent has social media and/or digital video driven this

CamCityDealWestCambridgeEvent

People were still pouring into the West Cambridge community meeting at Cambridge RUFC to see a range of grassroots presentations on the future of Cambridge – and in particular some transport ideas to solve our city’s traffic problems leading out of the city westward. (See https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLwEUs8UyvFATL388bl2Wf-gypJwLmx5S8 for the playlist of video presentations).

There was a bit of controversy with some portrayals as the above being a gathering of new-monied Newnham Nimbies plus cosy Coton Conservatives fighting against lazy-thinking Labourites wanting to concrete over other people’s homes. Personally I don’t buy those portrayals because from the meetings I have been to, everyone there knows that ‘do nothing’ is not an option given the external pressures on the city. Those concerned about over-development know they have to come up with workable solutions rather than try to oppose everything – especially given the changes to planning policy being driven through by the new Government.

Concern over development on one side, concern over the lack of affordable housing on the other

QueueEmmanuelURCCamHousing.jpg

Cambridge housing campaigners led by the Cambridge Unite Community Branch (a trade union branch aimed at the low paid, unemployed & students) marched through Cambridge and had a rally at Emmanuel URC on Trumpington Street (photographed above – spot the lady with the giant paper snailshell on her back).  Cambridge housing chief Cllr Kevin Price was in no mood to pull punches on the failure of Treasury policies to alleviate Cambridge’s housing problems.

As Cambridge Labour Party goes, Cllr Price in the Corbyn wing of the party, having welcomed Mr Corbyn to Cambridge for his packed-out rally earlier in the autumn. Cllr Price’s speech is here. Despite the broad range of views across the group of councillors on both the council & executive, Cllr Lewis Herbert who leads Cambridge City Council seems to have done a good job of holding his team together – in public at least. That said, pressure from both further cuts expected from Chancellor George Osborne along with the inevitable difficult decisions that will need to be taken on housing and planning will test the Labour administration in Cambridge like never before.

Cambridge medics in open revolt – problems for Heidi Allen MP

South Cambridgeshire MP Heidi Allen (Conservative) faced a lions’ den of over 200 people for an event hosted by Cambridge junior doctors – excellently facilitated by Dr Yezen Sheena at Cambridge Medical School on the Addenbrookes site.

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As well as Ms Allen was Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner, who seems to be working well with his otherwise political opponent next door. The ‘Labour diehard’ inside Mr Zeichner could have politically laid into Ms Allen over her party’s policies on a whole host of issues. But in all of the events I’ve seen the two of them sharing a platform, both have refrained from tearing strips out of each other. Essentially Mr Zeichner’s worked out quickly that the best tactic he can use for the good of Cambridge is to support Ms Allen in her behind-the-scenes negotiations that she has with ministers. As shadow local transport minister for Labour, he saves his direct attacks for the House of Commons – as his contribution to the Commons Paris Climate Change Debate on 19 November 2015 showed.

“So…what do all these gatherings show?”

That people are interested. Note that many are prepared to come out to meetings on cold evenings or weekends to make their points, even if those gatherings are not at formal council meetings. After all, if you are unfamiliar with the processes and formalities – such as the need to give notice for an oral question, why would you turn up? What they are interested in, and what their opinions are, inevitably varies.

We need to have more women, more people in their 20s & 30s, and more young people taking an active part

You see the picture at the top of this blogpost? I asked the question below to them all.

I asked a similar question at the launch of the call for evidence for the City Deal at Cambridge City Council – see Richard Taylor’s video here. My oral submission for the call for evidence at Cambridge Central Library is here. Note South Cambridgeshire Conservative Cllr Roger Hickford’s comments here about engaging with young people – he’s the deputy chair of the City Deal Assembly, along with Anglia Ruskin University’s Helen Valentine here. Essentially you’ve just got to be persistent and make them realise you’re not going to go away easily in order to influence them. Plus having things on public (in particular video/audio) record helps.

“Is social media helping? Is digital video helping?”

Let’s look at my Youtube stats from October 2015:

YoutubeStatsOctNov2015

The spikes are from public questions to the city deal board, a presentation by Cllr Lewis Herbert, Peter (Lord) Mandelson’s lecture in Cambridge (plus Dr Julian Huppert’s speech), and finally the group of presentations at the West Cambridge event mentioned above. Without the spikes, I’m getting around 100 plays per day. Following the #CamDoctors event this week, that spike flew through the 1,000 plays barrier again.

“But is it helping engage new audiences, or is it simply making those already engaged/disposed to be engaged more engaged than they already are?”

This is something Lord Mandelson in Cambridge here. I agree with him. I also think it’s not something that will be solved by ‘more effort’ from existing councillors and activists – many of whom have a huge unpaid workload when it comes to door-to-door canvassing & leaflet distribution. My challenge to the general public is to make it your responsibility to find out which parties are active in your local area, find out who your candidates are and to ask them questions. (It’s even more the case if you have internet access and the literacy to search and email them). Once you have done that, then the ball genuinely is in the court of the political parties, because you’ve basically said: “OK, I’m listening. Inspire me.”

“You’ve moaned about consultation overload before”

Probably here talking about the city deal again. At the moment though, there are so many consultations at a local and national level that it’s difficult to keep up.

Don’t you all have lives to live? That’s why it’s important to avoid being overwhelmed. Essentially my advice is to pick your cause and geographical area – then use social media networks to stay in touch with people who are fighting campaigns that you are interested in but feel you can’t commit the time and attention to actively monitor. Rely on those people & organisations to tip you off when something needs to be done. Otherwise it’ll crush you.

“Don’t we have local elections soon?”

Certainly parts of England do – for example many areas with two or three tiers of local government. Hence now is the time to start thinking if you want to get involved in a political party (if you’re not sure which one, take the Political Compass test), and if you think you can do better than existing councillors, consider standing yourself.

Which reminds me, the Liberal Democrats seem to have been quiet these days – not nearly as many organised public events compared to this time last year when a number of speakers came to Cambridge.

My sense is that following the shredding of the Lib Dems’ parliamentary party and the election of Mr Corbyn as Labour leader, the left and centre-left is going to through a very painful process of reformation and realignment. It’s interesting to see how those in the non-Corbyn wing of the co-operative movement within the Labour Party (such as Stella Creasy MP) have thrown themselves into rebuilding the co-op movement following the problems with the co-op bank, of which Frances Coppola has written lots. Note too that The Green Party will have taken a hit in terms of members and activists attracted to a Corbyn-led Labour Party.

“Your overall point being…?”

My point is that we cannot wait for political parties to get themselves together in order to provide a competent, organised opposition & scrutiny to the government of the day.

“So….whaddawedo?”

Start local and find out what is already going on in your local area, and take it from there. For many of you that involves not leaving your sofa/bed/desk. It involves a simple search of various sites such as:

  • Facebook (eg type in the name of your village/town/city & see what groups & pages are out there)
  • Twitter (search the name of your place & type in the name of any political party and see who is out there) – also very useful for following local journalists that report from local council meetings
  • Meetup groups – search in your area
  • Eventbrite events – ditto
  • Your local council – ask about community groups
  • Your local council for voluntary services – which should maintain contacts of community and voluntary groups

Even if you are not going out and about to meetings and gatherings, for those of you online, the next best thing you can do is to try and remain informed about what’s going on. By becoming ‘passively informed’ first, the more likely you can become ‘actively informed’ about things that interest you – ie where you choose to follow one cause (and perhaps unfollow another) so that you get to a stage where you want to be more than just informed, but active in that area/issue you are passionate about. That way you can focus your efforts on what you are informed and passionate about, and avoid burnout.

“With you?”

With me? As the above has shown, I’ve spent this autumn focussing on both getting better (after a persistent cold), and filming gatherings/events/speeches in order that others can become more informed and hopefully active. It’s too early to tell whether it’ll have any impact, but at least the video stats are encouraging.

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Giving evidence to the Greater Cambridge City Deal

Summary

What to ask? What to say to in the evidence session

If you don’t know what the Greater Cambridge City Deal is, or what it hopes to solve, watch Cllr Lewis Herbert’s speech below

I got confirmation of a speaking slot at the Cambridge Central Library’s hearing on 16 November 2015.

CityDealEvidenceConfirmation

The details are as above.

The formal launch of the call for evidence (see http://www.cambridgeshire.gov.uk/citydeal/news/article/22/city_deal_launches_call_for_evidence_to_tackle_congestion_in_cambridge) was earlier this evening. I only found out about the opportunity to appear in person at the last minute – while on a bus out of town. I made it with about 3 minutes before the deadline expired. As Richard Taylor stated today, the city deal authorities seem to have ‘communications issues’ when it comes to advertising their events. He filmed this evening’s talks & Qs so expect them to be on his video website soon.

“What will you be asking?”

The two main priorities I have are:

  • Haverhill Rail – see them on FB here and the leaflet here
  • Getting the views of young people in a systematic manner that will cover the period of the city deal.

There are some very straight-forward pieces of data collection schools and colleges could do to assist the city deal processes as far as data collection is concerned. A simple transport survey asking students to identify the modes of transport they use to get to school/college, the postcode they travel to/from, and the number of times they are late each week as a result of traffic problems. This data doesn’t need to identify individuals. This data would – in particular for our major further education/sixth form colleges, identify the number of journeys that have to cross the city. Would data from these support business cases for bus or segregated cycle paths away from existing roads clogged by motor traffic?

How quickly could schools & colleges get such a survey up and running in order for the data to be collected and submitted as evidence to the County Council? By 30 November 2015?

Just as Robin Pellew of Cambridge Past Present & Future said he felt the scope of the city deal was too narrow, my take is that if handled properly, the city deal could be harnessed to kick start grassroots democracy activism in & around the city. The reason why that’s not happened so far is the city deal structures are not getting the basics right. Cambridge isn’t getting the basics right.

Consultation overload

I’m absolutely exhausted by the number of separate events I seem to be going to that involve one way or another the future of Cambridge. Have a look at the number of meetings hosted by Cambridge City Council alone in their calendar here. Then there are all of these ones with Cambridgeshire County Council – but you’ll need to search through them to find the one you want. Ever so frustrating that these things are not made easy for the ordinary citizen. At the same time, the community groups are desperately trying to get their heads around the systems & processes, organising their own meetings due to their concerns about Cambridge’s future. Here’s one I’m at on 12 Nov having been to two gatherings this evening. Exhaustion got the better of me for two recent events – one on the future of Mill Road and another on the local NHS – which run separate consultations. At the same time, one of the city deal projects, the much needed Chisholm Trail (a north-south cycle route through the city next to the railway line – so away from cars), is also out to consultation with a number of exhibitions.

“Isn’t consultation a good thing?”

It depends how the consultor frames the questions. The problem I have is that as a city, Cambridge is exhausting the ability of our citizens and civic society to give informed, considered responses. As a result, the only people able to respond are those who can afford to employ those to respond for them (ie big interests with big money), or the merry band of activists that scrutinise these things perhaps at the expense of having a life. (Other than members of staff, I think I was the youngest person at the Guildhall event this evening).

What would I like to see?

I would like to see Cambridge’s public institutions getting together (in particular their communications managers) and deciding how they are going to co-ordinate their future consultations so that it reduces the amount of work for ordinary citizens to find out about and respond to consultations. For me, this point nails it.

People don’t care about which institution does what, they care about whether a service is functioning or not. (Which is why if you want to design malfunctioning public services, you underfund, fragment and outsource as much as you can – sort of like what successive central governments have done for decades).

“If you find all those consultations exhausting & confusing, what hope for the rest of us? And for young people too if this is their first experience of it?”

Exactly.

But again, the way Cambridge functions is that you need to be inside an institution in order to really influence others. Not being inside one means I have no power or influence to bring together the relevant institutions to deal with some of the problems I’ve mentioned above. So I have to leave that for someone who does have influence/power locally to solve that one.

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