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

Summary

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

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

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

Speeches outside The Guildhall

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

Risks with a tightly-controlled national campaign

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

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

Local hustings as an antidote for tightly-managed national campaigns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hustings feeding into local news

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

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

Hearing the candidates in their own voices

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

Town planning researcher Joe Dale, the first of the candidates

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

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

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

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

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

Over to you.

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

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

Thank you for your continued support

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


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Developers accused of ‘designing in crime’

Summary

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

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

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

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

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

Sam Davies’ questions to Cambridge councillors in South Cambridge. 

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

Angry – Cllr Rob Dryden (Labour – Cherry Hinton)

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

A tragedy he was ignored. See his blogpost here.

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

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

Post-development evaluations

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

Profits 2015 & 2016 from Group of Companies Accounts Jan 2017

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

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

Summary

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

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

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

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

My video interviews

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

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


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

Asking about the post-EU Referendum period

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

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

So I invited Ms Thornberry to comment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pioneers in and around Cambridge

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

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

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

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

Message to local political parties?

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

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

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

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

 

 

This general election is designed to frustrate & infuriate

Summary

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

I woke up to this tweet from Gaby Hinsliff

…followed by this from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg

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

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

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

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

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

So it looks like…

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

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

Daniel Zeichner vs Julian Huppert – the rematch in Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

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

Return of some experienced hands?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Professor Mary Beard asked this question earlier in this blogpost.

She ends on this:

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

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

***Because Democracy***

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


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Tactically brilliant but strategically weak?

Summary

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

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

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

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

UK-wide opposition parties starting from weak points

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

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

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

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

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

Strategically weak?

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

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

Resigned to the Conservatives winning?

It looks like it, doesn’t it?

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

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

And in/around Cambridge?

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

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

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

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

Parents: Lend your vote to your children!

Summary

An idea on how to get the voice of children and young people heard in the snap 2015 general election.

The idea is straight-forward:

Parents: ask your children to do the research, and make a recommendation on who to vote for.

  1. Find out who the candidates are – https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/
  2. Discuss and decide what criteria you want to judge candidates and manifestos on – what are the issues and how important is each one to them?
  3. Ask them to read the manifestoes
  4. Ask them to come up with a list of Qs to put to all of the candidates standing in your area
  5. You email the text of the questions to all of the candidates – telling them that your children will be reading their answers and making a recommendation on who to vote for on the basis of those answers – a recommendation you’ll follow through
  6. Ask your children to read the answers and make a recommendation
  7. Take your children to the polling station on voting day
  8. Vote according to their recommendation

Job done – and your children get to take part in democracy in action.

I’m bored of moaning about Cambridge’s bland new buildings

Summary

And the root of the clash between architects and local residents is in the structure of our systems of planning, politics and big finance

There was a powerful series of tweets by Oliver Bullough on Twitter earlier about how the UK Government is complicit through its inaction over ‘dirty money’ and its impact on UK house prices.

170412 OliverBulloughDirtyMoneyUKHousingThread

In 4/6 you’ll notice that, as with the planning system, public sector cannot compete with the private sector. I’ve lost count of the number of people locally who tell me that the private sector regularly poach staff from Cambridge City Council’s planning team. But who can blame staff for moving given these ratios of income to housing?

Earlier today, the Standard (which will see Mr Osborne taking up shop as editor, a widely criticised move given he has no experience of such a job) actually published a powerful article on the impact of ‘buy to leave’ by Simon Jenkins – a former newspaper editor himself. Do parts of Cambridge risk this? I note at https://www.whatdotheyknow.com/ local councils are willing to release some information about empty commercial properties, but not about empty residential properties other than the totals per year in a local authority’s geographical area.

Does The Government have a policy on reducing the prevalence of empty new homes?

12 months ago, ministers released this statement. What assessment have they made on the impacts of those policies? Are there datasets that they could be collecting but are not? Might be worth asking directly http://forms.communities.gov.uk/ – in particular the points that Mr Bullough has made above.

On design and planning permission

I’ve been attending and filming a number of planning committee meetings over the last six months. One consistent theme that comes up time and again is poor design. Unfortunately this is one area where local councils seem to have extremely limited powers to refuse planning applications – even though this useful blogpost on how to object to planning applications by Martin Goodhall, a Legal Associate of the Royal Town Planning Institute indicates otherwise.

“Isn’t ‘design’ a very subjective thing anyway?”

It is. Also, the last thing any place wants is one person imposing their views onto an entire city. I wouldn’t even wish for my home town of Cambridge to have my views on planning and design to be imposed on the city. In the grand scheme of things, I’m more interested in the fairness, accessibility and usability of the process by which the general public can get involved in shaping our homes, neighbourhoods and places we live in. (i.e villages, towns and cities). Unpopular architecture for me is a symptom that something has gone badly wrong with the controls, systems and processes by which a city functions. That London can be littered with empty tower blocks of unoccupied luxury apartments while ‘demand’ continues to rise (and few ministers are brave enough to address where this ‘demand’ is coming from, let alone do anything substantial about it) is a symptom that something has gone very wrong with our politics, our economics, and our societies. Even more so given the homelessness crisis that we have – something that remains visible in Cambridge.

Who has time to go through planning applications in detail?

This for me is one of the fundamental structural problems faced by many towns and cities – not just Cambridge. The culture of long working hours (in part made worse by high housing and rental prices) combined with long commutes means that fewer people in full time work have the time, let alone the energy to put their minds to what is happening in their communities. Scrutiny matters.

In Cambridge, we’re very fortunate to have a critical mass of of residents who have the time, passion, the education (it takes months to become familiar with the language and legalese used in these fields) and also the resources to scrutinise what’s happening to our city and make decision makers at least think twice about what they are doing. But resident groups alone will never be enough to face down big corporates on schemes valued in the £hundreds of millions. If anything, it’s that complexity that is a barrier in itself to more people getting involved. Given the technology we have, shouldn’t we be using maps and pictures much more instead of text? (He says…typing a blogpost).

Councillors, planners and architects in the firing line?

On one side, you could say they don’t help themselves. On the other hand, they are only functioning in a system that is not of their making – and get railroaded into things that were decided by much more powerful interests. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve posted on social media that the fault of unpopular developments is not the fault of councillors but of a system imposed by ministers lobbied heavily by developers and rubber-stamped by Parliament.

“So…now what?”

I’ve blogged about planning workshops and the like. But such things will have their limitations – not least a very small audience. Everything keeps coming back to the problems of how our city is run. But then that leads back all the way to Whitehall and Westminster who, in the grand scheme of things have no appetite to overhaul how our cities should be run.

And when you start looking at the scale of the challenge, you end up feeling very, very, very small. And overwhelmed. And crushed.

 

Why the future of Cambridge’s transport needs to incorporate all things leisure, art and heritage

Summary

On why so many people miss out on three of our historic gems – and how accessibility matters to make sport for all

It was Faye Holland who raised the issue of Cambridge needing a second city/civic centre most recently at Grant Thornton’s Vibrant Cambridge event.

At some stage, Cambridge is going to need it. The incremental growth at the moment risks the slow, growing swamp of suburbia that inevitably stem from developments that never build the much-needed community and civic infrastructure. Not that the larger developments are coming up with the ground breaking, awe-inspiring buildings that have the *Wow!* factor inside and out. All too often even when there is the chance for something great and wonderful, the developers tell the architects to get out their Etch-a-sketches ***because profit margins***.  But it wasn’t always like this in Cambridge, as our local Royal Institute for British Architecture told Puffles.

I was in one of the Victorian buildings earlier today – All Saints Church.

Cambridge historian, Dr Sean Lang of Anglia Ruskin University presents this documentary on the building.

As Dr Lang explains 13 mins in, the church was earmarked for closure. The people who would otherwise have made up the congregations had moved out to the growing suburbs of post-war Cambridge – places like Arbury. The old inner city slums and working class areas were replaced either by lower density housing, student accommodation or expanded colleges. That combined with the fall in church attendances, along with rising costs of maintaining increasingly aged buildings meant somethings were going to have to give.

Buses and cars breaking up the natural flow of pedestrians

My simple take is that bus routes, lorry deliveries and cars have disrupted one of the natural flows of pedestrians.

AllSaintsChurchGoogleMapSnapshot

Screenshot from Googlemaps.

You can see All Saints in the centre-right of the map. Buses go down Jesus Lane, Manor Street, Park Street and Round Church Street. Much of the accommodation that Dr Lang says was once occupied by locals east of Manor Street is now either lower density housing association accommodation or student accommodation for Cambridge University Colleges. Wonderful as the inside of Sidney Sussex College is (and it really is), the narrow pavements and high walls don’t invite anyone to walk down the streets – especially with buses, lorries, and in more recent times, recklessly driven cars with illegally loud engines going past.

Museum of Technology – off the beaten track too

If you follow the road down Jesus Lane eastwards, you get to Maids’ Causeway and then onto Newmarket Road.

MuseumOfTechGoogleMapSnapshot

Newmarket Road – and the bottom left of the snapshot above. The Museum of Technology is in the top right. Where Tesco is was once the Cambridge Gas Works. The Museum is going through a transformation thanks to a big lottery grant. It’s a site that has so much potential that I really hope the grant helps it reach it. Personally I think the city should have kept one of the old gasometers – the big one in this photo being the last to go. A shame they couldn’t do something like London did here.

The problem with the site – or rather the road infrastructure, is that it’s too far away from the museum. The part of the museum that borders the riverside doesn’t make it nearly as clear as it could do where the main entrance is.

Cambridge United Football Club

Further east along Newmarket Road is the Abbey Stadium. (It’ll always be called that for me irrespective of who sponsors it).

CUFCGoogleMapSnapshot

Bottom left is the Museum of Technology, and bottom-right is Cambridge United FC.

You can see two bus stops either side of Newmarket Road, but on match day the road gets blocked completely by thousands of football fans. For decades, fans have been frustrated by the incredibly poor infrastructure to get people to and from the stadium. One of the hopes with the new north-south Cambridge cycle path – the Chisholm Trail – will take away some of the road traffic as a direct, high quality cycle path makes cycling much easier from more parts of the city.

There are no road routes out north or south. North you have Stourbridge Common and Ditton Meadows. The attempt to complete the planned eastern ring road were thwarted when residents understandably rebelled against the Holford Wright plans to build a dual carriage way over the aforementioned meadows. South of the stadium you have Coldhams Common – again, not something that Cambridge wants to build anything on. These are our green lungs doing what they can to help improve our shockingly poor air quality.

This is why, short of a stadium move – repeatedly blocked by successive local councils, the Cambridge Connect Light Rail project – and Extension A, are ever so important.

cambridgeconnect_newtonline_extensiona_v5-0If Cambridge gets this network – a very very big ‘if’, then well-designed footpaths and cycle paths could open up what is a part of town that’s not pleasant for pedestrians. Car parks take up a lot of space and are not pleasant to walk across. You feel like you are in the way of the cars.

An alternative city centre?

I’ve suggested before that Cambridge could move Marshall’s Airport out to Mildenhall and build a railway line to it, through to and circling Norwich to connect the University of East Anglia and Norwich Airport by rail, before going onto Great Yarmouth.

slide1

The moving of the airport was also something that was suggested in the old Cambridge Futures Project. See Option 4 here. (The other options are here). This is where I agree with Faye Holland in that Cambridge needs an alternative city/civic centre, and needs something other than retail to build it around. The question is where you put it. In one sense, the Northwest Cambridge site is on its way to becoming an engineering centre, Addenbrooke’s a biotech centre, and the existing centre an historical centre/tourist day trip hell hole [delete as appropriate].

The problem I always come back to is that the city authorities do not have the legal powers, financial powers or the tax raising powers to manage our city. The lines of accountability don’t head towards a single unit/institution in the town centre, but away – whether to a Police & Crime Commissioner based in Huntingdon, this new executive mayor who will be county-based & cover Peterborough, a city bigger than Cambridge with its own cathedral, (Cambridge falls under the bishopric of Ely with its magnificent cathedral in the fens. It’s not King’s College Chapel – King’s doesn’t have a bishops throne).

The Leisure case by Cambridge City Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council

They published this document in 2013.  Do a ‘word search’ on ‘Olympic’ and you will find an ice rink and a swimming pool mentioned. Given the projected growth not just of Cambridge but the surrounding areas – Cambridge alone is due to be at 151,000 in 2030, a civic sports, arts and leisure complex that is very well connected by public, walking and cycle transport sounds compelling.

You’ll always get those who will say “Who pays?” By which they mean:

“The public sector won’t pay for it and no, you are not allowed to raise taxes on businesses or people/organisations based abroad/in tax havens who buy up stuff in Cambridge either and no you can’t subsidise nice things like we subsidise other business activities with grants and tax breaks so stop dreaming and shut up” 

Which is why Cambridge can’t have nice things anymore. For decades we’ve had a political class imprisoned by their own ideologies. As I’ve repeatedly written, so long as ministers – mainly in the Treasury, and their senior officials, continue to sit on their hands while much needed new homes are sold off abroad (up to 30% at one local estate agent) and stop local councils from imposing the punitive measures to that will restrict such anti-social purchases – especially ‘buy to leave’, we’ll get nowhere. Instead we’ll see more speculative developments that are popular with faceless investment institutions who clean up financially while the local communities have to bear the costs. As fellow community reporter Richard Taylor writes, the development at the railway station unwittingly designed in anti-social behaviour and is now desperately trying to correct this.

But when local council planning teams are faced with the best planning professionals money can buy, what hope do they and local communities have in the face of international finance that stands to make a financial killing from a place like Cambridge?

Post-EURef and thoughts/observations on all things Remain

Summary

So…who in the institutions that make up the European Union resigned over the Brexit result in the EU Ref? And how will affect elections in and around Cambridge?

Did anyone?

Just before the referendum I published a short vlogpost in favour of remaining inside the EU – in order to overhaul it. Oh – and I frown a lot in this one!

As things stand, my general take on where we are now is:

  • You Brexit, you fixit
  • I don’t have enough spoons to go full on-campaigning on EU politics, but I’ll film stuff happening locally
  • The unleashing of hate across society concerns me greatly

“What do those that want to block leaving the EU want?”

…other than keeping the UK in the EU that is. Because they are out there. Alistair Campbell and Prof AC Grayling are two of the most high profile.

For example, would it be ‘business as usual’? If not, what in their view would change?

Politics becoming more interesting?

Because of the uncertainty in national and international politics, in one sense it has become more interesting because the institutions are all now out of flux. The cluelessness of ministers, and the woeful nature of Labour’s communications operation in one sense has created a bit of a vacuum that is both an opportunity (for someone to fill it) and a threat (someone nasty fills it).

We’ve also seen UKIP losing Douglas Carswell and Mark Reckless – though whether the Tories take them back remains to be seen.

Where now for Remain?

I’ve lost count of the number of people complaining about Labour HQ’s stance on the result of the EU referendum. For all of the pro-EU rhetoric from a number of high-profile backbenchers, the poisonous relationships between then and Corbyn’s communications team means that this is not following through into the broadcast media headlines. The hostile relationship between Labour HQ’s communications team and the broadcast media means that their messages are not getting through nearly as consistently as they should be.

The Liberal Democrats have understandably tried to take full advantage of this split in Labour – between the pro-EU cosmopolitans and the EU-sceptic working class constituencies in the urban north. But it’s not just there. In pro-remain Tory constituencies such as South Cambridgeshire, they have noticeably increased their activities. Locally here it’ll be interesting to see how many seats the Lib Dems take off the Conservatives (and vice versa) in the south of the county, and also how many the Tories take of UKIP in the northern fringes too. (UKIP rose from 2 to 12 councillors in the 2013 elections in Cambridgeshire). I certainly don’t expect UKIP to be a pushover for the Tories – some of the UKIP councillors have established a reputation of competent councillors and activists compared to some of their Conservative opponents.

Finally, there’s all this talk of ‘the best deal’ or a deal that keeps as close a relationship as possible with the EU. Whoever it has come from, I’m not nearly as clear as I’d like to be as to what this means. Just as the Government doesn’t have a clear starting position, I’m a little surprised that the Lib Dems didn’t produce their own policy paper setting out what they think the Government’s starting position should be. (If they have, I’ve missed it).

The local impact.

We also have mayoral, and local elections coming up on 04 May across England where there are district and county councils. Cambridge being such an area on the latter has elections to Cambridgeshire County Council. We are also in full hustings mode for the mayoral elections – a policy I still disagree with and think was a political stitch up. My long held view is that Cambridge needs a unitary authority – a single council for the city and the wards that immediately surrounding it. Why ministers won’t agree to it…you’ll have to ask them.

Irrespective of my views, there are still elections for the mayoralty of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Therefore, ignore me and watch the videos of the candidates:

I’m also filming free introduction videos for candidates standing in and around Cambridge for the county council elections, also on 04 May. The playlist is here.

The first elections after the EU Referendum

My general prediction is we’ll see just how split England is over Brexit. Will pro-leave voters switch en masse to the Tories now that they are effectively delivering UKIP’s headline policy on leaving the EU? Given the hostile relationships between UKIP and Conservative councillors on Cambridgeshire County Council over the past four years, I’m not expecting things to be nearly as simple as that.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats have had a similar hostile relationship on Cambridgeshire County Council – though I note that with all parties combined, just under a third of councillors are retiring. The new county council makeup surely will have a very different feel to it – especially if we get a younger, newer fresher generation of county councillors.

 

I’ve taken the view that the EU referendum vote was a symptom of a whole host of much deeper problems in our economy and society. Given my limited capacity (health) I took it upon myself to focus on local grassroots activities rather than national or international projects and campaigns. I have neither the resources, the health nor the close friendships to sustain anything far beyond the borders of my home town.

Locally in Cambridge, the role I seem to be taking is one of ‘social bumble bee’ – like a social butterfly but more stressed and less pretty. Very active, buzzing from group to group and linking them up, but easily squished (emotionally) when things go wrong. I’m also linking people to groups who are already active in their interested areas. Rather than trying to start something new or doing everything myself as perhaps in the past, I’m reconciled to the idea of not needing (or wanting) to be involved in everything – rather just maintaining a distant staying-aware-and-updated brief.

In and around Cambridge we’ll see a number of people standing for election for the first time who got involved in local democracy as a result of the EU referendum.

 

Cambridge City candidates for the county council elections on 04 May 2017

Summary

Some new faces standing for election – which is a good thing

Phil Rodgers summarised them in the table below

Note that there are two fewer seats than in 2013 due to the Boundary Commission reductions. A stupid decision because now the seats for the city and county councils no longer match, which will confuse voters. Again, my preference is for a single council for Cambridge and the surrounding rural districts.

Phil’s examination of the last set of Cambridgeshire County Council election results in 2013 is here. Since then, the collapse of the Lib Dems has reached its trough and the party is beginning to bounce back on the back of the EU Referendum result and also of the Labour Party’s problems at a national level. Former councillor Colin Rosenstiel has done some number-crunching to work out which bits of the old wards moved into the new ones.

I’m not going to make a place-by-place prediction – I’ll leave that to the gentlemen above. With a number of incumbent councillors standing down, we will inevitably have new faces representing the city in a month’s time.

Getting your party’s candidate details up on Democracy Club’s database

Simply do a county search at https://candidates.democracyclub.org.uk/posts

Democracy Club is being funded by the Electoral Commission (See here) to help ensure voters have access to all of the candidates standing for election in their neighbourhood.

Democracy – it’s not a spectator sport

In Cambridge, there are four parties standing full slates of candidates:

Even if you don’t intend on voting, just for curiosity’s sake please have a look around their websites to find out who would want to put themselves up for election to public office – one of the most abused posts in humanity. (As Bruce Waldron who chaired the Sawston hustings for Cambridgeshire/Peterborough mayor said).

Videos of candidates

I’m filming free intro videos for candidates standing in and around Cambridge for the county council elections on 04 May. The playlist so far looks like this:

Video playlist – in the top left is the number count of candidates’ videos I have uploaded.

In return, I ask candidates and their supporters to help contribute to my filming costs


Donate

“Please donate to my filming (and living) costs in the course of bringing democracy to people’s desktops!” (Click on the button above-left).

Local neighbourhood hustings

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign had theirs earlier.

You can watch representatives from the Greens, Labour and the Liberal Democrats deal with cycling and public transport issues in Cambridge.

Video and social media won’t completely replace face-to-face campaigning

One of the things I’ve found over the past decade or so using social media is that people’s interactions online are very different if they have met face-to-face.  If anything, social media breeds familiarity. You become familiar with an individual’s tone and manner – to the extent it helps you judge whether media stories about them are true or not. Important in this current climate.

That said…video can work for you while you are asleep

That’s not to say you’ll suddenly get thousands of views and a new fan base. They will only get as many views as you and your party are prepared to share and publicise. And let’s face it, collectively our political and democratic institutions collectively have been slow to realise the potential of social media despite some excellent individual case studies.

One thing I’d really like to see in these local election campaigns are some candidates demonstrating expert synchronisation and co-ordination of what they do offline with online – to the extent it is the difference between getting elected and not getting elected. My guess is that it’ll only be once this happens that we start seeing social media in Cambridge’s local democracy come of age.