What impact will Heidi Allen MP have on her neighbouring constituency, Cambridge City?


Some thoughts on the potential impact of a new, highly-motivated MP for South Cambridgeshire who represents one of Cambridge City’s wards – Queen Edith’s.

Me and Chris Rand, a community blogger in Queen Edith’s ward interviewed Heidi Allen MP over the weekend.

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

Heidi Allen MP being filmed by me at the Queen Edith Pub, Wulfstan Way, Cambridge

I’m uploading the two videos I filmed later in the week as this will form part of a mini-launch of what are likely to become monthly extended interviews with Ms Allen, covering what she has been doing in Parliament and how the Government’s plans are going to affect our neighbourhood.

A significant change for the Conservatives in and around Cambridge?

It was no accident that Ms Allen got over 50% of the votes in South Cambridgeshire – see the full results here. But it wasn’t because the population and the electorate of the constituency growing in the same way as the Conservative share of the vote has done over the years. (See here). Ms Allen’s predecessor was the controversial former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. My experience of him (he was once my MP prior to boundary changes) was that he was absent from our part of the constituency. That said, I hardly ever saw much of Cambridge’s 2005-10 MP David Howarth either. When Julian Huppert became MP in 2010, he set the standard of how to be a strong constituency MP in terms of casework (30,000+ in five years), visibility and availability communications-wise. Dr Huppert’s example hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ms Allen and her team.

Had Mr Lansley stood for re-election, chances are the other parties would have thrown significant national resources into the constituency due to the presence of Addenbrooke’s Hospital – one of the biggest hospitals in the country. His announcement he was standing down meant that one of the safest Conservative seats in the country was up for grabs – and Ms Allen was the candidate successful in gaining the nomination from the local party.

That’s not to say the other candidates didn’t fight – they did. South Cambridgeshire benefited from a line up of competent candidates who worked their socks off. I filmed them at Homerton College’s hustings – see here. Following those hustings I interviewed Ms Allen – see here. Without the extra burden of ministerial/shadow ministerial office, and having only become a councillor in neighbouring Hertfordshire (St Albans) in 2011, she wasn’t nearly as burdened by things like the MPs’ expenses scandal or even voting records during the Coalition.

What does this mean for the new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner?

While both Mr Zeichner and Ms Allen have said publicly they will work together to deal with the issues that both constituencies face together, this is the first time in living memory that there has been a complete change in parliamentary representation personnel-wise across three constituencies in and around Cambridge – the final of the three being Lucy Frazer MP for South East Cambridgeshire.

With Dr Huppert as MP 2010-15, he was in the new position of being a backbench MP of a minority coalition partner, with two parliamentary neighbours who at various occasions held ministerial office. With ministerial office inevitably taking up four days per week plus more, Dr Huppert effectively had most of the Cambridge area to himself. Or so it felt – reflecting his very strong use of social media to keep constituents, campaigners and the local media up to date. Mr Zeichner faces the next five years in opposition – not having the sort of ministerial access Dr Huppert had. Furthermore, he is next door to a new MP on the Government benches who has already shown herself to be more open, approachable and accessible than her predecessor was.

“Will we see a Conservative resurgence in Cambridge as a result of Ms Allen’s presence?”

2010 was a low point for the Conservatives in Cambridge. Despite Cambridge City candidate Chamali Fernando working incredibly hard on the campaign, she scored over four thousand votes fewer than her predecessor candidate Nick Hillman. There are a number of reasons for this. They include:

Ms Allen said prior to the election in an interview with me that she would be focusing her efforts on wards in and around Cambridge (have a watch here) if she were elected. Now that she has been elected, and given her very personable disposition, I expect over the next few years it will begin to pay dividends not just in Queen Edith’s but in others as well. For Queen Edith’s – a traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold, this will be a further challenge for a local party recovering from the loss of Dr Huppert as Cambridge MP.

How will Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens respond?

We’ve got a by-election already in June following the resignation of Kilian Bourke. Given the national results, I’m sure the post-election membership surges for the three parties will have had some impact inside the city – especially the Liberal Democrats. The expected candidates as per Phil Rodgers:

Conservatives: Rahatul Raja
Greens: Debbie Aitchison
Labour: Zoe Moghadas
Liberal Democrats: Nichola Martin

Here’s how things turned out in Romsey in May 2015 -> with Anna Smith elected. Having met Ms Martin and being friends with Mrs Moghadas, we’ve got two strong candidates from the top two parties. Also, expect The Greens to poll well too – especially given their victory in Market Ward with Cllr Oscar Gillespie. I think Mrs Moghadas will win due to being a former city councillor and residents being familiar with her. That said, in Ms Martin the Liberal Democrats have got an energised and personable and relatively young candidate (as Cambridgeshire County Councillors go!) – so much depends on how actively her and fellow Liberal Democrats campaign.

A changing constituency attached to a growing (overheating?) city in a time of further spending cuts

It’s not going to be a walk in the park given the challenges facing Cambridge. Ms Allen has identified housing as the biggest issue for her. The urgency is underlined by the comments from planning inspectors to the Cambridge/South Cambs local plan – see here. Some of her constituents in surrounding villages are not going to like being told that they have to allocate more rural land for housing. Furthermore, The Chancellor is expected to announce a new budget in July which is likely to have even further cuts to government spending – cuts which Ms Allen will be expected to support as a backbench MP of the governing party. Although from Parliament’s perspective it’s unheard of for a backbench MP to vote against their party line on a budget vote, Cambridge Labour skilfully and ruthlessly exploited Dr Huppert’s voting record on Coalition budgets.

Will this mean that Ms Allen and Mr Zeichner will be loggerheads for the next five years?

Unlikely. For a start Ms Allen isn’t a fundamentalist dyed-in-the-wool career politician. I expect she will be far more pragmatic than her predecessor. As for Mr Zeichner, although he has a long record as a candidate for Labour – winning after four unsuccessful campaigns in Cambridge & Norfolk, he’s not the ‘attack dog’ type of politician. When I look back at the many hustings he took part in against Dr Huppert, very rarely did he make personal attacks on Dr Huppert. It was local councillors & activists who were far more aggressive online.

One of the more interesting things to watch out for will be which parties can establish a local presence in the new housing estates that continue to spring up in and around Cambridge. Without the long and established histories of the surrounding villages, these could be the places where the other parties can establish a strong presence.

Given the impact of their student campaigning machine in Cambridge, will Cambridge Universities Labour Club ‘bank’ the Cambridge City result and start regular campaigns in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire? Because just as Ms Allen’s presence in South Cambridgeshire could open some doors to the Conservatives in Cambridge, the growth of Cambridge City beyond the parliamentary boundaries could open lots more doors not just to Labour, but to a resurgent Liberal Democrats and even the Greens, who between Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are heading towards 1,000 members.

We live in interesting times…

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The post-election dust begins to settle


What can we expect from the political parties?

I’m not going to be one of those commentators who tries to explain how they predicted the correct general election result when the record shows anything but. I didn’t expect the Conservatives to have an absolute majority, nor did I expect the almost total takeover of Scottish seats by the SNP. I also didn’t expect the Lib Dems to get as few seats as they did – and ditto with UKIP.

For the most part, I sat on the fence saying the whole thing was too close to call. Given that neither of the two main parties said who they’d negotiate with in the event of a hung parliament – predicted by pretty much every opinion poll, it was difficult for anyone to see who was going to emerge with the confidence of the Commons to become Prime Minister. That’s all academic now – apart from the opinion polling industry who have some serious questions to ask of itself.

Osborne’s July Budget

It’s due on 8 July if this report is correct. The Financial Times ran a headline predicting 100,000 further job cuts to the civil service. I can’t see how these are going to be delivered without some serious changes to the Whitehall machinery of government. These are combined with further tightening of laws on trade union industrial action. I can understand why politicians are saying there needs to be a minimum level of turnout for votes in favour of strike action to be legitimate – but then shouldn’t the same apply for politicians & elections? I remember in my university days that student union AGMs would be inquorate so budgets could not be passed & thus student union services closed until they got a quorate meeting. (Not having a room big enough to hold the minimum threshold of students to pass a budget didn’t help…). However, the closure of student union bars had the desired effect: lots more students turned up to rearranged meetings. What would happen to democracy if turnouts below say 40% at elections meant bins didn’t get collected until a rescheduled election? ‘Democracy’s not a spectator sport’…and all that

Conservatives hitting the ground running vs opposition navel-gazing?

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently in the extended processes of electing new leaders. Both parties at a leadership level appear shell-shocked (understandably) at the general election result. Their online activist roots perhaps less so – being younger, more energised and perhaps feeling less tied to decisions made by politicians at a time when perhaps some of them were still at school.

Yet just as in 2010 with Labour, do both parties run the risk of sorting out internal issues while the new government sets in concrete a new narrative that becomes impossible to undo for the next decade? Remember the problems Ed Miliband had with TV cross-examination by the public – they were all asking about issues about the 2007-2010 Gordon Brown administration. It was as if they were still waiting for the former Prime Minister to publicly account for his failures in office. The lack of his open public and media appearances over the past five years haven’t helped in that respect. Ditto with Blair. The public has not seen either former Prime Minister scrutinised in detail post-Downing Street in a way that might have drawn lines under the more controversial aspects of their times in office. Not that there’s necessarily precedence for doing so – or that repeated public appearances would help. Think Thatcher during John Major’s years in office.

How can Labour escape the shadow of Blair & Brown? 

It’s one of the reasons why so many seemed to pin their hopes on Dan Jarvis MP, the former soldier, as a new leader. But he declined due to family commitments. For me I’ve felt Labour needed someone from the post-2010 generation of MPs. The electorate took out two possible candidates – Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander – at the recent general election. The recent ‘Progress’ hustings indicated that cabinet ministers under Gordon Brown were more prepared to defend the latter’s legacy than the rest. But as Sunny Hundal said in a talk in Cambridge recently, Labour need to select someone who is a much better communicator than Brown or Miliband were – and pick someone who in the minds of the electorate looks like they are a Prime Minister in-the-making.

Rebuilding from a near-wipe out for the Liberal Democrats

For them it really is a case of going back to their grass roots. Former Cambridge MP David Howarth (who was MP before Julian Huppert) summarised the issues for the Liberal Democrats here. The most interesting part for me is on coalitions. From my perspective, one of the central pillars of the Liberal Democrats is voting reform towards proportional representation; something that increases the likelihood of either minority governments or coalitions. Yet at the same time, experiences from other countries – and now the UK – shows the electorate punishes junior coalition partners harder than the senior ones.

With only eight MPs and one MEP, the Liberal Democrats may find the level of media exposure plummets. With so few politicians in national public office, there will be a huge burden on those nine. This means that the hundred or so peers appointed to the House of Lords for the party will need to step forward and take a fair share of the burden – for so long as the House of Lords remains unreformed.

What will the SNP do for England?

This for me is one of the big unknowns. Historically the SNP have refrained from voting on matters that only affect England. Labour controversially used their Scottish MPs to vote through the Higher Education Act 2003 that brought in top up tuition fees in England that ultimately gave powers to the government to bring in the even higher fees with just two debates in Parliament. This self-inflicted sore remains an irritant for those on the left who in principle don’t like tuition fees. The question for the SNP is what time and resources they’ll use for debates/campaigns that only affect England. The first test of this looks like being on fox hunting – the SNP stance angering anti-hunt campaigners in England.

UKIP and The Greens?

Over 4 million votes, only two MPs. Yet both Douglas Carswell and Caroline Lucas between them seem to have had more influence as backbench MPs than most in terms of influencing agendas. Recent headlines about power struggles in UKIP means it’s too early to know what will happen with them. The massive rise in the number of MEPs plus Douglas Carswell holding onto his seat means that there a growing number of political power bases within the party that are alternatives to Nigel Farage.

As for The Greens, aside from the widely-expected loss of minority control of Brighton Council, progress has continued at a slow but steady pace as far as politicians elected to local public office is concerned. While the Greens have benefited from the decline of the Liberal Democrats, 2015 may mark a low point at which the Lib Dems start fighting back. The challenge for The Greens is to hold onto those that switched.

Cameron with a smaller majority in the Commons than John Major

It will be interesting to see how disciplined the Conservative Parliamentary Party is compared to the Coalition. What concessions will Cameron need to make to his backbenchers to ensure is program for government can be implemented? Will he look to do deals with MPs from other parties (such as the Northern Ireland unionists, or even the Liberal Democrats?) in the face of rebellions? Would Labour or the SNP step in to save the government from defeat in the face of something (in their minds) even worse brought in just to placate Conservative rebels? Expect the House of Commons to play an even more central role in the workings of Whitehall than in the Coalition years.

New views for new ministers with old views?

Something that has been widely commented on has been the attributed views of various new ministers given their new portfolios.

To be fair to Morgan, she changed her mind & publicly said so, as did Lib Dem leadership candidate Tim Farron here. I think it’s refreshing when politicians can account for when they got things wrong & explain how & why they got things wrong. (As well as what they might do differently in the future). It remains to be seen how some of the new ministers get on in their new posts given past comments.

Cameron as a ‘hands off’ Prime Minister

One of the major differences between Cameron and his Labour opponents is how he’s seen to allow his ministers to be ‘the faces’ of his parties policies. Under Blair and Brown, I always got the sense that ministers under them were never really in control of their policy areas. The result in the late 2000s was policy paralysis. They were all too busy looking over their shoulder towards Downing Street – but there weren’t enough hours in the day for the Prime Minister to approve everything. I never really got that sense with Cameron & Clegg. After five years of a more devolved setup, I’d be surprised if Cameron resorted to the Brown-style command and control. For a start Cameron doesn’t have the parliamentary majority to ram through measures unpopular with his party.

The world in 2020 will be a very different place – but will the parties have evolved sufficiently to account for this?

Are we at a stage where the big political names of 2020 are yet to emerge? It might be that both The Greens and Lib Dems go into the 2020 elections with leaders who do not hold national elected public office. UKIP may have imploded, disbanded following an EU-exit referendum victory or they may have solidified their gains to become more of a permanent parliamentary and local government presence. We may have PM Boris or Osborne coming face-to-face with a Labour leader who would have succeeded the one about to be elected by Labour members this autumn.

At the same time, we don’t know how resilient society will be to another round of public sector cuts in the face of ever-rising housing costs, growing visible inequalities and continued global instabilities.

Posted in Elections 2015, Party politics | 2 Comments

How Cambridge Labour councillors on Twitter can help new MP Daniel Zeichner


Some thoughts on new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner’s way of working.

Mr Zeichner posted the following tweets:

If you want to get in touch with him on constituency issues, he’s at daniel@cambridgelabour.org.uk

This will inevitably be a different way from how his predecessor Julian Huppert used Twitter – as others have noted.

I’m not going to make a judgement call on which is the best way for him to use social media as an individual. This will be different from person to person, and will depend on each one’s disposition. This is more about ‘The Office that is Daniel Zeichner MP’.

MPs and ministers have private offices – ie paid staff whose job it is to help assist the holder of the public office discharge their constitutional duties. Public funds are available to pay for people to work in MPs’ offices. Ministers have their own teams of civil servants – the latter being constitutionally apolitical and helping ministers deliver the policies of the government. This is different from giving opposition politicians a verbal bashing. Hence researching opposition policies is normally out of bounds for civil servants.

“What’s the difference between Mr Zeichner and Dr Huppert?”

People used to the sort of access via Twitter they had with the latter are going to have a bit of a shock when it comes to the former. Dr Huppert would often respond directly to tweets during Parliamentary debates or commuting to/from Cambridge. For whatever reason, Mr Zeichner has indicated he wants a more formal method of communication. (Remember email is a form of social media). This also means using Twitter as a means of broadcasting what he’s doing rather than using it as a means of conversation. That’s not to say it’s set in stone. It might be that as he becomes more used to the role of being an MP, he becomes more comfortable responding to tweets directly. The way I use Twitter isn’t identical to early 2011. My approach to social media has evolved over time.

“Doesn’t that mean there will be people who will throw online brickbats at Mr Zeichner?”

In one sense you can’t win. Some will say politicians spend too much time on Twitter and not enough scrutinising the government. Others will say not using social media for conversations is no way for a holder of elected public office to behave.

What is important however is how Mr Zeichner and his advisers monitor social media and the discussions being had that involve Cambridge. Unfortunately the presence of Cambridge on the East Coast of America and the media circus around William and Kate means that you can’t do a simple Twitter search for all of the things happening here. This is what I relied on in my pre-Twitter days after the 2010 election doing research on Big Society policy. It was only in the autumn that I realised there were a whole host of conversations on lots of topics I wanted to take part in – ones where I didn’t have to worry about being stung by newspapers, which led to me setting up Puffles.

Setting up Twitter & Facebook pages for ‘The Office of Daniel Zeichner’?

It’s an option – I’ve seen other politicians experiment with similar with mixed degrees of success. Much depends on how comfortable an MP’s staff are with the medium concerned. The other one is how much autonomy and guidance the MP concerned is prepared to give to the staff running the accounts.

A good example of how these sorts of accounts are run are train companies – for all the complaints that they get. At the start of each shift, they announce the name of the person who is staffing the account. That then allows conversations to take place. Furthermore, there are a strict set of rules (sort of similar to Puffles’ house rules here) that they abide by. For such an MP-office account, it might include something around: “If you don’t know the answer immediately, say so and given an indication of when you will get back.”

“Why did you say that Cambridge’s Labour councillors have a role to play?”

Because if you look at a number of conversations that have cropped up over the years, many of them could have been dealt with by elected councillors rather than the MP. In Dr Huppert’s case, he was such a prolific tweeter and at the same time did not have this huge wealth of councillors who were using Twitter or Facebook regularly. Mr Zeichner has a critical mass of councillors who can take up the slack.

The most important thing is that:

  • Councillors regularly update Mr Zeichner on issues being raised
  • Mr Zeichner finds a suitable means of updating residents & constituents of what he is doing. A once-a-week blogpost or website update that can be cross-posted/tweeted might be really useful for those that want to remain informed, even if they don’t want to engage in conversation. (These people are likely to be in the majority – even if they don’t shout the loudest!)

“Which councillors are these that can help?”

Let’s take Cambridge City Council and their responsibilities. Going by the council’s constitution and directorates, these are as follows:

  • Planning policy and control of development,
  • Economic Development,
  • Tourism,
  • Environmental
  • Waste Services,
  • [Limited] Transport Services
  • Managing the Council’s housing stock and role as
    social housing landlord,
  • strategic issues on
    homelessness and housing provision in the City,
  • arts and entertainments,
  • parks & recreational
  • community development,
  • grants to
    voluntary organisations,
  • community safety.

Executive councillors on Twitter responsible for these are:

Other councillors for Labour on Twitter include:

They can point you to others – the above three are the ones I have fairly frequent Twitter chats with, or see out & about.

The Green Party has a councillor in Cambridge too:

Liberal Democrats on Cambridge City Council include:

Cambridge Conservatives have one councillor – Shapour Meftah, but I don’t think he’s on Twitter. Hence I refer interested parties to recent election candidates Andy & Tim

Cambridge is also represented on Cambridgeshire County Council – which covers the following (according to its website:

  • Roads
  • Buses
  • Children
  • Libraries

(See here for the sub-categories in the ‘residents’ tab (that it should land on))

The leader of the Labour group (and the only one I see frequently in tweets) is:

The Liberal Democrats group have the following on Twitter in Cambridge

At a county council level, The Greens, Conservatives & UKIP are not represented in the city divisions.

On Facebook you can find the following:

They also have student groups too:

So if you want to tweet politics to politicians in Cambridge, you now have ****lots**** of alternatives!

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Parties report rise in membership after Conservatives win general election

Summary More thoughts on the next five years – including training, development and support for those with desire and potential to stand for election

I mentioned to a friend earlier today that in Whitehall & Westminster, the traditional big offices of state are:

  • Prime Minister
  • Chancellor of the Exchequer
  • Foreign Secretary
  • Home Secretary

Boss, money, outside stuff, inside stuff. Looking back at the general election result, Labour had Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and Yvette Cooper in those roles. I’ve mentioned to a number of people in times gone by that if a party is going to resemble ‘a government in waiting’ in the run up to the general election, the people in the shadow ministerial roles need to be extraordinarily talented individually, compensate for each others’ weaknesses and collectively look & feel like a competent team. Did that team of four have that? Did they have the dynamism, energy, competence and people-friendliness to inspire those outside the party? The fact that both Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander lost their constituency seats speaks volumes. If they cannot inspire their constituents to vote for them, how could they be expected to inspire the rest of the country? Similar applies to the Liberal Democrats – on the receiving end of a nationwide pounding. Their nominal ‘shadow quad’ of those roles (Scroll to the end here – Lib Dems, is the final row correct?) were Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Tim Farron and Lynne Featherstone. Alexander and Featherstone lost their seats.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats blown wide open – for new talent to step up

There are eight Liberal Democrat MPs left. (Should someone be sacked inside parties for these results?) Clegg’s resigned as leader, which means it’ll be one of seven men (including Tim Farron, Norman Lamb & Greg Mulholland) who will become party leader. Their party rules say the leader must be in the Commons. (Which means it won’t be a woman as the party has no women MPs left). The ejection of Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander also creates two huge voids within the Labour Party at the very top. I’ve found watching the Twitter chatter from both parties to be interesting – as well as the numbers of people joining/rejoining both parties.

“Was 2015 the general election no one wanted to win?”

From a political commentator’s viewpoint, perhaps – given the state of the economy, the world and public finances. But that’s easy to say if you’re not dependent on public services. For those dependent on public services, the prospect of even more public service cuts or job losses is quite frankly frightening. It’s all very well saying that Cameron will have a tough time keeping his Euro-sceptics in line, & that after 5 years of that an alternative centre-left party will come in & sort things out. It’s all very well saying that any other party would have struggled, leading to an even more harsher alternative in 2020, but in five years something that might have been thought of as extreme can then become the political norm. Think tuition fees. What will be the 2015-2020 policies brought in that cannot be reversed by any incoming government?

“So…why have thousands of people started joining/rejoining political parties?”

The Liberal Democrats are claiming over 3,000 since the election, The Greens over 400, and Labour claiming ‘thousands’. (None of these figures have been independently verified, so it’ll be interesting to see if the numbers hold true). I’m going to try and get a sense from the local parties in Cambridge over the next few weeks. My sense is a combination of fear and opportunity. Fear over what’s about to hit us over the next five years, and opportunity because with such a defeat and a clearout of long-standing senior politicians, now is a once-in-a-generation chance to make an impact on political parties from within.

“What will they do with all of these new members?”

The Green Party also faces similar issues regarding new members – as does the SNP & UKIP. One of the things that’s struck me attending local council meetings in Cambridge is how few members of the public who are members of political parties come along to take an active part in those meetings. Much is left to the sitting councillors, few of whom seem to have any desire to change systems & processes to make council meetings more appealing to the general public. While there is a time & a place for formality – especially given propriety & accountability, what we currently have seems to suck the life out of what could otherwise be interested & energised gatherings. Given the further looming cuts to local government, I simply cannot see how the existing models in & around Cambridge are sustainable. (The amount of administrative time spent on working out how to fill in a pothole or how to get cycle racks installed is unreal).

If anything, there’s no time like now to invite people to step forward as potential candidates for the local council elections in 2016. In my ward in recent years, all of the candidates bar myself & Simon Cooper had stood before, and the incumbent this year who was re-elected first became a councillor here when I was doing paper rounds in this ward in the early 1990s. (Phil Rodgers has the lowdown on Cambridge’s election results here).

“What would you like to see on the back of these membership surges?”

Some new faces, some new activists, and perhaps some longer-standing community activists putting themselves forward for elections (whether as party or independent candidates).

But that involves parties and civic society helping prepare and support people to stand.

I keep on saying that Democracy is not a spectator sport – so don’t expect to be spoon-fed. A number of politicians have mentioned to me how they have found the presence of me and Richard Taylor with camcorders filming as intimidating or off-putting. That was one of the reasons why I deliberately made things easy for the candidates with the interviews I did in the run up to the elections – & will continue to do afterwards. Essentially I ask ‘Daytime TV-style’ questions about their human experiences of being in local politics rather than on specific detailed policy issues. My aim is to get local politicians feeling comfortable in front of camera, and the viewer to be able to decide whether the politician being interviewed is ‘a nice enough person to have a conversation with themselves’.

Formal training matters too

After various hustings and public debates I attended, I spoke to a number of candidates and party activists advising them of who needed what training & coaching to improve their performances in the set piece debates. Poor public speaking had a direct impact on the footage I filmed because it meant that I had to edit the audio to artificially amplify some of the voices of the speakers. I could have simply left the footage as was, but chose not to because I felt it was important to ensure the viewer could hear what was said by whom, and not feel the desire to cut off before the following speaker. A number of people have said they found the video footage really useful, but I don’t know of anyone who changed the way they were going to vote as a result – yet! Nationwide, the organisation I recommend is the charity The Media Trust. As local parties there is nothing stopping you from hiring them to do workshops for your activists & potential candidates on:

  • media interview training
  • public speaking
  • social media
  • making short video clips
  • effective newsletters

The above isn’t about turning new members into clone-town politicians.

“What about activism outside of political parties?”

Because there’s a place for it, that’s for sure. A couple of long-standing Twitterfriends who have been longstanding non-party activists have commented that independent political organising had been put ‘on hold’ in the run up to the election. See @MediocreDave here. Given the experience of 2010 when Labour spent months deciding on a new leader & having an internal debate, the Coalition hit the ground running, brought in austerity, shaped the narrative/line of ‘Labour spent too much/all their fault’ which, supported by a sympathetic print media & an uncritical broadcast media meant that it stuck. By the time Ed Miliband had started to get things together, it was too late. We saw that when the Leeds’ audience for the leaders’ TV appearances tore Gordon Brown’s record to pieces in front of Ed Miliband without a response that seemed credible in the minds of the people asking the questions. Clegg and Cameron also struggled on that show to be fair. Campaigns I’ve seen gathering some steam via social media have included:

  • Keeping Britain in the EU – an acceptance that we’re going to have a referendum by 2017
  • Saving the Human Rights Act – given the Conservative policy of replacing it with a British Bill of Rights (and the recent appointment of Michael Gove as Justice Secretary)
  • Reforming the voting system on the back of millions of votes for the Greens & UKIP but only 2 seats to show for it
  • Protecting people with disabilities and wider anti-austerity demos.

I wouldn’t be surprised if something kicked off should tuition fees rise again either. It remains to be seen what, if any interfaces these and other campaigns have on established political parties.

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Encouraging women into local democracy – featured examples


Featuring some of the women I filmed & interviewed during the general election campaign 2015.

Here’s Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of The Green Party with an appeal to students & young people in Cambridge

In terms of student activists:

I also featured regional and national volunteers, such as:

I also covered existing holders of public office prior to the general election too.

I featured candidates

And even a national party leader

Feel free to share.

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How do I reassure my very concerned Facebook & Twitter communities over what’s about to hit us all over the next five years?

Is it as @Stavvers says here?

Even in the face of adversity, there’s a little bit of me that almost wants to respond like a stubborn child with a statement that is so ridiculous it elicits no possible response.

“This is me. This is my dragon. Bring. It. On.”

Because let’s face it, hardly anyone predicted that the Conservatives would end up with a majority along with the utter collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

Watching the dust settle in Cambridge

I’ve been doing a bit of number crunching on the Cambridge data, trying to compare the parliamentary votes with the local council votes – accounting for Queen Edith’s being in South Cambridgeshire constituency. It looks like over 3,000 more people voted for Julian Huppert in the general election than for Cambridge Liberal Democrat candidates at the local council elections. For Cambridge Green Party, it was the other way around – just over 4,000 voting for Rupert Read (an increase of a couple of hundred from 2010 – but still an incredible recovery from 2013) vs a figure not far short of 10,000 votes at local council level. This figure was enough to elect a new Green councillor for Cambridge – step forward Councillor Oscar Gillespie.

I spent the afternoon after the afternoon local council counts first with Cambridge Green Party and then with Cambridge Labour Party and a couple of Cambridge Conservatives too – basically Tim & Andy.

The Greens were understandably buzzing – the council results being far higher than perhaps they anticipated given Rupert Read’s results the previous night. Party paper candidates in Cambridge normally get between 200-300 votes. On the back of both the general election & the ‘green surge’, Cllr Gillespie scored 1147 – pipping Danielle Green of Labour by a mere seven votes, and Dom Weldon of the Lib Dems by 13 votes. It was that close. As a result, Cllr Gillespie is in office until 2019. Given his rock-solid roots in community action in Cambridge’s vibrant sustainability communities, he’ll be a difficult opponent to shift in four years time – assuming he (and I have no doubt he will) matches his past efforts with his future ones as a councillor.

“What did Labour have to say for themselves?”

A delight for Daniel Zeichner mixed with the grim reality that the party was annihilated in Scotland and that they have five years of a Conservative majority government (Fixed Term Parliament Act – Clegg’s mistake was not putting a sunset clause into the Bill basically saying that as soon as the Coalition dissolved, so did the terms of the Act). Furthermore, they lost Ed Balls, Douglas Alexander and now have had the resignations of Ed Miliband and Harriet Harman to take in. Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of what’s left of the Liberal Democrats – eight MPs. Nigel has also gone from UKIP.

We had a number of very interesting conversations about what went wrong for Labour, what the rise of The Greens in Cambridge means, and also the collapse of the Liberal Democrats.

For me, the generation of ministers that served under Blair and Brown, and who formed the nucleus around Ed Miliband are now discredited in the mind of the wider public. Miliband & Harman have stepped down while Ed Balls and Douglas Alexander lost their seats. This leaves Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham in the running for party leader – with both Chuka Umunna and Dan Jarvis also shortlisted in a number of media reports. Yet none of the front-runners or any of the others mentioned – such as Tristram Hunt or Rachel Reeves inspire me. You’ve got to have far more than just intellect. You need to have empathy, be well-organised, energised, hard-working, an excellent communicator & public speaker, calm under pressure, able to think on your feet and have that ‘star presence’. Tristram Hunt is a brilliant writer and a huge intellect, but really struggled in Parliament against Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan in the education policy portfolio. Umunna and Reeves have struggled to convert strong intellect into something powerful communications-wise.

“Any Liberal Democrats about?”

Understandably they seemed to make a quick exit following the count – even though they only lost one seat (to The Greens). Maybe it’s the civil contingencies-trained civil servant in me, but when something bad happens & you see a pile of political rubble, my instinct is to recommend heading towards it, not away from it. This is because it’s the time when those that fell in the election will be licking their wounds, while others might shy away from the huge task that lies ahead. Funnily enough, the Lib Dems have tweeted from their national account that in the past 24 hours they’ve had over 1,000 new membership applications. Looks like there could be a critical mass of people who have looked at some of the announcements coming out from the Home Office policy-wise and have hit the ground running.

“It’s still looking grim – what do you say to those worried about five more years of Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith?”

It’s as I wrote in an earlier blogpost:

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport

Shame we’re going to have to spend the next five years learning this the hard way. Because while the mainstream parties go through another few months of navel-gazing, the Conservatives are going to hit the ground running with all of the pet projects they blamed the Liberal Democrats for blocking. Fox hunting, data snooping, more restrictions on social security, possibly even higher tuition fees – all back on the agenda.

Don’t think it’ll be easy for Cameron to manage though. For a start, the Euro-sceptic right wing of the party will be making itself heard. With such a small majority this could cause the sorts of problems John Major had in the 1990s. Put bluntly, Cameron is a handful of bad by-election results away from losing control of the Commons and running a minority government or seeking support from the Northern Ireland unionist parties.

The other problem is that more and more of our problems are of an international nature. Yet given the distancing of the British government since 2010 from the EU (at a time when really the EU needs Britain at its heart given the political vacuum there seems to be there) the sort of co-ordinated substantial policy responses needed to the various crises on the EU’s borders (to say nothing of the economic problems) seems to be further and further away.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we come back to the article I linked to at the top by @Stavvers. More cuts to public services are coming. The November 2015 spending review is likely to be particularly tough.

“But practically, what can we do?”

Between now and the autumn? Get educated about politics, and get connected. Get connected locally, get connected with communities of interest. If you haven’t already, pick a cause and commit to spending say 1 hour a week reading up about it. Start small – baby steps first. (Don’t overwhelm yourself). Try things like:

  • Find out and get in touch with your (newly) elected representatives -> https://www.writetothem.com/ – start off with email/social media contact first, and then follow it up with face-to-face. Learn which institutions provide which services in your area.
  • Find out about community groups in your area – your local council may be able to help. Commit to going along to a new one say once per month to get an idea of what they do and who participates.
  • Accept that you’re going to get things wrong & make mistakes. Easier said than done I know. But if you want something you’ve had before, or want to stop something that seems unstoppable, you’ve got to do something that you’ve not done before. Finding your limits means being prepared to go beyond them. In my case during this election campaign I found out what my limits were in terms of how many public debates & could film & attend (given my mental health) by going to as many as I could until I almost collapsed with mental exhaustion.

“It’s hardly ‘Man the barricades! Revolushun!’ stuff, is it?”

I’m a community activist, not a revolutionary. If however, you are a wanting to do more active campaigning, get yourself along to the People and Planet’s summer camp in July near Manchester.

Posted in Campaigning, protesting and demonstrating | Leave a comment

Daniel Zeichner becomes Cambridge MP by 600 votes over Julian Huppert.


Delighted for Daniel, gutted for Julian.

I’ve posted a few tweets having found out the results. I ran out of mental health spoons so didn’t make it to the count. I made it to the railway station on the bus before getting off & turning back. I knew I couldn’t hack staying up till 7am as I had done this time last year when me and Puffles thumped Nigel and co at the ballot box. So I’m covering the local council count from lunchtime later – after another sleep!

*****Gutted gutted gutted***** for Julian

Totally. I’ve got to know Julian well over the past five years – starting with conversations on the Cambridge-Kings Cross train on our commutes during my civil service days. Julian’s defeat in my opinion had little to do with him. Despite being part of the coalition (signed off by the party – see here – you can’t blame Clegg alone), Huppert lost just over 1,500 votes – a tiny amount given the thumping their incumbent MPs got.

“So…why did Julian lose?”

Not enough of his core vote bothered to turn out & vote. Have a look at the turnout – just 62.1%. Now, either we have a really rubbish system of record-keeping with turnover of population, or too many people who might otherwise have sympathised with him – in particular in the science communities – did not respond to the call when Julian needed them most. Given the work Julian’s done for Cambridge’s science community – and for science policy in general, he deserved far better than this. On the plus side, it might be the wake up call Cambridge’s science community needs to get scientists engaging in democracy, and not just public policy.

In the final week, tactically Cambridge Liberal Democrats started panicking – and made a number of errors under pressure. A number of people around me mentioned that this smacked of desperation on the part of the party, & reflected badly on Julian. Concerns about direct emails (use of & content within), to the deluge of leaflets unnecessarily irritated people who might otherwise have sympathised with him. (This is going by numerous conversations I’ve had with people in my community in South Cambridge).

The successive years of defeats at local elections also meant that the network of councillors Julian had in the run up to 2010 were simply not there in 2015. Thus the casework that normally binds councillors to communities was not there – instead taken on by their Labour opponents.

Julian starts the hustings strongly

I followed the campaigns of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens closely over the past few years. Note my blogpost this time last year. Julian started off the more confident in the hustings and public debates, reeling off achievements effortlessly & batting off criticisms with relative ease. He won over the business communities with ease, and performed well in the various sustainability-related hustings. The first hustings where he came unstuck was the Priced Out hustings on housing. (See here filmed by Richard Taylor) where he took political hits for his votes on the Bedroom Tax. As Daniel knew a fair bit about housing policy, this was the first time people noticed things getting heated. Then Owen Jones turned up.

‘It woz Owen Jones wot wun it!’

Author & campaigning journalist Owen Jones spoke to a massive audience in Cambridge – see here. In that audience as well as Cambridge University Labour Club members were dozens of undecided voters that could easily have gone to Julian or to Rupert Read of the Green Party. Jones’ talk convinced many not just to vote for Labour, but to actively campaign for them. As a result, Cambridge Universities Labour Club were able to mobilise several dozen activists for regular campaigning sessions across the city.

Campaign rally at Trinity College Cambridge for CULC

Campaign rally at Trinity College Cambridge for CULC

The only way Julian was able to mobilise similar numbers was when Liberal Youth campaigners from across the country came over for a campaigning weekend. As a couple of local Lib Dem activists said to me very recently, CULC was ‘a machine’.

Conspicuous by their presence were numbers of energised, informed & talented young women – such as Holly Higgins in this video who was an absolute dynamo. The other parties simply could not compete with the ‘ground war’ in Cambridge. As Daniel correctly predicted in the interview below, it was the students & young people that helped tip that balance.

Previous interviews I had done with Daniel felt more tense. This was the first interview I did with him where I felt something had changed – he was more relaxed & more confident than I had ever seen him. I detected that this was the first time he believed in his heart of hearts that he could defeat Julian. And so it turned out to be.

“What about The Conservatives?”

Chamali Fernando’s campaign didn’t get off to the best of starts – in particular accusations relating to what she was alleged to have said about treating people with mental health. In the grand scheme of things, I thought she made the best of being caught between a rock and a hard place. Getting over 8,000 votes in this climate is a reasonable score. But should she have been selected in the first place? Why could the Conservatives locally not find a local activist – or run an open primary that they ran successfully last time? The defection of Nick Clarke, former Conservative leader of Cambridgeshire County Council to UKIP didn’t help as far as headlines were concerned.

What was noticeable about the Conservatives was the almost complete lack of local familiar faces going door-to-door or street campaigning. It was lucky for the party that Chamali was able to draw on a wide network of friends, family & activists from beyond the city to support her campaign. Although I think she was not the right candidate for Cambridge, she deserved far better from her party than she got. The Conservative Party in Cambridge & nationally will need to ask themselves why, despite getting 12,000 votes in 2010 and 8,000+ in 2015 they have such a weak presence in Cambridge city. This article about Cambridge University Conservative Association shows that all isn’t well campaigning-wise with their student branch either.

And yet, despite all of this it looks like the Conservatives will be in government again, either as a minority government, a coalition with one of the parties in Northern Ireland, or with the most slender of majorities. Chamali is young, ambitious, clearly very bright and will have learnt a lot about politics and campaigning as a result of her campaign in Cambridge. (She’s a barrister by profession, not a ‘career politician’ in the narrow sense). Expect to see her in the future.

“…and The Greens?”

Rupert Read did for the Greens what the Greens needed: They needed a candidate who could take the fight to their opponents, raise the profile of the local party and be the ‘lightning conductor’ for anything that was thrown back. No one else put their name forward as parliamentary candidate for Cambridge. Yet at the same time, they needed someone who was not going to be a quiet voice. Rupert didn’t disappoint.

Inevitably, Rupert’s personality didn’t sit well with everyone – sometimes upsetting people & groups that might otherwise be sympathetic. As a result, some votes were lost – perhaps needlessly/carelessly.

At the same time, Rupert ran a strong social media campaign (for which I provided some free video footage for), one that influenced the other parties to try similar. The number of ‘views’ and minutes viewed on my Youtube page shows a reasonably high level of success, with videos featuring The Greens getting dozens if not hundreds of views over the past month.

The challenge Cambridge Greens now face is this: What is their ‘post Rupert strategy’? Rupert works at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, so unless he moves permanently to Cambridge I assume he’ll be returning to work there. As things stand, I’ve not identified anyone who strikes me as ‘figurehead in waiting’ to pick up the reins from Rupert. That said, with over 400 people having joined The Greens in the past year in Cambridge, and another 300 in South Cambridgeshire there may well be some new activists who are ready to be the local media’s ‘go-to’ person.


Given their European result (over 5,000 votes) I was expecting an even higher score for Patrick O’Flynn MEP, and for the Greens too. But they saved their deposit. It will be interesting to see how they score in the local election results later today. Will it be concentrated in their target wards or will it be more evenly spread?

“What does this all mean for Cambridge?”

I’ll need to sleep on that. But for now, I’d like to personally thank the local parties for making the campaigns in Cambridge far more exciting than what the national parties came up with! And thank you for letting me film and for all of the interviews. Best wishes for the future!

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Why the battle between Daniel Zeichner & Julian Huppert matters for Cambridge


Some thoughts on what either might be like as MP for Cambridge.

The bookies have Julian Huppert of the Liberal Democrats slightly ahead of his rival Daniel Zeichner of Labour. We know what Dr Huppert will be like given the past five years. In the grand scheme of things, Dr Huppert has been an excellent constituency MP. The number of constituency cases is testament to that. He’s also been a hard-working MP on the high profile Home Affairs Select Committee and an almost single point of call for the various national science campaigns. If Dr Huppert doesn’t get re-elected, then those in Cambridge in the science communities who support Dr Huppert  will only have themselves to blame for not matching the buzzing ground campaign fought in particular by Labour students. While there are a growing number of scientists engaging in public policy, more need to make the jump from policy to politics & stand for election. Otherwise too much falls onto the plate of too few MPs with an understanding on science.

What would Daniel Zeichner as an MP be like?

I can’t help but feel that people are underestimating Mr Zeichner. As a non-party type whose spoken to Mr Zeichner on a regular basis during this campaign, I don’t completely buy the idea that he will be the stereotypical ‘New Labour clone’ who only breathes in & out when Peter Mandelson tells him to. People have generally commented to me that Julian has come out stronger at the hustings as a public speaker.

Part of the problem Mr Zeichner has is that he has no record of public office in Cambridge – hence it’s harder for him to recite a list of achievements & successful campaigns other than ones inside the Labour Party. At the same time, with no immediate record in government to defend, he’s been able to go on the offensive in this campaign in the way he could not in 2010.

Daniel Zeichner as a minister?

Mr Zeichner is extremely knowledgeable on public policy, as well as being a negotiator for a trade union. With his degree from Kings College, Cambridge and along with his strong connections with Labour shadow ministers, should Mr Zeichner be elected I strongly suspect he would be offered a junior ministerial post should Ed Miliband become Prime Minister. Think of Mr Zeichner as a sort of Labour equivalent of David Willetts – the former Universities Minister in the Coalition for the Conservatives. Mr Willetts is softly spoken like Mr Zeichner, incredibly cerebral but is not the sort of person who comes across as someone who relishes the rough & tumble of party-political brick throwing. (That’s not to say they cannot do it – more that they’d rather be involved in the public policy problem solving side of politics than continually berating their political opponents).

Ed Miliband will need MPs with the disposition and talents that Daniel Zeichner possesses in his administration

You normally have about 100 ministers in a government in Whitehall. Not all of them will be the limelight-seeking media-friendly types. You need within your cohort of ministers the more reserved, cerebral types who are quietly effective behind the scenes. I get the sense from Mr Zeichner that he’s one of the latter. I can picture the scene where he’s able to use ministerial offices to bring people together and unpick some very complex problems. That’s how I think he would operate in that role.

“What would that mean for him as a constituency MP?”

This for me is what makes the choice interesting between Dr Huppert & Mr Zeichner. Should Mr Zeichner be elected for Cambridge, & should he be appointed a minister, he would need to be responsible for a transport/housing/infrastructure portfolio where what’s happening in Cambridge informs his ministerial work & vice-versa. In the latter case it would be as simple as saying to a non-co-operating local authority that he’ll put his ministerial hat on to deal with the infrastructure issues Cambridge faces.

Being a minister though means two things:

  • The ministerial convention of not being able to speak on the floor of the Commons on constituency issues – and having to toe the government line on ****everything****
  • Having to spend at least four days a week on ministerial work – which is massive.

Dr Huppert has been able to be an effective back bench MP because he’s dedicated himself full time to the role. Being a minister means you’ve got three days max on constituency issues. It also means you can’t go to all of the constituency-related events held in the evenings during the week. This means a significant burden will inevitably fall on sitting councillors in Cambridge. Are they ready to take up the excess workload?

Dr Huppert has also used social media incredibly effectively during his time as MP. Should Mr Zeichner become both an MP & a minister, he simply will not have the time to use social media in the way Dr Huppert has. He’ll be stuck in ministerial meetings, signing off decisions and running his policy area instead. That would inevitably mean he would be less accessible. How would Mr Zeichner and his team compensate for that? Should Mr Zeichner get elected but stay as a back bench MP, it would be interesting to see if his approach to social media evolves from a broadcast approach to one that’s more conversational in the way Dr Huppert has used it.

So…to summarise the similarities?

Both are talented men. Be in no doubt that whichever of the two gets elected (if the bookies are right that it’ll be one of these two), Cambridge will be very well served. Both are intelligent, cerebral, hard-working and are passionate about making our city a better place. They just happen to have different dispositions and slightly different policies and approaches on how to achieve it.

…and the differences?

With Dr Huppert you’ll get a politician who is content to speak out against his party when it goes against what he believes. You’ll get the social media savvy, well-connected and scientifically literate communicator and public speaker who will continue to raise the profile of the city in the media & beyond. Will Dr Huppert’s party be in a position to form a new coalition or will they find themselves in opposition? Either way, I think Dr Huppert will still be able to influence either way. Cambridge is too important an economy for Whitehall to ignore – & Whitehall knows it.

With Mr Zeichner you will get the lower profile but quietly effective influencer working behind the scenes to get what Cambridge needs. Should Mr Miliband become Prime Minister, Mr Zeichner (if elected) could have a significant influence on how a Labour administration deals with Cambridge & the challenges our city faces. While Mr Zeichner might be less likely to speak out against his party, he might argue that it was on his party’s platform that he is campaigning on, so why would he want to rebel against it?

…And so…?

That’s the choice between the two if you choose to frame the election in Cambridge as one between Dr Huppert & Mr Zeichner. I’m not going to tell you which one to pick. You’ve got to decide which assuming you think it’s a straight fight between the two. This post highlights the similarities and differences between the two and how this might impact on Cambridge over the course of the next Parliament. Which one works for you? Because what works for me might not work for you.

Personally I think the framing goes beyond it given the 12,000 votes that UKIP & The Greens got in Cambridge last year in the European elections. The interface between the top two parties and these two newer arrivals is a huge factor in this election. Will the smaller parties be able to hold onto their gains? Will tomorrow set a new local baseline for the health of the smaller parties in Cambridge? Finally, given the leftfield interventions of two Tory-supporting national tabloids calling for Conservative voters to tactically switch to Lib Dems in Cambridge to keep out Labour, how much of the 2010 Conservative vote will hold up? How much will switch to Lib Dems or to UKIP? My guess is that the number and proportion of the vote share for the Conservatives will fall, but not enough to put deposits at risk.

Posted in Cambridge, Elections 2015, Party politics | 2 Comments

It’s the students & young people that are making this election campaign interesting


The mainstream party operations have delivered us nothing but a yawn-fest. So it’s great to see students and young people bypassing the sterile zones around big name politicians and taking seizing their destiny with their own hands.

I’ve been following students & young activists from Labour, The Greens & the Liberal Democrats throughout the campaign in Cambridge as everything goes down to the wire. It’s been a damn sight more exciting & energised than the poor excuses the mainstream centralised party operations have been coming up with.

Irrespective of any policy differences, I don’t believe David Cameron deserves to stay on as Prime Minister given how he has desperately tried to avoid face-to-face grillings with audiences of young people – audiences that the other party leaders have subjected themselves to. Instead, we’ve been faced with scenes that have been brilliantly parodied by Ballot Monkeys on Channel 4 that almost read like they are documentary rather than comedy. Staged audiences of rent-a-crowds or talks in work places where no employee dare ask the politicians awkward questions lest they lose their jobs. This is what passes for a campaign which makes the 2001 campaign look exciting.

Encouraging politicians and activists who are women to speak directly to the women of the world, inviting them to take part in democracy & political action

Because let’s face it, no matter how much I blog, tweet or post, I’m not the right messenger for the message. It’s got to come from women themselves. All I can do is to make the process a damn sight easier for everyone by doing the filming, editing & uploading of the footage. Hence filming as many activists from across the political matrix in this campaign as possible, asking them to talk about their experiences of campaigning & standing for election. Every so often, you strike gold – someone whose presence, disposition & demeanour you find completely inspiring. Step forward Amelia Womack, deputy leader of The Green Party.

I’ve found similar with Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats…

…Stella Creasy of Labour


…Dr Sarah Wollaston of the Conservatives, and Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the cross-bench peer & former gold-medal-winning paralympian athlete.

Puffles & TanniGT

Comparing the two photos with the two videos, they reflect my evolving approach. The earlier approach inevitably involved me and the dragon making a lot of social media noise. This culminated in the 2014 election with Puffles getting 89 votes in Cambridge. In 2015, I’m using video and turning the camera around to face the people I want to feature.

“Why women? Why not some other group?”

This helps explain why -> http://www.5050parliament.co.uk/

At the same time, over the years I’ve learnt so much from the women I’ve chatted with online using social media. It’s changed by views, attitudes & perceptions in a relatively short space of time. At the same time, I’ve also learnt that I don’t need and don’t want to be at the forefront of everything. I’ve been asking myself regularly who those other people are who can have a greater impact on improving things than me – especially given my not-great mental health.

If we want more diversity in politics & public life, somebody’s got to do something at the grass roots – inside our communities. It’s anything but glorious. It’s a long hard slog, often requiring going to meetings, events & gatherings you’d rather not go to. I had to fight off an intense bout of mental exhaustion (taking emergency medication) to get video footage of the debates and hustings in Linton (a village just outside Cambridge) for the South East Cambs constituency (see here). This was the final opportunity to get video footage for that constituency of the candidates standing for election following the declined permission from the Conservative candidate at the Fulbourn hustings. With the help of other politicians and also some friends in the Conservative Party, we managed to overcome the barriers & video footage of all of the candidates I was able to record for the people of South East Cambridgeshire.

Inviting young activists to talk to camera about their experiences campaigning

That’s what I’ve done – asking them to describe to camera what the election campaign has been like for them:

The couple of Conservatives I’ve asked have politely declined, and I haven’t found any young UKIP activists locally – not that I’ve gone out of my way to hunt them down. In anycase locally, Richard Taylor has more than enough footage of both parties at past meetings so in the grand scheme of things, all of the major parties are covered.

Frayed nerves and basic errors

As exhaustion kicks in, I’m seeing some very basic errors being made by various parties & activists locally & nationally. I’m not going to talk about them prior to Thursday – rather I’ll review them after the event. Inevitably some involve social & digital media – this being a far more ‘digitally intense’ election campaign than previous ones. There are also things happening in this election that have never happened before – such as the Milibae fandom that has run rings around the corporate print media that, with the exception of the Guardian & Mirror Group have backed the Conservatives and/or the coalition that will keep Cameron in Number 10.

Tactical voting on both sides

Just as The Mirror encouraged voters in 1997 to vote tactically to kick out the Tories (with devastating effect), The Sun & The Daily Mail are encouraging their readers to vote tactically to keep out Labour. Thus in Cambridge we are in the bizarre situation of two of the most pro-authoritarian newspapers in the country backing one of the most liberal MPs in the 2010-15 Parliament. Online there are a number of sites looking at the Green-Labour side of things with the aim of targeting former Coalition MPs. It is these, along with so many other variables & factors that makes Cambridge in particular too close to call.

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Democracy is not a spectator sport – so don’t expect to be spoon-fed.


Some thoughts on the bare minimum people can do in order to cast an informed vote – should any of the candidates impress them.

This post is mainly targeted at people in & around Cambridge, but the sentiments apply more widely. I’m not going to go off in a lecture about how it’s your public duty to vote, or to make a recommendation of who to vote for. Even now, I am still torn between the various candidates in Cambridge. Whoever I choose to vote for, it won’t be because the other candidates didn’t bother. By & large they’ve worked their socks off and have taken huge risks to stand up and be cross-examined by the general public repeatedly. That takes a huge amount of courage – as many of the first-time candidates can testify. (I found out the hard way last year with Puffles).

“Well I’ve not received anything from the candidates or from the political parties!”

Most activists & candidates ***do not get paid*** for what they do. Those that don’t get paid are effectively providing you with a free service. For whatever reason the number of grassroots party activists has fallen over the decades. At the same time, our ability to access our paid-for politicians in national public office has significantly increased. Compare the caseload of what MPs used to have to deal with in times gone by (when they would seldom return to their constituencies) with the 30,000+ cases Cambridge MP Julian Huppert dealt with between 2010-15. Many of us have access to the internet, so it’s not beyond us to do the most basic of searches to find candidates, manifestos & policies.

“But it takes ***soooo long*** to search for each party and candidate!”

Type in your postcode to https://yournextmp.com/ and you’ll find the links to candidates standing, their websites, email addresses, social media pages & leaflets they’ve delivered that you may or may not have received.

“But I haven’t met them! I want to see/hear them in their own voices!”

You could have done what thousands of other people have done & gone to a hustings/public debate, or alternatively you can see some of the video footage that people (such as me & Richard Taylor) have uploaded for anyone to view. For example:

All of the above cover all but two of the candidates standing for Parliament in & around Cambridge.

I’ve interviewed as many of the candidates as I can get my hands on, plus a series of activists and visiting politicians. See my video playlist here. Clearly more than a few people are watching the footage – since 01 April I’ve had over 10,000 minutes (over 166 hours) of video footage viewed. That’s before the recent final few days of footage. My view of ‘success’ for each video equals more than one person viewing the video who was not able to attend the event concerned. For the interviews, success for me = people being able to decide whether the individual was someone who they could have a reasonable conversation with. Success for me isn’t about voting generally or about voting for a specific party. That’s someone else’s metric; not mine.

Ask your local candidates and activists questions.

It could be something as simple as a statement – such as:

“I think all politicians are the same. Convince me they are not. Inspire me to vote and vote for you.”

…and give them a chance to convince you otherwise. It’s also worth recording audio/video of candidates with a high chance of being elected to national public office – especially if they are promising things. Locally in and around Cambridge, candidates know that being filmed at debates and being interviewed by local community activists is now the norm – despite the fun & games me & Richard Taylor have had. (See Richard’s example here). To be fair, most of the candidates have welcomed the presence of us filming – some proactively inviting us to events to get them on video for wider audiences to see.

“So…who should I vote for?”

For incredibly busy parents, you could do what some parents in Cambridge have done: Get your children to come up with a short list of questions, put them to the candidates & say you will vote according to your children’s recommendation following their analysis of the candidates’ answers.

In 2010 I sent 10 questions to all of the candidates. Everyone bar Daniel Zeichner responded. When Daniel collared me at the station asking me to vote for him, I had already voted & told him that I could not vote for him because he didn’t answer my email – despite all of the other candidates having responded in full. Hence I excluded his candidature by default. It’s up to you whether you choose this route in 2015.

“No, really, who should I vote for?”

It’s more ‘what do you want to vote for?'” Do you want to vote for:

  • The person you think will best represent the place you live in?
  • The party whose values you most associate with?
  • The party whose policies/manifesto you like the most?
  • The individual who you think will make the best prime minister?
  • The individual who has the best chance of keeping out the party/candidate you dislike the most?

What weighting/prominence do you want to give to each of the above?

“So…why have you done this? Why do lots of filming & … let’s be honest, asking lots of soft interview questions to the candidates & activists?”

My interest is in getting more people into local democracy. I’ve been to too many council meetings where big decisions impacting on our city have been taken with very little external scrutiny. I’ve seen elections where too many paper candidates are ‘recycled’ time after time. I’ve tried numerous approaches over the past few years. From offering (& delivering) free social media training for Cambridge councillors, to assertively challenging them at council meetings, to finally standing for election myself. All of the above had a very limited impact if I’m brutally honest.

Hence for the general election I’ve run around Cambridge filming as many candidates and activists as possible with the following aim: To show them in the best possible light so that the general public feel that they can have a reasonable conversation with them. It also changes the previous dynamic between me and the local politicians: instead of having to convince someone who eats, sleeps and breathes politics, they have to convince the wider public. I’ve also deliberately disabled the comments on the videos too.

I’m not too bothered about the discussions people have about the content of who said what. That’s for the person being filmed/speaking to account for, not me.  I don’t need, nor want to be part of every conversation. My role is to help stimulate conversation informed by what people see and hear from the candidates. How the public holds the candidates accountable is entirely up to them. In most cases the videos give a social media link for them to do so.

Life after the election

Whoever gets elected for your area, my recommendation is to follow them on social media and stay informed about what they do in your area. Once they are elected, they are then responsible for everyone who lives in the area they represent. Make this a start of an ongoing conversation with those elected to represent you. In the meantime…choose wisely!

Posted in Cambridge, Elections 2015, Party politics | Leave a comment