How many tourists is too many tourists?

 

Summary

On the Cambridge News’ exchanges with its readers

This relates to this tweet from Cllr George Pippas who in this civic year is Mayor of Cambridge.

Given his civic duties he’s often receiving delegations of visitors from China, civic, business and educational.

At the same time, The Cambridge News was also asking about tourism which lead to this article covering the comments from readers.

Tourists and and residents who might happen to look like they are from a country from where Cambridge gets lots of tourists are not the same thing.

This is why I hate punt touts. Because I happen to have dark skin they think I’m a tourist and I got sick of being continually pestered by them. Oh – they are also breaking the law. (That doesn’t mean Cambridge doesn’t need to overhaul how it manages punting and other activities on the river – it does).

I then read this by Colin Wiles

What makes me nervous about ‘anti-tourist’ protests is that they can very easily become anti-foreigner and anti ‘people that look like me’ protests. And Cambridge is my home – I grew up here.

As history goes, tourism in Cambridge is relatively recent. The text in the Twitterphoto is from 1950:

The problem is not the tourists, and dare I say it, not the numbers of them alone: it’s the model of tourism – mass consumer tourism.

This was something featured in The Guardian here recently.

Cambridge is a living, breathing city. It’s not a theme park and it’s not a film studio.

The organisations that bring in the tourists – and furthermore the language students and the much-maligned ‘cram college’ students don’t directly bear the negative externalities of their economic activities.

Former Eton economics tutor Geoff Riley created this guide on negative externalities. It’s written for an A-level economics audience, but the symptoms of what local residents in Cambridge complain about are negative externalities of the economic activities of the firms and organisations mentioned above.

My take is that the fault lies with central government – they have not given local councils here the administrative structures, legal powers or the financial freedoms (tax and spend) to deal with the externalities we face. (See my last blogpost here for more on this).

The problem for the past couple of decades is that Cambridge has not had the infrastructure to cope with the rising number of tourists and private students now studying in the city. Speculative developers have bought up plots of land and converted them into private student accommodation – often seen at the expense of social housing that the city desperately needs. I’m technically one of the ‘hidden homeless’ living back with my parents but who would rather like to have my own place if only I could afford it. But again, I don’t blame the students, young people or even the tourists. The blame here rests with ministers.

Transport infrastructure one of the solutions

One of the reasons why I like Cambridge Connect Light Rail is that it provides solutions both for the traffic congestion problem, and for raising revenue from the visitors to the city – in particular the day trippers. Here’s me on traffic issues very recently.

Traffic in Cambridge – not new, but now unsustainable?

I recorded that video after getting zero sleep the night before – hence the dark rings under my eyes. #SleepFailClub.

The point with a light rail underground network is that you can combine it with restrictions on tourist traffic coming into Cambridge. Bar tourist and private coaches coming into the city and get them to deposit their passengers at out of town/end of line park and ride stations so they can buy light rail tickets into town. Cambridge now has over 7million visitors per year. Suddenly you are making money that can be reinvested in transport – or whose future revenues can be rolled up into bonds on the finance markets to pay for at least some of the infrastructure in the first place.

Using transport planning to support culture and leisure industries.

For those of you that like Cambridge (the town) history, I wrote about the history of The Grafton Centre here. A couple of decades ago, many bus routes stopped at the shopping centre. Very few do today, and that has had a big impact on the vibrancy of the place. Yet flip the whole thing on its head and there is an opportunity to use future transport plans to increase the viability of a whole host of existing (or even future) attractions. For example one of the proposed lines out to East Cambridge could support the proposed Cambridge Ice Arena ice rink. Looking at postcode data from a number of venues in Cambridge at a hack event years ago, we discovered that the distances people were travelling to see shows in Cambridge were significantly greater than we had anticipated. Thus if people are already travelling those distances, does it not make more sense to invest in new public transport infrastructure to get people off roads and onto light rail? Note many of the venues have their performances in the evenings, thus making the services more viable for the nighttime economy.

It’s not just the driving and rail – it’s the walking and cycling too. All Saints Cambridge is one of our city’s hidden gems. The reason why it struggles is because the road it is down is off the beaten track. The pavement is far too narrow, too many buses and lorries go down it and it is not sign-posted. Yet the interior of the building is some of the most splendid Victorian era you’ll see in the city, if not the country.

What surveys have been done of tourists and language school students?

We’re in the middle of peak language school season and tour group season. I read one comment complaining about seeing groups of disinterested teens and tweens being dragged around the city by tour guides. I wonder if anyone has done research into what the students and young people on those tours and courses get out of them. Is there something unique about visiting/studying here or is it just another place to go shopping and have fun? If it’s the latter, do Cambridge’s institutions need to aim for a different market while inviting somewhere else that has the ‘shopping and partying infrastructure’ to set itself up as that vibrant place for young life-loving people? I remember in my early teens how boring Cambridge felt compared to our family friends who lived just outside Stevenage. In the early 1990s we thought Stevenage was great – you could go bowling, ice skating, and go swimming in a pool with a wave machine! You couldn’t do that in Cambridge in those days.

The other thing that worries me is that Cambridge’s young people are missing out on socialising with the young people from abroad on those courses. We don’t organise systematically joint activities and events. Personally this is where I’d like to see one of Cambridge’s business groups taking a lead on this and having a levy on the language schools – even a voluntary contribution to start with, to fund activities that can be put on for all young people in our city free of charge. That way it makes them accessible for families on very low incomes. Don’t think poverty doesn’t exist in Cambridge; it does.

“A different model for tourism?”

It’s a global issue. Here’s Barcelona. Here’s Venice. We learnt about the damage of unrestricted tourism in GCSE Geography in the mid-1990s. Do you think those t-shirts in the tourist shops with ‘Cambridge’ printed on them were made locally? Exactly. What are the alternatives to ‘the selfie, the snack and sod-off’ tourism? You’ve seen the articles of selfies in sacred and/or sombre places, the latter for example sites of crimes against humanity. Those are obviously extreme examples. But my point here is as a city about what we want tourists, visitors and language students to take away from their time here, rather than just thinking about the bottom line. Unfortunately while all of the incentives and economic structures are all about growth and profits, we’ll continue down this socially and environmentally destructive model of tourism. And not just in Cambridge. That cannot be good for anyone – including the tourists.

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Cambridge can’t have nice things because its structure of governance is a big mess

Summary

Or rather, Cambridge cannot sort out its longstanding problems such as transport congestion because of an over-complicated structure of governance driven by/designed as a result of party political concerns rather than what is best for the city & surrounding towns & villages

The structure of governance in Cambridge looks like this:

CambridgeGovernanceStructure

And…it’s a mess.

And it’s no way to run a city with a global brand. The Cambridge City Council/South Cambs District Council are actually at the same level – both district councils, but the diagram by Edward Leigh of Smarter Cambridge Transport illustrates that South Cambs has to cope with all of the towns and villages immediately around Cambridge without having any say or influence on what happens inside the doughnut – that being the area of Cambridge City Council.

“What do the history books tell us?”

Quite a lot – see my blogpost on Lost Cambridge here. Some of the most interesting exchanges on what should happen to Cambridge happened in the 1920s & 30s – when the art/science of town planning was blossoming as a result in part of the drive to build homes fit for heroes following the sacrifices of the First World War. The map below from “A history of local government from 1834-1958 with special reference to the county of Cambridge” shows what politicians, councillors and civil servants were considering in 1934.

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The boundaries for the area applied for by the then Cambridge Borough Council (now Cambridge City Council) reflect the anticipated future development of Cambridge that planners in the 1960s anticipated. We know this because again, the archives tell us this.

HIstory of #localgov for Cambridge

Interestingly enough, in the 1960s the councils proposed segregated cycleways – note how they link them to the secondary schools.

HIstory of #localgov for Cambridge

I’ll leave it to you to judge how accurate the planners’ predictions were.

“Back to today, who is responsible for what?”

Exactly. This is what’s on the menu of Cambridge City Council:

170204 CamCitCoListOfServices

And this is for Cambridgeshire County Council

170730 CambsCCServices

But due to the nature of services delivered and a wider geographical range, the county council’s budget is much bigger than the city council’s budget. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve switched my focus in recent times from the city council to the county council – I’m following the money.

City vs Country – the progressive island in a sea of conservatism

One of the tensions in local politics is the Conservative-led county council vs the Labour-led city council (and before 2014, the Lib-Dem led city council). There are more Green Party councillors on Cambridge City Council than there are Conservatives – there are currently no Conservative Party councillors on Cambridge City Council. Hence the frustrations of Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters and politicians when so much of what they would like to do in the city is effectively blocked by the Conservative majority on the county council.

“Has it always been like this?”

No.

Former Cambridge councillor Colin Rosenstiel maintains a fascinating database of Cambridge election results going back to the 1930s. Note how the Conservatives collapsed in the 1990s in Cambridge and never recovered. There’s a Ph.D thesis waiting for someone to write: Why did the Conservatives collapse in Cambridge during the 1990s and why have they not recovered since?

Because the Conservatives used to run the council in my very early childhood here, and regularly returned Conservative MPs until Newnham College graduate and former Parkside teacher Anne Campbell turfed out the Conservatives in 1992 as their candidate, former Cambridge University Conservative Association President Mark Bishop (see list of past ones here) failed to succeed historian Robert Rhodes James. Therefore the left-liberal political control of Cambridge borough/city in the grand scheme of things is a relatively recent phenomenon.

“How does that work with ministers and MPs?”

My stereotypical take is that ministers of all parties that don’t know Cambridge well see it as this picture postcard view of public school, punting, King’s College and ***complicated stuff that we don’t understand but that impresses foreign people and brings in lots of money for the treasury that we can use for spending/tax cuts [delete as appropriate]***

So I can imagine some hereditary peers getting angry about the lack of Conservative councillors on Cambridge City Council being a constitutional outrage, and that we should go back to the old system when Cambridge University had 2 aldermen and 6 councillors on the city council. (Aldermen as a concept were abolished in England and Wales in the 1970s). See Colin Rosenstiel here for more on how elections that included having university councillors worked prior to their abolition in the 1970s. Part of me wonders whether the governance of the city would improve if we had University representatives on the council – representatives that were responsible for the University’s actions and who could be cross-examined by residents & councillors alike. (On the other hand, Anglia Ruskin University might take issue given the number of students it has).

“So, what about the Mayor of the county, the City Deal/Partnership and so on?”

Since I left the civil service in 2011, Cambridge has gained:

Now my focus here is on the structures rather than the individuals that hold office in them. Because if you’ve got your structures wrong, even the most talented of individuals will be bogged down with meetings and libraries worth of papers to read. I should know – I’m one of the people that tries to turn up to meetings and read the papers! Yes! This is why I’m still single!

I digress…

My point is that all of these new structures were put together in isolation rather in combination with each other.

I also note that the combined authority is at http://www.cambspboroca.org/ and does not have a gov.uk suffix. Given its functions, this surprises me. (Turns out it’s 2 urls for one website http://cambridgeshirepeterborough-ca.gov.uk/ ).

We’ve also had a rebrand of the Cambridge City Deal – now the Greater Cambridge Partnership. Essentially they are now up and running at a level that they really should have been running at the start. The problem is that they were too officer-driven at the start and it’s difficult for them to unpick some of the poor decisions made early on. For example not having a ‘year zero’ for information gathering, data collection and community consultations.

Finally there are the problems of the Local Economic Partnership, initially set up by Coalition ministers to replace the former development agencies, just with lower budgets. Since their inceptions, I’ve repeatedly criticised the lack of diversity on their board. Count the number of men vs women. Also note the stupid-crazy-stupid decision not to have the leader of the city council on their board. Note Cambridge local historian Allan Brigham here. Furthermore, Steve Barclay MP has gone after the LEP over the decisions it has taken and the impact on Wisbech, one of the most economically deprived towns in the region in his constituency. (A town I might add that has huge potential).

With many of these organisations, it’s not entirely clear where some members get their mandate from, nor who they are accountable to.

“So…what does this mean for decision-making from a citizen’s perspective?”

Everything is unnecessarily complex.

Therefore the only people who can really influence things are people with time and money. I was following the Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire local plans, filming for the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations. These were really intense meetings going into a level of detail that is politically microscopic, but ones that developers and landowners were prepared to hire very expensive barristers/QCs to represent them.

More simplified structures amongst other things would reduce the need for internal meetings to co-ordinate the actions of different organisations dotted around all over the place. Time could also be saved for everyone with clear lines of accountability in terms of who does what. The public would also have a greater understanding of what is going on – important for making informed decisions.

One of the things that institutions take for granted is the cost of residents’ input. These things are not free. It means something else foregone. In my case with filming, I get commissions from FeCRA as I’ve mentioned, along with kind donations from individuals (see here – please support my filming and reporting!), but the commissioning rates I charge are about a tenth of the market rate. The simple reason being that no one would pay the £500-£1000 a day rate for someone to film a local council or community meeting.

Interestingly, the County Mayor James Palmer has announced recently that he wants to review local government in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough.

I hope this book will be of interest to him and his officials.

IMG_3098

There’s a copy in the Cambridgeshire Collection in the Cambridge Central Library, but this version is my own personal one.

“Publications on how the state functions from times gone by – a refresh?”

I found this in the RSPCA shop on Burleigh St for 75p.

It dates from just after the Second World War and is a fascinating read. While I’d like to think publishing a refreshed series covering the functions of all of the major organisations of state would be useful, the restructures over the past decade would inevitably mean they’d become obsolete very quickly.

In the grand scheme of things, too much power rests with Whitehall, and within it, The Treasury. Note Cllr Lewis Herbert on the business rates revenue that are surrendered to Whitehall. For me it’s not nearly as simple as asking ministers to allow local councils to retain receipts. Ministers have to come up with something that allows local councils greater tax and spend powers, while bringing in different systems to support those local councils in economically deprived areas that face higher demands for their services while having a lower tax base to raise from. The problem with the current situation is that ministers have repeatedly cut support from central government while not giving councils the ability to raise revenue from other sources. Being a council leader or a council chief executive is the opposite of being a newspaper/media baron: Responsibility without power.

Cambridgeshire Archives are being run at their statutory minimum. How do we change this?

Summary

Cambridgeshire County Council confirmed how little support our county archives are getting from them. How do we change this?

Tabling a public question to Cambridgeshire councillors

See here on county council meetings.

We recognise that the archives service is effectively operating at a statutory minimum

…said Cllr Mathew Shuter for Cambridgeshire County Council.

Note the question from Cambridge historian Dr Sean Lang of Anglia Ruskin University a year ago.

Cllr Roger Hickford responds to Dr Lang for the Friends of Cambridge Central Library

I’ve found myself on the committee of the Friends of Cambridge Central Library (Please ‘like’ our Facebook page here!) because we run the risk of losing the legacy of libraries and civic centres started by one of Cambridge’s most unsung heroes, John Pink, who started the Library Service from scratch in the 1850s shortly after Parliament gave local councils powers to establish a library service. Mr Pink would be Cambridge’s chief librarian for the next half century. It would be another 60 years before someone really went through to sort out 110 years of history – Mike Petty – who is now trying to bring Cambridgeshire history into the internet age. Easier said than done – one of Cambridgeshire’s big historical groups only started using email in 2011.

A hidden treasure trove of local and civic history

Some of you will be familiar with my Lost Cambridge blog where I write about some of the finds I’ve made on all things Cambridge town and civic history. My take being that lots has been written about Cambridge University, its colleges and its splendid chaps in oil paintings. But little has been written about the history of the town in a comprehensive manner. My take is that the exciting stories and events are there – they were written about in the newspapers at the time. (Just don’t believe the claims in the adverts for health-related products!) In particular, journalists turned up to major meetings and court cases, and wrote verbatim who said what – heckles included! Some of the pieces read as deadpan comedy.

There are also essential pieces of information with which to hold current decision makers to account:

img_6691

A proposed network of segregated cycleways proposed in the 1960s envisaging Cambridge in 2011. From the Cambridgeshire Collection

lionyard_3

Unbuilt redeveloped Lion Yard from the 1960s – with large and small music/concert halls

081016-women-candidates-camcitco-ej-signs-flo-ada-keynes-letter

Cambridge Heroes Maud Darwin and Florence Ada Keynes (Former, later Lady Darwin and latter, later Mayor of Cambridge) calling on women to step forward as candidates for local government following Parliament’s lifting of the ban.

010506 Boer War Camb Volunteers

The return of Cambridge volunteers from the Boer War in 1901

010629 Central Library

The old library where Jamie’s Italian now is.

My take is that we as a city need to get better about how we tell and re-tell our shared stories. In particular this goes for dramatising past civic events. One day perhaps we’ll have an archive of civic stories dramatised for theatre and schools so that children grow up with the stories of our city. But there’s still a long way to go to get to that point. The first thing we need to do is to secure the future of our libraries and our archives.

So if you haven’t let your county councillor know how important our libraries and archives are, please email them – https://www.writetothem.com/ (you only need your postcode).

 

 

 

Digitising long forgotten historical documents still in copyright

Summary

Trying to work out how much the cost of digitising dozens of long lost dissertations, theses and publications will be – and the first estimate is eye-watering

I asked the county council staff how much it would cost them in order for them to publish, and they quoted me their current standard fee of £5 per page – which seems extortionate. Essentially their rules need updating because otherwise I face a five-figure bill. And that’s before looking to secure consent from the copyright holders.

The county library services online search engine is a temperamental beast at the best of times, but clicking here searching for ‘Study’ I come up with 84 different entries. I described in this Lost Cambridge blogpost how I stumbled across the lists of the studies that historians past had completed and deposited in the Cambridgeshire Collection in Cambridge’s Central Library – many of which have long since been forgotten. And for me therein lies the problem: All that work finding that knowledge has been done, but nothing is being done with it.

Current copyright laws prevent the digitisation of these works in their entirety without the consent of the copyright holder

Those of you who studied an arts/humanities/social science degree will be familiar of the 5% / One chapter photocopying rule. Whereas my take is ***just digitise, publish, publicise and make the damn things searchable***. Especially for the ones that are proper old. Actually, not quite. That would be illegal.

My take is that the digitisation is not something that some random bloke and his dragon should be doing independently: this is an institutional, if not city-wide issue. Overhearing a couple of historian acquaintances discussing all things digitisation revealed that small, independent operations have trouble keeping things online available – for example the costs of maintaining subscriptions. The other thing is that in the grand scheme of things, I’d rather people went to the county archives and got engaged in what they had rather than hitting my blogs and stopping there. Simply because one creates a proper revenue stream for a cash-starved service. And remember I couldn’t do what I do without the existence of the archives and collections.

Why has Cambridgeshire County Council been so slow to monetise and grow the activities of its archives?

This was something I sort of hinted at in my public question to executive councillors today. It was unfortunate that a bad-tempered debate on council expenses followed my question. In response to my question we heard about limited budgets yet in the next one, the Conservative-run council were coming under heavy political fire from their opponents over their decision to vote through significantly increased expense allowances for councillors – in particular executive councillors who, as a result of the recent elections are all Conservatives. It wasn’t the council’s finest hour.

My take is that the council and its archives have a host of buried assets in its archives – in particular its extensive photograph collection. Essentially the archive should have a setup that the Francis Frith Collection has here. I’d like to think that it wouldn’t be beyond the county council to use some of their reserves to invest in digitising then automating the function that would allow people to select the images that they want, and either download or purchase prints through a local third party, meaning that they create an automated revenue stream without the burden of an extensive maintenance operation.

Bigger the better

Given that they have so many negatives and glass lantern slides in their collection, they also have the ability to create fairly detailed large prints which, from my perspective are much more interesting and inspiring, while being more expensive and generate more revenue than smaller prints. Dare I say it, with old large photo prints the people featured in them feel that much more…human. You also have the growth of artists that specialise in providing colour to black and white photographs. It’s a bit of a hit-and-miss thing, but the option is there.

Curating and collating already-digitised works

The Internet Archive based in the USA has already digitised a whole host of works, including:

And those are the ones that stood out in a brief search of ‘Cambridge, England’.

Each of the above books have their own stories to tell. One of the other interesting local publishers is the Oleander Press – a list of their books on Cambridge the town over the decades can be found here. The bookshop Heffers also used to be a publisher – have a look at their list here.

So…in attempting to write a modern history of Cambridge the town, you get an idea of just how much reading material there is for me to plough through.

Minutes of past council meetings – now these *can* be digitised.

I browsed through some of these earlier. From just after the First World War, these minutes – and their contents, were typed. The manuscript minutes are works of art in themselves, the handwriting absolutely beautiful. But not so good for an Optical Character Recognition machine/software. The typescript minutes however become instantly searchable with key words even if you are only scanning the pages of the contents for each year. With that in mind, they are civic gold dust.

But before I get out the cameras and scanners, we need to know where all of these digitised documents would be stored online for people to use. And until we’ve sorted that out, I don’t want to start ploughing through voluntarily scanning things myself, even though doing so would be of huge benefit to me. Learning from scanning the minutes included finding out Florence Ada Keynes as an Alderman (senior councillor) was responsible for elections in Romsey Town – in those days each ward had a returning officer. Also the local park to me, Coleridge Rec (in Coleridge Ward where Puffles stood for election in 2014) was bought by the borough council and secured as a park in 1925. This was after the land – previously fields, was sold off by one of the university colleges for housing Cambridge’s expanding population.

 

Who’d be a local government reporter?

Summary

Some thoughts on the accountability vacuum left by a crumbling local media – and what we could do about it

This post stems from Emily Bell’s column in The Guardian following the Grenfell Tower inferno where we still don’t know – and may never know how many people perished in the fire. The executive councillors for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea have rightly come in for criticism – as have ministers over their failures over building regulations. So far, the only person to lose his job is the chief executive of the council concerned. The council leader is said by multiple media outlets to have tendered his resignation but it was refused by councillors.

With so many checks being made on buildings all over the country, what is appalling is how many samples on existing blocks of flats have failed the tests being carried out by Whitehall.

The lobbyists in the construction industry are going to have their work cut out in the next few weeks, explaining to politicians how this happened. I expect senior executives from across the industry will be hauled before Parliament to explain themselves to some very angry MPs….

…which is why MPs need to get their skates on and constitute those committees. Keep an eye on the Communities & local government committee and also the Business, industry & enterprise committee.

The importance of local political and campaigning blogs

It was only because of the Grenfell Action Group blogging at https://grenfellactiongroup.wordpress.com/ that the mainstream media were able to ask lots of very tough questions to ministers and local councillors. The former had been posting time after time their attempts to get the safety issues resolved. And they were ignored. With fatal consequences. When the mainstream media turned up, locals were understandably angry at having been ignored and took them to task.

Here’s Jon Snow speaking about when he was confronted by residents.

Watching the news coverage and the social media feeds, I got the sense that those reporting on the ground had recognised that residents had them bang to rights, and that the media collectively had failed to report the real and substantive issues.

A plethora of issues raised that all need examining in detail…

Such was the fury of the residents that many in the broadcast media simply pointed camcorders towards those that wanted to have their say and let them get on with it. And what we saw/heard were a host of incredibly well argued, passionate and articulate arguments over a host of issues where state, society, economy (and economic systems) and democracy had all failed. The one policy area that has received a much-deserved existential shock is housing policy.

It would have been unheard of for former senior ministers under Blair and Brown to be calling for the requisitioning of property, but this is what Harriet Harman and a number of Labour MPs called for. But perhaps we should not be surprised as the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 enacted under Blair contains enabling provisions that allow ministers to make regulations for the confiscation of property ***with or without compensation***. (S22 (3) (b) of the CCA 2004).

The importance of local journalism

In Cambridge we’re fortunate to have local reporters who will turn up to local council meetings. Or failing that who will watch video footage of important ones that they were not able to get to. But it’s a thankless task going along to meetings that normally go on for at least two hours if not longer. I’ve sat through them, I’ve filmed them, and at times it can be a soul-destroying function. Especially if no one is paying you for it but you know that your presence/reporting is for the wider civic good. Those who film, blog, live-report from local meetings without pay may never know just how important their work is. The reporters 100+ years ago in Cambridge’s local newspapers could never have known how much of a historical treasure trove they left me with. For example what must have seemed like a quaint little feature in 1930, today reveals just how much the women who shaped modern Cambridge have been ignored – even though the women at the time were household names locally.

In Cambridge, local journalism is of increasing importance because of the amount of money being spent on housing and infrastructure. External scrutiny is an incredibly important role. It’s only in recent times that we’ve been able to stem the flow of people losing interest in local democracy with the advances in social media. Though again I’ve got nothing to compare it to. Is it a case of a larger number of people have become even more interested in local democracy while the rest of the city and beyond have been losing interest? More people see the front pages of the local newspaper than see the tweets or blogposts of those that report on local democracy in an online-only presence.

In my case, I’ve tried to take a few steps back from being an opinionated little so-and-so, and focus more on filming, editing and uploading video footage with the proviso that it is up to the viewers to spot the important bits and take action where they deem it necessary. Being the cameraman, reporter and the activist all in one go is now something beyond my health.

“Big society journalism” isn’t enough

Emily Bell hints at this towards the end of her column – at some stage we’ve got to decide what new model for funding local professional journalism we go for. The BBC have set aside some funding for this, but in the grand scheme of things it is a pittance. Would economies at the top end of the corporation help fund greater expenditure across those areas of the country that lack a strong local media presence? What should the relationship between local independent media and the BBC be? Because accountability matters.

 

 

 

Goatgate and the hung parliament

Summary

You know how Puffles never swears?

Puffles swore.

I was expecting a Tory majority of around 60 seats. Anything more and Tory dreamland, anything less than their existing majority and Theresa May would be in trouble. That we’ve ended up with a hung parliament after having such a huge lead in the opinion polls alongside the full on furore of the print media – only the Mirror Group being the only print media group of note supporting Labour as they have done throughout the decades. Today we have seen the Prime Minister calling the whole situation ‘a mess’.

It remains to be seen what sort of deal the Tories can stitch up with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland (whose social policies have already resulted in planned demonstrations in Great Britain – with progressive activists in Northern Ireland wondering what took us so long to catch up with news there), as Parliament returns on Tuesday and the scheduled Queen’s Speech already delayed.

Labour do better than expected

Rather than losing seats, Labour gained a number of seats from the Conservatives and also the Liberal Democrats. It remains to be seen whether the party will unite behind Corbyn. Some on the Progress wing of the party say that with such a weak Conservative administration Labour should have won. Some on the far left wing and beyond (ie outside of the party) are saying that if the Progress wing had been more loyal, Labour would have won. The party’s communications operation is still a liability, making far too many basic errors. The decentralised grassroots campaigning – especially online, was excellent to the extent that they outfoxed the high-spending Conservatives whose online campaigning failed to hit home. What the Conservative strategists forgot is that the messenger counts big time. If political content is shared by a trusted source – a close friend, it’s more likely to have an impact than if it is from a paid advert. Furthermore, Labour activists were sharing content about policies – while the Tories were noticeably policy-lite.

 

The impact of Corbyn’s success also suppressed both the Liberal Democrats and The Green Party – the latter getting only half as many votes as in 2015 – but still returning Caroline Lucas in Brighton Pavilion with an even bigger majority. UKIP should also be toast with this result – their leader resigning. However, the broadcast media still keep on coming back to them.

The Liberal Democrat rebound fails to materialise

Epitomised by Dr Julian Huppert’s defeat to Daniel Zeichner of Labour by a thumping 13,000 votes, the Liberal Democrats only returned 14 MPs. In my book they needed at least 20 MPs including Dr Huppert alongside several other high profile, up-and-coming, or senior politicians. The loss of Nick Clegg was a massive blow. Fortunately for the party, they have three former ministers – two former Cabinet, returning. Vince Cable, Ed Davey and Jo Swinson will be indispensable to Tim Farron who, in the grand scheme of things couldn’t do much more (other than not get into a tangle about his religion at the start of the campaign). Given the scale of the Labour swing, it’s difficult to see how the party could have stopped this.

Cambridge, South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire

CambridgeGenElectionResults2017

I was at the count at The Guildhall.

Me at The Guildhall, Cambridge

Famous last words – a narrow margin. This is what the other parties were up against on polling day:

They were up at 5am.

…with this lot following up.

The thing is, Julian only lost a couple of thousand votes compared to last time. In one sense that’s the equivalent of the leaving students and researchers that voted for him last time, replaced by students unfamiliar with him.

Lib Dems and Greens fall short, while Conservatives fail to take full advantage of no UKIP candidate

Only around 1,000 voters seemed to switch to the Tories from UKIP – the others either switching to other parties or not at all. There was a higher turnout on a more accurate (and thus smaller) electoral roll – high annual population churn due to the presence of the universities and short term research contracts too.

The Greens collapsed back to their core vote despite a very strong showing by Stuart Tuckwood at the hustings. All of the other candidates paid tribute to the high calibre candidate he was, even though it didn’t reflect in the votes. The problem the Greens have at the moment is they no longer have an active student society working side-by-side with the city party in the way that Labour quite clearly does.

It’s difficult to say why Dr Huppert’s campaign did not secure more votes than last time – especially given city anger over Brexit and Mr Corbyn’s national policy being supportive of Brexit. Mr Zeichner being prepared to go public against national policy both in votes and consistently in public speeches throughout his time as MP (i.e. being against Brexit in principle) meant that he had a response to any accusation from Dr Huppert.

Finally, Dr John Hayward for the Conservatives – who campaigned to leave the EU – was something of a lightning conductor on this issue at the hustings. The public seemed to relish throwing their anger at him and he seemed to enjoy the verbal rough and tumble of the exchanges with his preferred policy being implemented. That said, it meant that the public did not get to see Dr Huppert or Mr Zeichner really going head-to-head on Brexit or other issues.

South Cambridgeshire

SouthCambsGenElectionResults2017

Heidi Allen increased both her share of the vote and total number of votes – despite Brexit, which some of us (myself included) thought might cost her. That said, there was an even higher turnout than in 2015 (by 3 percentage points higher). Labour’s Dan Greef added an extra 7,000 votes to his 2015 total, while Susan van de Ven for the Liberal Democrats managed to add 3,000 votes to the Liberal Democrats’ total in 2015 – a low point following the coalition, but still a long way off the 20,000 they polled in 2010.

Again as in Cambridge, Simon Saggers for The Greens saw his vote more than halved as left-of-centre/left-wing voters switched back to the main parties, while UKIP didn’t stand. Yet given demographic change and rapid housing growth, in 15 years time this constituency could well become a marginal (assuming the boundaries are not redrawn).

South East Cambridgeshire

SECambsGenElectionResults2017

With UKIP not standing and The Greens forming a local progressive alliance with Labour, Huw Jones’ votes rose considerably to over 17,000. Lucy Nethsingha held up the Lib Dems vote from 2015, but it could not stop Lucy Frazer from taking over 50% of the vote with an increased total as well.

Yet the nature of the campaigns and hustings in both South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire show that there is a demand from residents to be more involved in politics. The challenge for both Labour and the Liberal Democrats is whether they can identify where the mini-hotbeds of support are in the south of the county and do some targeted campaigning in future elections.

Goatgate

Which is where we are now, and the crazy afternoon online about whether there was going to be a delay to the Queen’s Speech because of the time it takes to write something on vellum.

Yes – really.

My understanding is that of Caroline’s above. Certainly until very recently it was Acts of Parliament (not Queen’s speeches or other papers) that were printed on vellum.

You can arrange a visit to the archives as I did back in 2004 and see all of these rolls.  The latest word on the matter prior to today was this discussion between the Commons and the Lords. In the grand scheme of things, vellum preserves extremely well – far better than standard paper. Also, you can read it straight off unlike electronic media where you need hardware and software. Digital data stores also degrade over time – floppy disks, hard drives and so on need continuous copying over time.

Going to the polls – Election 2017

 

Summary

On one of the worst election campaigns I’ve ever experienced – and I went through 2001!

At a national level, the campaigns of the top two parties have been absolutely woeful. The greater fault obviously lies with the Conservative top brass because they were the ones that called the election – to the surprise of their own party. So soon after the county council and mayoral elections showed a contempt for their own frontline activists, and to call it slap bang in the middle of exam season disenfranchised every student and young person with exams to prepare for. It automatically meant that young people would not be able to campaign. And it was young people that swung the vote for Daniel Zeichner here in Cambridge and away from Julian Huppert in 2015.

The less said about Corbyn’s communications team lead by Seumas Milne, the better. For all of the sins of the print media, they’ve made far too many basic errors – such as not ensuring they had shadow ministers available for set piece prime time media slots (eg early morning, early and late evening) where they could criticise government policy in front of thousands – sometimes millions of viewers.

The past few days, the print media has been in full-on frenzy mode, seeking to repay Theresa May’s manifesto writers for the clause scrapping Leveson II. The thing that stands out with this manifesto is how so few people contributed to it. Hence the first real ‘wobble’ was the so-called ‘Dementia tax’ which went down like an iron brick, and allowed Labour to recover.

At the same time, so many of the senior Conservatives have been absolutely non-existent in the media.

Others include Justine Greening (Education), Elizabeth Truss (Justice), Greg Clark (Cities/Business), Sajid Javid (Communities/Localgov),  to name but a few of them.

I still expect the Tories to win outright

Part of this is due to the interaction between the broadcast media and the print media. The proprietors and editors of the print media all too often set the political agenda, the broadcast media then respond based on the headlines on the front of the newspapers and thus the debates are framed with that in mind, rather than reporting on the news that is actually happening.

Robert Harris on Newsnight this evening did a brief report on control-freakery in politics and elections. He didn’t pull his punches.

“But what about Labour’s big rallies?”

Older people remember 1983. Will history repeat itself? (i.e. where, despite the big rallies, the electoral arithmetic did not add up for Labour – not least because of the SDP split in 1981). If anything, it took too long for Labour to get into its stride. Labour too has had too many of its big guns staying away from the limelight and focusing either on their own constituencies, those of close party allies (Emily Thornberry has been in Cambridge at least three times in the past few weeks), or sticking to social media.

Labour’s campaigning star of the show by a country mile has been former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner. The shadow international trade minister has been holding Liam Fox to account in one of the Prime Minister’s more controversial Cabinet appointments. Indeed, some in Labour circles insist on referring to him as ‘the disgraced former defence secretary’. Former Mayor Gardiner (I can call him that – local reporters always look for the local connection!) has – to the delight of Labour supporters been pulling up broadcast journalists over their shortcomings. Nick Robinson takes a hit here.

…and here’s Adam Boulton taking a verbal hit too.

One of the things the TV News has been saying in recent days is how there seems to be a swing back to the old polarised Left-Right politics as both Labour and Conservatives have headed towards their core votes.

“What about the Lib Dems?”

Cambridge has hosted party activists from across the country as they campaign for Julian Huppert – more than a few camping over tonight and tomorrow to get the vote out later today. It has been the same with Labour locally as well. The numbers that both parties have pulled in here has been quite something to observe close up.

I get the sense that Tim Farron’s campaign with it’s strong pro-EU message has not delivered nearly as strongly as he and his party would have hoped. Accordingly, looking at social media activity as a guide, I get the sense the party is concentrating its resources much more precisely than in the previous two general elections. I asked their party president Sal Brinton – a former Cambridge councillor now in the House of Lords about the pressure that the Lib Dems are under to make up some of the ground they lost in 2015 when she visited their campaign HQ set up in a local church hall in my neighbourhood.

Much as I’d like to see them getting over 20 MPs for the sake of plurality in politics and in Parliament, I fear that it is going to be a struggle for them. But they need to get into double figures for the broadcast media to treat them as a major party again – if only for the Question Time appearances.

“What about the Greens, the SNP and Plaid in Wales? And UKIP?”

Given the charging of Conservative candidate in Thanet – contested by Nigel Farage last time around, it remains to be seen what the reaction of the voters there is. Ditto in Douglas Carswell’s former constituency of Clacton where he’s not re-standing.

For financial reasons – ie the ‘short money’ they get from Parliament, The Greens need to get a similar number of votes in total that they got in 2015 – 1million. They’ve made some high-profile withdrawals in a number of constituencies to give other parties stronger chances of defeating the Conservatives on the principles of progressive alliances.

“At least 22 Greens stood aside to increase the chance of a progressive candidate beating the Conservatives. The Women’s Equality Party stood down for the Greens in five seats, while the Lib Dems stood down in one.”

I’m sure there will be a handful of seats where standing down will be the difference between a Conservative being returned or not returned. Beyond that, the Greens have been throwing everything plus the kitchen sink at Bristol West, banking the support that Caroline Lucas has got from the Liberal Democrats and the Women’s Equality Party in Brighton Pavilion, and a weaker Labour campaign this time around. Problem is that in Bristol West they are contesting an incumbent Labour candidate. They are also putting resources into the Isle of Wight. Three MPs would be beyond their wildest dreams – but is possible.

The SNP remain rock solid as the other parties have struggled to recover. Both the Liberal Democrats and The Greens are standing in substantially fewer constituencies this time around – both Jo Swinson (LD), and Patrick Harvie (G) being their headline candidates. Again, for plurality of politics I’d love to see them both returned by their electors. It’s very difficult to read Scotland from down south here – in particular the state of the once-mighty Scottish Labour Party. Compared to the titans of the mid-late 1990s – Gordon Brown, John Smith, Alistair Darling, Robin Cook, George Robertson (noticeably all men – again reflecting badly on the party hierarchy of the time) it’s difficult to see the current generation being more than a shadow – as reflected by having only one MP in Scotland in the last Parliament after dominating for decades.

Again, Plaid Cymru are difficult to read from the Lib-Lab bubble of Cambridge. While I think party leader Leanne Wood is wonderful, it’s hard to judge whether her TV appearance here in Cambridge for the leaders’ debate actually made any impact in Wales.

“And Northern Ireland?”

All too often thrown in the ‘too complicated’ pile in Westminster, promises of extra spending by weak Conservative governments in the 1990s to gain extra unionist votes became something of a stereotype – something that others have mentioned may re-occur should a Conservative government need shoring up.

The big complexity is the status of the border with the Republic of Ireland post Brexit. The other thing that I have found incredibly irresponsible by Conservative strategists is the inflaming of Northern Ireland’s past during the troubles of 1969-1998. Re-opening old wounds in such a gratuitous manner was something I found despicable. The sensationalised captions of ‘Ooh – look who Mr Corbyn met!’ looked all the more ridiculous when photos of their own senior politicians – and senior royals (including The Queen) had also been filmed and photographed meeting the same people.

“The impact of the terrorist attacks?”

Very difficult to judge. Once the election is over, party leaders will need to get together and agree a protocol of what to do on campaigning & suspensions when such things happened. This election campaign understandably caught everyone unprepared.

My tweet via Puffles to Alicia Kearns, standing for the Conservatives in Mitcham and Morden.

Normally in such crises, electorates are expected to turn towards the politicians and parties that are seen as strong on defence and security – traditionally the Conservatives. But with the Prime Minister as Home Secretary for six years from 2010 oversaw cuts to police and security spending, her opponents have gone after this in a very big way – certainly far more stronger than I had originally expected. That said, many of her opponents online were publishing video footage of speeches & event Q&A sessions warning of the impact of cuts to police and security budgets. Here’s Barry Gardiner again.

“How has the campaign been locally?”

I’ve kept Cambridge at an arms length as far as hustings have been concerned, though went along to the ones organised by the Cambridge Junction, and the joint Cambridge News and BBC Radio Cambridgeshire one. Given the huge number of hustings in Cambridge in 2015 – over 30 nearly all of which were standing room only, many people here would have had some familiarity with both Julian Huppert and Daniel Zeichner, both having to defend their own records in Parliament. This is where Stuart Tuckwood for the Greens came in as a younger, newer breath of fresh air politically. And he seemed to be winning over more than a few floating voters at the hustings. Here he is responding to my questions on public transport and air pollution.

Whether it will be enough to hold of the squeeze on the Greens’ votes at the past two local elections remains to be seen.

Being familiar with three of the four candidates and the arguments, I thought I’d cover the hustings in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire on the grounds that hardly anyone else covers them from a reporting perspective. They didn’t disappoint.

Although both the surrounding constituencies are safe-as-houses Conservative, I can see South Cambridgeshire turning marginal as the population increases on the back of rapid growth in housebuilding and transport infrastructure. The question is which political parties can sink their roots into the new communities first and fastest.

“Impact of social media and video?”

Always hard to tell, but my Youtube stats (not including the FB ones) are impressive in the 30 days leading up to the election.

PreGE2017VideoStats30Days

Over 6,000 views and over 25,000 minutes of video footage watched – as headline figures I can more than live with that. Obviously what I don’t have is the regional breakdowns and demographic breakdowns of who is watching how much and where.

Most candidates still not making full use of mobile video

Both Stuart Tuckwood for Cambridge Greens and Dan Greef for Cambridge Labour have been the two candidates to have made the most of mobile video. I declare an interest that both have commissioned me to make videos for their campaigns, but had they only used my videos and nothing else, then they’d still be at the same point as most of their opponents. The difference between those two and the rest is that they have been making short videos for their Facebook pages for fun using their mobile phones. Mr Greef’s videos are here, and also Mr Tuckwood’s videos are here.

I don’t think any candidate locally has succeeded in integrating their digital activities with their social media activities. In the grand scheme of things it’s still a numbers, door-knocking and canvassing data game. Today is the acid test where the data collected from six weeks of intense canvassing, leafletting and door-to-door knocking is used as campaigners seek to ‘get their vote out’ – ie encourage residents who said they supported specific parties to actually go out and vote. Otherwise, in the grand scheme of things such support is worthless. That’s the risk with Corbyn’s big rallies – can he convert such huge turnouts into votes, and votes into seats in the way his predecessor Michael Foot was unable to do in 1983?

We’ll find out in 24 hours time…

So I fought off a breakdown last night

Summary

On trebling my medication to ensure my mind didn’t implode – and also to get some sleep last night too, following a mental health crisis.

It’s the most I’ve ever thrown at it in one evening, but touchwood it seemed to do the trick. If only I had known this back in 2012 I might still be able to function full time. As it is, it’s been over five years since my mind imploded and I feel no better than that time.

“What kicked it off?”

A combination of things I think – demands on filming as many of the election hustings as possible in the snap general election. (Even more important now that so many have been cancelled on the back of the horror of the Manchester bombing). The 24/7 morbid disaster p 0 r n sensationalist reporting from print and broadcast media alike – only the Manchester Evening News seems to have gotten the tone right. The current reality of my financial situation of living on the edge for far too long now. And the loneliness of being a lone ranger when I’d rather be part of a team – even though there is no market out there for what I do.

“But what you do is really important!”

Someone from one of the local parties who I had not met before came up to me and said the same in the coffee shop near my house this lunchtime. The fact is that there are hundreds of thousands of people across the country doing very important things for their community, but are unable to make a living for it. In the current economic and political climate, I can’t see this changing in the near future.

Parallel lives in different centuries

The one strange crumb of comfort I have is that one of the historical figures I’m researching – Eglantyne Jebb who founded Save The Children, seemed to suffer from similar symptoms that I’ve been struggling with for quite some time. We can both switch from periods of immense and seemingly productive activity, to burnout and needing days at a time to recover. As individuals, we’re both quite highly strung too. And like each other, we’re both very dependent on continued family support – after my civil service career I had to move back in with my family – a boomerang kid if you like. And not really through choice.

What does the future hold if you can no longer work full time?

I’d always assumed that at some stage I’d get better – because that’s what all of these articles about people who had been through similar had been saying. Well…after five years I’m at the stage where I just cannot see that happening. It’s hard not to feel despondent about that.

Part of the problem is the woeful provision of mental health treatment in Cambridge and also across the country. Having done my first TV interview on all things mental health at Centre33 for BBC Radio Cambridgeshire back in 2003, I’ve gotten bored of all of the ‘awareness raising’ by the various mental health organisations and politicians. It’s been nearly 15 years – I want to see some fucking action, a difference on the ground. I don’t want to see a system that crams everyone through a one-size-fits-all treatment because that’s all that the Health Secretary and the Chancellor can be bothered to fund lest their corporate paymasters squeal about taxes.

Breaking the loneliness-intensity vicious circle

I’m only a few years off my big 4-zero. I asked myself what I had to show for four decades on this planet. Then I remembered fighting tooth and nail to secure several million pounds from my civil service days to fund the construction of this building. Oh, and Puffles.

The thing is with poor mental health – especially when it’s not being properly diagnosed or treated, is that the fallout inevitably hits those around you. All too often great people have drifted into and out of my life, even – or rather especially when I’ve wanted them to stick around. The more desperate you want them to stick around, the more they pull away until the bonds break.

School, college, university, post-graduate years, Cambridge civil service years, London civil service years…I can’t think of anyone off the top of my head who I’d consider to be in my ‘day-to-day life’. (Which then gets me thinking about structures of society too).

No longer having the health – or the wealth, to socialise as in the past

In very recent times that’s probably been the hardest thing to come to terms with. Take last night – beautiful sunset where I really wanted to go out for a drive into the countryside with someone. Just away from the traffic noise (even though by being in a car I would be the traffic). I’ve become extremely sensitive to the noise of the internal combustion engine since my 2012 breakdown, so having a road-facing bedroom doesn’t help.

But my point is that I wanted to be ‘out there’. Yet when you’re going through a mental health crisis you can’t really do that. You have to get tanked up on pills and go to bed. Which is what I did until zombied out enough to go to sleep. A further problem being that what little sleep I get is never restful sleep. If you see dark shopping bags under my eyes, that is why.

It also has an impact on the activities I do as well. For example my alcohol consumption has gone down to almost zero – not a bad thing. But in part it’s due to not being able to stay out late as in years gone by. During my ballroom & latin dancing days over a decade ago, we’d go drinking after dancing regularly. What I didn’t fully acknowledge at the time looking back was that dancing was all that I had in common with most of my social group at the time – I was the historian/social scientist surrounded by ‘proper’ scientists – chemists, physicists and biologists: people who spent their days in science labs rather than offices.

An even harder thing now is not having the stamina to keep up with the demands of live performances and after-parties that follow. All too often I have to head off early rather than staying out till 3am with everyone else. Sign of ageing? Signs of the times?

“It can’t be all bad news, can it?”

It seldom is.

They say your life’s calling has a strange way of finding you. Lost Cambridge found me by accident. Eglantyne found me by accident – as this talk I gave at the Museum of Cambridge for the HUNCH project for the revamped University Arms Hotel, Cambridge, explains.

My take is that there is enough content waiting to be explored, unearthed, (re)published and publicised to last me the rest of my life. The two problems I have are:

  • I don’t think I am competent enough to deliver such a huge undertaking
  • The amount of information there, and the skills required, are too great for one person to take on

I’m also of the view that the person who leads on it has to be a woman. This is because the core theme of this is about how a group of women shaped modern Cambridge. It can’t be me that leads this.

The other thing obviously is my health. One of the things I’m trying to do in terms of designing the longer term programme for this is ‘designing in good mental health’ on my part, and ensuring that I don’t become too dependent on one or two people work-wise to the extent that it drives them away. Because in the grand scheme of things I’ve learnt that most people can only take working with a highly-strung person like me in small doses. Hence it’s got to be much more than a one-or-two-person undertaking.

Within that team we’d be researching through old newspapers and long-forgotten books, producing a host of digital content. We’d also be looking to secure grants and other sources of funding – not least for the outputs which for me include books (children’s, local history and academic), academic papers, and at least one multi-part film drama. The reason for the latter in particular is because the people who I am researching have got such a compelling story to tell – one that has been lost to the sands of time.

If you’re interested in my historical work, would like to get involved or would like to help support my research, please email me at antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com. See this video here.

 

The national manifestos are out…

…but are they worth the paper they are printed on?

“Find out more about the parties’ policies by reading their manifestos in full. Download the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos from the party websites.”

…says The Guardian helpfully in its comparison of the three manifestos in this article. We’re still waiting for The Green Party’s manifesto, though they launched their youth manifesto here with the eye-catching pledge to scrap university tuition fees and write off all student-era debt still outstanding. While my heart & wallet is like ***Oooh!*** my head simply cannot see it happening.

The figures are eye-watering. Opponents will inevitably accuse the Greens of promising the world knowing they won’t ever be put into a position of ever having to deliver on such a promise. Such promises were the ruin of Nick Clegg, and dare I say it, Cameron and Osborne with the EU Referendum that they never stood a chance of winning against 30 years of tabloid drip-drip-hate headlines.

Conservative manifesto – a power grab?

It’s easy enough to tear into a manifesto of any political party that has been in power for seven years – normally it’s around this time that the party concerned begins to run out of steam. It’s also a time when big name critics who were once big figures in past administrations regularly turn up to criticise ministers. In this case, the Conservatives have to deal with George Osborne at the Evening Standard. Just how destabilising he proves to be remains to be seen.

From a ‘looking through the Cambridge lens’ there are a number of alarming things:

  • Setting in stone the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoralty for a semi-permanent Conservative county mayor covering a city- Cambridge – where they have zero councillors and haven’t had more than a couple of councillors this side of the Millennium. (Policies imposing first-past-the-post (FPTP) despite the second preference system being used in the elections this year, and then stating they will now no longer back mayoralties for rural counties – cashing in their winnings for Cambridge).
  • Proposing switching to FPTP for the Police and Crime Commissioner elections – both this and the above policies being slammed by the Electoral Reform Society (Which amongst other things calls for proportional representation as a voting system).
  • The Internet – unfortunately due to the decision on the EU Referendum and the subsequent vote, the institution that would have had a half-decent chance for regulating the internet (for want of another term) is one that the UK is leaving. Having been to OpenTech 2017 not so long ago, I remain of the view that most people in politics and public policy are not nearly as technologically literate to be making policy on all things digital, and that all institutions in/around politics need to train up existing staff and bring in tech-literate staff into policy-making roles. This includes editors and journalists too. My ‘go-to’ expert in the field is @CharlotteJee – editor of @TechWorldNews.
  • Leveson II – scrapped. The paragraph reads as if it was written by the tabloid proprietors and editors themselves. The Hacked Off campaign for a free & accountable press isn’t happy either.

There are more than a few other things I have issues with, but it’s not all bad.

  • Rights and protections in ‘the gig economy’ where big firms are replacing what were permanent jobs & regular hours with faux ‘self employment’ or zero hours contracts. The proof will be both in Matthew Taylor’s report (Head of the RSA) and on what recommendations the Conservatives would implement. Note more and more people are sceptical of manifesto commitments that say “we will look at X report carefully before coming to conclusions” – especially ones published just after general elections!
  • The enforcement by the law of promises made during corporate takeovers – a big issues with Cadbury’s. It was this that led to this clause.
  • Investment in transport schemes – in particular to ease over-crowding on railways. Today, the new Cambridge North railway station was opened – also reigniting the political row as to who should take what credit over it.
  • Strengthening laws to combat modern slavery
  • The review of the honours system

…but inevitably given my own political values, there are things in there that I cannot reconcile eg

“Yeah – but what about Labour? And the LibDems? The alternative is communism!”

The reason why I think Labour will struggle in this general election is because Corbyn’s top team under former Guardian columnist Seumas Milne has committed far too many unforced errors over the past few years. It has been woeful and excruciating at times. If Labour does better than expected, much of it will be down to the huge amount of work their frontline activists have been putting into the campaign.

A manifesto to motivate the core vote?

On a number of policies, Labour is using words that people under the age of 35 will not be familiar with – eg “nationalisation”. This has shifted the political Overton Window because it has forced the broadcast journalists to explain what nationalisation actually is and means in practice – something that has found a receptive ear to some people. The risk is that should Labour face a heavy defeat, they could learn the wrong lessons of the election and assume it was policies rather than comms and competencies that lost it for them.

Repealing university tuition fees, but not the student-era debt

An important signal from Mr Corbyn given that it was Labour that brought in tuition fees in 1997/98 and then raised them in a piece of legislation that enabled the Coalition to raise them far further through secondary legislation requiring only 2 debates in Parliament rather than going through the extended process of primary legislation.

Free lifelong education at further education colleges

Potentially a very important policy due to the changing nature of the economy and jobs market. At school in the mid-1990s we were told our generation would be the first that did not have a job for life, and would have to retrain and re-skill. The burden of that retraining all too often falls on the individuals rather than the firms or the state. Note how corporation taxes and other levies on big private businesses have been cut over the years while the costs of education and training have risen. There will always be a financial incentive for firms to poach trained staff from their competitors rather than train up their own staff. In the end it’s a race to the bottom. Something must be done to reverse this.

Private rented homes

I take with a pinch of salt political promises on house building. In the grand scheme of things, spats over numbers are meaningless. One thing that Labour has mentioned that’s of interest is requiring all homes out for rent to be fit for human habitation. What’s not clear is how such a policy will be enforced, how that enforcement will be funded, what happens to tenants forced to move out, and what happens to properties that landlords leave empty and refuse to do anything with. In some parts of the country, property price rises alone means that the value of such a property will continue to rise anyway.

National Care Service, National Education Service

What intrigues me about these two are how these services will interact with local government. One of the things Labour found out in the mid-2000s was the limitations of over-centralised delivery. You can’t micromanage from the centre. I found this out the hard way during my Whitehall days. Can they make public services such as these and the NHS work seamlessly with local councils?

Leveson II

Unlike the Conservatives above, Labour has stated it will commence with Leveson II. Furthermore, and perhaps as expected, they announced they will launch a review of local and national media ownership. Given the coverage of much of the print newspaper media, calls from within Labour can only grow stronger.

“And the Liberal Democrats? Their leader says they are aiming to be the lead opposition!”

Going from 9 MPs to over 200 is the swing that would be required for that, and for over 326 MPs to form a government. They are standing in pretty much every seat across Great Britain, but even their most devout supporter would concede that their chances of being elected outright into government are slim at best. Indeed, in big letters they state: “Change Britain’s future by changing the opposition”

Pitched to hard remainers?

The opening section is all about how different policy areas will be affected by Brexit and how they would respond to each one. In that sense they’ve accepted that the Conservatives have framed this General Election 2017 as one about Brexit. Labour on the other hand have not, and are campaigning on much wider issues. As things stand today, the commentariat is noting Labour’s rise (from very low) in the opinion polls with the Lib Dems failure to make much headway, and are criticising Tim Farron for pitching so hard for the remain vote.

Similar to Labour on health and education?

As far as high level policy goes, yes. To most people, Labour, Lib Dems and Greens all have a ‘stop the cuts’ theme in these areas – something that people are bringing up locally at the hustings.

As with Labour, the Lib Dems have also covered adult education with a similar sounding policy about ‘individual accounts for funding mature adult and part time learning’ but it doesn’t read nearly as clearly as Labour’s commitment (free adult education at FE colleges) does.

A Good employer kitemark

This reminds me of Richard Murphy’s Fair Tax Mark but expands that concept to cover things like a living wage – the real one, not the Government’s one that stole the branding. It also covers unpaid internships and commits to name-blind application processes.

Fiduciary duty of firms – a big culture change?

“Reform fiduciary duty and company purpose rules to ensure that other
considerations, such as employee welfare, environmental standards,
community benefit and ethical practice, can be fully included in decisions
made by directors and fund managers.”

During my time studying economics many moons ago, I always wondered why the only duty that was mentioned was the one executives had to maximise the profits of the shareholders. Hence the above will make for interesting policy work should it be considered – as academia is doing, for example here.

Devolving revenue-raising powers

For a city like Cambridge this is essential. In my opinion anyway. But this has been a long-standing principle of the Lib Dems and their predecessors. The problem they face is a Whitehall and Westminster culture that doesn’t like letting go of the reins when it comes to taxation. The argument against devolving such powers is the risk of having a chancellor of the exchequer in every town hall in the land imposing a local income tax – as Nigel Evans MP said in this Commons debate in 1996. That debate in 1996 was about funding of local government services and starts off here noting the context that the Conservatives were on a downward losing streak of local council election results, which meant by 1996 just before their landslide loss to Labour in 1997, they controlled relatively few councils.

Legalise cannabis of a limited potency

The headlines screamed about the Lib Dems legalising drugs, but it’s much more nuanced than that. Possession will result in a health-based approach rather than a criminal-based ones, taking small-time users out of the prison system.

“What hopes for a progressive alliance? Because there’s not that much difference between Labour, the Lib Dems and The Greens?”

Ditto UKIP and The Tories – some of the former are standing down to support Conservative candidates on a pro-Brexit ticket. This is being driven locally rather than nationally – mainly because it would be unconstitutional (especially for Labour) to back another party at an election. But it’s a note of caution: not all election alliances are progressive.

The above isn’t a comprehensive look at the manifestos. It’s a scan through, picking out some of the things that the mainstream media might have missed, and picking those that seem to stand out for me for one reason or another.

As some have commented, the closer the party is to winning an election, the more nuanced and caveated the manifesto seems to be. Hence the criticism that the Conservative manifesto is short on costings and specifics. Note also that the opponents of the Conservatives have complained that the broadcast media is not subjecting their manifesto to nearly the same sort of detailed scrutiny that opposition manifestos are getting. The sentiment of former Mayor of Cambridge, Barry Gardiner of Labour, echoed the sentiments of many Labour activists in particular.

 

 

 

 

 

The general election in and around Cambridge – the first public debates

Summary

Featuring videos of the candidates

It’s a busy time of the political cycle for me as I get out and about filming as much as I possibly can. As with 2015 I’m trying to cover South Cambridgeshire and South-East Cambridgeshire because as otherwise ‘safe seats’ (in these cases for the Conservatives) they get little coverage and even fewer public debates in comparison to Cambridge City, which has got at least 15 this time around.

Democracy Cambridge on Facebook

DemocracyCambridge Screengrab

It’s at https://www.facebook.com/DemocracyCambridge/ and I’m trying to keep everyone up to date on that page. Feel free to ‘like’ it and post links to election events in and around Cambridge. Just like the political parties, I’m also encouraging donations – not least to pay for some of my bus and train fares to hustings, and also for the additional hard drive I now need to buy due to all of the extra events I’m filming. So if you can afford to, please click on the button below.


Donate

You can see all of the video playlists I’m creating at https://www.youtube.com/antonycarpen – feel free to share and embed, but please attribute to Antony Carpen if you are doing so.

If you’re organising a hustings – particular in South Cambridgeshire & South East Cambridgeshire, and would like it filmed, please get in touch ( antonycarpen [at] gmail [dot] com ).

Cambridge City – Julian Huppert vs Daniel Zeichner, the re-re-match

…alongside Stuart Tuckwood of The Green Party, and Dr John Hayward of the Conservatives. They had their first hustings at The Junction in Cambridge. You can view the full footage of the event here.

Fellow community reporter Richard Taylor filmed the candidates at the Human Rights hustings (see here) and to a predominantly Christian audience at the Eden Baptist Chapel hustings (see here).

South Cambridgeshire – the band reforms

Heidi Allen for the Conservatives faces a rematch with Dan Greef of Labour and Simon Saggers of the Greens, with Susan van de Ven standing for the Liberal Democrats this time around. They faced the public for the first time as a quartet in a good-humoured hustings in Great Shelford – the playlist of videos is here.

South East Cambridgeshire – Lucy Frazer QC vs Huw Jones – the re-match

…alongside Lucy Nethsingha for the Liberal Democrats. They had their first public debate in Waterbeach chaired by Chris Elliott, Chief Reporter of the Cambridge News in a sometimes tense and passionately debated hustings. The playlist of videos is here.

“Yeah – why do you ask them such easy questions in the post-hustings interviews, Puffles?”

For a number of reasons.

The first is my primary aim – to strengthen local democracy. That means encouraging and inspiring people to get involved in local democracy. Therefore I want to create content & footage where the viewer thinks:

“Yes – I could have a reasonable conversation with that person and raise my issues with them”

…rather than:

“Why did that de-humanised individual just recite a bunch of lines to take programmed into them by Party HQ?”

That means interview technique has to be very different.

“Why don’t you ask difficult questions? After all, you’ve been inside the system!”

In one sense that would be too easy. A far harder challenge is encouraging the interviewees to be on top form, at their most passionate and knowledgeable where they can inspire people not just with their answers but also with their delivery – speed and tone of voice.

“Isn’t it your responsibility to ask awkward questions?”

Not in these interviews.

“Why not?”

That’s your job – to get in touch with the candidates yourself having decided they are worth conversing with. My role in all of this is to make the first introductions. What happens *after* that introduction is entirely up to you, and in the grand scheme of things, none of my business.

It’s also not the job of candidates and elected representatives to read your mind. Be an adult, take some responsibility and make the effort to find out who is standing for election in your area. You never know, one of the candidates might positively surprise you. But until you make the 1-2-1 contact, you might never know.

“Which candidates do you think are strongest?”

That’s not for me to say as far as the videos are concerned. That’s for you to make a judgement call accordingly. In the interviews I encourage the candidates to talk about the issues that they are most knowledgeable and passionate about – it avoids the ‘line-to-take’ delivery and means you get a more extended and more informed answer. When you have all candidates speaking passionately and knowledgeably, they are more likely to be at their best – which is what I want. That way you have a level playing field and people can judge accordingly.

“Even though lots of your tweets have been very critical of the Conservatives?”

Two separate mediums. Also, I treat each election almost like a mini filming project – it has a defined end point. Social media on the other hand is an ongoing continuous thing. Furthermore, whichever party is in power inevitably gets more criticism thrown at it because their decisions are more likely to impact on the people than opposition parties.

Finally, I stood with Puffles as an independent candidate at the Cambridge City Council elections in 2014. In that sense, I’ve already established a level of political independence far beyond most people.