Why did the BBC hold back on reporting election expenses story?


Michael Crick’s scoop for Channel 4 News – followed up daily by the news programme, seemed to pass national BBC journalists by…until the elections had passed. Had the BBC covered the story? What profile did it have compared to say the Corbyn leadership chatter?

I try not to see conspiracies behind mainstream politics stories, but this one seems odd for a number of reasons. It was at the start of the year that Channel 4 picked up on this (http://www.electionexpenses.co.uk/) , extracting a concession from the Conservative Party on 20 April 2016 http://www.channel4.com/news/battlebus-conservatives-admit-election-expenses.

As it turns out, it was in mid-February that the BBC picked up on it – when none-other than Michael Crick of Channel 4 went onto the BBC’s Daily Politics programme to explain what it was all about – see here. It was Channel 4 that followed this story through, the BBC according to Labour sympathisers and supporters frustratingly going after questions about Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and whether there would or would not be a leadership challenge. With the self-created noise/media scrum around both Corbyn and Ken Livingstone’s inexplicable remarks, I can almost see how the expenses bit got buried in the much safer political personality spats that all too often form the basis of ‘political news’ these days. It’s not as if there weren’t enough more interesting stories on this morning. Like…I dunno:


***Dragon Fairy on the radio!!!***

Yeah – me and Puffles were invited in by BBC Cambridgeshire’s Dotty McLeod to be a sort of ‘independent summariser’ of the election results in Cambridge. If you were wondering, only 3 out of the 14 seats changed hands – but as our friend Sophie was one of the people who won her seat in Romsey at the first time of asking (after working her socks off in the ward), it was one of the bright lights where other friends of ours in various parties fell short.

From a ‘news and current affairs’ perspective, what seemed to have happened in the immediate aftermath of Livingstone’s original remarks didn’t feel like news reporting, but rather news creation. “Red Ken’s said something controversial! Let’s get him on the telly to see if he’ll repeat it all again! Oh! Scandal! He has! Hold the front page!!!” That’s not so much news reporting as news creation for rolling 24 hour news – while the *real* story was with Channel 4 – trying to find out just how wide the allegations around incorrectly-declared election expenses were.

As Channel 4 started finding out and corroborating more details, I noticed a trend on Twitter where a number of left-wing Twitter users started targeting journalists such as – and in particular, Laura Kuenssberg. None of them could understand why Laura didn’t respond even to the more polite statements, let alone put out a single tweet with a hyperlink saying ‘Covered this back in February – we’ve not got anything new over here but are keeping a watching brief on what Crick comes up with’. This is where radio silence did more damage – damage that could have been avoided.

It wasn’t until the day before the election that Kuenssberg mentioned the Channel 4 investigation – see below.

By that time, the Labour-leaning newspapers were leading on it and it was all over Twitter – very difficult even for the BBC to hide away from. Remember that this was just after The Times got absolutely slaughtered for not even mentioning the Hillsborough Cororner’s jury findings that the 96 people who lost their lives were victims of unlawful killing. What the mainstream media chooses not to report can be just as powerful as what it decides to cover…though now social media makes this much harder to do without being called out.

So…what was the issue here? What were people complaining over? Why was Kuenssberg in particular targeted? Note that in the past other BBC journalists have been targeted over the content of their reports – such as Nick Robinson during the Scottish Independence referendum. I recall at the time a number of journalists across mainstream media responding with a chilled numbness at seeing one of their own being very specifically and very visually targeted on a custom-made mega-banner in a street protest. (See here).

Treading that fine line

The saying in the BBC goes that if you are getting an equal amount of grief from each side in politics, you’re probably pitching things about right. Which makes sense in the world of two party politics. But we’re not in the world of two party politics, nor are we in a world where the only important decisions taken in the UK are taken in London. Hence it was embarrassing to hear London-based journalists asking politicians repeated questions about the impact the votes in Wales and Scotland would have on Jeremy Corbyn. Devolution in Wales and Scotland has created some very different political centres of gravity – ones which most people in England are completely oblivious to.

“Yeah – was it Red-Jez’s fault that Labour got annihilated north of the border and when is a moderate going to ride to the rescue and bring back Tony?”

While we may have forgotten about the Independence referendum in Scotland, in Scotland my Twitter friends tell me it’s anything but over there. Not least because the referendum debate there got people talking not just about whether to break away from the UK or not, but on much more basic yet substantial issues of what sort of society did they want to create after the referendum and how they could go about doing so. Compare that to the limp excuse of a debate we’re supposedly having on whether to stay in the EU or not – something that currently appears to be a spat between one set of ex public schoolboys against another, and you can almost see what the rest of England is missing out on.

While the SNP has ruled the political roost for some time in Scotland, in Wales it has been Welsh Labour that has been in office for the Welsh Executive – and thus the First Minister for Wales Carwyn Jones is the much more pre-eminent Labour figure there than Jeremy Corbyn. But how many people in England had even heard of him. It took Charlotte Church to resort to shouting on Twitter to get the message across

“Yeah-but what about Jezza – when’s Jezza going to resign or will he stand if there is a leadership contest?”

I can’t remember which BBC journalist it was that kept on pestering Jeremy Corbyn on whether he would stand for election if a leadership challenger came forward. But I remember being pretty exasperated. ****This is NOT news! This is speculation on something that so far has not happened!**** If political journalists want to get into the business of predicting the future with large chunks of their content, become an economic forecaster or an astrologer – they are about as accurate as each other. Actually no, that’s an insult to the people that do the stars.

“Shouldn’t politicians be much more robust when journalists ask stupid questions?”

The politician who is one of the best examples of dealing with this is…Nigel Farage. His off-the-cuff put-downs (especially to the likes of Michael Crick!) are legendary – especially if, when out and about Nigel Farage is asked a question about Westminster chatter. “Why are you asking me a question about Westminster? We’re in Romford, ask me a question about Romford!”

“What’s this got to do with BBC election expenses and questionable content by journalists on the telly?”

For me there are a number of issues raised. For the first time in the minds of the Twitterratti at least, the BBC has been seen to be ‘caught out’ for not following through a very serious story about the political party in power, at a time when leading with such a story could cause them big problems in the run up to elections. 2 weeks of BBC headlines of ‘Tory election sleaze’ could have done just as much, if not more damage than Livingstone’s self-inflicted political wounds.

The second one is about interaction between journalists and the public. Numerous BBC journalists could have shut the whole thing down about covering the election expenses. The only person who actually did it seems was Andrew Neil – whose Twitter put-downs are legendary. I may not rate his politics ,but as an interrogator he’s one of the best in the business: Equally hard on everyone he interviews. (Also because he does his homework on whoever he is interviewing).

Unlike journalists from other media channels and publications I have seen, national BBC journalists don’t seem to engage much with members of the public. Hence when something like this could be nipped in the bud (either by the journalists themselves or one of their researchers/corporate accounts), it seldom is because for whatever reason, BBC national journalists seem to stay one-step removed from the rough and tumble of social media political discussion. (Which, to be fair to them is becoming more and more toxic with each passing day – a bit like mainstream national politics in general!)

“Why should the likes of Laura Kuenssberg be concerned?”

Because it’s their reputations being dragged through the mud, even though they may not be the ultimate decision-makers on what to cover and what not to cover. The people that perhaps need to be held more publicly accountable are these executives http://www.bbc.co.uk/corporate2/insidethebbc/managementstructure/bbcstructure/journalism.html. Hardly household names, but more influential than the people you see on TV? Perhaps?

Why transparency can help

With this I am talking about transparency of process, not about the unmasking of confidential sources. What are the decision-making processes that executives, producers, editors and directors go through regarding what content to cover? Would greater familiarity with these nip rumours in the bud?


***That’s what you learn on media studies courses!***

And you wonder why the mainstream (especially the print) media likes to deride the subject as a not serious course? You look at almost any introduction to media studies book for teenagers and you’ll find a section on how to critically analyse the media, who it targets, and how.

Actually, I’d quite like to do a basic media studies course sometime in the future – just because I’m curious, not for any exam. For example, many of you ask how it is that the tax dude alliance always gets on BBC programmes but academics who are experts in specific fields do not? (The former develop and work those media contacts thoroughly before the latter have even worked out what media programmes are even interested in their work).

Just to finish with, in some circles there are mentions of ‘D’ notices. I don’t think something like this would fall into that category of all things national security, but for those of you who are interested, have a look at http://www.dsma.uk/. Not sure how it works in the world of freelance/independent media, but for the corporate press that system is there.





Predictions for the 2016 Cambridge City Council elections


Because it’s too easy to sit on the fence

Phil Rodgers made these predictions https://philrodgers.wordpress.com/2015/10/11/the-prospects-for-the-2016-cambridge-city-council-elections/ late last year, but because the final list of candidates is slightly different, I thought I’d have another look.

Have a listen to Chris and Phil on Cambridge 105 with Julian Clover too


“Of the 14 wards I’d say there are 5-6 who will win easily…and only two or three that are genuinely competitive” – Chris said on the radio.

My home ward – who wants the dragon fairy vote?

Coleridge ward in Cambridge seldom goes against form – a safe as houses Labour ward bar the dark days of Gordon Brown’s premiership in 2008 when Chris Howell stole in to grab the seat from Tariq Sadiq who was standing for Labour. With Labour being the only party making an effort this time with new candidate Rosy Moore, this should be a safe win for Rosy. The only candidate who has gone beyond paper candidacy is Virgil Ierubino of The Greens, who has at least filled in the election surveys from the Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Smarter Cambridge Transport, and took part in an introduction video. Non-campaigning candidates Bill Kaminski for UKIP and Sam Barker for the Conservatives are on the ballot paper. Surprisingly Simon Cooper for the Liberal Democrats is not – replaced by Raymundo Carlos of whom I can’t find anything about online!

Changing the basic conventions

Although Virgil has spent most of his time in Market Ward campaigning for Stuart Tuckwood in the Greens’ target seat, The Greens have been conspicuous in running a high profile social media campaign for a number of their candidates. With good reason – they don’t have the activist numbers, finances or resources to leaflet the city in the way that Labour do. That said, despite reasonably high membership numbers, the conversion rate of members to activists remains (for me at least), far too low.

What I’ve worked for in this campaign is to change the basic conventions in the way I unsuccessfully tried with Puffles in the 2014 elections. As it turned out, I was just a little ahead of our time with Puffles. Whereas Puffles was a 2-3 person show, what’s happened at this election in Cambridge is that a number of other people have also worked to change the basic conventions too – think of those that organised the hustings for example. Furthermore, the large number of first-time candidates willing to try new campaigning methods outside of tried and tested methods meant that we got a critical mass of candidates using for example video.

Setting new online standards:

In Cambridge we have seen:


Facebook pages

Twitter accounts

(Though note for Facebook & Twitter there is a growing practice for ward-based social media accounts as well as personal accounts)

and… videos too.

We’ve not seen as much blogging as I’d have expected – this has been more prevalent in the PCC elections with both Dave Baigent and Nick Clarke blogging away.

The properly contested wards traditionally are the central wards:

  • Castle
  • The Chestertons (East, and West)
  • Market
  • Petersfield
  • Romsey

Traditionally ‘safe’ wards tend to be in the north west or south & east of the city.

  • Abbey
  • Arbury
  • Cherry Hinton
  • Coleridge
  • King’s Hedges
  • Newnham
  • Queen Edith’s
  • Trumpington

The one thing it’s worth reminding ourselves at this time is the echo chamber that is our local political social media bubble – something that every so often goes ‘pop!’ when I find myself in a room full of people who are perhaps taking part in a community event for the first time.

So: My predictions

  • Castle – John Hipkin (Ind)
  • Chesterton, East – Shahida Rahman (Lib Dems)
  • Chesterton, West – Nichola Harrison (Lib Dems)
  • Market – Stuart Tuckwood (Greens)
  • Petersfield – Richard Robertson (Labour)
  • Romsey – Sophie Barnett (Labour)

As a distant observer for the top three, my take is that John will be hard to shift in Castle, while the City Deal has put Labour on the defensive in Chesterton, something that the Liberal Democrats have capitalised on with aggressive leaflet campaigns in the wards. That combined with the sheer barrage of negative media publicity at a national level could be enough to tip both the Chestertons towards the Liberal Democrats.

The Greens have campaigned the living daylights out of Market, and this one could be just as close as last year, with a couple of dozen votes between the top three. Don’t think that Labour and the Liberal Democrats have sat back in the face of the Greens – the ward has a huge number of Labour and Liberal Democrat boards up, so it could easily go for Dani Green for Labour, or Tim Bick could hold on for the Liberal Democrats. As the current leader of the opposition on Cambridge City Council, the Liberal Democrats need Tim to hold onto this seat to help stabilise the party in the council chamber.

Six-seven years ago, Petersfield was a Liberal/Labour battleground. Then post-2010 both the Greens & the Liberal Democrats collapsed, giving Labour a free rein. Things have turned around in recent years, but the gap between Labour and the rest is still large. That said, new candidate Sharon Kaur has brought to bear a small but active group of friends to campaign in the ward to build on the work that Atus and Matt in previous years had achieved to re-establish the Green presence.

The safe wards?

The return of active Conservative candidates in both Newnham and Queen Edith’s marks the start of the ‘Heidi’ factor – South Cambridgeshire’s personable and media-friendly MP for the Conservatives who is spending more time close to & in Cambridge than her predecessor. (Declaration – Heidi bought me dinner post-Queen Edith’s hustings last month). While it may be too much to ask Julius Carrington and Manas Deb to win their respective wards, the fact they have appeared at public hustings as well as doing leafletting and having an active online presence shows that the Conservatives are back. But again, the problem they have is a lack of activists on the ground compared to their opponents.

For Arbury, Abbey and King’s Hedges wards it’s difficult to see these going any other way than Labour, though in recent years both The Greens and the Liberal Democrats have managed to win elections in the first two wards. From my vantage point it’s difficult to get a feel for what the issues are in Arbury and King’s Hedges. Interestingly, the Labour candidates don’t have a huge social media presence, while some of their opponents do. That said, I don’t think we’re at the stage where social media is that huge game-changer. It can however be useful in helping establish a new candidate inside the world of local democracy in Cambridge, as a number have done.

Cherry Hinton – the somewhat forgotten village at the eastern end of the city has had zero interest from the other parties and the media. With the Mayor Rob Dryden restanding, there is only so much he can do publicly campaigning. The village is somewhat of a Labour fiefdom these days – the last Conservative councillor being Eric Barrett Payton in 2006 who has returned to stand for election this time around.

Trumpington remains an interesting one simply because of the housing and population growth. The candidates haven’t had the highest media profile as with Cherry Hinton (bar the Mayor), so it remains to be seen if this ward sticks to party form and votes for Donald Adey for the Liberal Democrats. Donald stood in Romsey last year and against Puffles in Coleridge ward, losing 89 votes to Cambridge’s favourite dragon fairy.

“Should I take these predictions too seriously?”

No. Please don’t. It’s a bit of fun. Think of it as the political wonk’s version of predicting the football results on a Saturday. The real analysis happens when the results are in – analysing the news, rather than trying to seriously analyse what in the grand scheme of things is speculation. That’s why I get sick of the mainstream news reporting about speculation (eg leadership challenges that seldom happen) than on stuff that has happened.

Cambridge elections video chart update


Who has risen? Who has fallen? Who are the new entries?

The video playlist that matters for voters in Cambridge is here. At the time of posting, there were 38 videos (up from 20 last week) covering four political parties that are standing full slates of candidates:

Note that three of the new videos cover candidates standing in South Cambridgeshire District Council elections in the wards of ‘Stapleford & the Shelfords‘, and Sawston respectively.

So, still at the top is Labour’s Sophie Barnett, standing in Romsey ward, Cambridge.

  1. Sophie Barnett of Romsey Labour Party, with 124 views
  2. Manas Deb of Cambridge Conservatives with 78 views
  3. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 69 views
  4. Rosie Moore of Coleridge Labour Party, with 64 views
  5. Rob Grayson of South Cambs Labour with 61 views

For interviews, the tables look like this:

  1. Sharon Kaur of Cambridge Greens, with 96 views
  2. Dave Baigent of Cambridge Labour, with 80 views in total
  3. Shahida Rahman of Cambridge Lib Dems with 64 views

Total number of local council candidates featured are as follows:

  1. Cambridge Green Party: 8/14
  2. Cambridge Liberal Democrats: 4/14
  3. Cambridge Labour: 3/14
  4. Cambridge Conservatives: 2/14
  5. South Cambridgeshire Labour: 2/14

(The above goes not include Police and Crime Commissioner elections)

New entrants

Rob Grayston and Mike Nettleton of South Cambridgeshire Labour got in touch over the weekend to arrange a recording of a handful of videos – see the playlist here. Rob has stormed into the top 5 with over 60 views in about six hours! Also storming in as a new entry is Conservative candidate for Queen Edith’s, Manas Deb, who like is colleague in Newnham, Julius Carrington, is fighting to win rather than being a ‘paper candidate’. We’ve also seen two additional videos from Cambridge Liberal Democrats – Nicky Shepherd in Abbey and Lucy Nethsingha in Newnham.

My target ideally is to have at least four videos per political party standing full slates of candidates – ie more than 20% of candidates. That’s enough people from within each local party to make the case for, or at least talk about their experiences of being in front of camera.

The Queen Edith’s hustings on 21 April 2016

Chris Rand wrote up about the hustings in his blogpost here.

160424 QECambridge LeagueTables

On Sunday afternoon the table of views were as above. I also storified a few of my tweets here – noting the proportion of people who had either changed their minds on who they intended to vote for after hearing from all of the candidates (20%), and those who did not know who they were going to vote for but made up their minds after hearing from everyone (25%).

Again, there seems to be a pattern with who chooses to have a video message or a video interview recorded. Variables that seem to increase the likelihood a candidate will record a video include:

  • Age – the younger the more likely to want a video made
  • Gender – women are more likely to want a video made
  • New candidate or repeat candidate – new candidates are more likely to want a video made
  • Incumbency – challengers to an incumbent are more likely to want a video made, while incumbents are less likely to want a video made.
  • Ethnic background – people from  non-White British backgrounds or mixed backgrounds are more likely to want a video made.

“Have we reached critical mass stage with videos?”

Not yet. That said, nearly all of the candidates who have had videos made now seem to be advocates in favour of using video as part of their campaign. Indeed, a number of candidates are featured more than once as a result of proactively getting in touch and making it easy for me to do the filming – e.g. picking me up by car to take me to the place they want to film. (My convention is that candidates should be filmed in or close to the ward or area that they are standing in).

***Lots of free publicity***

One of the other things that happens when you make videos and upload them to Youtube or Vimeo is that other people and organisations can embed them into their websites. The Cambridge News did this with the Queen Edith Forum hustings – resulting in a higher than expected hit count.

Furthermore, if I look at the length of viewing time statistics for the past week up to 22 April (so not including the weekend just gone), Cllr Dave Baigent’s speech in Warboys has had ***nearly three hours*** of footage viewed in seven days. This was for an eight minute speech. Manas Deb’s interview has had over two hours, and Shahida Rahman’s interview, over an hour. Even if it’s only their supporters watching, having a video ‘out there’ is surely a morale booster in itself. Because it takes courage to stand for election – especially in the face of the brickbats we see all too often thrown over social media. (That’s why I turn the comments off with YouTube – life’s too short for me to moderate the comments!)

“Don’t some of the videos look/feel a bit rough around the edges? Scripted even?”

For the election messages themselves, to give everyone a fair shot I’ve kept the format dead simple:

  • Name
  • Party you’re standing for
  • Ward you are standing in
  • Local authority elections you are taking part in
  • The date of the election

This is then followed by up to 3 reasons why you are standing for election &/or local issues you want to take on, and a final message saying ‘Please vote for me on [date]”.

For most time-pressed citizens, in the grand scheme of things that is all they need to see and hear in order to make a judgement on who they are going to vote for. That can all be done – as Sophie Barnett proved, in under 30 seconds. If people want to hear more detail about something local, that’s what the interviews that I’ve recorded are for.

I think it’s also important to demonstrate to voters that it’s OK to make rough-and-ready short videos. Slick, professionally made videos take a huge amount of time and effort to produce. A five minute medley video with music in the background will take me a day to film and at least a further day of editing. At a local democracy level most people simply do not have the time, the money or the skills to make something like that. Also, if it’s too slick then you risk creating a distance between you and the voter – the ‘professional politician.’ At this level of local democracy, my hunch is that most people want to feel that candidates are people like them, who feel the same sorts of day-to-day pressures that people in the community feel, rather than a parachuted in A-lister superstar type from a party list taken from an exclusive wing of a national party.

A hustings in South Cambridgeshire?

One’s being lined up at the last minute in the area Rob and Mike are in – which is on the southern border of Cambridge City where lots of housing building is happening. Hence it should be a very interesting one given the issues as well as some of the relatively new faces on the local politics scene there. I’ll keep you posted. Details of further hustings/public debates in Cambridge are at the end of the Cambridge News article here – mainly on the north/west side of the river. (Which, given the poor transport links to that side of town is like ‘abroad’ for me!)

Can you really get a feel for who is going to win from a hustings or social media alone?

No – and I don’t think that’ll ever be the case. The biggest common factors for me are the frequency at which activists do door-to-door campaigning, and the performance of the party they are members of at a national level. Furthermore, young people were again conspicuous by their absence at the hustings in the Queen Edith’s ward – despite the local schools and colleges being informed. Is the next step to organise events inside such organisations and give them the expectation that they will publicise the events and invite their pupils/students along?

The other thing is that the conversion rate from new members to attending meetings to activist to candidate is an extremely low one. I have heard various numbers measured in hundreds in terms of new members joining local political parties in the last year. Yet if (in Cambridge at least) we compare it to the number of new faces standing as candidates, it doesn’t initially seem to reflect this surge.

“Post the elections, is there something that Cambridge as a city can do to encourage more people to get to the place where they feel they might want to stand for election?”

This is certainly something I would like to explore in the future – perhaps seeking a commissioned academic study or inviting for example students and young people to talk about their experiences of engaging with political parties. Or even finding out from people who used to be part of political parties or campaign groups what their reasons for leaving were, and what they moved onto afterwards.





“Council implements dragon’s policy pledge”


On Cambridge City Council adopting a theme of Puffles’ 2014 election manifesto


Doesn’t it look beautiful?!?

Have a look at https://adragonsbestfriend.wordpress.com/a-manifesto-for-cambridge/ten-themes-for-a-greater-city/theme-7-on-public-buildings-and-public-spaces/ from Puffles’ 2014 manifesto. Essentially what this exercise currently being undertaken by Cambridge City Council is pretty much a carbon copy of what I wrote in Theme 7 above. ie. Have a big map that people can write on to locate where Cambridge’s community venues are – irrespective of who owns them.

The follow-up plan from Be the change – Cambridge which we weren’t able to follow through was around annual ‘hack days’ – something that The Junction in Cambridge and staff from Cambridgeshire County Council have experimented at one-off events. (And in my opinion demonstrated that the concept worked).

We’ve already got Volunteer for Cambridge – something that started life as a twinkle in Puffles’ eye

…until Cllr Richard Johnson took up office as executive councillor for communities, and along with Anna Malan of the Cambridge Hub turned it into Volunteer for Cambridge – a now annual event at the heart of our city’s volunteering calendar.

The consultation on provision of community events being run by the city council is at https://www.cambridge.gov.uk/consultations/help-us-review-community-provision-in-cambridge. There is a risk – and/or a fear from some residents that this consultation will automatically lead to some council facilities being withdrawn. Given the funding constraints imposed by Central Government that is unavoidable. However, given the approach I outlined in Theme 7, and given what officers are currently doing, my hope is that the research and data collection will result in an easy-to-use tool that ultimately will result in more bookings for community centres across the city from groups that we did not know about, and who did not know where all the centres are. That way, I’d like to think more community centres can become self-sustaining and not need permanent public subsidy.

Interestingly, one of the other organisations now using social media more frequently is Cambridge City Police – note their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CambridgeCity.police/ I declare an interest in that I delivered a social media workshop for PCSOs of Cambridgeshire Police a few years ago, so it’s nice to see these coming to fruition.

Finally – and at long last, various councillors and candidates are now getting in touch and asking about making short video clips in the run up to the Cambridge City Council elections on 05 May 2016. Oh it has been a bloody hard slog to get to here, but finally it seems that Cambridge’s local political establishment are coming round to the concept of using online video as one of their campaigning tools. Today I filmed Conservative candidate for Queen Edith’s, Manas Deb. Later this week I’m due to film three Lib Dem women candidates – Nicky Shepherd, Jenny Page-Croft, and Lucy Nethsinger.

That means in terms of total number of candidates’ videos the numbers will be:

  • Green Party = 7
  • Liberal Democrats = 4
  • Conservatives = 2
  • Labour = 2

One Conservative and one further Green candidate have also been in touch but no date confirmed yet. It’ll be interesting to see how the local parties and individual candidates respond to these new totals.


Over to you now, candidates


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


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

“So, who’s in the lead?”

The chart for short election messages looks like this:

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

For interviews, the chart looks like this:

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

“Why do videos matter?”

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

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

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

Video messages potentially means no paper candidates

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

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

Not just video, but half-decent photographs too


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

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

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

The Tories’ first video

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

The acid test for Cambridge Liberal Democrats

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

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

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

Not all wards have the same social media profiles

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

Has it been harder to recruit candidates this year?

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

What would that entail?

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

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

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

160417 James Youd Comment


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

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

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

My response to Richard (and Clare by extension)

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

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

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

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

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

Response to James Youd

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

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

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

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

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

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

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





More #LostCambridge


…and some of these are really heart-breaking

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

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

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

Lost churches

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

So…yeah…more ‘Lost Cambridge’

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

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


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

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

Lost cinemas and theatres

Have a look at the post here.

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

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

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

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

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


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

Footprint of Theatre Royal St Andrews St GoogleMap

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

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

[Quick update]

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

Old Theatre Royal New Theatre Comparison Map

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

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

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


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

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

From rollerskating rinks and dance halls, to shops

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

photo (3)
The old bingo hall that has remained unused for far longer than is sensible

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

OldYMCA ColinRosenstiel

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

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

Talking of old religious buildings…

160314 OldEdenChapelGraftonCambridge

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

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

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


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

So…what does Cambridge have in their places?

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

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

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

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

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


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




Photographing easily-missed Cambridge buildings


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


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


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

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


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


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

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

Market 1937FonzChamberlain

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


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


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


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


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

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

160406 CambridgeshireOldCountyHall.jpg

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

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

Which politicians will make digital video work for them?


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How do parties make those videos go further?”

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

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

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


How should Cambridge communicate with its residents?


Collating thoughts following a short twitter exchange recently

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

Scoping the problem

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

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

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

Too many people relying on too few people?

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

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

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

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

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

What might such a gathering look like? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

How might it proceed and what could it achieve?

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

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

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

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

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

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