Cambridge Tories to host public meeting in Cherry Hinton

***Wow! This is rare!***

It has been decades since the Cambridge Conservatives organised a public meeting in Cambridge, let alone showcasing four election candidates at the same time. But the proposed road user charging / congestion charging plans from the Greater Cambridge Partnership (ironically established by the Conservative-led Coalition Government along with Conservative-led South Cambs District, and Cambridgeshire County Councils, and the outgoing Liberal Democrat-led Cambridge City Council) may have given what was once a mighty social movement in the city a route back into Cambridge local politics.

It’s worth noting that Cambridgeshire County Council under the Conservatives attempted to bring in congestion charging in the late 2000s when the last Labour Government offered financial incentives to local councils brave enough to bring them in. So far only London has such a charge. You could say that the situation we are now is is the reverse of that.

You can see the FB post here.

Above – organised by the city’s Conservatives

Above – the 2022 local election results

You can look at the general election history of the Cambridge Parliamentary Constituency here, noting that in 2019 the party could only find a candidate from Harlow to stand for them, and he polled the lowest percentage of the vote in the party’s history in Cambridge. But that was still over 8,000 votes. Hence my longstanding view has been that the Cambridge Conservatives have been *underperforming* at elections for decades – mainly because they haven’t had anyone doing the regular door-to-door campaigning that other parties do in their target wards. Ironically, the voting system that Conservatives nationally are so strongly in favour of (First Past The Post) is one that amplifies their defeats in Cambridge, and amplified their defeat in South Cambridgeshire as well. Make of that what you will.

“Is it possible to win a ward seat in Cambridge on a single issue?”

We’re about to find out.

Note the Conservatives locally have got all of the national corruption scandals to defend, the issues around how their ministers handled the pandemic (that is still ongoing), the state of the NHS and public services, and a host of other national issues that have local impacts.

Cambridge activists! Organise some local election hustings/debates!

See Chris Rand’s guide here. That way local residents can put whatever questions they want to the candidates that turn up. It also means that local media pick up on what happens – especially if you ensure it is live-streamed and/or filmed. (Or even live-blogged). It also creates a much stronger incentive for candidates to cover a much wider range of issues in their campaigns, and reduces the opportunities for parties to stand ‘paper candidates’. In my view given the state of politics at the moment, and given the technology we now have available, call candidates should be posting at least the most basic of introduction videos – such as the ones I produced for all four political parties standing locally in 2017 (including some Conservative candidates). The format is simple:

  • “Hello, my name is A, and I’m standing for party B in ward C at the D [city/borough/district] council elections on date E”
  • “The reasons I am standing for election are reason-1, reason-2, and reason-3
  • “So please vote for me A, of party B at the D elections on date E”

All of the videos in the 2017 playlist follow that same format, irrespective of party. Furthermore I made them all do multiple takes so they got the best possible take. Finally I told them they had to keep their messages positive and not include any mention of their opponents.

“Will there be protesters there?”

I’d be astonished if there weren’t. But then that brings us back to what a democracy is, and what constitutes democratic activity. Peaceful protests happen to be part of that. The challenge for whoever is chairing the meeting is whether they will be able to stick to their agenda or whether they get sidetracked into national issues – in particular national issues that a lower tier council has no power or influence over. Cambridge City Council summarises what its responsibilities are on this webpage here. So although the City Council holds one of the board seats on the Greater Cambridge Partnership, the legal powers to bring in any road user charging rests first of all with the County Council – and if that council approves such a policy then the Order to bring it into force has to be approved by the Secretary of State for Transport – which at the moment is a Conservative because they are in Government.

“What did people say about the Conservative congestion charging proposals in the late 2000s?”

We can look at the executive summary from the consultant’s report on their survey of residents.

The full report is in the Cambridgeshire Collection.

“Who else can I vote for?”

See and type in your postcode. When nominations are confirmed at the start of April 2023 the lists should be filled in.

See also Phil Rodgers’ Spreadsheet of candidates – Labour and Tories have filled in most of their candidates.

There is also at least one Independent candidate standing in Castle, but not officially announced, standing on an anti-congestion-charge platform. As I’ve mentioned before from my own experience, residents will have their own list of political issues they are particularly passionate about – many having nothing to do with the actual powers and responsibilities the local council has – but nonetheless are still things they will demand answers on.

“Can you just ‘make policies up on the spot’?

Probably not a good idea – the useful thing being in a political party is that someone else with similar values to you has done the detailed thinking and you can refer people to them. That brings its own risks of you not necessarily agreeing with that assessment. But if you are clear in your values then you can give an indication of your thinking. For example if your values strongly align with the environment, you can give an indication of which way you’d lean while acknowledging any drawbacks that might need to be addressed first. For example with road user charging you might – as I’ve stated repeatedly – insist that alternatives to the car [that affluent drivers would use and/or that are safer for children, such as segregated cycleways] are in place first. Alternatively if you are against any additional taxation by the state as a matter of principle, you may take the view that there’s no chance you’d support road user charging at all, or not without a significant reduction in a related tax to compensate for it.

“Will it be plain sailing for the Tories at this meeting?”

Depends who goes. If it’s only their supporters then it may end up being a sort of rally. If it’s an open meeting with people both for and against, then there will be a host of questions that their party opponents, and/or supporters of the proposals from the GCP (they do exist) might put to them regarding the years they were in control of the GCP (2014-18) and the Mayoralty (2016-21) and what was achieved in those years. (Smarter Cambridge Transport coming to the conclusion that, for the money they spent, very little has been achieved).

I haven’t decided if I’ll go along yet. If I do, it’ll probably be more to ask if I can film/livestream the event rather than asking anything myself. I think for something like this it is more important that the general public get to have their say and the rest of us can hear what their mood is, rather than having someone like me who is deeply immersed in the very detailed public policy issues that might otherwise be of little meaning to the audience.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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