And take the Combined Authority with it – replacing our system of local government with two unitary councils based around Cambridge & Peterborough respectively.
If you want a headline for my proposals for the Cambridge City Council elections 2023, abolishing the GCP would be it. And I have been following this for a number of years. Have a listen to my responses to journalist Dotty McLeod of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire back in 2016 when the Combined Authority was established – and note my cautionary comment at the end regarding the GCP.
Furthermore, I propose the construction of a light rail network with underground tunnels under Cambridge to go side-by-side with a Greater Cambridge Unitary Council, where the local economic footprint of Cambridge’s economy matches the electoral boundaries. See A case for a Greater Cambridge Unitary Council – and a light rail network to service it, for more details. (I wrote the above in November 2021. A month later I was in A&E having had a heart attack. I’m still in recovery – so please be gentle with me!)
Here are two historical examples of what our predecessors sketched out.
Above-left, the scrapped proposal from Redcliffe-Maud in 1969; and above-right, the post-1913 local government set up of the old Cambridge County (i.e. what we call Cambridgeshire County Council) and the very small districts within – note the even smaller-than-today’s town boundaries for Cambridge pre-WWI.
Cambridge’s municipal boundaries are not set in stone – and neither are our county boundaries. The same goes for the powers that councils had – borough councils formerly being responsible for schools, libraries, and even public health.
Time for a light rail for Cambridge
If you’ve not seen the maps, see here. I’ve spent the past seven years trying to make the case for the Greater Cambridge Partnership to fund the essential feasibility studies for Cambridge Connect Light Rail. Prior to that I was exploring existing proposals from Rail Haverhill & Rail Future to be supported by the GCP. On both occasions I was turned down. Here’s me calling out the GCP officers in 2017 about their failure to assess the rail link from Haverhill to Cambridge and no further.
I asked the GCP to reappraise the assumptions:
- Proposals cover the full rail link reconnecting Haverhill with Sudbury
- Rail haverhill be incorporated into the light rail proposals from Cambridge Connect going on to Cambourne.
There were repeated failures to fund even the most basic feasibility assessments despite multiple calls from a host of groups and individuals including Smarter Cambridge Transport here in July 2020.
Officers and councillors did not publicly engage with ministers about the possibility of additional funding, nor did they publicly make the case for additional revenue-raising powers from the wealth we are told the Cambridge sub-region generates from the economy. This is despite my specific request at the GCP Assembly on 01 March 2017, when the Conservatives controlled the GCP due holding the leadership of both South Cambridgeshire District Council and Cambridgeshire County Council at the time.
Above – my PQ to Graham Hughes, then of Cambridgeshire County Council as well as the GCP. (You can listen to my first question, watch Mr Hughes’ full presentation prior to my subsequent specific request here).
That is a collective failure.
Protests against busway plans and road user/congestion charging – all three parties to blame?
It is clear to me that in the face of the protests on both the road user charging/congestion charging, and the Cambourne-Cambridge busway plan through Coton orchard, the Greater Cambridge Partnership has lost the legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Not least because no politician stood on an election mandate making the case for either. I say that as someone who does not have an issue with the principle of road user charging – only that the light rail network, the comprehensive bus services, and extensive cycleways/active travel networks are in place before any charging is brought in. Why? Because the policy objective should not be to make money, but to persuade existing drivers to use alternative forms of transport. In this, the GCP has failed. Utterly. Whether under Conservative majority leadership (2014-2018), all three parties (2018-21) or the present Labour-Liberal Democrat leadership (2021-ono). What has been striking with the existing proposals is the lack of trust and belief that the substantial increase in spending on buses (vehicles, infrastructure, and driver salaries) has not convinced a hostile public that those improvements will be anything like enough – even though the GCP has conceded that those improvements need to be in place before road user charging comes in. Even when asked what contingencies they have in event of policy failure, GCP executive directors have been evasive in their responses.
The problem is few seem willing to discuss the structural problems that are at the heart of all of these problems
Cllr Sam Davies MBE (Ind – Queen Edith’s) wrote the following last Sunday:
“I can’t see any discussion of the possibility of exploring such a rationalisation [of Cambridgeshire’s governance structures] in the election literature now dropping through our doors.”Cllr Sam Davies – 02 Apr 2023
So from a big picture perspective, that’s what I’m aiming for: raising the structural roots that are at the at the heart of Cambridge’s chronic problems.
Helping educate and inform the public so they can have productive conversations with party political representatives.
Starting the introductory conversations now and over the next month means that more people will be prepared for the bigger debates when the next general election is called – and when they can challenge parliamentary candidates over manifesto commitments. Furthermore, a greater number of people will have familiarised themselves with whichever issues are of most concern to them.
Now you can go and ask Dr Colin Harris of Cambridge Connect, – or listen to him on Cambridge 105 here, and also ask the team at Rail Future East about the details of light and heavy rail – of which they are ***far more qualified & familiar*** with than I will ever be.
That is generally how I plan to run with ideas that others have come up with, or concepts that more qualified people have written about. Rather than pretending to know the answers or trying to be an expert, I’ll be referring people to those that are non-party-political and bring them into the conversations so that residents and voters can then follow them up with party political candidates, councillors and MPs.
Because as an independent candidate I am, by my very nature not seeking executive public office.
“You’re still ‘Political’ because you are standing for public office – even though you say you don’t want to win or campaign specifically for votes”
Agreed – as a few Labour activists have called me out on this evening just as others did with Puffles back in 2014. It’s the nature of elections and tribal politics: If you’re not in the party and your name’s on the ballot paper then you’re an opponent. End of.
I can’t say I like that way of doing politics. I think the Joint Administration for Cambridgeshire County Council has lasted far, far longer than many had anticipated – even under the extreme pressure of the transport proposals from the GCP.
The difference between being an independent candidate (generally speaking vs a party candidate is this: All of the party-political candidates standing as part of a slate of candidates are, to a greater or lesser extent seeking to gain party political control over an institution in order to get that institution to deliver their collection of policies [normally co-ordinated and within a manifesto]. All I can do is list some policy ideas and hope someone friendly picks them up and turns them into something useful.
See the difference?
I will never be in a position to deliver a new light rail system for Cambridge. What I can do, however, is publicise the Cambridge Connect proposals, and invite audiences at hustings, and residents to find out more about the proposals and then put their own questions both to the promotors and to the other candidates – and let the conversations happen. I don’t need to micromanage it.
Cambridge City Council does not have the powers or revenue base to build a light rail under our existing system
Borough/District level councils don’t have powers or funding to do much at all. Therefore in order to constitute a much more powerful and locally-accountable council, we require changes to the law and government policy. It’s not just me saying this: The Public Administration & Constitutional Affairs Select Committee agreed. Sadly, Michael Gove told the Committee that this won’t be happening – a decision that earned him a summoning back to account for his response from the Committee Chairman in his own party. Therefore, this has to be an issue for the next general election.
Many of my proposals for Cambridge and its surrounding towns and villages require action from Parliament and Whitehall. Be under no illusions that without the changes some of which Dr Andy Williams of the Cambridge Biomedical Campus outlined to Queen Edith’s residents last month here in response to my question, Cambridge’s civic institutions will continue to struggle.
“Can people help?”
Of course! In no particular order:
- Proactively contact your candidates and ask them questions – https://whocanivotefor.co.uk/ – if you have children, invite them to come up with questions to put to all your candidates, and get them to make a recommendation based on the answers that come back. (Tell the candidates this is what you are doing, and that you are more than likely to follow their recommendation!)
- Take part in any hustings and feel free to ask all candidates about any of the issues I raise in subsequent posts & videos between now & polling day
And in Queen Edith’s?
- Get a small group together and drag me out of my front room for a coffee – and even suggesting improvements to what I’ve already written. Having people to talk to and discuss how to improve our neighbourhood makes a huge difference. Being an independent candidate can be a very lonely and isolating experience at the best of times – even when lots of people have encouraged you to stand. (That was the most disappointing thing of 2014 sadly).
- Getting a group of us to stand outside a local supermarket handing out fliers with a big drop-down banner advertising the election day and encouraging people to contact *all candidates* would be a nice thing to do – especially given low turnouts. (It doesn’t have to be restricted to Queen Edith’s either!) Again, my campaign aims prioritise getting local residents more involved in local democracy, community action, and civic life ahead of any personal vote tally. (Although it would be nice to get more than 89 – which is what Puffles got in 2014!)
- I’m more than happy to point potential voters into the arms of other local political parties – along with potential issues to discuss. Let’s have informed debate, not slogan-tennis! I’m also happy to hear about policies that other parties are developing – such as Cambridge Labour’s new youth strategy in their manifesto, or The Greens’ proposal for a properly segregated network of cycleways inside Cambridge – which I’d love to see the council engaging with children and teenagers on which roads to designate.
- Help out with expenses because printing ink isn’t cheap, and ideally I’d like to get some of the proposals properly printed up/bound so that after the elections people can refer back to them. (See https://ko-fi.com/antonycarpen and type in ‘elections’ into the message so I can account for them! Also see p7 of this from the Electoral Commission for who is a permissible donor)
- If my chronic fatigue allows, taking a group of people to the election count – especially if you’ve never been to one before and would like to see it. It’s a ‘bucket list’ life experience that the TV cameras inevitably do not cover!
Above – a short introduction video
For anyone wanting to contribute financially (I have to declare donations), please see https://ko-fi.com/antonycarpen and in the message type in *Election donation*. Note you must be a permissible donor in the UK in order to donate. (See the guidance from the Electoral Commission here – noting “If you accept a donation over £50, you must record the donor’s name, address, value of donation, and dates received and accepted”). I also have to record any spending on my campaign, which like last time will probably be on paper and printing ink! Or computer repairs if my laptop breaks down again!)
I’m in the process of writing up both a ward/neighbourhood level set of ideas, and also a city/county level one too. Most of them are already in long-form blogposts that I’ve published over the past few years. What I need to do now is put them into a more digestible/readable format – and in video form too.
I’m not claiming to represent anyone other than myself, nor am I seeking endorsements. Rather, I intend to raise issues and ideas that have been brought up by many people and societies past and present, and invite party political candidates to state publicly that they will feed them back into their policy-making processes and report back on whether their parties have adopted them as their own.
“That sounds a bit pointless – letting other people take the credit!”
Not at all. I’m of the view that I don’t really care who gets which bits done so long as the whole city benefits. Furthermore, I’m still less than 18 months post-heart attack, and am at a stage where ministers have so badly under-funded the NHS that part of my rehab programme had to be cut short. So I am not in a position to be a fighting-fit active ward councillor that our city needs. It does mean that I have time to read through ***lots of meeting papers*** (which is actually part of the structural problem – we need fewer, more accessible papers that more of the public can access and understand!)
Above – me in Addenbrooke’s in December 2021
One of the things I promised the staff at Addenbrooke’s and Royal Papworth who cared for me was that I’d campaign on their behalf for improved housing and transport. So in one sense this is me fulfilling that part of the deal. (I was even blogging while waiting for my operation – this on asking staff about GCP & Combined Authority proposals)
“Why won’t you be door-knocking & leafletting the ward?”
Because just an hour or so of that will leave me like this for at least two days after
Above – being hit by post-exertional malaise
“People with ME/CFS experience severe pain and fatigue associated with post-exertional malaise (PEM). This is when the body is not able to recover after using even small amounts of energy. This fatigue feels very different from ordinary tiredness. It might take a day or 2 to kick in after physical, mental, or emotional exertion.”NHS Scotland on CFS/ME
Why me? A few people said that I’m the only person outside of party politics who is ‘qualified and competent’ enough to discuss the issues that our city & county need to be debating in the run up to the general election. In a nutshell that means I’ve done a fair amount of historical reading of previous large scale proposals for Cambridge, and was also at several of the meetings (I filmed more than a few for the Federation of Cambridge Residents’ Associations during the 2010s) to provide informed comment on where the current weaknesses are and what future options include.
So that’s a bit of a long-winded intro.
Now to see who your other candidates are!