Cambridge Elections vs Chronic Fatigue

What has it been like trying to make some noise on Cambridge’s chronic problems in the face of chronic illness?

Shortly after my name was put on the ballot paper, I recorded and published this.

Above – being a candidate with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

And that’s before dealing with both my recovery from a heart attack less than 18 months ago and long term depression & general anxiety disorder.

This was something that I was up front with at the Queen Edith’s hustings.

“I want to raise this as an issue when it comes for you to cast your vote because when it comes to moving forward and how we can improve Queen Edith’s, how – if I end up getting elected – however unlikely it is – How you work with me and how I work with you is going to have to be different to how the system (which dates back to 1974) is”

Antony Carpen 25 Apr 2023 – Queen Edith’s Hustings

That fatigue also meant I got a couple of names of things wrong at the hustings – calling the Assembly Hall built in 1862 “The Assizes Hall” when talking about the guildhall, and getting Greg Clark the cities minister who signed off the Cambridge City Deal with Nick Clarke the former Conservative leader of Cambridgeshire County Council mixed up!

I’m not the first, and won’t be the last candidate who has struggled with mental and physical health issues

At the end of the hustings, the first resident who came up to me told me: “Look after your heart!” When I was in hospital back in 2017 in what we think turned out to be a viral-related minor heart attack, I had visitors who were members of at least four different political parties – in part a recognition of just how stressful simply following local democracy can be.

Has anyone ever thought that the current system needs to change because at the moment it is making people working in it ill?

If you go back through 20thC history you’ll find examples of people who never achieved their full potential because they died young and were, sadly, quickly forgotten about. In Cambridge, our first two Labour MPs died before their 50th birthdays. That is a sobering thought.

Cllr Sam Davies MBE in her annual report to Queen Edith’s residents spoke at length on the structural failures of our city’s governance. Furthermore, there was a joint article in the same newspaper from two very different political perspectives that came to the same conclusion as Phil Rodgers: Cambridge & Cambridgeshire need a governance overhaul.

Edward Leigh, who convened Smarter Cambridge Transport was invited by the Cambridge Independent to comment on the workplace parking levy that the SCT had called for.

The GCP estimated that a workplace parking levy had the potential to generate £13m per year based on charging £1,000 per parking space at business premises…. This option was also favoured by Smarter Cambridge Transport (SCT), but it faced strong opposition from Cambridge Ahead. The business group’s membership includes both city universities, major employers, land owners and developers.

Smarter Cambridge Transport to Cambridge Independent 30 Apr 2023

Understandably this left more than a few residents fuming because the alternative proposal – the controversial road user charging as part of the Sustainable Travel Zone has been seen as a regressive tax more likely to hit those with the least ability to pay (as a proportion of their incomes) vs the wealthy large firms and institutions. Personally I think any workplace parking levy should not be restricted to Cambridge’s obsolete 1935 boundaries, but rather one that incorporates the science and tech parks *in return for* those revenues being used to help build both a light rail and a network of cycleways – the latter not just in Cambridge but through and linking rural areas too.

“What did you mean by ‘having to work differently?”

This is something that Cambridge University’s Science and Policy Exchange should research on behalf of the County Council in their existing policy programme: how can existing working practices be improved to make the whole thing less unhealthy for everyone involved? Which are the structures that are unnecessarily duplicated? (For example the multiple town planning briefings for Cambridge City, and South Cambridge District councils? What system of casework management could be put in for councillors to easily allocate and transfer casework that is the responsibility of a different elected member? (For example a county councillor or Member of Parliament?)

The long term question is about how we move from a ‘vote and forget’ model of representative democracy that emerged in the 19th Century – where MPs were hardly seen in their constituencies (hence the term “Returned to Parliament by the constituents of…”) and one where elected members of councils, assemblies and parliaments are able to tap into the huge wealth of knowledge and life experiences fo their constituents as a means of influencing public policy? And not only that, scrutinising the lobbying of large institutions. Personally I’d love to see Cambridge University and its colleges having to face public meetings to justify its decisions that have a significant impact on the people who make up our city. That for me would be one of the essential steps to persuading colleges to change their constitutions/royal charters to compel them to account for the interests of the wider city (and those living/working on their landholdings) before coming to decisions. (See Cambridge Land Justice if you’re interested)

“Cambridge Deserves Better”

My quotation hit the front page, and I’ve been trying to explain to people that councillors of all parties have been making some noise on this against the developers who want to ‘maximise the financial return on the site’. You can read Cait Findlay’s article here

Above – my quotation about the demolition proposals for the Art Deco Hobson Street Cinema splashed across the front page of the Cambridge News – see Cait Findlay here

And just as activists tried to turn the empty site into a community centre before being evicted, so the same happened on Mill Road 20 years ago.

What changes to the law need to be brought in so that councils can compel land owners to bring such buildings into temporary community use until they decide what to do with them?

“Will the Tories be stopped in Cambridge?”

I’ve not been doing any canvassing, but I’ve noticed there are a few more Green Party and Conservative Party boards out than in previous elections. At the same time, household names are raising the noise about stopping the Tories nationally.

Locally, much depends on how strongly people have felt about the GCP’s proposals, who has got what target wards, and also the three wards which have more than just the four parry candidates standing. i.e. Castle, East Chesterton, & Queen Edith’s – the latter two both having videoed hustings. In the case of Queen Edith’s it was a case of sheer bad luck for the Conservative Candidate Dr Gregory – recently moved to the city – to get the first question drawn out on a hyper-local issue that would have caught out anyone in a similar situation. Have a watch here of how we all dealt with the proposals for *Joy’s Garden*.

Being a facilitator rather than a leader

I want to finish with something I spotted in Resurgence & Ecologist Magazine

What would it be like to have local reading and discussion groups dotted around our city but starting out at community hubs in the places that have the lowest turnouts and the lowest consultation responses and the poorest levels of economic affluence and ‘connections’? As I’ve mentioned before, I can do the facilitation but I’m useless at organising, booking, advertising, and marketing. And although my ‘performance’ at the hustings might have looked confident to the audience and on video, I’m still in the process of recovering from it – having effectively stayed indoors for about two of the four days that followed, and managing a couple of hours out and about for the other two – before heading back to bed. Because Post Exertional Malaise can be bone-crushing like that. It was only the fact that my mind was still buzzing on Tuesday after the event that I chose to process and upload the videos of the hustings asap before the PEM kicked in with a vengance.

Above – you can view the hustings playlist here – note the number of views for the opening speeches for each of the four party candidates (ie broadly similar)

I should also add my thanks to the small group of volunteers who helped pay for the costs of home-made flyers summarising our broken systems of governance, and also how to put Qs to all of us candidates. Also to the few people who volunteered to deliver them in their neighbourhoods. (You can read the e-version here)

Anecdotally one of the reasons Queen Edith’s gets higher voter turnouts is because a ward-wide magazine is distributed to every home in the ward, and because since the founding of the Community Forum we’ve gone out of our way to ensure that there is video footage of as many of the candidates as possible so that residents unable to meet the candidates can see and hear them in their own words. I saw no reason to change that tradition as the person who normally does the filming, editing, and publishing. (Interestingly, I’ve had more referrals from my blog heading to than I have received back the other way!)

Voting day is on 4th May!

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