Cambridge GuildhallThrough the Looking Glass

The General Election May 7th Cambridge Guildhall

1. City Council Staff

Interviews were conducted with the City Council's Electoral Services Manager, Vicky Breading and her team:

On the March 31st 2015 Vicky and her team received the Writ from the Queen to say a General Election will be held. Cambridge Mayor, Councillor Gerri Bird, was there at the Guildhall in the Market Square to receive it as she is the Returning Officer. The City Council's CEO, Antoinette Jackson, is the Acting Returning Officer who is responsible for running the General Election. There are 80,000 voters in Cambridge, quite a task for the team. Voters have to register up to 12 days before the Election, and candidates need to put their names forward by 9th April. We began by speaking to Councillor Bird, as she signed for receipt of the Parliamentary Writ.

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 5.63MB)

On April 9th at the close of nominations we visited Vicky again, as she read out the six candidates who had put themselves forward to be the next MP for Cambridge. Vicky explained the process for registration. Vicky said that those nominated needed the support of ten people to be accepted onto the candidates list. She went on to explain how candidates get onto the list, how people can spoil their voting papers, and how both crosses on papers and ticks will be accepted and much more.

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 7.28MB)

The day after the close of voter registration on April 21st we recorded interviews with Vicky and her colleague Emily Watts, the Electoral Services Support Officer, about the Council's outreach work to get people to register to vote. Cambridge is a student Town. A record number of people registered to vote, over 100,000. Newspapers, TV and social media helped push those numbers up and the team ran an "informative" Twitter account. Turnout last time was 67.1 per cent, (national average was 65) and in May 2015 it was fewer at 62.1 per cent. (national average 66.1). Paper, equipment and staff training are next on Vicky's to do list.

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 10.0MB)

At a training night for Presiding Officers on April 22nd we secured interviews with Vicky and a long serving Presiding Officer, Robert Osborn, who looks after East Chesterton. Robert also delivers poll cards. Polling booths open at 7am and close at 10pm. Robert told us that the Polling agents from the parties are allowed to witness the sealing of the ballot boxes before they are put in the booths. At the end of the day the papers are taken back to the Guildhall where the count is taking place.

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 14.4MB)

Robert also delivers poll cards, as does Harriet Morgan, who we met at the Buddhist Hustings event. Robert has delivered 4000 poll cards this year. However Harriet thinks delivering cards does matter as it can give people the chance to realise they need to register if they haven't done so already. "People do say 'where's mine?'". Vicky told us she has 150 staff that work for her department on polling day, and training them is essential. There is no electoral legislation to cover the use of mobile phones, Twitter or Facebook.

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 4.36MB)

A long standing Returning Officer Rob Hammond, a former CEO of the City Council, spoke to us about his work on April 11th. Rob said he enjoyed the drama of the elections, "winners and losers". He told us he had overseen four General Elections and that there was a very detailed process to work to: "You have to plan about a year ahead. If something goes wrong with it you are personally responsible." He does foresee change in the future: "I am an enthusiast but it does need changing."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 20.4MB)

We caught up with a postal voter who had helped organise the Brunswick and North Kite, Residents Association Hustings, Sue Gordon Roe. Around 200 people attended from the area after Sue and her friends delivered 500 invites to their neighbours. She organised a postal vote for her husband and daughter and voted on April 24th before she went on holiday: "I rang up and they sent it. We voted locally and we voted nationally. Double envelopes, all through the post and the door."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 5.79MB)

On May 5th, two days before the General Election, the City Council's Marketing and Press Officer, Ashley Perry stood in the press balcony at the Guildhall to talk about how he and his team would manage the night of the count and field press interviews: "It's about helping the media tell the story of the Election count. Journalists know the rules of the game but that is not necessarily so for citizen's bloggers and citizen's journalists." Hot foot from talking to Ashley, and after the close of postal-vote registration and when the postal votes were being counted at the Guildhall Vicky Breading again talked to us about her final preparations for the Day of Voting May 7th: "There is a special sweep of the letter boxes at 10am on the 7th for the postal votes, we do advise people to send them back earlier, but they will get picked up on the day. We have to check signatures and dates of birth on the postal votes just to authenticate it all. Every single one is checked. We have about 100 people on the night to count the ballot papers."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 18.3MB)

On the night of the count we interviewed Antoinette Jackson, the Acting Returning Officer and CEO of the City Council just before the vote was declared in the early hours of the next morning May 8th: "The first ballot box was back at about 10.15pm and the last one about 11.15pm. I am responsible for the safe conduct of the count. I have to make sure that we are counting accurately and that the secrecy of the ballot is maintained and that the journalists are acting appropriately and not revealing things they shouldn't be. It feels like one team working to make sure it is a successful count no matter what their role is."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 9.10MB)

Dedication: This Eight part documentary is dedicated to my friends Simon Sedgwick-Jell (Green Party), and Ann Stockford (Labour Party). Both were well known political campaigners in Cambridge. They may support different parties but each supported and participated in democracy and befriended me. My respect goes to the candidates of all the political parties and their teams of supporters.