Cambridge GuildhallThrough the Looking Glass

The General Election May 7th Cambridge Guildhall

2. The Political Parties and their Candidates

We travelled out and about with the political parties and their candidates. We obtained interviews with all the six candidates, so called PPCs, at various Hustings events and also when they were out canvassing with their respective teams.

Chamali Fernando - Conservative Party PPC (April 13th Keep our NHS Public Hustings, April 23rd Housing Hustings)

Chamali told us: "I am 36 years old, I used to be a Liberal Democrat, it is no secret. I was also the youngest ever candidate shortlisted for the role of Mayor of London. Cambridge offers me the opportunity to put a City on the map. My interest in politics stems from when I was a child, my father contested two parliamentary seats when I was 7 and 8 years old and I helped him campaigning. In an Asian family politics is not something considered as a career for a woman. I am in this because I genuinely feel I can make a difference, that is what motivates me that is what drives me."

At the Housing Hustings, Chamali stopped to chat to us as she left, what was a very angry meeting about the cost of housing in the City both to buy and to rent: She said: "I was very impressed by the amount of expertise in the room. I think Cambridge is punching well under its weight, we are a pioneering City, and we should be achieving more. It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the NHS Hustings - I didn't say what I was accused to say by the blogger about the mentally ill wearing wrist bands. I had death threats, and the misreporting of the event has upset those who are mentally ill too. I was personally thanked at the end of the Hustings."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 12.5MB)

Rupert Read - Green Party PPC (April 7th Bike Hustings, May 4th Sunflower bus)

At the Bike Hustings Rupert told us: "All politics is local, there is a lot of concern in Cambridge about air pollution and gridlock. Leafleting and being in touch is important. We target one ward and then one seat at a time."

While leafleting beside the Green sunflower bus (powered by used chip fat) in Cambridge City City, (May 4th) Rupert said one to one voter contact in the streets was still really important. "We do lots of fancy stuff on social media with the Green Party but if you are not out on the streets meeting real people, and people who live where you are trying to get elected, then you are not going to get elected. Our positive vision swings voters over. We're trying to make the World a better place."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 7.90MB)

Daniel Zeichner - Labour Party PPC (Feb 25th Labour's Pink Bus visit; April 12th, Super Sunday leafleting; April 27th U3A Hustings at the Friends Meeting House; May 4th Bank Holiday Monday at the Labour Party HQ in Norfolk Street, telephone canvassing)

At the Harriet Harman Pink Bus visit Daniel told us: "I think it is a fantastic idea, for the first time I can remember women's issues are at the front of the campaign. Here we are talking about domestic violence, and how we are trying to turn Cambridge into a much safer city, particularly for women. The police will tell you the incidence of DV in Cambridge, has shot up and I am pleased Harriet is here talking to women about what needs to be done to help them, this is a hidden crisis that is going on in many homes. "

At the U3A Friends Meeting House Hustings Daniel said: "The problem with the Hustings in Cambridge is that we have a huge number of them, two a day today, and it needed some leadership from the incumbent MP to structure this differently. We discussed education, poverty, but not zero hour's contracts, We could have had fewer hustings events with larger audiences and I think this would have taken us further."

At the Labour HQ on Bank Holiday Monday Daniel was telephone canvassing. He said: "We want our volunteers to get the vote out, in close campaigns and with some many people so undecided, these last minute conversations could be critically important. It does matter to phone canvass people, we have an enthusiasm on the ground, and this time we are seeing hundreds of students getting involved. That gives you more people you can use in key moments, like that four hours on election day when people come home from work, between four and 8 O'clock."

"I mainly do door knocking, people like to look the candidate in the eye, I will flirt with the cat, flirt with the dog, flirt with the voter if necessary, it is all about the theatre of politics, but politics is about a relationship with people, and they do like to know who their representative is. I have been contesting this seat now for nearly ten years, so I have met most of the people in one way or another and it is surprising how many of the conversations you do recollect, especially with the dogs!"

At the 30th Hustings which was the last one for the University of Cambridge European Society at St John's auditorium Daniel was delighted that the hustings events had finished: "It is not about the husting or the leafleting we have done, the votes will be won and lost with the thousands of conversations we have had on the doorstep. It is about the one to one looking people in the eye and talking to people. Ed asked us to have 4 million conversations across the Country, and in Cambridge we have had about 15 to 20000. I am feeling very happy and I don't know how the vote will go!"

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 15.5MB)

Julian Huppert - Liberal Democrat PPC (April 4th Unite Against Fascism picnic; April 20th Unite Against Fascism Hustings)

First we spoke to Julian at the Unite Against Fascism picnic on April 4th where all the parties came together to condemn a recent racist attack in Petersfield Park. We then spoke with Councillor Oscar Gillespie who was up for nomination in Market Ward as a councillor for the Green Party and who did then win his seat. We also met the woman who had been the subject of the racist abuse.

Julian said: "I am a Liberal I care about people as individuals but unfortunately what we are seeing with the rise of UKIP is anti-foreigners xenophobic commentary. The other parties Labour and the Conservatives are following that same route. I will stand firm as a Liberal."

At the April 20th unite Against Fascism Hustings, Julian pointed out that Cambridge had seen two EDL (English Defence League) marches in recent years and he said that the community has dealt with it very well. He said: "We have seen people assaulted because of their race, and that is not OK."

A Green Party Candidate for Petersfield in the local elections, Atus Mariqueo-Russell, spoke alongside Julian. He said he wanted to challenge the other candidates on foreign policy and immigration. "The debate has become very dangerous and polarising."

Both Julian and Atus Tweeted about the event but Julian never Tweets until he has arrived somewhere, just in case he doesn't make it.

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 6.95MB)

Keith Garrett - Rebooting Democracy PPC (May 7th at the Guildhall General Election count)

We caught up with a PPC l Candidate, Keith Garrett, who started his own party from scratch, called Rebooting Democracy after he read a book of the same name. Keith told us: "I want to help run the country better. I am a systems administrator so I run computers. It isn't actually that big a task to start a party, others should do it. You just have to fill in some forms, stand up there, talk to people, it is not that hard a thing to do."

"To register the party cost me £150 and to stand as an MP was £500, and you get that back if you get 5 per cent of the vote. "No", I won't get that. The post office will give you a free mailing to everybody in the constituency. You have to print the leaflets yourself which I did. It cost me £700 to print the black and white leaflets which went to 53,600 homes."

"Rebooting Democracy only has one pledge which is to change the system of government from the current one to one where the Country decides where it is going to go, and then we use citizen's panels which are selected like juries, randomly, to come up with the decisions to take the Country forward. The current system has let us down so badly with the rise of social inequality, and climate change. This is only the beginning of the process for us we are going to move towards having an MP in every seat."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 12.2MB)

UKIP - Patrick O'Flynn PPC (April 18th at Kings Hedges campaigning)

We met Patrick O'Flynn when he and his team were campaigning in a target ward for them, Kings Hedges. He said: "This is one of the more working class wards in Cambridge and we have had a series of action days where we have targeted and leafleted people in our target wards, which tend to be the more blue collared wards. Last night we had a big public meeting in the Ward in the Arbury Community Centre, and other members of our Party attended. We had the added attraction of Douglas Carswell, and I am UKIP national campaign director too so I have been on the television quite a lot. Douglas brought in the extra turnout and we had a really good night. We are getting the leaflets through the door, but it is very mixed. Some say there is no place for UKIP in Cambridge, because we want migration controls."

"I do Tweet but I don't do Facebook but the Party puts a lot into Facebook with Nigel Farage and others in the party. We are coming from a fairly low base in Cambridge but we are the new kid on the Cambridge scene but we have taken massive strides forward. We have eight candidates for 14 wards, I am proud of that, and through the local elections we will find out where our strength lies to hopefully go on to win local seats in 2016."

"Cambridge is a Liberal Left city but the liberal left vote is split so it gives me a niche between the blue collar and Conservative vote who might like some of our pledges on defence spending and looking after some of our veterans, law and order and EU and immigration and inheritance tax."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 9.29MB)

Party Activism

We also spoke to the parties campaign teams, as they attended hustings events, targeted wards and blitzed neighbourhoods with leaflets on "Super Saturdays" and "Super Sundays" capturing the team roles and responsibilities in the political parties.

The Conservative PPC Campaign Manager, Mr Chandila Fernando, brother of the candidate, spoke to us at the Jubilee Hustings event (April 28th)

He said: "I think this is the 27th Hustings, there are sometimes two or three in a day. As an agent, you have to ensure your candidate is safe, well rested, and gets around the Constituency in the most effective way, but there is a diary plan for every day."

"As an agent you are everything from pot washer, to driver to stylist, advisor, and you have to have your eyes and ears to the ground, you act as the interface between the candidate and the association, which ceases to exist. You have to keep the troops out canvassing motivated, you are juggling telephone calls, priorities and being as polite as you possible can even if the circumstances are trying. She is my sister and you do the best you possibly can."

"You have to deal with the media too. The report that said Chamali had said that the mental illness sufferers must have compulsory use of wrist band is completely refuted. We envisaged that there would be difficult circumstances but only when you are in a campaign can you understand the challenges, the volume of hustings and frequency has been a challenge. It is tough but that is part of the democracy of this Country and part of the quirks of Cambridge. I admire and am very proud as a brother and agent to support my sister."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 8.81MB)

The Green party activist, Oscar Gillespie, a local City Council candidate who went on to win the Market Ward seat, and a Green activist on the Green sunflower powered bus on Bank Holiday Monday May 4th. Oscar also spoke to us at the UA Fascism picnic. (April 4th)

When we caught up with Oscar on Bank Holiday Monday May 4th he had been out in the streets of Cambridge canvassing all day, and he told us: "We have to speak to people face to face, we have to meet people. We are not accepting donations from companies that want to influence our policies, so we don't have the same resources, or from tax dodgers who want to make sure the law stays on their side."

"Our biggest resource is the people who believe in what we believe in. We are passionate about public transport, to allow people to get to work or to do their shopping, our reliance on cars is incredible dangerous and unsustainable, it is mindless. We will need to use recycled oil buses like this one, or solar powered ones, if we get that far we will have made some really important choices."

"I wouldn't call our Sunflower bus a stunt, it is easy to take information around the Country with them. We have some of the worst air pollution in the country in Cambridge due to the volume of traffic that comes through. Our Party Leader, Natalie Bennett will be visiting the Bus tomorrow, and today our Deputy Leader Amelia Womack came here."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 7.04MB)

Labour activism

Regional Campaign Spokesperson - the Labour MEP Richard Howitt met us while campaigning on a Super Sunday (April 12th) and on the night of the count after the vote was declared. We also talked to the Labour students leafletting and door knocking on the streets on that April Super Sunday and the party activists working with Richard and Daniel himself.

Richard Howitt told us: "The last election five years ago was the first digital election, where social media played a role, and most people said at the time it was not significant, but this time social media has been a very active part of each party's campaign including the Labour parties. Whether it swings any votes, we will have to wait until afterwards to know. In Cambridge we are trying to knock on every door as every vote is vital to us, but that wouldn't be true in every seat, but it is true in Cambridge. You put more effort into some wards than others but we definitely don't forsake the Labour vote. Most people don't live and breathe politics, I do, but for others politics is very marginal."

"We know how many promises we have got, and we have knocked on a high percentage of doors, but there is quite a lot that we haven't and no party is able to. People say there are two seats in the country where Labour may move from third place to first and Cambridge is one of them. If we do that it will be a fantastic achievement and I believe we will."

We then interviewed Labour activists Holly, Ashely, Olivia, Fred, Rory and Maddie. Maddie, the Organiser of Super Sunday told us: "When we are preparing leaflets it is local people who know which streets go best together. I always ask the local team which place is the best to go to. When you do something together in a team it is actually quite straight forward. The best way to convince people is by speaking to them on the doorstep it is the best way."

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 17.1MB)

We met the Labour Campaign team workers in their HQ in Alex Wood Hall on May 4th, Bank Holiday Monday, just three days before the General Election. Activist and volunteer Paul McHugh took us round. Paul told us: "If people say in the morning of the vote they will be out and they haven't been in the evening we will go and talk to them again. People have been phoning up for rosettes. We are concentrating on polling day on getting the vote out. Later tonight we will get Daniel to do some more phone canvassing with us, we will phone up all the Labour party members who have not offered to help us, the inactive members and remind them there is an election."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 9.76MB)

Liberal Democrat activism

We met the Cambridge LD Treasurer, Rod Cantrill (May 6th), who talked about the campaign rules of a General Election and then his colleague Spencer Haggard the Party Chair (May 4th). Both talked about the election rules they needed to abide by and the work they had been doing both in the Long and Short campaigns this year.

Rod told us: "The rules are very precise, all parties have to submit a quarterly return to the Electoral Commission, by the Federal Party to indicate donations of £500 or over. And the Federal Party has to declare to the EC any donation over £1,500. We don't have trade unions, we don't have businesses, so our money comes from individuals small amounts from a lot of people. We have raised over £22,000 on a new crowd funding site and the typically amount given is £50 or £100. The Liberal Democrats' core donors give £25 or £30 a month by Direct Debit. It is the small amounts that add up and which enable us to fight the campaign.

"Our success is based on two things, people and money, and both of those things are interlinked and you need those two things to succeed. I am a big supporter of a proper capped public funding method of supporting political parties nationally. We have got our funds from three different things, crowd funding which is new to us, secondly a big political beast visiting the patch, Vince is a good pull at an event so people will give a lot of money. And thirdly the local event the fish and chip quiz night, where people get together."

Spencer told us: "We have 500 posters up, what we call stake boards - three times the number at the last General election. You knock them into ground, stick them into fences, and then repair and replace them when they get damaged. Getting 300 posters up very quickly boosts morale, and puts Labour on the back foot. It was really important to say re-elect Julian Huppert and the showing of the other party's posters were much smaller."

"You can be beaten on the day by a better organisation that has got its vote out. The weather will make a difference but nobody agrees what difference!"

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 21.3MB)

On May 4th, Bank Holiday Monday we met LD party activist, Rachel, who had been writing envelopes by hand in LD HQ in Hills Road. We also attended a Liberal Democrat 'door knocker', training session with Colin and the office manager Nicola Martin on April 12th.

Rachel told us: "I didn't realise how much work goes in on a local level, and how it matters. There are so many activists and councillors working locally and all you hear is what is on the national news. What Nick Clegg tweets, or what David Cameron says, and there are more people on a local level who have invested in it too."

Nicola Martin, campaign assistant for Julian Huppert said they had concentrated on putting across Julian's positive message. "We just keep everything happy and positive about Julian, as he is the best candidate for Cambridge, so we are telling that to everyone we can."

Colin, a veteran door knocker, said: "I have been door knocking since 2005, I got conned into it, but I found it was not as bad as I feared. I haven't had any training and thought it was about time I got some. Some like it others don't, you sometimes get nice reactions and others don't want to be bothered, you have to be prepared for anything, wind ups, aggression, the lot."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 7.83MB)

Kevin Wilkins, Campaign Manager for the LDs in South East Cambridgeshire, who has conducted many campaigns in Cambridge before as a campaign manager, and his team met with us in their Ely office: David Wright, who runs the Printing Society for the LDs, and his wife, Sheila, a poster putter-upper spoke to us.(April 28th) We also met another LD agent Lauren who breezed in as we were interviewing.

Kevin told us: "Lots of electoral law is quite archaic, you need ten names to nominate you and lots and lots of forms to fill in. If you get some of those wrong then your candidate isn't a candidate. Envelopes are written by hand to make it look as personalised as possible, we have sent out 15,000 this week. It gets done at a rate of about 80 an hour. We have grown up knowing that we don't have the national press shouting for us, so we know we have got to get the message out locally. That means delivering lots of leaflets and knocking on lots of doors. A great disappointment of the coalition is that there hasn't been a standardisation of letter boxes Act (he joked). Our office opens from 10 am to 10pm and as we get nearer to the election it will go on later than that."

"There is a spending limit on the campaign of about £15000 so it clearly matters that you can raise that amount of money, but at least it is £15000 not £150000."

David Wright, who runs the LD Printing Society said: "I first did this in 1974, and I am a volunteer, I don't charge for my time. The most recent mistake I made was to print one side of the leaflet upside down. Once a typesetter left the word "not" out so it read 'we will make the same mistake as the Labour party'."

Lauren, a party organiser and agent, said that she spent time at her computer organising things: "A lot of our material is going to focus on the need for affordable housing. We work at weekends, we have meetings every Sunday evening."

Sheila, the poster putter-up with David her husband, said: "This is a very exciting election - I am terrified if I am holding the post and my husband is doing the hammering. I think does he love me or not?"

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or download the MP3 file (file size: 23.7MB)

UKIP's activism

We met Patrick O'Flynn's campaign manager, Lisa Duffy, while she and her colleagues Graham and Richard were blitzing the marginal ward of King's Hedges on a Super Saturday campaign. (April 18th).

Graham said: "I have just joined UKIP - they were saying the type of things about this Country and the way it is going. I don't want to be ruled by Brussels but I am not anti-Europe."

Lisa told us: "Today we are delivering 4,000 leaflets, and we are very pleased with the turnout of the members, we should cover the whole ward. As an agent my days are very, very long, designing the literature, getting the people out there, and social media is getting bigger but it is not replacing what goes through the door, it has not overtaken paper stuff yet."

"I know that with leaflets, the majority do go in the bin, but with a good headline message and decent photo you can sway people, so I would say less is more. You have ten seconds to capture their imagination."

Richard went with us to deliver leaflets through doors with his long plastic dog-proof spoon, to ensure his hand did not get bitten: "It is a bit odd, putting leaflets through doors with a blue spoon but it works. I would like to build a base and through putting my name on the ballot paper locally as a candidate I give people a voice."

Listen to the interview:-

or download the MP3 file (file size: 11.4MB)

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.