Having reached a few days before polling day and not had any contact from three of the four candidates standing in my ward of Arbury, Cambridge, I decided to try some “reverse canvassing” and knocked on the elusive candidates’ front doors.
While sitting Labour Councillor Mike Todd-Jones and his team have produced a number of leaflets and have been meeting electors on the doorstep in Arbury, there has been no sign of the Liberal Democrat, Green or Conservative candidates. There is even very little available online about them for those who are proactive about looking them up.
The Liberal Democrat Candidate, Rhodri James, was in when I called, and my first question to him, in light of the lack of activity, was if he was taking the election seriously. Surprisingly he pretty much agreed he wasn’t and spoke very positively about his opponent, Labour’s Mike Todd-Jones. Mr James said:
I have not been doing as much canvassing and campaigning around Arbury as usual that’s true; partly because I like [Labour Candidate] Mike Todd-Jones and winning against him would be a bit of a struggle so there’s sense in targeting the effort where it will make more of a difference.
Later Mr James added:
I know Mike, I like him a lot and we do get on very well.
Mr James let me know that when he had been out campaigning “it has tended not to be here, sorry”.
Mr James said his party’s targets were Romsey and King’s Hedges and noted that they also could not ignore “safe seats” this time round, perhaps alluding to activity in Newnham where the council leader Sian Reid is up for re-election.
I had a discussion with Mr James about his views and policies.
Mr James had talked about improving area committees in a statement to the Cambridge News, I asked him why he hadn’t attended any since he ceased to be a councillor and what his ideas for improvement were. He told me he wasn’t available on Thursday evenings so was unable to attend the meetings as that’s when they were invariably held. He said changing days just confused people. I asked if he would like to see them moved to Saturdays, he wasn’t too positive about that, and we discussed some of the ways they could be run differently, for example running some as councillor question times where the main focus is the public asking questions of councillors. Mr James suggested using residents associations to fulfill some of the role of the area committees.
Mr James has previously cast himself as a specialist councillor focusing on council housing tenants.
Mr James said he wanted to see more council houses being built, including on new developments and if elected he would push planning committees to require that, despite saying: “I’m not sure I’d get them”.
We discussed other ways of providing social housing, but Mr James suggested the legal means available to the council were limited.
Mr James blamed the state of the housing market, (which he appeared to think the council had little or no influence over), for people living in shared houses for longer periods of their lives.
Mr James agreed with me that there was a strong argument for representative democracy in setting local police priorities. We also agreed on the importance of operational independence for the police.
Less positively though Mr James said his support for the current system was based on the fact:
“It’s a fairly loose thing, and the police come to meetings with recommendations and we don’t mess around with them much”.
While this accurately reflects the approach the Liberal Democrats generally take in Cambridge, I think councillors ought not be afraid to speak up and express the views of those they represent even when they contradict the police, as that’s a key way of ensuring the police work for the public, and are doing what we want them to do.
We also spoke about the importance of clarity on what a police priority set by councillors actually means, and what can be expected as a result, and on the importance of quality, appropriate, evidence from the police to help councillors make decisions.
Mr James said he thought the views of those living on a street were the main consideration when making deciding if parking restrictions should be introduced. He said he would not support restrictions where they were not needed, for example on the road he lives on.
We talked inconclusively about if councillors ought have a role in addressing problems such as people trying to claim spaces outside their homes (eg. by putting bins in the road).
I had previously emailed Mr James urging him to answer the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s candidate survey. He neither responded to me, nor (as yet) the survey.
There was no answer when I knocked on the doors of the Green candidate Stephen Lawrence or Conservative Ali Meftah.
I am wondering if the major parties essentially giving up on all but a few wards and by doing so are to all intents and purposes agreeing among themselves who ought be elected in many parts of the city.
My candidates in Arbury have not been making it easy for electors to find out about them; the Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat candidates all have as yet failed to answer the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s candidate survey. The Green candidate didn’t even respond to The Cambridge News’ offer of a soap box which would have given him an opportunity to tell people what he was trying to achieve by standing.