Election Reflections from the Portsmouth Cycle Forum

The following text comes from Jon Spencer, Chair of the Portsmouth Cycle Forum. The Cycle Forum is a lobby group pushing for a better deal for cycling in the city. Start a conversation with them on GovFaces! 

For any group that needs to lobby politicians the election period is of the first importance. The election is when politicians are most open to engagement with new ideas and most keen to support as many interests as they can. They need to win votes, after all.

Things are no different for Portsmouth Cycle Forum. We are a lobby group pushing for a better deal for cycling in the city. It could make a real difference for the health of the city, make the city a quieter and more pleasant place to live and help reduce the congestion problem that’s strangling our economy.

We really raised the profile of our campaign in 2014 and early 2015. This culminated in us presenting our strategy for transforming the city, called ‘A City to Share’, to the minister responsible for cycling, Robert Goodwill MP.

The trick, when approaching politicians before an election, is to plan immediately how you will keep your message in their minds if and when they win. It’s easy for candidates in an election to give in to the urge to try to please everyone and make too many promises.

Our approach was to write to every candidate in both the local and the parliamentary election. We published the letter we planned to send in advance and decided to publish every single response, good or bad, on our web site – and we told the candidates in advance that this is what we would do.

This meant that the whole process was completely transparent to both our supporters and the candidates. The fact that the responses would be put into the public domain and remain there forever, available for scrutiny, means that it is easy for us, or anyone else, to call one of the politicians to account if they don’t follow their word.

The problem with our approach is that only old fashioned postal addresses are published by the city council for election candidates. This makes it expensive and time consuming to contact over 80 electoral candidates. The platform offered by Govfaces, which enables us to engage with politicians publicly online, is making our job much easier.

We’re very pleased with the final outcome of our election campaign. We received support from 31 council candidates – 6 of whom were elected –  and 9 parliamentary candidates including both the MPs eventually elected. We also had support from the leaders of the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat council groups.

Voices of Portsmouth is a series of articles coming from various stakeholders within the Portsmouth community, from members of political parties to academics, students, or members of NGOs. The series highlights some of the most important challenges the city faces today.