The General Election campaign in Cambridge

Now that the starting gun has been fired for the General Election campaign proper, here’s a look at the situation in Cambridge, and the prospects for the candidates.

Politically, Cambridge has changed a great deal over the last 30 years. From being a safe-ish Conservative seat in the days of Robert Rhodes-James, it has gradually transmuted into the Lib-Dem/Labour marginal that it is today. Here are the General Election results in the Cambridge constituency since 1979:

For most of the 20th century, Cambridge was a Conservative seat, only occasionally electing an MP of a different colour. By the 1980s, Robert Rhodes James was holding on for the Conservatives fairly comfortably, but after he stood down, Labour’s Anne Campbell took the seat in 1992 by just 580 votes. She was resoundingly returned in the Labour landslide of 1997, but that was the high-water-mark for Labour; thereafter their votes ebbed away as long as they remained in office nationally. In 2005 David Howarth became the first Liberal to win the Cambridge seat for 99 years, and he was succeeded in 2010 by Julian Huppert, who scored a lower vote share, but a larger majority, thanks to the continuing Labour decline. The Conservatives, represented by Nick Hillman, managed to sneak back into second place in 2010. The Green party have stood in Cambridge since 1987, but barely moved the needle until last time. Even then, the relatively well-known figure of Tony Juniper managed to poll just 7.6% of the vote, despite a well-funded and vigorous campaign. UKIP’s best result to date is 2.4%.

What of the candidates this time?

The incumbent, Julian Huppert, is seeking to be the first Liberal Democrat to be re-elected in Cambridge. After his predecessor, David Howarth, stood down after a single term, there was some speculation that Julian would also prefer a return to academia over five more years of being shouted at during Prime Minister’s Questions. However, my disagreement with this theory is about to win me a fiver from 2010 Conservative candidate, Nick Hillman. Even quite a few of Julian’s opponents will admit that he had been a very hard-working MP in terms of casework, and constituency and media appearances. (In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that I was responsible for asking Julian to stand for the East Chesterton County Council seat that he first won in 2001, and he blames me to some extent for initiating his political career). Julian is currently the favourite with Ladbrokes to retain Cambridge.

The main challenger for Cambridge MP is Labour’s Daniel Zeichner. This is his fifth attempt to enter Parliament; after three unsuccessful attempts to win Mid Norfolk in 1997, 2001 and 2005, he switched to Cambridge in 2010. Here are his previous election results:

After a somewhat disappointing third place in 2010, Daniel faced a strong challenge from local activist Peter Roberts for the Labour candidacy, and was reselected by the constituency Labour Party by a margin of just eight votes. However, the local party has swung behind him and has been running an effective and forceful campaign, with numerous visits from senior Labour MPs. The latest New Statesman projection is that Cambridge is the most marginal of the seats the Lib Dems hope to retain, with an estimated majority of only a few hundred votes (though this doesn’t take account of the latest polling). It looks as if Daniel is in a closer race this time.

Looking at the first graph above, you might expect that the Conservative candidate, Chamali Fernando, would have hopes of finishing in the top two – after all, the Conservatives were in second place last time, with Labour in a long-term decline. The difference this time, of course, is that Labour are no longer in Government, and it is the Conservatives and Lib Dems who are now suffering the unpopularity that generally comes with being in charge. Consequently, Chamali is widely expected to finish third – there are enough Conservative supporters in Cambridge to virtually guarantee that, but not enough for her to mount a realistic challenge to win. This was vividly illustrated when I spotted that her picture on the main Conservative website included the text “Non target candidates” in its web address. Another key factor is the relatively decrepit state of the Conservative organisation in Cambridge – while they have a few dedicated activists (hello!) they simply don’t have the feet on the streets, or the years of canvassing data, that the main two Cambridge parties can muster. Chamali herself is a former Lib Dem – she sought the Lib Dem nomination for Mayor of London in 2007, before defecting to the Conservatives in 2009.

The Green candidate Rupert Read is also a former Lib Dem, who will be trying to build on the Green party’s 2010 result. In 2010 the Greens ran a very energetic campaign in Cambridge – they had a high-profile candidate in Tony Juniper, a Thom Yorke benefit concert, a large team on the streets, optimistic articles in the Guardian, and lots of window posters displayed by their supporters. They also spent a lot of money – their accounts for 2010 show total spending of £44,783 in Cambridge – but the end result was fourth place with just 3,804 votes, a mere 7.6% of the total poll. I was part of the Lib Dem organisation at the time, and at first there was some consternation at the strength of the Green campaign, but it quickly became apparent from canvass returns that it wasn’t really having much impact. In retrospect, the Green 2010 Cambridge campaign was a tragicomic demonstration of how to waste election resources. Since 2010, the Green Party in Cambridge has suffered a number of severe blows – the death of two of its most prominent activists, Margaret Wright and Simon Sedgwick-Jell; the defection to Labour of its sole remaining councillor, Adam Pogonowski; and the departure of former election agent James Youd, one of the Cambridge Greens who really understood how to run election campaigns effectively, though he had little input in 2010. However, the party has bounced back to some extent, with a new generation of activists, and, just as importantly, some signs that it is starting to target its resources more effectively. However, it’s hard to see them doing better than fourth place this time.

Completing the field – at least at the moment – is UKIP’s Patrick O’Flynn. He is currently MEP for the East of England as well as UKIP’s economics spokesman. While Cambridge is his home town – he was educated at Parkside, Long Road, and King’s College – it is also one of the least UKIPpy places in the East of England, judging from the European election results. Patrick is quite heavily involved in the UKIP party nationally, but his approach to the Cambridge campaign can be measured by the fact that he has failed to turn up to many of the hustings events that have been held so far. Fifth place seems likely, though he may exceed the 5% necessary to retain his deposit.

As I was writing this article, Lord Ashcroft published a poll of Lib-Dem-held seats, including Cambridge, which suggests that Julian Huppert is currently on course to retain his seat. However, with five weeks to go, there is plenty of time for the situation to change.

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The “non target candidates” story

Over the last day or so I’ve been following, with a mix of amusement and incredulity, the consequences of a single tweet that I posted last night. Though I have to admit, I did think it was going to be a good one at the time I posted it.

Just for the record, here’s the story so far: On the evening of 9th February (which just happened to be my birthday), @smithsam posted a tweet asking if anyone knew where this photograph was taken:

Chamali Fernando

The subject of the photograph is Chamali Fernando, the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Cambridge, and as you can see she’s standing in front of an avenue of trees. But where? Nobody could think of anywhere in Cambridge that quite looked like that. To try to answer the question, I used Google Image Search to see if I could find a copy of the photo with some location details. I didn’t find one, but I did come across something at least as interesting – a copy of the photograph at the following URL:

The “%20″s here are just replacements for spaces – but the really remarkable thing about this URL is that it includes “Non target candidates”. In political parlance, a “target” seat is one that a party is concentrating particular efforts on, because the outcome is in doubt. “Non target” seats are either those where there is no realistic chance of winning, or (in this context at least) a safe seat where victory is virtually certain. Either way, such seats attract less campaigning effort, because it is unlikely to make any difference to the outcome; parties focus their effort on a relatively small number of “battleground” seats where a strong campaign can make the difference between victory and defeat.

Cambridge is most certainly not a safe seat for the Conservatives, as the incumbent Lib Dem MP Julian Huppert would surely agree. The Ladbrokes odds are currently 10/11 on for a Lib Dem victory, evens for Labour and 20/1 against a Conservative win. The Conservatives have been rather implausibly claiming that the Cambridge Lib Dem vote is “set to self-destruct” and that the local battle is thus between Labour and the Conservatives. However, the fact that their candidate’s photograph was on the central Conservative party website with a “Non target candidates” URL does somewhat contradict this.

After I tweeted my findings, Cambridge blogger Richard Taylor took up the story, and swiftly analysed the Conservative website to see how many other candidates had their photos listed with a similar URL. You can see his results in this spreadsheet – no fewer than 102 unfortunate Conservatives had their photos listed with “Non target candidates” in the URL. It’s clear that some of these are in safe seats – for example Heidi Allen, who is set to inherit the South Cambridgeshire seat from Andrew Lansley with a comfortable majority. But others, surely including Chamali Fernando, are evidently regarded by those who built the Conservative website as being unlikely to win.

Once Richard had assembled his spreadsheet, the story was picked up by Lib Dem blogger Mark Pack, and from there spread to a number of other sites, including the Spectator and the Independent. I’m currently seeing it turning up on local news websites in places like Wrexham and Liverpool, and even in our own dear Cambridge News.

I do feel sorry for the no doubt hard-working Conservative candidates who’ve had their chances of victory denigrated by their own party’s website, and also for whichever Conservative website designer was responsible for this fairly spectacular cock-up. I’m sure he or she hasn’t enjoyed today as much as I have. The URLs were swiftly changed this morning, but by then the genie was out of the bottle.

By the way, if anyone can identify where the original photo was actually taken, please do let me know.

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Religions of Cambridge

Today marks the winter solstice, the shortest day of the year in Cambridge and the rest of the northern hemisphere. It is of course a day of special celebration for Druids, so I was led to wonder just how many adherents of Druidic religion we have here in Cambridge. The answer, according to the 2011 census, is just eight, which perhaps explains why we don’t see crowds of white-robed figures greeting the sunrise atop Castle Hill at this time of year. However, there were a further 127 Cambridge residents who described themselves as Pagan, and 37 followers of Wicca. I hope they’re all having an enjoyable Yule.

The 2011 census revealed that Cambridge is one of the least religious places in the UK, with 41.6% of residents who answered the religion question stating that they had no religion. However, they were still outnumbered by the 49.3% who were Christian, with Muslims in a distant third place with 4.3%. Here’s the graph:

In addition, there were 11,200 people who did not state their religion. The “Other religion” category covers a diverse “long tail” of alternative belief systems:

There were a further 54 people belonging to other Other religions that the census did not have categories for. Also, 582 Cambridge residents described themselves as Jedi, and 19 as adherents of Heavy Metal, but the census authorities decided to group these under “No religion”.

Since the census results were published, some great mapping tools have been built that allow us to look at the distribution of religious belief, as well as many other factors. One of the best of these is DataShine, which can map a huge variety of census results in great local detail across the country. Here’s a map showing where Christians live in Cambridge:

The darker the shade of red, the higher the proportion of Christian residents – with the darkest shade of red for areas that are 63% Christian or more. As you can see, broadly speaking Cambridge gets more religious the further you go from the centre, with Cherry Hinton being a particular hotbed of Christian belief. Unsurprisingly, the picture for those of no religion is pretty much the reverse:

Essentially the city centre is the atheist jam in a largely Christian doughnut, though with a few other outposts of unbelief scattered here and there.

The city’s Muslim residents, on the whole, are more evenly spread:

There are a few areas where Muslim residents are concentrated – in the Darwin Drive area of Arbury 31% of residents are Muslim, as are 18% in the Cam Causeway area in East Chesterton, but in most of the city they are around the 5% mark.

Buddhists only form 1.4% of the city’s population, but there are a couple of notable concentrations of Buddhist residents:

The largest is in the area around the Cambridge Buddhist Centre on Newmarket Road, where up to 11% of the population in the local area is Buddhist. There’s also a second area around the railway station.

Finally, where is the Force strongest in Cambridge? This map shows the distribution of people reporting themselves as Jedi:

It seems that if you want to hear the hum of lightsabers, the Sturton Street area is the place to go.

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The effect of 20mph speed limits in north Cambridge

Update: See the end of this article for the latest data.

It’s now several months since the speed limit in most of north Cambridge was reduced form 30mph to 20mph. The City Council has recently been measuring traffic speeds to see just how much difference the change has made. They’ve kindly sent me the results of their speed survey, so I can exclusively reveal that the average change in traffic speeds in north Cambridge since the 20mph limit was introduced is…0.7 mph.

The before and after figures vary quite a lot from street to street. Here’s a graph showing the change in average traffic speed at each measuring point. Green represents a speed decrease; red a speed increase. Ready for some scrolling?

A note on the names – a small letter in brackets refers to the direction of traffic, whereas a capital letter refers to the part of the street. So “Stretten Avenue (S) (n)” refers to northbound traffic in the southern part of Stretten Avenue.

As you can see, more streets have experienced a speed decrease than an increase, but the typical speed decrease is a great deal less than the 10mph change in the speed limit. And some roads have experienced an increase in traffic speed, despite the reduction in the speed limit. The average change in the average speed, across the whole of the area, is just 0.7 mph. Whether this represents a good return on the many tens of thousands of pounds spent on the scheme will no doubt be hotly debated. We’ll have a better idea about this when before-and-after accident figures become available, but with such a small reduction in average speeds, it’s hard to imagine a very dramatic change.

Update: Here’s the raw data: north_area_speeds

Further update: The City Council have now sent me some slightly revised data, which you can find here. This separates the roads into those where the average speed was above or below 20mph before the limits were changed. You might expect the faster roads to be more affected by introduction of the 20mph limit, and indeed this is what the data shows. However, the drop in average speeds on the faster roads is still only 1.1 mph, compared to 0.4 mph on the slower roads.

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ICM’s poll findings about Cambridge

ICM have now released the full tables for their recent poll in four Lib-Dem-held constituencies, including Cambridge. The headline finding for our city is that Julian Huppert is set to lose his seat to Labour’s Daniel Zeichner if Nick Clegg remains Lib Dem leader, but might do better if Vince Cable or Danny Alexander were to take over. Here are the numbers:

However, the poll also asked a number of other questions about political attitudes in Cambridge, which make fascinating reading for anyone interested in local politics. One question was whether people could name the current MP for Cambridge. Here are the responses:

It may seem surprising to anyone even slightly interested in local politics that so few people could name Julian Huppert, who seems to have a pretty active local media presence. They might be even more surprised to learn the figures for his main rival for the Cambridge seat, Labour’s Daniel Zeichner:

It’s pretty remarkable that Daniel Zeichner, who fought the last election in Cambridge for Labour and was reselected as their candidate in 2012, has name recognition among only 5% of Cambridge voters with less than a year left to go until the General Election.

The poll also asked whether people thought Julian Huppert was doing a good job. He can be moderately encouraged by the answers:

Relatively few of his constituents think Julian Huppert is doing a bad job, though there are plenty who don’t know. Here are the numbers for Daniel Zeichner:

Again the positives outweigh the negatives, but two thirds of people didn’t have an opinion. The poll also asked about Conservative Nick Hillman, which might have been a surprise to him – since the 2010 General Election he has moved away from Cambridge to London, and he isn’t intending to restand in Cambridge in 2015 – the Conservatives have yet to select their candidate. Unsurprisingly, Don’t Know dominated the responses.

Finally, here’s a graph showing the top ten local issues in Cambridge that people named. See the tables for full details, including other issues that didn’t make it into the top ten. The percentages show how many people named each issue. People could name more than one issue, so they don’t add up to 100.

It’s not often Cambridge gets a full-scale opinion poll like this one, though it’s already a bit out of date – fieldwork was done from 4-8 April. It remains to be seen how opinion will shift by the time of the General Election.

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How Cambridge voted in the 2014 European Elections

All the results of the European Elections are now in, so here’s a look at how the votes were cast in Cambridge. The numbers are announced in each district – you can get the full set for the East of England here. The result across the region was that UKIP and the Conservatives each won three of the seven seats, with one for Labour. UKIP gained one at the expense of the region’s sole Lib Dem MEP, Andrew Duff, who lost his seat after fifteen years.

But back to Cambridge. First of all, here’s a graph showing how the vote shares have changed since the last European elections in 2009:

The biggest change is in Labour’s share of the vote – in 2009 they were at around their lowest ebb, and finished in fourth place behind the Greens. This time they topped the poll in Cambridge comfortably. UKIP’s vote share also increased, but by nothing like the dramatic advances seen elsewhere, and they remained in fifth place. The Greens also advanced a little too, but still came third. The main losers were the Lib Dems, whose vote only just stayed ahead of the Greens – a worrying sign for Julian Huppert, who will face the same electorate next May in the General Election (with the exception of Queen Edith’s ward which is not part of the constituency). The Conservatives also did badly, dropping from second to fourth overall. It’s also notable that the small BNP vote almost disappeared this time.

It’s also interesting to compare how people voted in the local elections, held on the same day as the European vote. Here’s the graph:cameuloc14

There are some marked differences here between the local and European results. Labour and the Lib Dems both did significantly better in the local elections, perhaps reflecting the local campaigning effort they put in, while the Greens did better in the European vote. UKIP did vastly better in the European vote, mainly because they had a candidate for the local elections in only one of the fourteen wards.

Finally, here’s a scatterplot showing how Cambridge compares to other districts in the region. This shows the Lib Dem vote horizontally, and the UKIP vote vertically – I’ve chosen these as representing polar opposites in the European debate:


This shows how much of an outlier Cambridge is (as it is in many other ways) – most of the districts are clustered at the upper left of the chart, while Cambridge is the only one where the Lib Dems actually outpolled UKIP.

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The prospects for the 2015 Cambridge City Council elections

With this year’s Cambridge City Council elections completed, Labour now have a comfortable majority of eight, and can settle down to implementing their policies with a firm basis of control. The new Council now looks like this:

Their group of 25 councillors is a dramatic turnaround from the group of just nine that they were reduced to at their lowest ebb in 2010. Conversely, only 14 Lib Dems remain, less than half the group size of 29 that they reached at their peak.

So Labour have a comfortable majority for now, but how might things develop at future elections? Cambridge City Council is elected by thirds; 14 of the 42 seats are up for grabs each year, with a break in the fourth year when the County Council elections are held, most recently in 2013. Here is the pattern over the last three elections:

At the next local elections, which are due to be held at the same time as the General Election on 7 May next year, the councillors elected in 2011 will be up for re-election. This means Labour will have eight seats to defend, and the Lib Dems six. With those seats shown as hollow blocks, this means the balance on the council will be

If this year’s results were repeated in 2015, Labour and a theoretical Castle Independent would each take a further seat from the Lib Dems, increasing Labour’s majority to ten. Conversely, for Labour to lose control of the council next year, they would need to lose five of the eight seats that they have to defend – a wildly unlikely prospect. Losing four would leave them with 21 seats, half the council – but they would then also have the mayor’s casting vote, allowing them to stay in power the same way that the Lib Dems did between 2012 and yesterday. Even this is extraordinarily implausible – of the eight defences, six are now safe Labour seats (Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, King’s Hedges and Petersfield), even with a General Election on the same day, and only two, East Chesterton and Romsey, are likely to be seriously contested by the Lib Dems. This leaves Labour with a realistic worst case in 2015 of having their majority reduced to four. So barring something totally unexpected, Labour are virtually guaranteed to retain control of the Guildhall until at least 2016. However, we will by then be a year into a new Government at Westminster, the Lib Dems will have two years of Labour track record in Cambridge to attack, and only four City Council seats to defend. Things may look different then.


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