How voting works in the EU elections

“A man is not dead while his name is still spoken,” said Terry Pratchett, and by this measure the 19th-century Belgian mathematician Victor D’Hondt has surely achieved a form of immortality. His method for allocating seats in proportional voting systems is used in many countries around the world, as well as for European elections in the UK. So how exactly does this system work, and what implications does it have?

In the UK, Members of the European Parliament are elected by vast regional constituencies with millions of voters, each electing several MEPs. Voters cast just one vote each, either for a party list or for an independent candidate. Here in Cambridge we are part of the East of England constituency, which elects seven MEPs. Here’s how we voted at the last EU elections in 2014:

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So based on this result, how were the seven MEPs allocated between the parties? On strict proportionality, UKIP would be entitled to 2.41 MEPs, the Conservatives to 1.99, Labour to 1.2, and so on. However, it would be impractical to send UKIP’s first two candidates, Patrick O’Flynn and Stuart Agnew, to Brussels along with 41% of their third candidate, Tim Aker. So some way must be found to assign whole numbers of seats to each party – and this is where the D’Hondt system comes in. We take the votes for each party, and divide them in turn by the numbers one to seven. For simplicity I’ve ignored the five smallest parties, who don’t affect the results:

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This gives a nominal “score” for each candidate. The score for a party’s first candidate is simply the whole vote for that party; the second candidate’s score is half the party’s vote; the third candidate’s score is one third of the vote, and so on. The seats then go to the seven candidates with the highest scores – represented by the seven tallest bars on the chart.

Here, the first two seats go to the first candidates for UKIP and the Conservatives. The third seat goes to Labour’s first candidate, narrowly ahead of UKIP’s second candidate, who finishes fourth. The last three seats go to the second Conservative, then the third UKIP candidate, then the third Conservative. Overall, UKIP and the Conservatives get three seats each, with one for Labour.

While the system gives a reasonably proportional result, it does tend to favour larger parties. Here UKIP got three seats from a vote share of 2.41 sevenths, and the Conservatives did particularly well, getting three seats from slightly less than two-sevenths of the vote. Meanwhile the Greens and Lib Dems got enough votes for 0.6 and 0.5 MEPs respectively, but came away with nothing. To illustrate this further, let’s see how many MEPs would be elected based on the remarkable recent Opinium opinion poll, which put the Brexit party on 34%, ahead of Labour on 21%, the Lib Dems on 12%, and the Conservatives languishing in fourth place with 11%. Here’s what the chart looks like:

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With seven seats to allocate, the Brexit party gets three, Labour take two, and there is one each for the Lib Dems and the Conservatives. But now look what would happen if the Lib Dems, Greens and Change UK run as a single “Remain” list:

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On the same vote shares, the Brexit party still gets three, but Remain is now in second place with two, with just one each for Labour and the Conservatives. So it looks like the failure of the Remain parties to run as a single list is likely to end up costing them seats. We’ll find out when the votes are counted on Sunday 26 May.

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My predictions for the 2019 Cambridge local elections

It’s the last weekend before this year’s Cambridge local elections, and across the city, activists are making their final appeals to the voters ahead of polling day on Thursday. In contrast to the beautiful sunshine over the Easter break, this weekend the weather has been rather more conducive to staying at home and writing blog posts. So while workers for all parties and none are enduring the wind and rain as they slog round the streets of Cambridge bringing their message to the voters, here are my predictions for the results that Returning Officer Antoinette Jackson will be announcing when she steps up to the Guildhall microphone in the early hours of Friday morning.

In recent years I’ve managed a reasonably respectable hit rate with my predictions, usually getting all but one or two of them correct:pred1418

However, despite coming very close on occasion, I haven’t yet managed to get the full set correct all at once. For some reason, Chesterton has been particularly difficult to get right; my hit rate for the Chesterton seats is a feeble 44%, whereas in the rest of the city I’ve got it right 93% of the time. However, I’m feeling slightly more confident about Chesterton this year.

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Last year I managed twelve correct predictions for the fourteen seats, with Trumpington and, yes, West Chesterton going the other way:

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In Trumpington, Katie Thornburrow took the seat by just four votes from the Lib Dems, Labour’s first victory in the seat since 1945. In West Chesterton, Jamie Dalzell held on to the seat for the Lib Dems ahead of Labour’s Clare King.

So what’s going to happen this year? As ever, let’s do the easy ones first – Labour’s safe seats:

  • Abbey: Labour hold. After a flurry of excitement in 2017, Abbey is once again pretty safe for Labour.
  • Arbury: Labour hold. It’s looking very much like another term of office for Carina O’Reilly. The most Lib Dem Tim Ward can reasonably hope for is to reduce Labour’s majority.
  • Cherry Hinton: Labour hold. This is probably Labour’s safest seat in the city. While there has been more Lib Dem campaign activity than usual, it’s unlikely to make much of a dent in Labour’s mountainous majority.
  • Coleridge: Labour hold. Another very safe Labour seat, which Grace Hadley is set to take over as councillor Jeremy Benstead retires.
  • East Chesterton: Labour hold. Despite the seat being in contention in recent years, current Mayor Gerri Bird should hold on pretty comfortably.
  • King’s Hedges: Labour hold (two seats). Kevin Price is set to be re-elected comfortably, and the seat vacant after the sad death of Nigel Gawthrope is virtually certain to go to Alex Collis.
  • Petersfield: Labour hold. Despite the surprise deselection of long-serving councillor Kevin Blencowe, Labour are likely to increase their majority significantly from the margin of 210 in last September’s by-election.
  • Romsey: Labour hold. Anna Smith can expect to be re-elected by a wide margin, probably similar to last year’s thumping win by Dave Baigent.

So that’s nine for Labour, including the two in King’s Hedges – what about the Lib Dems? Their list of safe seats is a good deal shorter, and somewhat less certain:

  • Newnham: Lib Dem hold. I’m expecting Markus Gehring to hold on reasonably comfortably, perhaps increasing his majority a little.
  • Queen Edith’s: Lib Dem hold. Under normal circumstances this would be the safest Lib Dem seat in Cambridge, but Independent candidate Sam Davies adds an element of uncertainty to the outcome. However, I’m expecting former mayor George Pippas will retain his seat with a decent majority.

Now for the most interesting – and least predictable – group of seats, the “battleground seats” which have more than one party in serious contention.

  • Castle: Labour gain from Lib Dem. This is one of two the seats that I’m least certain about, along with Trumpington. The ward has a large student population, who tend to vote, when they vote at all, on issues like global warming and Brexit rather than the quality of the local bin service. Both main parties are fielding new candidates who were little known before the election campaign began. Overall I think Labour are more likely to take the seat, but it could easily go either way.
  • Market: Lib Dem gain from Green. The Green vote has fallen steadily in recent years from the knife-edge three-way result that saw them take the seat in 2015. With councillor Oscar Gillespie not restanding, the Lib Dems seem best placed to retake the seat, following their gain from Labour last year.
  • Trumpington: Labour gain both City and County Council seats from Independent councillor Donald Adey and one City Council seat from the Lib Dems. As with Castle, Trumpington is very difficult to predict, following last year’s four-vote victory for Labour. However, Labour have been pouring resources into the ward, and housing growth has seen long term demographic trends in their favour.
  • West Chesterton: Lib Dem hold. Although this seat has been in contention in recent years, I’m expecting incumbent Damien Tunnacliffe to hold on.

If all my predictions are correct, then the net effect on the City Council will be that Labour gain three, the Lib Dems gain one but lose two, the Greens lose their only seat, and there will also be one less Independent councillor. This would give the new City Council 29 Labour councillors, 12 Lib Dems, and one Independent, John Hipkin. The Greens, Conservatives and UKIP would have no seats, and Labour’s majority would be a very healthy sixteen.

I’ll be reporting from the count at the Guildhall from 10pm on Thursday evening, so do follow along on Twitter for live coverage of all the thrills and spills as the count progresses. What vivid shade of red will Councillor Price be dressed in this year? Have all the activists escaped the fangs of Cambridge’s dogs? Will Labour’s rendition of The Red Flag be any more tuneful than last time? If you’re very lucky, there might even be a little impromptu poetry too. Don’t forget to vote on Thursday – the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and you don’t need your polling card to vote. Let’s hope the weather is reasonably kind.

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Prospects for the 2019 Cambridge City Council elections

With national politics convulsed by Brexit, the Commons in deadlock, and the prospect of EU elections winking in and out of existence like Schrödinger’s Cat, it is somehow reassuring that local election campaigning in Cambridge continues more or less as normal. As surely as winter turns to spring, party activists begin calling on residents across the city, dogs lie in wait behind letterboxes for the wriggling fingers of unwary leaflet deliverers, and social media is flooded with photos of campaign teams looking really delighted by how well it’s all going. It was ever thus – or at least, it has been for a good long while – and will very likely remain so for many years to come, whatever happens on the national stage.

So here is my usual look at the prospects for the coming contest. I’m afraid I don’t have any very high drama to offer about the overall result – Labour will retain control of the City Council comfortably – but there will be closely-fought contests in some of the wards, and some pointers to next year’s elections, when boundary changes mean that all 42 council seats will be up for grabs instead of the usual one-third.

Currently Labour have a majority of ten over the other parties:

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As usual one-third of the seats, i.e. 14, are being contested this year, plus two by-elections. One of these is in King’s Hedges, following the sad death of Cambridge Mayor Nigel Gawthrope; the other is in Trumpington, where Donald Adey has finally resigned both his Council seats following his move to Cupar in Fife. There will also be a by-election for his vacated County Council seat.

With the City Council seats being contested this year shown as hollow blocks, the picture looks like this:

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Labour have nine seats to defend, the Lib Dems five, and the Greens and Independents one each. While six losses would theoretically mean Labour losing control of the council, in practice they are virtually certain to hold at least eight of their nine defences, and have some prospects for gains. So barring something totally unexpected, Labour will still be running the City Council after the elections with a similar or possibly even larger majority.

Let’s have a look at each of the seats being contested. For each one, I’ve made a graph showing the local election results for the last few years, to give an idea of the political context.

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After seventeen years as councillor for Abbey ward, Labour’s Caroline Hart is standing down this year. Labour’s candidate to replace her is Haf Davies, who, as well as being a published poet, is political adviser to Labour’s Deputy Leader Tom Watson MP. The Lib Dem candidate for the previous three years, Nicky Shepard, is not standing this year; the yellow team is represented by Jake Butt, an Abbey resident who works at Cambridge Assessment. Last year’s Green candidate Naomi Bennett and Conservative David Smith both make a return to the ballot paper. The candidates list is completed by Boris Boyd, a porter at Newnham College and the first Cambridge local election candidate for Renew, a recently-founded centrist party.

Labour got a nasty surprise in Abbey in 2017, when a combination of the imminent General Election and an unusually vigorous Lib Dem campaign reduced their normally comfortable majority to just 75. However, neither of those factors are likely to apply this year, and a Labour victory seems the most likely outcome.

Abbey is now unique amongst Cambridge seats in having the same boundaries for both City and County Council elections. Following County Council boundary changes in 2017, the rest of the city is a complex patchwork of overlapping City Council wards and County Council divisions. This means that, Abbey apart, it’s difficult to apply the 2017 County Council election results to the City Council seats. So for the rest of the graphs I will just skip over 2017, whistling innocently and looking the other way.

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Seeking re-election in Arbury ward is Labour’s Carina O’Reilly, a lecturer in Policing and Public Services at ARU, who has represented Arbury since 2011. I think it’s fair to say that Carina is not a member of the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. Her Lib Dem opponent is Tim Ward, former councillor for the area, who has stood unsuccessfully for Arbury every year since losing his seat in 2014. The Greens are represented once again by veteran candidate Stephen Lawrence, this year making his 22nd appearance before the Cambridge electorate. Standing for the Conservatives is Harry Clynch, an undergraduate at Churchill College and Vice Chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA). Harry’s previous campaigning experience includes the Monday Steak Club, a protest against Churchill College’s “Meat Free Mondays”. I’m sure this will come in handy as he pursues the Arbury sausage vote. However, given Arbury’s recent electoral history, I don’t think Carina has a great deal to worry about. Apart from Jeremy Corbyn, of course.

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Castle is a good deal more closely contested. Last year a strong Lib Dem campaign saw Cheney Payne take the seat by just 25 votes, ahead of Labour’s Mark Reader. This year both main parties are fielding newcomers to the Cambridge political scene. Isabel Lambourne for Labour works in marketing at a biotech company, and has recently been prominent in the campaign for access to Castle Mound and the Shire Hall site. For the Lib Dems, incumbent councillor Valerie Holt is standing down, and their candidate is newcomer Greg Chadwick, who designs computer processors at ARM. The other two parties are fielding student candidates. The Green candidate is the appropriately-named Matthew Green of Fitzwilliam College, while CUCA Chairman Oliver Riley of Robinson College represents the Conservatives. Another close contest between Labour and the Lib Dems seems likely.

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Fifteen long years have passed since the last local election in Cherry Hinton that could be honestly described as exciting. In those distant days of 2004, the ward was Cambridge’s sole Lab-Con marginal, and the closely-fought elections saw only a few dozen votes between the top candidates. You wouldn’t know it to look at recent results; nowadays Cherry Hinton is Labour’s safest seat in the city, and the re-election of their candidate Mark Ashton is the nearest thing to a nailed-on certainty that Cambridge politics has to offer. The Lib Dem candidate is Henry Wright, who is currently studying Computer Science at Homerton College. His Medium profile described him as a “reluctant Lib Dem member”, though it has now been updated to “previously reluctant, now committed Lib Dem member”. No doubt the excitement of an election campaign has boosted his enthusiasm for the party. Last year’s Green candidate, Jenny Richens, makes a return to the ballot paper, and Mohamed Hossain is standing for the Conservatives.

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The graph of recent results in Coleridge looks pretty similar to Cherry Hinton’s, and this is another very safe Labour seat. This year sees the retirement of veteran Labour councillor Jeremy Benstead, who has represented Coleridge since 1992. Labour’s candidate to replace him is Grace Hadley, who works as an Event Coordinator at the Fitzwilliam Museum. Former councillor Donald Douglas is standing for the Conservatives, Alex Harrison, a student at Emmanuel College, for the Lib Dems, and Sarah Nicmanis, who works at the Hundred Houses Society, for the Greens. Bill Kaminski also returns as UKIP candidate after a gap of two years.

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From a knife-edge ten-vote majority in 2014, Labour are rather more comfortable in East Chesterton these days, though Lib Dem Ian Manning did take the partly-overlapping Chesterton seat on the County Council in 2017. This year it’s Cambridge Mayor Gerri Bird seeking re-election for Labour, and I expect that she’ll retain her seat fairly easily. For the Lib Dems, Owen Dunn, a Computer Officer at the University of Cambridge, is making a second attempt at the seat. The Green candidate is Gareth Bailey, a Computer Science researcher at the University, and returning for the Conservatives is Timur Coskun, an undergraduate at Trinity College and former Chairman of CUCA. Finally, regular UKIP candidate Peter Burkinshaw is making his fourteenth appearance on Chesterton ballot papers.

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The graph of previous election results in King’s Hedges looks very much like those of Cherry Hinton and Coleridge, though with a fractionally less yawning gap between Labour and the Lib Dems. This year there are two seats up for election, following the untimely death of Mayor Nigel Gawthrope in January. Labour’s candidates are Alex Collis, a Humanist celebrant and freelance caterer, and incumbent councillor Kevin Price. The Lib Dems are adding to the already large number of students on this year’s ballot papers with Luke Hallam of Trinity College and Ewan Redpath of King’s. The Conservatives are fielding former councillor Eric Barrett-Payton, and yet another student candidate, Benedict Smith of Selwyn College. There is a single Green Party representative, regular King’s Hedges candidate and experienced protestor Angela Ditchfield, and also one UKIP candidate, David Corn.

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Four years ago, Market ward saw the closest three-way split in Cambridge electoral history, with 1,134 votes for the Lib Dems, 1,140 for Labour, and Green candidate Oscar Gillespie taking the seat with 1,147. However, as the graph shows, the Greens have seen a steady fall in their vote share since then, partly due to reduced campaigning activity, and partly because of the Jeremy Corbyn effect. In his four years on the City Council, Oscar Gillespie has proposed some thoughtful and well-argued, if occasionally long-winded, motions to Council, for example successfully pushing the Council to adopt a sustainable food policy. However, he is not defending his seat this year. The Green cause is represented by Emma Garnett, who is studying for a zoology PhD at the University of Cambridge. The Labour candidate is Steve King, who works at Cambridge Assessment, and standing for the Lib Dems is Katie Porrer, a student adviser at ARU. It’s notable that we’ve got to Market ward before finding a female Lib Dem candidate – just three of the 17 Lib Dem candidates this year are female. The Conservative candidate is William Phelps, a student at Corpus Christi College. Both the Lib Dems and Labour will be hoping for a gain from the Green party; the Lib Dems may be in with the best chance, having gained a seat from Labour in Market last year.

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During the last Labour government the Lib Dems would regularly clock up over 50% of the vote in Newnham, but it was only last year that they started to return to that level in the ward. Nevertheless, both main parties will be expecting a Lib Dem victory in Newnham this year, and will adjust their campaign efforts accordingly. Markus Gehring is seeking a second term for the Lib Dems, and faces Joe Beastall for Labour, who works for UNISON. Mark Slade is standing for the Greens for a fourth time, and the Conservative candidate is Dolly Theis, a PhD student at the University of Cambridge School of Clinical Medicine. Dolly stood for Parliament against Kate Hoey in Vauxhall in 2017, finishing third.

 

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Petersfield is another ward with the classic “safe Labour seat” graph shape – Labour’s lead has fallen slightly since 2016, but it’s still very substantial. There was controversy earlier in the year when Labour’s sitting Petersfield councillor Kevin Blencowe was deselected, despite representing the seat for 24 years, and Mike Davey, the Chair of Cambridge Labour Party, was chosen as the candidate instead. I don’t know the full story behind this, but a reliable source says it wasn’t “left/right factional”. Make of that what you will. Facing Mike Davey for the Lib Dems is Sarah Brown, former Petersfield councillor, and runner-up in the by-election in September 2018. Virgil Ierubino is standing for the Greens for a fourth time in Petersfield, and Stephen Burdett is the Conservative candidate.

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As the Queen Edith’s graph shows, last year saw rather a serene campaign, with all parties registering very nearly the same vote share they received at the previous City Council elections in 2016. In normal circumstances, Queen Edith’s would expect a similar election this year, leading to much the same sort of result, a comfortable Lib Dem win. However, this year the four parties are joined by an Independent candidate, Sam Davies, who has been an active campaigner on local issues in the area for some years. There have not been a huge number of Independent candidates in Cambridge, and it can be difficult for them to compete effectively against the efficient and experienced campaign teams of the two main parties. However, as John Hipkin has shown in Castle, it can be done, and from what I know of Sam I would certainly not write off her chances. If she can muster enough volunteer support to communicate effectively with the voters and motivate them to turn out for her on polling day, it is not impossible for her to make a breakthrough, particularly with the standing of party politics at such a low ebb nationally. However, I think third or possibly second place might be a more likely result, but this would still leave her well placed for a shot at one of the three Queen Edith’s seats in next year’s “all up” elections. One indicator of how well Sam is doing is whether the other parties, particularly the Lib Dems, mention her in their leaflets. If they think she isn’t in the running, they will simply ignore her; but if they are hearing her name a lot on the doorstep, that will change.

The favourite for the Queen Edith’s seat this year is the incumbent Lib Dem George Pippas, former Mayor of Cambridge, who has represented the area since 2011. Dan Greef, previously candidate for South Cambs MP, makes a return appearance for Labour, as does Manas Deb for the Conservatives. The Green candidate is newcomer Elisabeth Whitebread, who works for a conservation charity campaigning on marine plastics. The result should be less predictable than last year, but that’s not saying a great deal – the Lib Dems are still firm favourites.

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From being a Labour/Lib Dem marginal a few years ago, Romsey is now firmly back in the red team’s grip, thanks to their determined and effective campaign organisation in the ward, as well as trends in national politics. It’s a measure of how much things have changed in Romsey that last year Dave Baigent was the first Labour councillor to be re-elected in the ward since Joe Gluza in 2001. His colleague Anna Smith is virtually certain to repeat the feat this year. Showing the colours for the Lib Dems is Joshua Blanchard Lewis, a languages tutor, who also stood in Romsey last year. Martin Keegan also returns for the Conservatives, and the Green candidate is Caitlin Patterson, who has stood twice before.

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Trumpington is one of the most intriguing contests in this year’s elections. As well as a four-vote majority last year for the first-ever Trumpington Labour councillor, Katie Thornburrow, there is also a double by-election underway, as  former Lib Dem Donald Adey has finally resigned both his City and County Council seats following his move to Scotland last year. Furthermore, incumbent Lib Dem City Councillor Zoe O’Connell is standing down. With a wafer-thin majority and three seats up for grabs, as you might expect Trumpington is getting a great deal of attention from both Labour and Lib Dem campaigners. Five of the six candidates for the main parties are new to Cambridge elections; only former Trumpington County Councillor Barbara Ashwood for the Lib Dems has stood in the city before. In 2017 she was deselected in favour of Donald Adey – a curious decision, in retrospect. Her Lib Dem colleagues standing for the City Council seats are Daniel Summerbell, a postdoc researcher and former member of the Cambridge University Fencing team, and Peter Lord, a semi-retired Chartered Engineer who previously stood  for the Lib Dems in Haverhill North. Labour’s County candidate is Rob Grayston, who was Parliamentary assistant to Fiona Onasanya, and gave evidence at her trial. For the City Council, Labour’s candidates are Matt Bird, a software developer, and May Shafi, a researcher on cancer treatments. For the Conservatives, former councillor Shapour Meftah is standing for both City and County seats, and the second City seat is contested by Phil Salway, a Senior Technician at Cambridge University. The Green candidates are Sue Wells, and Trumpington regular Ceri Galloway, both for the City Council, and Beverley Carpenter for the County seat. In recent years both demographic changes in the ward and the national political situation mean the tide has been running in favour of Labour in Trumpington, but the Lib Dems are certainly still in contention. Expect a close contest between the two main parties, possibly with a split result.

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West Chesterton is another Lib Dem/Labour marginal, with close results for the last several years. This time the incumbent Lib Dem Damien Tunnacliffe is seeking a fourth term of office; his Labour opponent is Milton Road campaigner Alex Skinner. Last year’s also-rans Michael Harford for the Conservatives and Shayne Mitchell for the Greens are both standing again, Shayne for the 17th time in a Cambridge election. I think a Lib Dem hold is slightly more likely than a Labour gain, but it could go either way.

The overall picture, then, is very much of Labour on the front foot. Although they have nine seats to defend, eight of these (Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, Petersfield, Romsey and two seats in King’s Hedges) are very safe indeed, and the ninth, East Chesterton, is only slightly less so. The picture is a great deal less comfortable for the Lib Dems. They should hold Newnham and Queen Edith’s, and will have hopes of gaining Market, but they face strong challenges from Labour in Castle, Trumpington and West Chesterton. Conservative, Green and Independent candidates are not likely to win any seats at all, though a surprise result in Queen Edith’s can’t be entirely ruled out. For Labour, the realistic worst-case scenario is merely that they hold the nine seats they are defending and don’t make any gains, but if things go their way they could make up to five gains on the City Council, as well as taking the Trumpington County seat. This range of possible results would put their strength on the new City Council at between 26 and 31 of the 42 seats, giving them a comfortable majority of between ten and twenty. For the Lib Dems, the best case scenario is that they hold their five defences, gain Market from the Greens, and retake Donald Adey’s seats in Trumpington, giving them seven City Council seats this time, a result which they would be extremely pleased with. If things go badly for them, though, they could lose three and hold just two. This means their strength on the new City Council is likely to be between 10 and 15. With the other parties not likely to take any seats, the new Council will have just one member outside the two main parties, Independent councillor John Hipkin, whose term of office ends next year.

A notable feature of this year’s local elections is the number of student candidates standing. I count ten undergraduate candidates this year: five Conservative, four Lib Dems, and one Green. This is often a sign that the parties are struggling to find candidates, so goodness knows what will happen next year when boundary changes mean that all 42 City Council seats will be up for election at once. If the four parties run full slates, that will be 168 candidates to find across the city, not including minor parties and Independents. Good luck with that.

Even with the all-up elections next year, it looks like Labour are strongly placed to hold on to the City Council. So can anything threaten their seemingly unshakeable grip on power in Cambridge? I see three main risks. Firstly, serious dissent within the Labour group of councillors – always a possibility when a party has a safe majority. While there have been some rumblings, I don’t rate this possibility very highly – Labour have held together pretty well in Cambridge despite the turmoil that the party has been going through nationally. The second risk is one that I’m sure Labour councillors would be happy about – the election of a Labour government. History shows that being in power at Westminster is generally bad news for your prospects in local elections, as voters retaliate against unpopular things that the Government does. Thirdly, there is the possibility of local government reorganisation in Cambridgeshire, which might abolish the City Council entirely. However, this is likely to be some way off, as central Government has one or two other things on its mind at the moment. So it looks like Cambridge will continue to have a Labour council for the foreseeable future – however long that is.

Both Cambridge Cycling Campaign and Carbon Neutral Cambridge are running surveys of the election candidates, so you’ll be able to find out more about their views on those issues in due course. You can also find contact details for the candidates, and election statements from some of them, on whocanivotefor.co.uk, as well as the local party websites (Lab, Lib Dem, Con, Green, UKIP). Polling is from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday 2nd May, and the results should be announced in the early hours of Friday 3rd. Best wishes to everyone standing this year!

 

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A misleading Council motion on access to Castle Mound

Update: Since this article was written, the Council have announced that they intend to retain ownership of Castle Mound and the Civil War earthworks, in which case public access would continue under the 1979 Act. However, members of the public accessing the Castle Mound would still need to cross the part of the site which will be on a long lease to the new occupiers of Shire Hall, so we still need to see the detail of how this will work. But in principle this sounds like good news.

Original article:

With the controversy about future public access to Castle Mound and the Shire Hall site still unresolved, the meeting of Cambridgeshire County Council on Tuesday (March 19th) will debate two motions on the issue. You can see them both on the agenda here under item 10. The second motion, from Market Ward councillor Nichola Harrison, seeks to ensure continued free public access. The first motion, from councillor Josh Schumann, chairman of the Council’s Commercial and Investment Committee, seeks to defend the Council’s current approach. However, councillor Schumann’s motion risks seriously misleading councillors about the public’s right of access.

Here’s what the motion says. After noting the pressures on Council resources, and further noting that the Council has asked bidders to propose plans on access, it adds,

The Council also notes that the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 provides a public right of access. This is not the same as a right of way and can, on occasion, be restricted. Examples of when this may be necessary include for the purposes of maintaining and preserving the site or in the interests of public safety.

Now, reading this part of the motion, you might very well wonder what all the fuss is about. If the law already provides a public right of access to Castle Mound because it is a scheduled monument, even subject to perfectly reasonable restrictions, then surely there isn’t a problem. However, the motion completely fails to mention that this public right of access only applies while the site is in public hands.

The Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 is a long and complex piece of legislation – you can read it here – but the section dealing with public access is quite clear. Section 19(1) provides,

Subject to sections 13(2A) and 15(3A) of this Act and to the following provisions of this section, the public shall have access to any monument under the ownership or guardianship of the Secretary of State or the Commission or any local authority by virtue of this Act. (Emphasis added.)

“The Commission” here means the Historic Buildings and Monuments Commission for England, better known by its short title, Historic England. It is a Government body that deals with preserving and listing historic buildings and ancient monuments. So the public access provided by the Act only applies to monuments in the hands of central or local government. It does not apply to monuments in private hands, and it is seriously misleading for this motion to imply that the Act would protect access to Castle Mound once the site is sold. It would not. Here is what Historic England’s Guide for Owners and Occupiers of Scheduled Monuments has to say about access:

Scheduling does not affect your freehold title or other legal interests in the land. The inclusion of a monument in the Schedule does not give members of the general public any rights of access. It does give us [i.e., Historic England] some legal powers of entry but, in practice, we will make every attempt to obtain the owner’s or occupiers’ permission to inspect a monument. (Emphasis added.)

That seems pretty clear to me. And it seems equally clear that the motion’s claim that the Act “provides a public right of access” is seriously misleading, because it fails to say that this right of access depends on Castle Mound being in public hands. Once the site is in private hands the right of access in the Act no longer applies, and continued access will then require permissive rights. Since these depend on the permission of the landowner, there is no guarantee that they will not be curtailed, subjected to an admission charge, or even withdrawn completely at some point in the future.

The rest of the motion defends the Landowner Deposit (which I have written about previously) and invites the Council to endorse the approach that the Commercial and Investment Committee has taken. Reading the motion as it stands, councillors might well be inclined to support it on the basis that the 1979 Act guarantees continued public access to Castle Mound after the site is sold. But, as the wording of the Act shows, this is entirely wrong. Once the site is in private hands, the Act makes no such guarantee.

It is unlikely that free public access to Castle Mound will end on the day that the Shire Hall site is transferred to its new owners. It is quite probable that the successful bidders for the site will indeed have some sort of plan for permissive access. The danger is more likely to come when the site is sold again in the future, perhaps five or ten years down the road, when the Council would not be a party to the transaction. The future sellers of the site will likely want to maximise the sale value by not imposing access conditions. A future purchaser may well want to maximise their revenue by charging admission to Castle Mound, or alternatively minimise maintenance costs by limiting or preventing access. By then, it will be too late to guarantee free public access to this unique piece of Cambridge heritage. The Council needs act now to show how access will be guaranteed in perpetuity. Until it does that, this issue is not going to go away.

One possible solution is a “guardianship” arrangement. Under this arrangement a public body such as the Council agrees to accept responsibility for the management and maintenance of a site, and in return acquires rights over it. In this situation the 1979 Act does give a right of public access. The Historic England website has more details about guardianship here. However, there has so far been no mention of this from the Council, and the motion says nothing about it. I hope councillors will consider the future of Castle Mound carefully at Tuesday’s meeting, and not be misled by this motion into thinking that future public access is guaranteed.

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County Council statement on access to Castle Mound

Here’s a statement that Cambridgeshire County Council has given to the press about access to the Shire Hall site following its forthcoming sale:

A Cambridgeshire County Council spokesperson said:
“From the outset, the Council have made it clear to the public and any potential bidders that the special historical importance of the Shire Hall site, is an integral part of our aspirations for the future, not just for the city, but the County as a whole.

“As part of the bidding process interested parties were asked to consider our Heritage brief, inviting them to address continued public access to the Castle Mound, and to lay out their plans to improve the presentation, accessibility and interpretation of the site – looking at ways of increasing its appeal while maintaining its historic integrity.

“The Council does not wish to restrict access nor create new rights where they don’t exist, and by issuing a Landowners Deposit we are taking steps to protect this and to ensure the existing permissive access rights remain.

“We are now in commercial negotiations, but from the bids received we are confident that our expectations will be met and that the importance of retaining and even enhancing the heritage value of the site has been understood.”

See my earlier article for more on the background to this. I have to say that I don’t see how the Landowner Deposit does anything to protect the existing public access to Castle Mound and the rest of the site as the Council claims. It is indeed possible for a Landowner Deposit to include a statement that the landowner agrees that there are existing rights of way on the land, but in this particular case, the Council’s document specifically excludes this, stating that no ways across the Shire Hall site have been dedicated as highways:

partb

The whole point of the Landowner Deposit document is to specifically exclude the creation of any new rights of way. This doesn’t seem to me to be something that you would do if you were keen to ensure the right of continuing public access.

It’s good to hear that the Council is asking bidders to “address” continued public access to the Castle Mound, but my concern remains that there is nothing to stop a future owner from charging admission to the Castle Mound or even preventing public access altogether. We need to hear from the County Council how it is going to ensure that future generations of Cambridge residents will be guaranteed the right to freely enjoy this very special place in our city.

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The future of public access to Castle Mound

One of the many things I like about living in Cambridge is my commute to work. In the mornings, it takes me across Midsummer Common and Parker’s Piece; in the evenings, at least while it’s dark, I usually head up Regent Street, keep straight on to Castle Street, and then take the handy shortcut round the back of Shire Hall. Heading home by this route last week, I spotted a notice informing passers-by that the County Council had made a “landowner deposit” covering the whole of the Shire Hall site. Curious as to what this might mean, I’ve been doing some investigating – and it’s not entirely reassuring.

Back in May 2018, councillors took the decision to sell the Shire Hall site and relocate the County Council headquarters to Alconbury. As well as Shire Hall itself, the six-acre site includes the neighbouring Octagon building, the Register Office, some earthworks from the Civil War, and the Castle Mound. According to a recent Council report, the site went on the market in late October, and the deadline for bids was at the end of January. The Council is currently evaluating the bids, and expects to choose the winner by mid-March. The report says that interest is mainly for “hotel use, the retirement sector and student accommodation providers,” as well as some plans for flats or offices. The Council hopes to exchange contracts later this year, before finally vacating the site in 2020.

So what, then, does the Council’s “landowner deposit” mean? You can read exactly what it says here. Basically it makes two declarations, one under the Highways Act 1980 about public rights of way, and one under the Commons Act 2006 about a town or village green.  Here’s a map of the area it covers; you can find the original version here – click on Leisure and Culture, then Section 31-6.

shirehall

The Highways Act declaration says, in effect, “we claim there are no public rights of way across the Shire Hall site and we don’t want any new ones to be created.” If a route has been open to and used by the public for 20 years without the landowner objecting, then it can be registered as a right of way. The Council’s declaration says that as landowner they do object. This prevents any new public rights of way being created because of routes being used after the date of the declaration (10 January 2019). However, as I understand it, someone could still claim a right of way based on use before this date.

The declaration under the Commons Act makes a similar statement about “a town or village green”. It rather tragically says that the Council “wishes to bring to an end any period during which persons may have indulged as of right in lawful sports and pastimes” on the site – thus preventing anyone registering a town green on the land on the basis of new use.

I should mention that I don’t have any particular expertise in land law; this article is based on my understanding of the situation from reading about it. If you have specialist knowledge in this area please do add a comment below and I’ll be happy to update the article.

So why would the Council want to prevent rights of way or town greens being created on the site? Clearly, if you are selling some land, having a right of way running across it, or a town green in the middle of it, complicates matters for any prospective buyer. Probably this declaration is on some standard checklist of things to do when you are selling off your Council headquarters. But it does raise the question of what will happen about public access to the site, both for people like me using the cut-through to Magrath Avenue, and also for people wanting to climb Castle Mound.

Cambridge is not over-endowed with hills, and for generations Cambridge residents have been climbing to the top of Castle Mound to enjoy the views of the city below, photograph the sunset, and even occasionally propose marriage. Many people would be horrified if there was an end to free public access to the Mound, but as the landowner deposit seeks to prevent new rights of way being established, you have to ask how access is going to be guaranteed once the site passes into private hands next year.

The Castle Mound is a scheduled monument, as are the Civil War Earthworks on the eastern boundary of the site, and this does ensure that it is protected from being damaged or built on. But being a scheduled monument does not, of itself, ensure that the public has any right of access. So what will?

When I tweeted about this issue yesterday, Councillor Schumann commented that the Request to Tender document asks bidders to explain how they will maintain or increase public access to the Castle Mound. This is all well and good, but it’s not too difficult to imagine a situation in a few years time where the site may change hands again and be acquired by an owner who simply wants to maximise their revenue from it. It costs money to maintain a scheduled monument, so what is to stop a future owner from charging admission or simply denying public access at all? I hope we’re going to get a convincing answer to this question from the County Council as the sale process proceeds.

Update: The County Council have issued a statement. But it’s not exactly the convincing answer I was hoping for.

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Spot the difference

On Thursday, Cambridge City Council meets for the first time following the recent elections. As well as choosing a new Mayor and Deputy Mayor for the coming year, councillors will debate the Annual Statements put forward by the leaders of each political group. Labour’s comfortable majority on the Council will ensure that its Annual Statement is adopted as policy.

The text of Labour’s Annual Statement is closely based on the manifesto that Labour campaigned on during the local elections; indeed the bulk of the Annual Statement is simply copied and pasted directly from the manifesto. However, there are a number of places where changes have been made to the text. The risk with making such changes, of course, is that some irritating pedant will come along and pick over the differences between the two versions.

So let’s take a look.

In the quotes below, I show text from the manifesto that’s been removed in the Annual Statement like this; text that’s been added in the Annual Statement is shown like this. One of the first differences is in the section describing the Council’s achievements over the last two years:

Since 2016 we have, amongst many other things:

  • bid for circa £193 million to move Anglian Water’s Chesterton water treatment works recycling centre, which is essential to develop the wider area, and started will be starting work on consulting the community on its future

Do Anglian Water really call their sewage works a water recycling centre? They do indeed. They even have a Director of Water Recycling, one Paul Gibbs. It looks like the manifesto was a bit overenthusiastic about how far the consultation process has got, so the Annual Statement now merely says it “will be starting”, instead of claiming that it already has.

Another quoted achievement is that the council has

won with others a commitment from Government for a Cambridge South Station by 2022, a station with nearly zero cars except for disabled access.

Perhaps this addition to the Annual Statement is just clarifying that the Council isn’t claiming all the credit – or perhaps it is seeking to spread the responsibility now that the Government has announced that its target date for Cambridge South isn’t until 2025.

Later on in the document, there are some curious edits around the role of the Citizens Advice Bureau:

Continue to develop vital citywide and local advice and support services for those most in need, provided building on the work by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB), our skilled council advisers and others other agencies. We will investigate expanding CAB outreach to other locations of high need following the success of the ‘Advice on Prescription’ service at GP surgeries.

These edits seem to suggest that the Council may be considering delivering advice and support services by routes other than the CAB.

One of the more significant changes comes in the section on housing:

Develop Consider whether we can develop further the Council’s Housing Company, set up in 2015, to purchase and manage intermediate housing at submarket rents, and work with the Council’s Housing Development Agency and our partners in the Greater Cambridge Partnership to deliver additional affordable homes.

Here the Annual Statement is backing off from the manifesto pledge to develop the Housing Company further, instead merely promising to consider doing so. It would be interesting to know more about why this change has been made, and what the implications are for the Council’s Housing Company.

Some more backing off occurs in policy on mental health issues:

Ensure Council policies and delivery of services have an improved a sustained focus on the needs of people who experience inequality, including for people who are isolated, or experience significant mental health issues.

The Council might argue that its focus on these issues is already perfectly adequate, but merely sustaining rather than improving it is a less challenging commitment.

Another change occurs in the plans for Jesus Green Lido:

Bring forward proposals for the refurbishment or redevelopment of Jesus Green Lido, with an aim for completion by the time of its centenary in 2023

Here the Annual Statement adds refurbishment as a presumably cheaper alternative to the redevelopment of the Lido that the manifesto promised. The plans for the Park Street car and cycle park also get a bit of an edit:

Develop plans for a smaller Park Street Car Park, incorporating underground car parking and a new cycle park car and cycle parking, with an increased number of electric charging points, and wider site use to fund the works.

Someone has presumably remembered that Park Street already has a cycle park, so the redevelopment won’t be adding a new one. The additional charging points are a new pledge.

As well as the changes I’ve listed, there are others that simply clarify the manifesto text, and a few that tone down criticism of other parties, which is presumably seen as less appropriate for an Annual Statement than a manifesto.

Despite these changes, the great majority of the Annual Statement matches the manifesto word for word, and the differences are not very dramatic – it’s unlikely that many voters would change their allegiance on the basis of any of these policy shifts. But it’s still a bit surprising to see these kinds of changes being made to the platform that Cambridge Labour put to the electorate only a few weeks ago.

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