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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Swing in the 2014 Cambridge local elections

I recently posted an article looking at the swing between the Lib Dems and Labour in local elections in recent years. Here’s an update showing the swing in this year’s vote. Without further ado, here’s the graph:


While the results on the night were undoubtedly a triumph for Labour – they won seven of the 11 seats that the Lib Dems were defending, plus the three that they already held themselves – the ward-by-ward swings show a distinctly mixed set of changes since last year. This partly reflects where the parties were concentrating their campaigning efforts.

Labour’s biggest swing on the night was in Romsey, where Dave Baigent took the seat from Lib Dem mayor Paul Saunders. They also gained ground on the Lib Dems in East Chesterton, Market, Newnham, as well as Castle (though this is a bit of a statistical oddity). Meanwhile the Lib Dems improved their position relative to Labour in all the other nine wards, though this was only enough to win three of them. Their biggest swing was in Petersfield, where they lost by a narrower margin than last year’s drubbing, but still never really  threatening to hold on.

The “safe” seats, where no party is campaigning very hard, often give the best indication of how opinion is moving when it’s not being battered by a torrent of leafleting and door-knocking. These all showed a drift to the Lib Dems, but only by about 3-5%. A small crumb of comfort for them on what was one of their worst-ever election nights in Cambridge.

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