Why is Cambridge’s vaccination rate so low?

While there are many opinions about the UK’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s widely agreed that the vaccination rollout has been one of the more successful aspects. This chart shows the percentage of people vaccinated in England (you can find the latest version here):

It’s a similar picture in the other nations of the UK. For the first three months, the vaccination programme concentrated on getting first doses to as many people as possible; from April, more of the vaccine went to second doses. By 27 May, 73% of the adult population in England had received a first dose, and 46% had been back for a second.

Here in Cambridge, however, the numbers are rather lower. Here’s the chart showing the percentage of Cambridge adults who have received one or two vaccine doses (latest chart is here):

It’s a bit of a wobblier picture, but the overall pattern is the same – mostly first doses up to April, and mostly second doses after that. However, the big difference is in the proportion of the population being vaccinated – by 27 May, according to these figures, just 42% of Cambridge adults had received a first dose, and only 25% had received a second. This is only slightly more than half the rate for England as a whole. Why is the vaccination rate in Cambridge so low? Is it just because of the city’s relatively youthful demographic, or is there something else going on? While the Cambridge age profile is certainly a factor, a key part of the story is how the city’s population is counted.

If you ask the Office for National Statistics (ONS) what the population of Cambridge is, their current answer is 124,798. This is an estimate for mid-2019, and includes students resident in Cambridge during term time. However, if you ask the National Immunisation Management Service (NIMS) how many people there are in Cambridge, you get a very different and much bigger answer – 182,180, which is 46% higher than the ONS number. Crucially, the vaccination figures are based on NIMS data, so if the NIMS population is too high, then Cambridge’s vaccination figures will be correspondingly too low.

So how do ONS and NIMS compile their (very different) population figures? You will probably not be surprised to learn that the answer is quite complicated. The ONS numbers are based on the ten-yearly census, with adjustments for the rate of births, deaths, and internal and external migration. However, they do not yet incorporate data from the 2021 census, which is still being processed – the 2011 census is used instead. There is a great deal of detail about the methodology here. In contrast, the NIMS population figures are based on the number of people with Cambridge addresses who are registered with the NHS, excluding those who have died. So does the ONS model underestimate the Cambridge population, or does the NIMS figure include a lot of people who have left Cambridge without bothering to inform the NHS of their new address? Or a bit of both?

In general, the people who produce the vaccination figures tend to prefer the NIMS population numbers, partly because they are updated much more frequently – daily rather than annually – and also because in some areas the number of people vaccinated is actually larger than the ONS population figures. A vaccination rate of over 100% doesn’t sound very convincing.

Let’s take a closer look at the ONS and NIMS population figures for Cambridge, and see if we can work out what’s going on. Both sets of numbers are available by ward and age group, which helps to give some insight. Here are the ONS population figures:

and here, on the same scale, are the NIMS population figures:

As you can see, there are some pretty radical differences. These are most acute in the areas with a large student population, Castle, Market and Newnham; and also in areas which have seen a lot of new housing development, Castle and Trumpington. There’s quite a difference in other areas, too, with most coming in at around 8-9,000 in the ONS numbers but about 12,000 in the NIMS data. Subtracting one set of figures from the other also tells an interesting story. This next graph shows the difference between the NIMS and ONS numbers for each area and age group:

It’s clear from this chart that most of the difference is in the 16-39 age group, with some in the 40-64s. The difference in the figures for the under 16s and over 65s are much smaller (and in some cases the ONS numbers are slightly higher). The largest differences are in the student-age population in the student areas – NIMS thinks there are 13,802 people aged 16-39 in Castle, compared with the ONS figure of 6,611, and in Market & Newnham the figures for the same age group are 17,957 for NIMS and 10,042 for ONS. I think this does suggest that at least some of the difference is due to younger people moving away without notifying the NHS of their new addresses. Students arriving in Cambridge are encouraged by their College or University to register with a local doctor, but may take longer to advise the NHS of their new address when they leave.

Fortunately, there is a third set of Cambridge population data that we can compare with the ONS and NIMS figures. The team at Cambridgeshire Insight, who provide all sorts of data about the county to the County Council and other users, have detailed projections of Cambridge’s population, based on local research and taking into account local housing plans. These numbers are projections for 2021, based on data that was available in 2018:

I’ve used different colours because the age boundaries are different in this data – but the overall picture is pretty clear. The total for the city is 141,060, 13% higher than the ONS figure, but still a lot closer to it than the 182,180 in the NIMS data. I think this is more evidence that the NIMS population numbers are inflated by people staying registered with the NHS at a Cambridge address after they have left the city.

Another data point is the recent local elections in Cambridge. In the County Council elections, 38,976 people voted, and the turnout was 41.6% – which means the electorate was around 93,700. Although some residents weren’t eligible to vote because of their nationality, or because they hadn’t registered, it’s still hard to reconcile this with the NIMS figure of 159,089 for the number of Cambridge residents aged 16+.

If we take the Cambridgeshire Insight figures as the best available, what does this mean for the rate of vaccinations in Cambridge? The population estimate for Cambridge over-18s in 2021 is 116,540, which would mean that as of 27 May, the percentage with a first dose would be 57%, and 34% with a second dose. This is still quite a bit lower than the England figures of 73% and 46%, but then Cambridge does have a young demographic. I think this is likely to be closer to the true figures than the numbers based on the NIMS population.

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From Abbott to Znajek: How does ballot paper order affect our votes?

When Cambridge residents go to the polls on Thursday, they will be handed some of the longest ever ballot papers for a City Council election. With three seats up in each ward, and full slates from the main four parties, voters will find up to fourteen candidates vying for their three votes. Candidates are listed on the ballot paper in alphabetical order of surname, which is good news if you are Margery Abbott, who always took top billing when she appeared on the East Chesterton ballot paper, but more challenging if you are Roman Znajek, who invariably propped up the list when he stood in the same ward. Of course, it depends who your rivals are. Petersfield voters with long memories may recall the “battle of the Ws” in 2003, when two Wrights faced a Wilkins and a Whant; while in the same ward three years later, Lib Dem Steven Cooper must have been disappointed to find himself listed last behind Blencowe, Clarkson and Collins. But how much difference does ballot paper order really make to voting? Here’s a look at what happened last time we had all-up elections in Cambridge, back in 2004.

There weren’t quite as many candidates in 2004 as there are this year; the Conservatives, Labour and the Lib Dems all had full slates, but the Greens only managed three candidates in a couple of wards, running just one or two in most of them. There were also four UKIP candidates, and four Independents, three of these in Market.

Cambridge City Council candidates by party, 2004

From what I saw at the count, a large majority of voters – probably over 75% – gave all three of their votes to the same party. However, UKIP and most Green supporters didn’t have enough candidates available to do this, and so had to choose between leaving some of their votes unused, or giving them to candidates of different parties. Other voters also picked candidates from different parties, and there were a number of ballot papers with only one X on, either because the voter only liked one candidate, or more likely because they hadn’t read the instructions properly and thought they only had one vote instead of three. All this meant that there was a range of votes for each party’s candidates in the same ward. It was noticeable that well-known councillors seeking re-election tended to do better than their colleagues, and student candidates with a college address on the ballot paper tended to do worse.

In most wards, a single party took all three seats. However, there were a couple of wards where the challenger party managed to take a seat off the front-runners. In Cherry Hinton, Conservative Eric Barrett-Payton edged out Labour’s Stuart Newbold to take the third seat, and in Petersfield the third seat went to Lib Dem Victoria Phillips, ahead of Labour’s Tricia Wright. In both cases it was the alphabetically last Labour candidate who lost out.

While ballot paper order doesn’t seem to confer much advantage between different parties, there is definitely a tendency for the second and third listed candidate of the same party to do worse than their first-listed colleague. This graph shows how well the second-listed candidate for each party polled in 2004 in each ward, as a percentage of the votes for their first-listed colleague.

As you can see, while some second-listed candidates scored more than 100% of their first-listed party colleague’s vote, most scored less – in some cases, quite a lot less. On average, second-listed candidates got only 96% of the vote of their first-listed colleagues. The second-listed Lib Dems did best, averaging 99%; Labour’s got 95%, the Conservatives’ 94%, and the Greens’ 87%.

The effect is even more pronounced when we look at how the third-listed candidates of each party did compared to their first-listed colleagues:

None of the third-listed Conservatives polled ahead of their first-listed colleagues; they averaged just 88% as much. Labour’s third-listed candidates did slightly better, averaging 91%, and the Lib Dems did better yet, on 96% – though their third-listed candidates happened to include a number of very well-known names. Across all parties, third-listed candidates averaged just 91% of the vote of their first-listed peers. Remember that the listing order is purely alphabetical, and isn’t chosen by the parties.

So we can conclude, for the 2004 election at least, that being alphabetically second for your party costs you around 4% of your vote, and being third costs you 9%. In many seats this won’t make much difference, but in a close race it could be crucial.

But digging further into the data reveals a surprising feature of this phenomenon – it only seems to affect men, not women. Here are the graphs again, this time rearranged to separate male and female candidates. Firstly the second-listed candidates:

Overall, the second-listed female candidates polled 99% as much as their first-listed colleagues, while their second-listed male counterparts only polled 92% as much. Here are the third-listed candidates:

Remarkably, the third-listed female candidates averaged 99% of the vote of the first-listed candidates, while their male equivalents only managed 86%. So it seems, for 2004 at least, that if you are a female candidate you have nothing to fear from being second or third for your party on the ballot paper, while the men are affected much more. Perhaps this is because there are some voters who are specifically picking out female candidates across parties, or perhaps there is something else going on. It’ll be very interesting to see if the same effect is at work in this year’s results.

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How will Cambridge vote on May 6th?

There are now only a few days left until Cambridge voters will be puzzling over no fewer than four different ballot papers at the city’s polling stations. Here’s a look at how things are likely to turn out in each of the contests, starting with the City Council.

In normal times, Cambridge elects one third of its City Councillors each year, with County Council elections in the fourth year. But every so often, as the city grows and demographic patterns shift, the ward boundaries are redrawn to keep the populations of the wards roughly the same size. When this happens, all 42 councillors (three for each of the 14 wards) are re-elected in one go. Here are the old ward boundaries, which have been in use since the last boundary changes in 2004:

The new ward boundaries (below) aren’t radically different, but there have been some noticeable changes: Market and Petersfield have taken part of the oversized Trumpington ward; Newnham has grabbed some colleges from Castle; West Chesterton has annexed the southern tip of Arbury; and there are several other adjustments.

The first City Council elections on the new boundaries were due to take place in 2020, but like so many other things they fell victim to the pandemic, resulting in the unprecedented crop of simultaneous elections that we have this year. It’s hard to know what effect this will have on the results, though it looks like the shift to postal voting could offset any reduction in turnout.

Let’s take a look at the contests in each of the wards. For each one, I’ve made a graph of the results in the last few years. You’ll notice that 2017 is missing from most of the graphs – this is because that year was the County Council elections, which use yet another set of boundaries. Except for Abbey, these are different from the City Council ones, so the results aren’t really comparable.

With the exception of a Lib Dem surge in 2017, Abbey has been reasonably plain sailing for Labour in recent years, but there may be a bit more excitement this time. The Green Party has made Abbey its top Cambridge target, aiming to build on its second place in 2019. Abbey elected a number of Green councillors in the final years of the last Labour government, and it’s not impossible that could do so again, though I expect Labour will hold on this year, with all three of their City Councillors restanding. The boundary changes make little difference to the ward, which gains a small part of northern Petersfield, also solid Labour territory.

Here in Arbury ward our doormat has not exactly been groaning under the weight of campaign literature, which reflects the fact that everyone is expecting a comfortable Labour victory. The three Labour City Councillors are all restanding; they face a full slate of Lib Dem, Green and Conservative candidates, plus Keith Garrett of Rebooting Democracy, undeterred by his last place in the last three General Elections in Cambridge.

Arbury loses its southern end to West Chesterton in the boundary changes, but gains an area off Histon Road from Castle ward. The net effect may benefit the Lib Dems slightly, but not nearly enough to overhaul Labour’s substantial lead.

After a knife-edge result in 2018, the Lib Dems won Castle fairly comfortably in 2019, and with Independent councillor John Hipkin standing down, I expect they’ll repeat their victory this year. Lib Dem Councillor Greg Chadwick is also standing down, but his colleague Cheney Payne is seeking re-election, with Michael Franklin and Caroline Stoddart completing the Lib Dem ticket for the City Council.

With new development at Eddington increasing its population, Castle needed to lose some territory in the boundary changes. An area near Histon Road moves to Arbury, and several colleges at its south-eastern tip go to Newnham, but Castle remains a heavily University-dominated ward.

Cherry Hinton has been solid Labour territory for many years, and with their three long-serving councillors, Rob Dryden, Russ McPherson, and Mark Ashton, all restanding, a comfortable Labour victory is virtually guaranteed.

It’s a similar story in Coleridge, seat of council leader Lewis Herbert and his colleague Rosy Moore, both of whom are seeking re-election. They are joined by Anna Smith, who previously represented Romsey, while Councillor Grace Hadley is standing down.

East Chesterton is a bit more closely contested, with an active Lib Dem campaign challenging Labour – though the Lib Dems will also be focusing on retaining Ian Manning’s seat in the overlapping Chesterton division of the County Council. Once again all three Labour councillors are restanding – Baiju Thittala, Carla McQueen, and former mayor Gerri Bird. As well as the main party slates, the East Chesterton ballot paper features Peter Burkinshaw of UKIP, well known for his forthright responses to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign election survey.

King’s Hedges is another pretty safe Labour ward, with sitting Labour councillors Alex Collis and Martin Smart seeking re-election. Their former ward colleague Kevin Price resigned from the council in October 2020 after a disagreement over a motion on transgender issues, and Labour’s candidate for his seat is Jenny Gawthrope Wood, whose late husband, former mayor Nigel Gawthrope, previously represented King’s Hedges. As well as the Green, Lib Dem and Conservative candidates, the King’s Hedges ballot paper also features Lionel Vida of the Workers Party of Britain, a relatively new party led by George Galloway. King’s Hedges gains a bit of the more pro-Lib-Dem West Chesterton in the boundary changes, but this won’t make much difference to what looks like a comfortable Labour win.

The three Lib Dem councillors in Market, Tim Bick, Katie Porrer, and Anthony Martinelli, are all seeking re-election and seem likely to hold their seats. After some years as a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, Market saw a comfortable Lib Dem win in 2019. This was undoubtedly helped to some extent by the Brexit turmoil – Market produced the highest Remain percentage in the UK in the 2016 referendum – and this factor will have faded somewhat, but it still seems likely that the Lib Dems will do well here. The boundary changes give Market the Newtown area from Trumpington ward, but this is unlikely to do the Lib Dems any harm.

Newnham is another seat where the Lib Dems were likely boosted by the Brexit factor in 2019, but they had been keeping the Labour challenge at bay previously in any case. Sitting Lib Dems Markus Gehring and Josh Matthews are seeking re-election, while Lucy Nethsingha is set to return to her former City Council seat following a spell as an MEP. Former Lib Dem councillor Rod Cantrill resigned last year on becoming bursar of Fitzwilliam College. Newnham gains a number of colleges from Castle in the boundary changes, but this is unlikely to make much difference to the result.

Petersfield is significantly affected by the boundary changes – it loses part of its northern end to Abbey ward, but gains the Botanic Garden and the area south of it from Trumpington ward. The overall effect is probably to make it more inclined toward the Lib Dems, though I think Labour will still hold on here, helped by the unwinding of the Brexit factor. Sitting councillors Mike Davey and Richard Robertson are restanding for Labour, joined by Katie Thornburrow, who is transferring from Trumpington, where she won by just four votes in 2018. Katie points out that the old Trumpington boundaries partly overlap the new Petersfield ones. Former Labour councillor Kelley Green is not restanding.

Normally a fairly safe Lib Dem seat, Queen Edith’s is a good deal more interesting this year thanks to Independent candidate Sam Davies, who was runner-up in 2019. You don’t have to talk to Sam for very long to see that she would make an excellent councillor, and her network of supporters is running a well-organised and effective campaign. She is joined on the ballot paper by another Independent, Al Dixon. For the Lib Dems, councillor Jenny Page-Croft is seeking re-election, but her colleague Colin McGerty is standing down, and former mayor George Pippas resigned in August 2020 due to ill health; new candidates Daniel Lee and Richard Eccles are hoping to take their places. I think the seats are likely to go to Sam Davies and two of the Lib Dems.

These days Romsey is firmly in Labour’s grip, and despite the controversy over Mill Road bridge, a comfortable Labour win seems likely. Incumbent councillor Dave Baigent is restanding, while his colleague Anna Smith moves to Coleridge ward, and Sophie Barnett is standing down. Labour’s new candidates are Mairéad Healy and Dinah Pounds.

It’s all change in Trumpington, with Lib Dem councillor Dan Summerbell standing down, Labour’s Katie Thornburrow transferring to Petersfield, and Lib Dem Peter Lord having resigned last year. The Lib Dems are fielding a new team of Olaf Hauk, Ingrid Flaubert, and Alan Cox, who seem best placed to take the seats.

West Chesterton is the only ward with incumbents of two different parties restanding, as Labour’s Mike Sargeant faces Lib Dem Jamie Dalzell. Jamie’s colleague Damien Tunnacliffe is standing down after 11 years. Mike is joined by Jocelynne Scutt, who previously represented West Chesterton and then Arbury on the County Council, and Richard Swift, a teacher and local Labour activist. Jamie is running with David Grace, a self-styled “disgruntled radical” who is well known in the Lib Dem party nationally, and Shahida Rahman, who has previously stood in East Chesterton. The result is likely to be closer than the 2019 vote shares would suggest, particularly given Mike’s name recognition in the ward, and the boundary changes which bring in a fair-sized chunk of Arbury ward. It’s possible that we could see a split result between the two parties, but I think a Lib Dem win is most likely.

So what does all this mean for the new City Council? If my predictions are correct, then it’ll consist of:

  • Labour: Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, East Chesterton, King’s Hedges, Petersfield, Romsey
  • Lib Dem: Castle, Market, Newnham, Queen Edith’s (2), Trumpington, West Chesterton
  • Independent: Queen Edith’s (1)

Each ward has three seats. This would give Labour 24 councillors, 17 for the Lib Dems, and one Independent – and zero for the Conservatives, Greens and other parties. Labour would have a majority of six, slightly down from the position after the 2019 elections. However, if the Lib Dems do worse than I’m expecting, then Labour’s majority could even increase. In any case, I think it’s very unlikely that Labour’s control of the City Council will be threatened.

What about the County Council, whose elections are being held on the same day? As mentioned above, the County Council divisions use different boundaries from the City Council wards. Here they are:

As you can see, there are only twelve of them – Chesterton has one rather than two, and poor old Coleridge has been dismembered and split up amongst its neighbours. This makes it a bit trickier predicting the County Council results, as we only have the 2017 results to directly compare, and many of the current councillors are standing down. But let’s have a go anyway:

  • Abbey: Incumbent Joan Whitehead is standing down after moving to York. Alexandra Bulat, a well-known migrants’ rights campaigner, is likely to hold the seat for Labour.
  • Arbury: Current councillor Jocelynne Scutt is contesting West Chesterton on the City Council instead; the seat will likely go to Labour’s Hilary Cox Condron, the well-known Cambridge artist.
  • Castle: Labour’s Clare Richards is standing down; Lib Dem Alastair Gadney looks well placed to make a gain.
  • Cherry Hinton: Labour’s councillor Sandra Crawford resigned from the party in December 2020 and has been sitting as an Independent. She is not contesting the seat, and Labour’s new candidate Bryony Goodliffe is likely to win.
  • Chesterton: Lib Dem Ian Manning faces a strong challenge from Labour’s Gerri Bird, but I expect him to hold on.
  • King’s Hedges: Labour councillor Elisa Meschini is restanding and is set to hold her seat.
  • Market: Lib Dem Nichola Harrison is standing down; Lib Dem Yemi Macaulay, who runs an African restaurant in Norfolk Street, is set to hold the seat.
  • Newnham: Lib Dem Lucy Nethsingha is likely to hold her seat.
  • Petersfield: Linda Jones is standing down for Labour; former MEP Richard Howitt is likely to succeed her.
  • Queen Edith’s: Long-serving Lib Dem councillor Amanda Taylor is standing down, and is likely to be succeeded by her party colleague Alex Beckett.
  • Romsey: Labour’s Neil Shailer should hold the seat previously won by Noel Kavanagh, who is standing down.
  • Trumpington: Barbara Ashwood is standing down for the Lib Dems, and former City Councillor Philippa Slatter is set to hold the seat.

Within Cambridge, that means the County Council seats would go as follows:

  • Labour (6): Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, King’s Hedges, Petersfield, Romsey
  • Lib Dem (6): Castle, Chesterton, Market, Newnham, Queen Edith’s, Trumpington

However, there are 49 more County Council seats in other parts of Cambridgeshire, and I expect the Conservatives will win enough of them to hold on to their overall majority.

That just leaves the elections for the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, and the Police and Crime Commissioner. I’m expecting both of these to go to the Conservative candidate, though it will be interesting to see if the voters do a better job of using their second choice votes this time.

The election count is going to be a protracted one, with the City and County results expected during the day on Friday 7th May, and the Mayor and PCC results set to be announced on Saturday 8th. When the dust settles, we’ll have a better idea of how Cambridge politics is likely to look as the city starts to recover from the pandemic. Best wishes to everyone involved in campaigning this year!

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Cambridge local elections 2021

On Thursday 6 May 2021, the Cambridge electorate will be faced with the most complex polling day in the city’s history. Thanks to a combination of boundary changes and pandemic-induced election delays, each Cambridge voter will be asked to cast eight votes for six positions in four simultaneous elections, using two different electoral systems. Across the city, over two hundred candidates will be seeking office of one sort or another, and the vote counting is expected to take three days to complete. Here’s a summary of what’s going on.

Firstly, we’ll be choosing the next Mayor for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. The Combined Authority is the icing on the rather wobbly and uneven cake of Cambridgeshire’s bewilderingly complicated local government structure. Its responsibilities include some aspects of economic growth, housing, and transport, and it came into being in 2017 after all the local councils agreed the devolution deal that led to its creation. This was something of a Faustian bargain from Cambridge’s point of view – the City Council managed to extract £70m of funding for new council houses as part of the deal, but in return had to put up with a new layer of local government with a rather more Conservatively-inclined electorate than the city’s. James Palmer, the Conservative candidate, won the first Mayoral election fairly comfortably, and is the favourite to win in 2021. The election uses the Supplementary Vote system, which means that voters get a first and second choice – their second choice is counted only if their first choice doesn’t make it into the top two. In theory this ought to make it harder for the Conservatives to win, but in practice many voters don’t use their second vote effectively.

Secondly, we’ll be choosing a new Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. This election was due in May 2020, but was postponed due to the pandemic. The previous PCC, Jason Ablewhite, resigned in 2019 after sending sexually explicit photographs to a vulnerable 50-year-old woman. As the next election was due within six months, the Police and Crime Panel appointed Ray Bisby on a temporary basis, only for him to find his term of office extended by a year due to Covid-19. The PCC elections also use the Supplementary Vote system, and Conservative Darryl Preston, a former police officer, is the front-runner.

The third ballot paper is to elect councillors to Cambridgeshire County Council. There are 61 of these, 12 of them representing the city of Cambridge. While the Council is Conservative-controlled, the Cambridge seats are currently divided between 7 Labour councillors and 5 Lib Dems. The election is by First Past the Post. It’s likely that the Conservatives will retain control of the County Council, but it’s also likely that they will again win no seats at all in Cambridge itself.

Finally, the fourth ballot paper is for Cambridge City Council. There are 14 City Council wards in Cambridge, each with three councillors, so 42 in total. In normal times, we elect one-third of the seats each year, with the County Council elections in the fourth year. Councillors serve overlapping four-year terms. However, due to boundary changes, all 42 seats are up for election this year, the first time this has happened since 2004, with each voter getting three votes on the ballot paper. Furthermore, these elections have also been delayed by a year due to the pandemic. And to make matters even more complicated, the City Council wards don’t match the County Council divisions, so there’s a patchwork of different electoral areas across the city. Labour have controlled the City Council since 2014, when they ousted the Lib Dems, and look set to retain control this year.

A critical factor in this year’s elections will be postal voting. With lockdown easing only slowly, it’s expected that more voters than usual will be asking for postal votes. These are available on demand; voters do not have to give a reason why they need one. The Council will be sending postal votes out in three main batches, the first of them quite early in the campaign. The batches are due to go out on 13th, 23rd and 28th April, and postal votes must be returned by polling day on May 6th. Many voters return their postal votes promptly, so it’s likely that a lot of votes will be cast well in advance of polling day.

It’s hard to know what effect the pandemic will have on turnout, which is often only around 30-40% for Cambridge local elections. Some voters may be more reluctant to go to the polls, but if there is more postal voting, turnout could increase, as postal voters are historically more likely to vote than others. Leaflet delivery and canvassing are continuing despite the pandemic, so voters should be reasonably well aware that the election is going on.

In most Cambridge elections, counting begins at the Guildhall soon after the polls close at 10pm on the Thursday, and continues into the early hours of Friday until the results are announced. Things will be very different this year. For the first time, the count is being held at the University Sports Centre on the West Cambridge site, which is more spacious and so offers better scope for social distancing. It will take place over three days, with the first part of the count, which checks that the expected number of ballot papers are in each ballot box, on the Thursday evening straight after the polls close. The County and City election counts will then be completed during the daytime on Friday 7th, with the Mayoral and PCC elections counted on Saturday 8th. Pandemic restrictions will limit the number of observers this year, and there is also a ban on singing, which means election observers should at least be spared the usual tuneless rendition of The Red Flag by Labour activists. However, there could well be some electoral surprises. Time will tell.

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My prediction for the 2019 General Election result in Cambridge

With only a few days of this cold, dark, and fairly damp General Election campaign left to go, this article is my best guess at what results are likely to be declared at the Cambridge Guildhall in the early hours of Friday 13th December. And while past performance isn’t necessarily a reliable guide to future results, I think it’s worth taking a look back at how my predictions fared in the last couple of General Elections. Here’s how I thought 2015 would turn out:pred15

and here’s how it actually did turn out:act15As expected, it was a pretty close-run thing, though instead of Julian Huppert just holding off the Labour challenge, Daniel Zeichner narrowly won by 599 votes. The Conservatives also did noticeably worse than I thought they would, recording their lowest-ever General Election vote share in Cambridge.

Here’s how I thought things would turn out in 2017:


and here’s the actual result:


While I did manage to get all the candidates in the right order, like a lot of people I wasn’t expecting quite such an emphatic Labour win in Cambridge. In terms of votes, Labour increased their total by 10,386 from 2015, while the Lib Dem vote only fell by 1,676 – suggesting that the result was due in large part to Labour persuading people who hadn’t voted in 2015 to turn out for Daniel. The Green vote was also down substantially, with the Jeremy Corbyn factor clearly at work.

Now that you’ve got some idea of how big a pinch of salt to add to my predictions, on to this year’s contest. With eight candidates standing this time, I’ll try not to keep you in suspense too long. Here they are in reverse order of how I think they’ll finish.

I’m expecting Independent candidate Miles Hurley to finish in last place, with about 0.2% of the vote – maybe around 120 votes. The last three Independent candidates to stand in Cambridge gained 60, 60, and 145 votes, and I think that’s roughly what Mr Hurley can expect this time. At one hustings event he said, “Some people jump out of aeroplanes for fun – I’m doing this.” I hope he’s enjoyed the experience.

Keith Garrett of Rebooting Democracy has stood twice before in Cambridge, on a platform of deciding national issues with a system of citizen juries. However, this has not found a great deal of favour with Cambridge voters. In 2015 he won 187 votes, dropping to 133 in 2017. Based on this, I think 0.3% of the vote is a reasonable estimate for how he’ll do this time.

The last candidate in Cambridge standing under the SDP label was Shirley Williams in 1987, who finished second with 31% of the vote. I think it’s safe to say that this year’s SDP candidate, Jane Robins, will be well short of this total. In the recent Peterborough by-election, Patrick O’Flynn took 0.4% of the vote for the SDP, narrowly beating the Monster Raving Loony candidate. I think Jane Robins will be looking at a similar total in Cambridge. Let’s be generous and call it 0.5%.

In 2017 the Cambridge Greens must have been disappointed to take only 2.3% of the vote, down from 8% in 2015. While environmental issues are certainly important for Cambridge voters, this hasn’t translated into electoral success for the Green Party, and I’m not expecting much change this time after a fairly perfunctory campaign. Their vote will probably rise a little, but perhaps only to 3%.

Although Peter Dawe is standing for the Brexit Party, the main focus of his election campaign has been to promote various projects that he has been involved with, describing himself as “a superhero, not a politician”. Nevertheless, I think he will attract some votes on the strength of the Brexit Party label – while Cambridge is a strongly Remain constituency, Leave still took 26% of the referendum vote. Overall I think Mr Dawe won’t quite retain his deposit – my prediction is 4%.

In the last two General Elections, the Conservative candidate has won 15.7% and 16.3% of the vote, and I think that’s pretty much what their candidate, Harlow councillor Russell Perrin, can expect this time. Locally, the Conservatives are clearly focusing their efforts in South and South East Cambridgeshire, where they are very much in contention, rather than in Cambridge, where they very much aren’t. So let’s take an average and say 16%.

That’s 24% of the vote accounted for, leaving 76% to divide between the front-runners, Lib Dem Rod Cantrill and Labour’s Daniel Zeichner. It probably won’t be a great surprise to anyone that I’m expecting a Labour hold, though with a reduced majority. There are some factors that point to a better Lib Dem performance than last time, such as the Survation poll putting them in the lead in October, the fact that most Cambridge University students will be away on polling day, and (according to polls) the significantly reduced appeal of Jeremy Corbyn. The colder, darker evenings for canvassing may also have taken the edge off Labour’s advantage in door-knocking activist numbers. Conversely, the lacklustre national Lib Dem campaign, the misjudged Revoke policy, and likely lower name recognition for Rod Cantrill, will act in the other direction. While the Lib Dems have as usual delivered a truly stupendous number of pieces of paper to Cambridge letterboxes, I don’t think it’ll be enough for them to win this time, and my election-predicting seaweed says 42% for Labour and 34% for the Lib Dems. Inevitably, here’s a graph:


I’ll be at the Guildhall on Thursday night and Friday morning to bring you live coverage of all the excitement – the Press Association estimate for the Cambridge declaration time is 3am. If you’re an activist of any party, best wishes for polling day; wrap up warm, wear comfortable shoes, and don’t let the campaign organiser hurry you out of the committee room before you’ve finished your hot drink. And good luck!

Update: It’s always interesting to see responses from party activists to my election predictions, not least because they’ve actually been knocking on Cambridge doors and talking to residents, and so will have a better idea of how it’s going than I do. Most (but not all) responses so far suggest that it’s going to be closer between Labour and the Lib Dems than my prediction indicates. We’ll know soon enough!

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General Election hustings events in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

This page lists hustings events for the 2019 General Election taking place in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire.


  • Friday 22 November, 7-9pm: Extinction Rebellion Cambridge hustings on Climate and Environment Emergency, LAB 002, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road. Free tickets and details here.
  • Monday 25 November, 7:15-9:15pm: The Cambridge Commons hustings on Inequality, Social Justice, and Public Services, Friends Meeting House, Jesus Lane. Free tickets and details here.
  • Saturday 30 November, 12-2pm: Hustings on Faith and Values at Great St. Mary’s. Free tickets and details here. – cancelled following the London Bridge attack.
  • Monday 2 December, 5-6:30pm: Cambridge Universities Election Hustings. The organisers state that “this event is open to all students and staff at the University of Cambridge and Anglia Ruskin University.” Details here.
  • Sunday 8 December, 2:30-4pm: Cambridge Stays hustings on Brexit and International Relations, St Paul’s Church, Hills Road. Free tickets and details here.

South Cambridgeshire:

  • Wednesday 20 November, 7-9pm: Extinction Rebellion Cambridge hustings on Climate and Environment Emergency, Coton Village Hall. Free tickets and details here.
  • Thursday 21 November, 8-10pm: Homerton Union of Students hustings for Queen Edith’s, Homerton College, Hills Road. Open to all. Details and form to submit questions with here.
  • Friday 22 November, 7:30-9:30pm: Sawston hustings, Sawston Free Church. Details here.
  • Thursday 28 November, 7:30pm: Cottenham hustings, All Saints Church, Cottenham.
  • Wednesday 4 December, 7pm: Grantchester hustings, Grantchester Village Hall.

If you know of any other events that should be listed here, please contact me at phil@philrodgers.co.uk or via @PhilRodgers on Twitter. Thanks!

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The prospects for Cambridge in the 2019 General Election

So, here we go again. If the framers of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act expected a regular tread of five-yearly May General Elections marching steadily into the future, they have been sorely disappointed. Only eight years on, and this is the third General Election since FTPA came into force.

In most election campaigns, the main weather-related hazards campaigners have to contend with are sunburn and the occasional soaking from an April shower. This time, however, there is the distinct possibility of frostbite, as the days grow shorter and the weather turns colder. This is the first General Election since 1974 not to be held during British Summer Time, and the first to take place in December since 1923, when the electoral landscape in Cambridge was rather different from today. For most of the 1920s, the city’s MP was Conservative George Newton, who was first elected in a by-election in 1922. He went on to defend his seat no fewer than five times over the following decade, with comfortable majorities each time:


His final and most emphatic victory was in 1931, aided by the lack of a Liberal candidate; Labour was represented by noted pacifist Dr Alex Wood, after whom the Cambridge Labour headquarters, Alex Wood Hall, is named.

In more recent times the pattern of Cambridge elections has been very different. It is now over 32 years since the city has elected a Conservative MP, the amiable and distinctly un-Thatcherite Robert Rhodes James, who topped the poll in 1987. Here is how Cambridge has voted since then (“Lib Dem” includes predecessor parties):

camge19872017As you can see from the graph, it has been a pretty gloomy story for Cambridge Conservatives in recent decades, with Nick Hillman’s surprise second place in 2010 the only exception to the trend. Both Labour and the Lib Dems have experienced considerable ups and downs, with Labour twice winning the seat from 3rd place, in 1992 and 2015. Meanwhile the Greens have struggled to make much impact, despite periods of determined campaigning, and Cambridge has never been fertile territory for UKIP, who didn’t even nominate a candidate at the 2017 General Election.

After topping the poll in 2005 and 2010, the 2015 election was particularly disappointing for the Cambridge Lib Dems. As well as their party suffering a catastrophic national meltdown following five years of coalition, their sitting MP Julian Huppert lost his Cambridge seat to Labour’s Daniel Zeichner by just 599 votes, after a closely-fought campaign. Things didn’t get any better for Julian in 2017, with Daniel increasing his majority to a much more comfortable 12,661, the largest for a Cambridge MP since Labour’s glory days of 1997. Here’s the full 2017 result:


What, then, can we expect in 2019? Does Daniel’s majority give him enough of a cushion to hold on in Cambridge? There are several indications that things could be a good deal closer this time. For example, earlier this year Cambridge saw a rather different voting pattern in the European elections:


Compared to their triumphant 2017 General Election result, this was a truly terrible showing for Labour. It can’t have been much fun on the doorstep for their activists, who were clearly finding that Labour’s (to put it politely) nuanced position on Brexit was going down badly with the voters, compared to the rather less nuanced Stop Brexit policy of the Lib Dems. I’m not sure when Labour last came fourth in a Cambridge-wide election, but it was certainly a very long time ago. However, if history tells us one thing about EU elections, it is that they are not very good predictors of voting patterns at the next General Election. For example, in 2004, Michael Howard’s Conservatives topped the poll across the UK in the EU elections, but went on to lose the General Election the following year. In the 2014 EU elections, UKIP came first, but at the following year’s General Election they won a grand total of one seat in the Commons. All the same, it can’t exactly be cheering for Labour to know that 88.6% of Cambridge voters supported other parties just a few months before the General Election.

What do local election results tell us about how the political tides are shifting in the city in recent years? Here are the local election vote shares in the Cambridge constituency since 2015:


Labour have managed to stay ahead of the Lib Dems throughout this period, with the Greens and Conservatives battling for a fairly distant third place. The main thing this graph tells us, though, is that local elections don’t follow the pattern of General Election results very closely – the locals were actually closer in 2017, when Labour won the General Election in Cambridge with a huge majority, than they were in 2015, when Daniel Zeichner edged out Julian Huppert by barely 1% of the vote.

As well as recent elections, we also have a Cambridge opinion poll from Survation. This was conducted in mid-October, and although it was commissioned by the Lib Dems, it seems to have asked a straightforward voter preference question, naming the candidates, without any “softening up” from previous questions or asking about hypothetical situations. Here’s what it found:


The sample size was 417, giving a margin of error, Survation tells us, of 4.8%, a bit more than the 3% that is typical for national opinion polls. It must be said that this isn’t a completely ideal poll result from the Lib Dem point of view – a poll showing the Lib Dems narrowly behind Labour would be more effective as a tactical argument – but they will still be cheered by being out in front at this stage. They will remember, though, the 2015 Cambridge poll commissioned by Lord Ashcroft which gave the Lib Dems a 40%-29% lead over Labour, just a few weeks before Labour went on to gain the seat.

During the next few weeks, the parties will be doing all they can to influence the voters to support them on December 12th. Traditionally, General Election campaigns have two main components – the “air war”, national broadcast media, and the “ground war”, activists on the streets knocking on doors and delivering leaflets. Nowadays there is a third aspect, what I call the “secret war”, namely targeted social media advertising, though thanks to the Facebook Ad Library this isn’t quite as secret as it was. Labour can expect to benefit more than the Lib Dems from the air war, given their more prominent position nationally, and on the ground they have a large and well-organised Cambridge campaign organisation, though the Lib Dems are no slouches in this department either. My impression generally is that Labour do more door-knocking in Cambridge, but the Lib Dems deliver more leaflets. As to social media advertising, the signs are that the Lib Dems are more active locally so far, but this is still a relatively small part of the overall campaign.

Given all this data, then, what can we conclude? I think it’s pretty safe to say that either Labour’s Daniel Zeichner or Lib Dem Rod Cantrill will win the seat, and that the result will be closer than last time. Beyond that, it’s difficult to draw any very firm conclusions at this stage. The people who are out knocking on doors will have a better idea of how it’s going than I do, but you will be hard pressed to find any of them saying anything other than it’s all going marvellously well. For what it’s worth, my gut feeling at the moment is that Labour may do a bit better in Cambridge than some people are expecting, but my gut feeling has been wrong before. There is all to play for over the next few weeks.

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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:


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:


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:


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:


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.


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


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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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. 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.


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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