Prospects for the 2018 Cambridge City Council elections

The daffodils are out, the occasional shaft of spring sunshine illuminates King’s College Chapel, and my timeline is full of pictures of cheerful party activists celebrating the great reception they are getting on Cambridge doorsteps. Yes, it’s local election time again. This year we are choosing one third of our representatives on Cambridge City Council, as the fourteen councillors elected in 2014 reach the end of their terms. In East Chesterton there is a double dose of electoral excitement, as Margery Abbott’s resignation mid-way through her term of office means there are two seats up for grabs.

So here is my now-traditional look at the prospects for the forthcoming local elections in Cambridge. Electoral nostalgia fans can find previous editions here: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017. First of all, let me dispel any sense of drama and excitement about the overall result: Labour will retain control of the City Council this year. However, there will be plenty of drama and excitement in at least some of the wards, and the longer-term picture is a good deal less certain.

Here is a summary of the state of the council before these elections – with 26 seats, Labour had a comfortable majority of ten over all other councillors combined.

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However, most of the seats up this year were last contested in 2014, when Labour won an emphatic victory. Consequently Labour have ten seats to defend this time, compared with only four for the Lib Dems. Here is the seat graphic again, this time with hollow blocks showing the seats being contested this year:

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So with fifteen seats being contested, and Labour’s majority amongst the other seats standing at only five, couldn’t they lose control of the Council this year? Well, theoretically, yes, but in practice Labour have enough safe seats that it would take a political earthquake to deprive them of control, and even in these turbulent times there is little sign of one. However, losing seats this year would make Labour’s position more precarious next year, when they have a further eight seats to defend. On the other hand, the Lib Dems are far from certain to make gains this year, and face some tricky challenges in wards they are defending.

There were no City Council elections in 2017, as it was the turn of the County Councillors to face the electorate. It was an unusual local election, taking place just a few weeks before the snap General Election, and alongside the vote for the first Mayor of the new Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority. Nevertheless, the results in Cambridge vividly illustrate the difference in voting patterns between local and national elections. Here are the 2017 County Council vote shares in Cambridge:

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And here is the result of the Cambridge seat in the General Election a few weeks later (on slightly different boundaries):

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As you can see, Cambridge went from a knife-edge result in the County elections to an emphatic Labour victory in the General Election – at least partly assisted by the collapse in the Green vote. Although Julian Huppert’s vote fell by only 1,676 votes from his 2015 total, Daniel Zeichner’s increased by 10,386. The principal reason for Labour’s General Election victory in Cambridge is that they managed to identify and motivate a large number of voters who had not previously supported them. However, history suggests that they may find it difficult to repeat this in a local election year, so we are likely to see a closer overall picture in this year’s vote.

Let’s have a look at the wards. I’ve previously illustrated each ward with a graph showing the local election results for the last several years. However, boundary changes mean that County Council divisions no longer match City Council wards, so this time I’m only showing the three previous City Council results, in 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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Abbey is the one seat in Cambridge where City and County boundaries still match. Looking at previous City Council results you would think it is pretty safe for Labour, but in the County elections last year Labour got a nasty scare, beating the Lib Dems by just 3%, and only after piling activists onto the streets on polling day to get their vote out. This was partly due to increased Lib Dem activity in Abbey ahead of last year’s General Election, but also due to the energy injected into the Lib Dem campaign by their candidate Nicky Shepard, who is standing again this year. With incumbent Labour councillor Peter Roberts standing down, Labour’s candidate is another Nicky, Nicky Massey. Although this is her first time standing for elected office in Cambridge, she has been involved in a number of campaigns, calling for a new pedestrian crossing near Cambridge Station, the restoration of a cannon on Cannon’s Green off Tenison Road, and in 2016 campaigning against Labour’s proposed peak-time congestion control points. The Nickys are joined on the ballot paper by Green Party candidate Naomi Bennett, who runs a tax consultancy, and Conservative David Smith, who works at Cambridge University Press. Overall I would make Labour favourites to retain the Abbey seat, though it certainly isn’t a foregone conclusion.

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Arbury also looks like a safe Labour seat on the basis of recent City Council results, though the Lib Dems performed somewhat more strongly on the different County Council boundaries last year. Labour’s candidate is the incumbent Patrick Sheil, web developer and Kierkegaard expert, who won the seat at a by-election last year. He faces veteran Lib Dem Tim Ward, who was Arbury City Councillor from 2000-2014; Green candidate Stephen Lawrence, making his 21st attempt to be elected in Cambridge; and Conservative Dylan Coll-Reed, a second-year Natural Sciences undergraduate at Trinity College and the current Chairman of Cambridge University Conservative Association. A Labour victory seems the most likely outcome.

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Castle offers one of the most intriguing prospects this year, as the incumbent Independent councillor, Marie-Louise Holland, is standing down. She won the seat in 2014 by just 20 votes, ahead of the Lib Dem candidate. This was rather a surprise to the Lib Dems, who had expected a larger Independent majority, and had consequently focused their efforts elsewhere. In 2015 there was no Independent candidate, and Lib Dem Valerie Holt took the seat reasonably comfortably. John Hipkin retained his City Council seat for the Independents in 2016, but narrowly lost the County seat to Labour last year, on rather different boundaries. With no Independent candidate this year, Castle is likely to be primarily a Lib Dem/Labour contest. Labour originally selected Baiju Varkey for the Castle seat, but he later switched to his home seat of East Chesterton. Labour’s candidate is now Mark Reader, who works in the Department of Land Economy at Cambridge University, and previously contested the seat in 2014. His Lib Dem opponent is Chesterton resident Cheney Payne, who is Head of Philosophy and Ethics at Thurston Community College near Bury St Edmunds. Lucas Ruzowitzky is the Green candidate, and the Conservatives are represented by Othman Cole, who is also standing for election in the Histon & Impington seat on South Cambs District Council. Completing the ballot paper is Aidan Powlesland of the Libertarian Party UK – as far as I can tell this is the first appearance of a Libertarian candidate in a Cambridgeshire election since Andrew Hunt contested Wisbech South in 2009. Mr Powlesland was previously a member of UKIP, and indeed contested UKIP’s 2017 leadership election, finishing last. During the recent General Election he attracted some press coverage with proposals to design an interstellar colony ship and mine the asteroid belt.

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As in previous years, Cherry Hinton is likely to provide the least exciting contest in this year’s Cambridge local elections, as Labour’s Russ McPherson seeks a fifth term of office in this rock solid Labour seat. The main point of interest will be whether Conservative Eric Barrett-Payton, Lib Dem John Oakes, and Green candidate Jenny Richens maintain the usual order of runners-up. If Labour doesn’t win comfortably here, I will happily eat any sort of hat you care to present me with.

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Another solid Labour win is likely in Coleridge, where Council leader Lewis Herbert is also seeking a fifth term. Two of Lewis’s opponents are newcomers; Lib Dem Noah Tate is a Content Manager at Cambridge University Press, and Green candidate Sarah Nicmanis is an Asset Management Administrator at the Hundred Houses Society. The Conservative candidate, Donald Douglas, is very far from being a newcomer – he represented Trumpington from 1998-2002. He is one of only five Conservative councillors elected in Cambridge in the last twenty years.

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Four years ago East Chesterton provided a campaign that was…well, let’s just say, full of incident, and a knife-edge result in which Labour’s Peter Sarris edged out Lib Dem Zoe O’Connell by just ten votes. Peter Sarris is standing down this time, and his ward colleague Margery Abbott has resigned mid-way through her term, so two seats will be up for election. Consequently East Chesterton voters have no fewer than eight candidates to choose from. Labour’s candidates are Carla McQueen and Baiju Varkey. Carla McQueen runs a youth group for children with social communication difficulties together with Abbey Labour candidate Nicky Massey; Baiju Varkey is a trainee solicitor. The Lib Dem candidates are Owen Dunn, a Computer Officer at the University of Cambridge, and author Shahida Rahman, who has stood for election in East Chesterton twice before. The Conservatives are represented by Timur Coskun, a second-year student of English Literature at Trinity College, and Tom Harwood, a final year student at Durham University, who ran the Vote Leave national student wing. The Greens have a single candidate, Gareth Bailey, who stood in Castle last year, and the ballot paper is completed by UKIP’s Peter Burkinshaw, the sole representative of his party in this year’s Cambridge elections, who is justly famed for his unsympathetic responses to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign’s annual survey of local election candidates. A close Labour/Lib Dem contest seems likely, and a split result is entirely possible.

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King’s Hedges is pretty safe for Labour these days, and the re-election of incumbent Martin Smart seems the most likely outcome. The Lib Dem candidate is Daniele Gibney, who is Diversity Officer for Cambridge Lib Dems, and King’s Hedges ballot paper regulars Anette Karimi and Angela Ditchfield appear for the Conservatives and Greens respectively.

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Market ward has seen some unexpected results in recent years. The incumbent, Dan Ratcliffe, won his seat in 2014 in a contest in which the Lib Dems had disowned their candidate following an assault charge, but Dan could well have taken the seat in any case. The following year saw a ridiculously close three-way split and the election of Cambridge’s only Green councillor, Oscar Gillespie, by just seven votes. Lib Dem group leader Tim Bick narrowly held on in 2016, and Nichola Harrison won more comfortably for the Lib Dems last year on the larger County seat boundaries. Market remains the best prospect in Cambridge for the Green Party, whose candidate Jeremy Caddick, the Dean of Emmanuel College, is standing for a second time. Nevertheless I think he is probably heading for third place again, and the main contest will be between Labour’s Dan Ratcliffe and Lib Dem newcomer Anthony Martinelli, an NHS doctor and former University Challenge winner. Showing the flag for the Conservatives is Henry Mitson, a student at Gonville & Caius college. The Lib Dems will be eyeing a possible gain here, but Labour could well hold on.

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21 years ago at one of the first Cambridge election counts that I attended, Newnham Lib Dem candidate Elsa Meyland-Smith recorded the highest-ever number of votes in a Cambridge local election, 2,906. Things are rather different today, but despite narrower margins of victory, Newnham has continued to elect only Lib Dems in the intervening period. This is a record that is likely to continue this year, as the incumbent Rod Cantrill, recently selected as the next Lib Dem candidate for Cambridge MP, seeks re-election as a Newnham councillor. Labour’s candidate is Mike Davey, a retired County Council officer; Mark Slade, a musician and local entrepreneur is standing for a third time for the Greens, and the Conservative candidate is Connor MacDonald, a student at Emmanuel College.

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Petersfield sees a rematch between two of the candidates from the 2014 election, as Labour incumbent Ann Sinnott faces former Lib Dem councillor Sarah Brown. Army veteran Simon Lee is standing for the Conservatives, and Virgil Ierubino represents the Greens. Given recent electoral history, a Labour hold seems the most likely outcome.

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Queen Edith’s ought to be reasonably safe for the Lib Dems, but it’s not a certainty. With incumbent Tim Moore standing down, the Lib Dem candidate is newcomer Colin McGerty, an IT consultant who has previously been involved in campaigning in Abbey ward. Labour are fielding Dan Greef, who was their Parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire in both the 2015 and 2017 General Elections, and is well-known in the area. Conservative Manas Deb is standing for a third time, and Joel Chalfen is making a sixth appearance for the Greens. A Lib Dem hold seems likely, but Labour could pull off a surprise victory as they did in 2012.

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Once a Lib Dem stronghold, Romsey is now firmly back in Labour’s grip, with a well-organised and active campaigning operation. This year Labour’s candidate is former firefighter Dave Baigent, seeking re-election for the first time. His Lib Dem opponent is newcomer Joshua Blanchard Lewis, a languages tutor and former Vice-President of the Cambridge Union Society. Other candidates are Martin Keegan, Chairman of Cambridge Conservatives, and Caitlin Patterson, an NHS Staff Nurse, representing the Greens for a second time. I’m expecting a Labour hold with an increased majority.

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Trumpington should be reasonably safe for the Lib Dems, but Labour have now established themselves as the main challengers in a ward which had a Conservative councillor only two years ago. One of the factors changing the ward’s political makeup is the large amount of new housing being built; another is the increased level of Labour campaigning in recent years. Incumbent Lib Dem Nick Avery is standing down after a single term, and Daniel Hilken is hoping to succeed him for the yellow team. Labour’s candidate is architect Katie Thornburrow, standing in Trumpington for a second time. Phil Salway, a Senior Technician at Cambridge University,  is the Conservative candidate, and Ceri Galloway, who has stood unsuccessfully for the Green Party 15 times in Trumpington, is back for a 16th attempt.

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Finally, West Chesterton promises another closely-fought Labour-Lib Dem contest. Incumbent Lib Dem Ysanne Austin is standing down, and Jamie Dalzell is defending the seat from the challenge of Clare King, who will be hoping to make a gain for Labour. Clare was Lib Dem councillor for East Chesterton from 2007-2011 before switching to Labour in 2012, while Jamie has previously stood for the Lib Dems in Cherry Hinton and King’s Hedges – coming within 200 votes of victory in the latter seat last year. Shayne Mitchell makes a 16th attempt at being elected for the Greens, and Mike Harford, a retired marketing company manager, is standing for the Conservatives.

So what is the City Council likely to look like when the dust has settled? Excluding the seats being contested this year, Labour have 16 councillors, the Lib Dems 9, and there’s one Green and one Independent councillor. Amongst the seats that are up this time, I think Labour can be virtually certain of victory in six: Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, King’s Hedges, Petersfield, and Romsey. Lib Dem victories are likely (though not guaranteed) in three: Newnham, Queen Edith’s, and Trumpington. That leaves six “battleground” seats: Abbey, Castle, East Chesterton (2 seats), Market, and West Chesterton. In each of these, only Labour or the Lib Dems have a realistic chance of winning – I’m expecting the grand total of Conservative, Green, UKIP and Libertarian  victories in Cambridge this year to be zero. So overall I think Labour will end up with 22 to 28 councillors, the Lib Dems 12 to 18, and just one each for Green and Independent. With 42 councillors overall, this means that Labour will retain control, though if the Lib Dems perform at the upper end of expectations, we could be in for an interesting time next year, when Labour will have eight seats to defend and the Lib Dems just five. In 2020 we are likely to see all the City Council seats up for election at once following boundary changes, so things will certainly be interesting then.

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The corporate structure of Milton Road Library

Once upon a time, Cambridge libraries were more straightforward operations than they seem to be today. The County Council owned the building they were housed in, ran the library, and Cambridge residents came in to browse the bookshelves, relax, read the papers, and borrow the occasional book. Nowadays, however, things are a little more complicated. Here is a look at the intriguing collection of companies that appears to be involved with Milton Road Library.

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As I write, nobody is browsing the bookshelves at Milton Road Library – the building has recently been demolished, and is to be replaced by a new building which will house a number of flats, as well as a shiny new library. I understand that part of the imposing 1930s entrance has been preserved and will be incorporated in the new building. However, the site is no longer directly owned by the County Council. A collection of freshly-incorporated limited companies has sprung up, and their balance sheets are humming with library-related activity.

Some of the story is told in the minutes of the Council’s Commercial and Investment Committee, which has been dealing with the sell-off of the library site and the setting up of the corporate structure that now owns it. Remarkably, the County Council bans search engines from the site that holds its committee papers, making it much harder to find the relevant information. Fortunately Companies House has a more open policy.

Back in May 2016, the Committee approved the establishment of a Housing Development Vehicle (HDV), a separate company which the Council would own and sell property to, for the HDV to develop. The idea was that instead of selling off property to a developer, the Council could make more revenue by owning a development company itself. The minutes of the meeting record some concern from councillors about this approach. Tellingly, officers advised that “…having Councillors on the Company Board, had led to problems for other Councils – the company needed to be free and agile enough to run its own business.” Instead of councillors, Council officers would take up positions on the company’s board, at least initially. When councillors expressed concerns about whether this would lead to a conflict of interest, “…Officers reassured Members that whilst they would have a role once the HDV was being set up, it was envisaged that professional directors with no connections to the County Council would be in post as soon as possible.” We will see in a moment to what extent this has happened.

The HDV company was duly set up in June 2016, under the name Cambridgeshire Housing and Investment Company Ltd, known as CHIC for short. There were two directors initially, Quentin Baker and Christopher Malyon. Quentin Baker is Executive Director at LGSS Law Ltd, a legal services company jointly owned by Cambridgeshire, Northamptonshire and Central Bedfordshire councils; Chris Malyon is Deputy Chief Executive and Chief Finance Officer of Cambridgeshire County Council. In April 2017 they were joined on the CHIC board by David Gelling, an experienced property developer who has previously been involved with companies based in Tattenhall, near Chester. His LinkedIn profile reveals that he has worked on property development for the Ministry of Defence, and has “extensive property and political contacts in the London, Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham markets.” At time of writing, Mr Gelling is the only director without a direct connection to the Council. Exactly how and why he was selected for this role is unclear, at least to me.

The decision to sell Milton Road Library to CHIC was taken at the October 2017 meeting of the Commercial and Investment Committee. CHIC would redevelop the site, replacing the existing building with seven flats and a new library. The Council would then lease the library back for a period of up to 25 years. The minutes report the capital value of the site as £1.82 million, and the rental of the library as £13,668 a year. The committee noted that the seven flats “…did not meet the City Council’s threshold for affordable housing, which was ten homes. The decision on whether to sell or rent the properties would be down to the developer.” The plan was duly approved.

In February 2018, CHIC changed its name to This Land Ltd and sprouted a number of subsidiary companies: This Land Asset Management Ltd, This Land Development Ltd, This Land Finance Ltd, and This Land Investment Ltd. All four subsidiary companies have the same three directors and are wholly owned by This Land Ltd. None of them have yet done anything very exciting, at least not that has to be reported to Companies House. This Land Ltd, in turn, remains 100% owned by Cambridgeshire County Council.

Milton Road Library is not the only Council property that This Land is involved with. Mr Gelling’s LinkedIn profile says This Land “…will primarily focus on residential developments, creating in excess of 1000 new homes and will create neighbourhoods in both rural and urban locations.” One supposed advantage of having a separate company is that the Council can borrow money at low rates, and then lend the same money to This Land Ltd at a commercial rate, pocketing the difference. However, as long the company remains wholly owned by the Council, this seems to amount simply to shuffling money around – This Land Ltd is expected to make large paper losses in its early years.

So what does all this matter? I think there are two key concerns. Firstly, this structure seems to make the management of these formerly Council-owned properties more opaque and more remote from elected councillors. Secondly, there is inevitably the concern that the continued – and enormous – financial pressures on the Council will lead it at some point to consider selling off some or all of its 100% stake in This Land Ltd, effectively privatising formerly publicly-held assets.

Arbury Councillor Jocelynne Scutt has tabled a question for Tuesday’s Full Council meeting asking for more information about This Land, and in response the Chairman of the Commercial and Investment Committee, Councillor Josh Schumann, has offered to circulate a briefing note to all members. Let’s hope that the Council will publish it to the general public. We will be watching developments carefully.

 

 

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Can Labour form a minority Government?

In a slight change to this blog’s regular topic, here’s a look at the political picture nationally rather than just in Cambridge. One question that has been raised since Labour’s better-than-expected showing in the General Election on Thursday is whether or not Labour could realistically form a minority Government. Here’s a look at the numbers, starting with the composition of  the new House of Commons:

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The Conservatives are the largest group with 317 MPs – or 318 if you include the Speaker, but as he is neutral and does not normally vote, I have listed him separately. Labour are 55 seats behind the Conservatives, with 262. Amongst the minor parties, Sinn Fein now have 7 MPs, but they do not take their seats in the Commons and so do not vote. The other seats in Northern Ireland are now all occupied by the DUP, except for North Down which is held by an Independent, Lady Sylvia Hermon.

As I write, the Conservatives are busily trying to conclude an agreement with the DUP which would make the Commons arithmetic look like this:

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The 317 Conservatives plus the 10 DUP MPs would add up to 327, while all the other MPs, apart from Sinn Fein and the Speaker, would total 315 – this would give the Government an effective majority of 12. However, if the Conservatives cannot ultimately enlist the support of the DUP, then their 317 MPs would face a combined opposition of 325 – enough to defeat them by eight votes.

So could Labour form a minority government instead? Their immediate problem, on putting forward a programme for Government in a Queen’s Speech, would be that their 262 MPs would be outvoted by the 317 Conservatives, by a margin of 55. Clearly, they would need support from other parties. Let’s look at what those parties have said about this.

The SNP’s Nichola Sturgeon has said, “If there was to be a hung parliament and the parliamentary arithmetic allowed it, I would want the SNP to be part of a progressive alternative to a Conservative government, not in a coalition.” So that’s probably enough of a basis, at least in theory, to add the 35 SNP MPs to Labour’s total. That brings it to 297, still 20 votes behind the Conservatives.

What about the Lib Dems? On the face of it, their policy would seem to rule out any sort of pact or deal with Labour. But, for the sake of argument, let’s assume that they find some way of supporting Labour against the Conservatives. That adds 12 more votes, bringing the total to 309, still eight votes short of the Conservative total. Let’s throw in the four votes of Plaid Cymru, and the vote of the lone Green MP, Caroline Lucas. We’re now up to 314 for our theoretical anti-Conservative alliance, still three votes behind the Conservative total of 317.

With Sinn Fein and the Speaker out of the picture, that just leaves the 10 DUP MPs, and Lady Sylvia Hermon. Even if the DUP MPs abstain on the Queen’s Speech, that’s not enough to put Labour in power – the Conservatives would still have three more votes. For Jeremy Corbyn to become Prime Minister, he would need the active support of the DUP as well as all the other non-Conservative parties. The DUP have explicitly ruled this out, saying that they would not support a Labour Government while Jeremy Corbyn remains leader. So barring something completely unexpected, such as mass defections, or a Conservative-Labour Grand Coalition, there is no way that Labour can form part of the Government as things stand.

Update: Julian Huppert points out that as well as the Speaker, there are three Deputy Speakers, who don’t vote either. The rules state that one of them comes from the same side of the House as the Speaker, and two from the other side. This doesn’t change the conclusion that Labour can’t govern without DUP support.

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The 2017 General Election result in Cambridge

As I left the Guildhall in the early hours of Friday morning, following Labour’s resounding victory in the contest for Cambridge MP, I met a large and very happy group of Labour supporters. Several of them expressed a keen interest in reading my next blog post. So here it is – I’m sure they’ll enjoy it.

It was already pretty clear by the time the polls closed on Thursday evening that Labour were going to win, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting the result to be quite as overwhelming as it was. My own best guess at the time was 41% for Labour to 35% for the Lib Dems, but this was well wide of the mark – Labour’s actual margin of victory was 52% to 29%. This is the first time any candidate for Cambridge MP has won over half the vote since Anne Campbell’s 53.4% in the Labour landslide of 1997. Before that you have to go back to Robert Rhodes James’s victory in the 1976 by-election to find a candidate winning more than half the vote.

Both main parties put in a huge effort on polling day, significantly in excess of what they managed in 2015. As I was out knocking on doors I was particularly struck by how many campaigners there were on the streets whom I didn’t recognise, a marked contrast to the situation in local elections.

I’m sure you’re expecting a few graphs at this point. And I’m not going to disappoint you. Here are the Cambridge vote shares compared to the last General Election in 2015:

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In contrast to 2015’s knife-edge result, Labour’s 2017 win can only be described as emphatic. I’d been expecting the Conservatives to improve on their terrible showing in 2015, with Brexit playing a role and no UKIP candidate, but in the event they managed only a tiny improvement. The evaporation of the Green vote was a marked feature of the result, with much of it presumably going to Daniel Zeichner, despite a determined campaign from Stuart Tuckwood. Here are the graphs again, this time showing the actual numbers of votes, rather than the percentage share:

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This graph makes clear how much Labour’s win was due to the increase in their vote, rather than the Lib Dem vote falling. Julian Huppert’s tally was down by 1,676; but in contrast Daniel Zeichner added 10,386 votes to his 2015 total. It’s likely that Labour’s victory came primarily from turning out previous non-voters, rather than in converting Lib Dem supporters. They probably also got a net benefit from former UKIP voters.

Back in May, Lib Dem hopes had been raised by a relatively competitive showing in the County Council elections. Although Labour won seven seats in the city to five for the Lib Dems, in terms of vote share they ran Labour pretty close, and were heartened by the fact that previously their Parliamentary vote share was ahead of their vote share in local elections. Here’s a comparison of the vote shares in the local and General elections this year:

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As you can see, the 2017 local election graph looks a lot like the graph of the 2015 General Election, with the two main parties pretty close and the Conservatives and Greens well behind. But just five weeks later the picture looked very different. One reason why is clear from a graph of the absolute number of votes in the local and General elections:

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As you can see, the turnout at the General election was much larger than in the locals – for every ten votes that Labour got in Cambridge on May 4th, they got 23 on June 8th. Meanwhile the Lib Dems got only about 14 General Election votes for every ten in the locals. (These figures are based on the estimated local election vote in the Cambridge constituency; boundary changes mean we don’t have exact totals).

Commiserations, then, to Julian Huppert and the other unsuccessful candidates, and congratulations to Daniel Zeichner, as he enjoys his victory party this evening. As I cycled to the count across Jesus Green on Thursday evening, with bats flying low around the trees, I reflected what an enormous privilege it is for Cambridge’s MP to represent this amazing city. I’m sure Daniel would agree with that.

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My prediction for the Cambridge 2017 General Election result

Update: I’m now expecting a Labour hold in Cambridge. See the final paragraphs for more.

With polling day nearly upon us, here is a look at the prospects for each of the candidates for Cambridge MP, and some predictions as to how they will fare on June 8th.

Locally, this year’s campaign has had a lot in common with the 2015 contest – once again it has been a closely-fought contest between Labour’s Daniel Zeichner and Lib Dem Julian Huppert, with a less well-known Conservative candidate struggling to make much impact. Nationally, of course, circumstances are radically different from 2015, with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory, the Brexit vote, and David Cameron’s sudden departure having transformed the political landscape. Of course, there are some points in common too. In an article about the 2015 campaign in Cambridge, I said:

Ed Miliband has come across better than many people (including me) expected, and has not turned out to be as much of a liability as he once seemed. Meanwhile the Lib Dems have struggled to make much impact nationally, a far cry from the Cleggmania of 2010.

Arguably it’s a similar story this time – Labour’s poll average has increased significantly during the campaign, though from a low base, while the Lib Dem poll rating has languished.

On, then, to the candidates, in reverse order of how many votes I expect them to get. As ever, bear in mind that I’m a Lib Dem member, and I’ve been actively involved in campaigning this year, so this is probably all a cunning ploy to get you to vote for Julian.

I’m expecting last place to be occupied by Keith Garrett, running once again on a platform of government by randomly-selected groups of citizens. Last time Keith garnered just 0.4% of the vote. This time his ballot paper description is “Rebooting Democracy” instead of 2015’s “Removing the Politicians”, but I’m not expecting this to make a great deal of difference to his level of support. I think Keith will win less than 0.5% of the vote this time, well short of the level needed to retain his deposit – so he could have saved himself a good deal of trouble by making a pile of a hundred £5 notes and setting fire to them. I hope he has enjoyed the campaign.

Fourth place is likely to go to the Green party candidate, Stuart Tuckwood. Cambridge has proved a frustrating constituency for the Greens in recent General Elections. Despite having a solid level of support in local elections, a large part of it tends to melt away when it comes to choosing Cambridge’s MP. Here are the results from 2015, with the General Election results in darker colours and the Council election results in lighter colours.

As you can see, the Greens got more than twice as many votes in the Council elections as they did in the General election. The graph suggests that much of their missing support went to the Lib Dems, though the vote switching pattern is probably more complex than this. I’m not expecting a Green breakthrough in Cambridge this year; Green support has fallen since the last General Election, and nationally their focus is on retaining Brighton Pavilion and winning Bristol West. In Cambridge, Stuart Tuckwood has had nothing like the resources that were squandered so ineffectively by Tony Juniper in 2010, or the repeated visits by Green leaders that supported Rupert Read in 2015. Given all this, I’m expecting the Green vote share to fall slightly this time to around 6%. If this does happen, it’ll be no fault of Stuart’s – he’s a passionate, committed and likeable campaigner who I’m sure we’ll see more of in Cambridge politics.

Along with almost everyone else who is politically active in Cambridge, I’m expecting Conservative candidate John Hayward to finish in third place. A last-minute selection for a seat where the Conservatives were already a distant third, he has struggled to make much impact on the campaign, with few canvassers on the streets, little leaflet delivery, and activists of other parties competing to spot the rare Conservative posters. I think it’s fair to say that he has found little support amongst hustings audiences – though (at least at the ones I’ve attended) these have been noticeably more partisan than in 2015, with fewer “ordinary voters” in attendance. There are of course some points in John Hayward’s favour. He has an unusual and impressive backstory compared to many Conservative candidates; the Conservatives, despite recent wobbles, are still higher in the polls than in 2015; and with no UKIP candidate in Cambridge this time, he is the only mainstream Leave supporter on the ballot paper. While Cambridge did only have a 26% Leave vote, this is still 10% higher than the 16% vote share recorded by Conservative Chamali Fernando in 2015. While the 2010 Conservative candidate, Nick Hillman, managed to snatch second place from Daniel Zeichner by a few hundred votes, that was after a much longer campaign that was more attuned to Cambridge. I think a top two Conservative finish is wildly unlikely this time. However, with UKIP’s 5% of the vote up for grabs, and starting from the low base of the 2015 result, I do think John Hayward will increase the Conservative vote share slightly. My best guess is that he’ll end up on 18%.

Rounding Keith Garrett down to 0%, that leaves 76% of the vote for the two leading candidates, Labour’s Daniel Zeichner and Lib Dem Julian Huppert. This is of course their third contest for the Cambridge seat, with the score standing at 1-1 so far, though with Julian’s 2010 majority of 6,792 just slightly more comfortable than Daniel’s 2015 knife-edge lead of 599. Both are battle-hardened campaigning veterans with large and effective teams of activists behind them. How will they fare this time?

As noted above, while there are a lot of similarities with the 2015 contest, a great deal has changed too. One of the most significant factors in Cambridge election results is the extent to which the Lib Dems manage to “squeeze” the Conservative vote by persuading natural Conservative supporters to lend the Lib Dems their vote in order to keep Labour out. My impression this time is that the Conservative vote was a bit less squeezable at the start of the campaign, with Brexit clearly a factor, but has softened somewhat as the campaign has gone on and Labour have reduced the gap in the national polls.

In terms of “feet on the streets”, there has been plenty of activity from both main parties. My impression is that, as usual, Labour have probably done more canvassing, and the Lib Dems are ahead in leaflet delivery. There seem to be more Labour posters on display across the city, but that was also the case in the last two General Elections, and in any case, as we saw with the Greens in 2010, posters don’t necessarily translate directly into votes. One noticeable change from 2015 is that the Labour student organisation, CULC, while still active, hasn’t been quite so prominent in the campaign this time – hardly surprising with University exams underway at the moment.

So my best guess for the result of the 2017 General Election in Cambridge is… aggravatingly, not going to be revealed until the polls close at 10pm on Thursday. I can only apologise for this after you’ve read so much of the article, but with activists from the two main parties going all-out over the next few days to win those extra votes, I’m not going to pre-empt their efforts now. Check back here when the polls close for an update. But here’s a prediction to keep you going until then: I think it could well be even closer than the 1.2% margin of victory in 2015.

Update: The polls have just closed, and I’m at the Guildhall to watch the votes being counted. I’m now expecting a Labour hold in Cambridge; while it could still be a close result, I think it’s mostly likely that Labour have done enough to retain the seat with an increased majority – my best guess is 41% for Daniel Zeichner to 35% for Julian Huppert. This is partly due to the increase that we’ve seen in Labour’s national poll rating as the campaign has gone on, and partly due to the effective local campaign that Daniel Zeichner’s team have run, successfully mobilising an army of activists. The Lib Dems have put in a strong campaign locally too, but their national poll rating has only gone sideways during the campaign from its already low 2015 base, as their strong anti-Brexit position failed to gain much traction. As a Lib Dem member I would very much like to be wrong, but I’m expecting to see Daniel Zeichner returned to Parliament for Cambridge.

However, I don’t think it’ll be unalloyed joy for Cambridge Labour supporters, as I’m not expecting a Labour government. It’s been an unusually volatile campaign, and Labour have certainly improved their position against a lacklustre performance from Theresa May, but I’m just not convinced that they’re going to oust the Conservatives from power. Recent electoral history is littered with unexpected events, of course. We’ll know soon enough how close it is this time. As the next few hours unfold, follow me on Twitter for a running commentary live from the Guildhall.

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Cambridge General Election Hustings events

I’ll aim to keep this page up to date with details of General Election hustings events in Cambridge. If you have any corrections, or details of one that isn’t listed here, please contact me on phil@philrodgers.co.uk. I’ll add links to any recordings that become available.

  • FeCRA Virtual Hustings: Available on YouTube here.
  • Mon 8 May, 8pm: Arts and Culture in Cambridge: The Election Debate. Junction 2, Clifton Way. Coverage: Cambridge News live blog; Antony Carpen’s video; Richard Taylor’s video; Cambridge 105 interview.
  • Tue 9 May, 5pm: Europe Day Hustings: General Elections & Brexit. LG19, Law Faculty, Sidgwick Site. More details here.
  • Wed 10 May, lunch: Hustings for Hills Road Sixth Form students, details here.
  • Tue 16 May, 7:30pm: Jubilee Centre, Eden Baptist Church, 1 Fitzroy Street. More details from @JubileeCentre. Coverage: Richard Taylor’s video.
  • Wed 17 May, 7:45pm: Human Rights, Equality and Refugees hustings, Emmanuel United Reformed Church, Trumpington Street. More details from @CamRefugees.
  • Tue 23 May, 10:30am: Disability hustings at Papworth Trust. Details from @PapworthPolicy. – Postponed following the Manchester attack.
  • Tue 23 May, 6pm: BBC/Cambridge News hustings, Churchill College – invited audience only, but details of how you can apply for an invitation are here. –Postponed to 1 June following the Manchester attack.
  • Wed 24 May, 8pm: Cambridge Cycling Campaign hustings, Friends Meeting House, Jesus Lane. More details here. – Cancelled following the Manchester attack.
  • Thu 25 May, 7:30pm: Cambridge Questions Election Special, hosted by Cambridge 105’s Julian Clover. Portland Arms. Tickets are free; you can get one here.
  • Tue 30 May, 10:15am: Cambridge Network hustings, William Gates Building, 15 JJ Thomson Avenue. Free to attend, but register here. – Claire Ruskin of Cambridge Network tells me they are now diverting their audience to the other hustings as there are rather too many now clashing following the postponements.
  • Sun 28 May, 12 noon: Broadcast of Cambridge Questions Election Special on Cambridge 105 (recorded on 25 May). Repeated on Monday 29 May at 6pm
  • Tue 30 May, 7:30pm: Cambridgeshire NUT Education Election Question Time, NCI Sports and Social Club, 1 Holland Street. Details here.
  • Wed 31 May, 5:30pm: Anglia Ruskin and Cambridge University Students’ Unions hustings event, Lab 002, Anglia Ruskin University, East Road. Tickets are free; you can get one here.
  • Wed 31 May: Live debate featuring senior figures from seven parties on BBC One, broadcast from Cambridge. Details to follow.
  • Thu 1 June, 12:00-2pm: Cambridge Assessment hustings, Howard Theatre, Downing College. Free but book here. Also live online.
  • Thu 1 June, 6pm: BBC/Cambridge News hustings, Churchill College – invitation only.
  • Sat 3 June, 6:30pm: Cambridge University Television: Cambridge Debates GE17, Trinity Hall and live-streamed on Facebook. Details here; book free tickets here.
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What do the local election results say about the contest for Cambridge MP?

I am currently sitting in the Guildhall waiting for the conclusion of the mayoral election count, so here’s a very preliminary look at the local election results for Cambridge, which were declared earlier today. Labour won seven seats to five for the Lib Dems:

  • Abbey: Labour held off a strong Lib Dem challenge to win with a majority of 75
  • Arbury: A relatively comfortable 412-vote win for Labour ahead of the Lib Dems
  • Castle: Independent John Hipkin lost out in a tight three-way race, finishing 27 votes behind Labour but 14 ahead of the Lib Dems
  • Cherry Hinton: A comfortable win for Labour in their safest seat
  • Chesterton: Lib Dem Ian Manning scored a solid win, 308 votes ahead of Labour
  • King’s Hedges: An improved Lib Dem performance, but Labour held them off by 191 votes
  • Market: A fairly comfortable win for Lib Dem Nichola Harrison by 287 votes
  • Newnham: Lib Dem Lucy Nethsingha won 51% of the vote and a 548-vote majority over Labour
  • Petersfield: Another seat where Labour won ahead of an improved Lib Dem vote, with a margin of 249
  • Queen Ediths: A very solid win for Lib Dem Amanda Taylor, 716 votes ahead of Labour despite boundary changes
  • Romsey: Similarly to Petersfield, Labour won by 274 votes from the Lib Dems
  • Trumpington: A Lib Dem victory by 269 votes from Labour, with the Conservatives third once again.

Labour and the Lib Dems were neck-and-neck in the vote across the city, with the Lib Dems winning 13,572 to Labour’s 13,542, just 30 ahead.

So what does this mean for the Cambridge result in the General Election in five weeks? There are a couple of reasons why we can’t extrapolate directly. Firstly, the Cambridge local election results include Queen Edith’s, which isn’t part of the Cambridge Parliamentary constituency. The Lib Dems won a majority of 716 votes in Queen Edith’s, and although boundary changes cloud the picture a little, this means Labour won more local election votes in the Cambridge Parliamentary constituency overall. On the other hand, Labour tend to do slightly better in local elections compared to General Elections, though this factor is far from constant. The bottom line is that the contest for Cambridge MP looks very close, with only a few votes likely to separate Daniel Zeichner and Julian Huppert on June 8th.

Update: Across Cambridge (including Queen Edith’s), Rod Cantrill got 13,273 first-round votes in the mayoral election, 1,051 votes ahead of Kevin Price, who got 12,222. Allowing for the Queen Edith’s effect, this also points to a very close race between Labour and the Lib Dems in the Cambridge constituency.

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