The politics of immigration petitions

I’ve been digging a bit further into the huge amount of data available about petitions to the UK Parliament. Two of the most popular petitions in the last year were about migration, but took very different approaches:

  • “Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK” – 450,287 signatures
  • “Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated” – 463,500 signatures

Both petitions ran for six months and closed earlier this year. The website gives the number of signatures from each Parliamentary constituency, so I’ve made a scatter-plot from this data showing how opinion on migration varies in each seat.


Each dot here represents a different Parliamentary constituency. The horizontal position is the number of signatures for the pro-refugees petition; the vertical position shows how many people signed the anti-immigration petition. I’ve coloured each dot according to the party that won the seat at the 2015 general election. So Cambridge, for example, with 2,559 pro-refugee signatures and just 316 anti-immigration, appears well away from the main group of seats.

Of course only a small fraction of the residents in each seat signed one of the petitions – up to about 5% – but this still gives a general indication of the balance of opinion about migration in each seat, and the pressures this is likely to put on each seat’s MP.

As you can see, most of the seats are clustered towards the corner of the graph, with roughly equal numbers of pro- and anti- migrant signatures, though more seats are on the anti side. A small number of heavily anti seats float above the main group, and then there’s a “long tail” of increasingly pro-refugee seats stretching away along the horizontal axis, all the way to Hornsey & Wood Green with 3,767 pro-refugee signatures and just 158 anti-immigration.

Looking at the distribution for seats held by each party tells an interesting story too. Here’s the graph again, with just the Conservative-held seats emphasised:


Most of the seats are in the main cluster, with just a few outliers. At the top of the graph, the Essex seat of South Basildon & East Thurrock registered the most anti-immigration signatures, with the neighbouring Thurrock seat having nearly as many. Meanwhile, the most pro-refugee Conservative seats were all relatively affluent: Richmond Park, Oxford West & Abingdon, Battersea, and Twickenham – three of the four held by the Lib Dems before 2015.

The graph for Labour-held seats is also quite striking:


Here the pattern is a great deal more widely scattered than for the Conservative-held seats. The densest group of Labour seats is firmly in the anti-immigration part of the graph, noticeably more so than for the Conservatives, but there’s a wide range of opinion, with a “long tail” of pro-refugee sentiment. Three of the four most pro-refugee seats are in north London: as well as Hornsey & Wood Green, there’s Diane Abbott’s Hackney North & Stoke Newington, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North, with the former Lib Dem seat of Bristol West completing the group. Overall, this graph vividly illustrates the range of pressures on Labour immigration policy.

Here’s the pattern for seats held by Britain’s third party, the SNP:


There’s a wide range of opinion here, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the SNP now holds almost every seat in Scotland. It’s noticeable that the SNP seats tend to be on the outside of the graph, perhaps indicating a greater overall level of political engagement amongst Scottish voters following the 2014 referendum.

The handful of surviving Lib Dem seats are also fairly widely scattered, but without much anti-immigrant sentiment:


Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat is the most pro-refugee of the group.

Finally, the sole UKIP seat, Clacton, is as you might expect well to the anti-immigrant side of the graph:


Although it’s not as high up the anti-immigrant axis as some Conservative-held seats, it’s one of the least pro-refugee seats – and noticeably close to the densest part of the Labour graph.

Immigration has featured strongly in polls about the most important issues facing the country, and this looks likely to continue. I’m sure there will be plenty of more petitions on the subject, providing further insight into how this issue affects British politics.


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Petitions to Parliament from Cambridge

For some time now the UK Parliament has provided a petitions website, allowing people to sign petitions for consideration by MPs. If a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, the Government will publish a response, and if it reaches 100,000 signatures, then it is considered for a debate in Parliament. The petitions website has been very successful, with thousands of people supporting a huge range of causes, and many of the petitions being given Parliamentary debating time.

The data behind the petitions is available, and people have used it in a number of different ways. For example, there is a Petition Map website that shows the geographic distribution of petition signatures. Here’s the map for a petition about the steel industry, with signatures unsurprisingly concentrated in South Wales:


The availability of this data naturally got me wondering about which petitions people in Cambridge tend to support most. Of course there are more Cambridge signatures on the petitions that are most popular nationally, but it’s interesting to look at which petitions have the highest proportion of Cambridge signatures. With 650 constituencies in the UK, on average you’d expect about 15 in every 10,000 signatures to come from a particular constituency – or slightly less, as UK citizens living overseas can also sign. However, it turns out that people in Cambridge are fond of signing petitions, and account for around 30 in every 10,000 signatures.

I looked at the 242 petitions that have gathered at least 10,000 signatures nationally, and calculated the proportion of those signatures that were from Cambridge. This lets us rank these petitions in order of how “Cambridgey” they are. Here are the top ten:

  1. Statement on UK steps to ensure a full investigation of Giulio Regeni’s death (1198)
  2. Exempt grants for academic research from new ‘anti-lobbying’ regulation (191)
  3. Stop the Government from cutting funding for Routes into Languages. (148)
  4. Give EU citizens living & working in the UK the right to vote in EU Referendum. (138)
  5. Government to abandon all ideas of trying to ban strong encryption. (126)
  6. Scrap the £35k threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK (120)
  7. House of Commons to have Free Vote on Imposition of Junior Doctors Contract (119)
  8. Amend the immigration bill to allow 3000 lone child refugees to enter the UK (111)
  9. Stop Destruction Of British Archaeology. Neighbourhood and Infrastructure Bill (98)
  10. Allow transgender people to self-define their legal gender (83)

The numbers in brackets show how many signatures out of every 10,000 came from Cambridge residents. The leader by a very large margin is the petition about the horrible murder in Egypt of Cambridge University student Giulio Regeni. Amongst the others, there’s definitely an academic flavour, with concerns about languages, archaeology, and anti-lobbying regulations for researchers. There’s also an internationalist theme, with support for migrants and refugees. Concerns about encryption, junior doctors and transgender rights also make it into the top ten.

At the other end of the scale are a number of petitions about local issues that don’t have much to do with Cambridge. Here are the bottom five:

  • An independent investigation into the new layout at Dartford river crossing. (1.8)
  • A Petition for Southern Rail (Govia Thameslink Railway) Franchise Review. (1.6)
  • Don’t close Poole Hospital’s A&E or Bournemouth Hospital’s A&E! (1.2)
  • End the cuts to Merseyside Police (0.8)

The last on the list, supporting Ealing Hospital, has just four signatures from Cambridge out of its total of over 100,000.

Looking at the larger petitions that have garnered over 100,000 signatures nationally gives a somewhat different view of Cambridge’s concerns. Here are the most Cambridgey of these 100,000+ signature petitions:

  1. Scrap the £35k threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK (120)
  2. Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work (67)
  3. The DDRB’s proposals to change Junior Doctor’s contracts CANNOT go ahead. (67)
  4. Jeremy Hunt to resume meaningful contract negotiations with the BMA. (63)
  5. Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK. (57)
  6. Stop retrospective changes to the student loans agreement (56)
  7. Consider a vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary (49)
  8. To debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary the Right Hon Jeremy Hunt (46)
  9. Include expressive arts subjects in the Ebacc (40)
  10. Prevent the scrapping of the maintenance grant. (40)

The recurring theme here is the Junior Doctors’ dispute, which is featured in four of the top ten. Support for students is also (perhaps unsurprisingly) popular. The recent controversy about compulsory high heels at work also seems to have struck a chord in Cambridge. Number five on the list, one of the biggest petitions nationally with over 450,000 signatures, again shows Cambridge’s particular concern for refugees. This is also evident when looking at the least Cambridgey of these larger petitions. Here are the bottom five:

  • Make an allowance for up to 2 weeks term time leave from school for holiday. (9.0)
  • Stop allowing immigrants into the UK. (8.6)
  • Restrict the use of fireworks to reduce stress and fear in animals and pets (7.4)
  • Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated. (6.8)

As well as Ealing hospital, Cambridge people are relatively unconcerned about term-time holidays from school and the effect of fireworks on pets. But I have to say I’m particularly pleased to see the anti-immigrant petitions getting so little support locally. Good for you, Cambridge.


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The Hobson’s Choice Crowdfunder

As I was observing the election count at the Cambridge Guildhall recently, peering down at us from the wall of the Large Hall was this portrait of Thomas Hobson:


Hobson was a Cambridge-based carrier, best known as the origin of the phrase “Hobson’s choice”, from his policy of hiring out horses in strict rotation, offering customers “either this one, or none at all”. He was also responsible for the building of Hobson’s Conduit in 1614, bringing clean drinking water into Cambridge.

The portrait is in a pretty poor state, and for the last few weeks a Crowdfunder appeal has been underway to raise £10,000 for a restoration. Here’s a look at how it’s going.

The appeal is running for eight weeks, so to raise the £10,000 it needs to bring in about £175 per day. We’re six weeks in now, and there have been 140 contributions so far (the website shows 120 backers, but contributions raised off the site are all listed as “hobson”). Here’s a graph showing how much has been raised each day:


As you can see, less than £175 has been raised on most days, but there have been quite a few days that have brought in a good deal more. However, the second and third weeks of the project brought in the biggest contributions, and less money has been raised recently. Is the project going to achieve its target? Let’s have a look at the cumulative total:


The black line here shows the daily target that must be reached to raise the £10,000 by the end of the appeal; the red line shows the total amount raised. As you can see, things started a little slowly, but after three weeks the project was in a fairly healthy state, with the red line a fair way above the target level. However, since then the red line has been creeping perilously close to the target level, and looks in danger of falling below it before the end of the project.

I think this is a great project for a Crowdfunder, and I’d love to see it get fully funded. Thomas Hobson is an important part of Cambridge’s cultural heritage, and it seems only right to raise funds to restore his portrait by public subscription. If you’d like to help the project, you can do so at

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The PCC election results in Cambridge

As well choosing their representatives on Cambridge City Council, Cambridge voters were also helping to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on May 5th. Here’s a look at how the PCC vote went in Cambridge and across the county.

There were four candidates in Cambridgeshire this time. Conservative Jason Ablewhite started as the favourite, but faced a strong challenge from Labour’s Dave Baigent. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt was the only candidate from the previous PCC election to restand, and former County Council leader Nick Clarke flew the flag for UKIP. Unlike the local elections, the PCC elections use the Supplementary Vote system. This means that voters can cast a second-choice vote, which is counted if their first-choice candidate doesn’t make it into the top two.

Here in Cambridge only the total vote for the whole city was announced at the count, but the City Council’s Electoral Services department have kindly sent me a ward-by-ward breakdown of the vote – you can find it here, with the second round numbers here. Here’s what the first-round votes in each ward look like as a graph:


I’ve listed the wards in descending order of the Labour vote share, which as you can see was pretty substantial throughout the city. In fact Labour “won” every ward in Cambridge in the PCC vote with the exception of Trumpington, where they were narrowly beaten by the Lib Dems. It’s notable that Dave Baigent did particularly well in his home ward of Romsey – despite being one of the more closely contested wards in the council elections, his Romsey vote share was higher than in several safer Labour wards. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt mostly recorded second places, with stronger performances in the wards where the Lib Dems were campaigning more heavily in the local elections. The Conservatives finished second only in Coleridge and Cherry Hinton, otherwise coming home third, and UKIP’s Nick Clarke managed the dubious distinction of finishing fourth in every ward of the city. UKIP’s strongest – or rather, least weak – performance was in King’s Hedges.

Of course it wasn’t just Cambridge voters taking part in the PCC election. The candidates had been whizzing around the county campaigning in all six districts, and the electoral pattern was pretty varied. Here are the total votes cast in each district in the first round of voting:


Note that this graph shows the actual numbers of votes in each district, not percentages – in East Cambs and Fenland there were no local elections on the same day, and the turnout was substantially lower. Although Labour’s Dave Baigent recorded a substantial lead in Cambridge, Conservative candidate Jason Ablewhite topped the list in every other district, with results ranging from neck-and-neck in Peterborough to more than two-to-one in Huntingdonshire. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt did reasonably well in South Cambs, but clearly didn’t appeal as much to Fenland voters, while UKIP’s Nick Clark scored highest in Peterborough and Huntingdonshire. Amongst other things, this graph demonstrates vividly just how different the level of Conservative support is in Cambridge compared with the rest of the county – in Cambridge, Labour got more than three times the Conservative vote, whereas the Conservatives finished first in every other district.

When all the first round votes were added up, the overall picture for Cambridgeshire was this:


This gave Jason Ablewhite a lead of 9,188 votes at this stage, with 36.2% of the vote against 31% for Dave Baigent. Since no candidate had 50% of the vote (always a wildly unlikely prospect), at this point the second-choice vote came into play. The bottom two candidates dropped out, and their second-choice votes were transferred to the two remaining candidates. Here’s how that played out in Cambridge:



These are the second-choice votes of Cambridge voters who cast their first choice vote for the Lib Dem or UKIP candidates – about 80% of them being Lib Dem supporters. There were thus more votes to transfer in the wards with more Lib Dem support, and as you can see, they went predominantly to Labour.

Once again, the picture in Cambridge was quite different from Cambridgeshire as a whole. Here’s how the second-choice vote went across the county:


While Dave Baigent gained a 2,665-vote advantage from the Cambridge second-choice votes, East Cambs was nearly neck-and-neck, and all the other districts favoured Jason Ablewhite. In total, the second round was very nearly a dead heat, with Dave winning just 87 more votes than Jason. So when the votes from the two rounds were added together, this was the final result:


Here the lighter colours show the second-choice votes. Jason Ablewhite was elected for the Conservatives with a majority of 9,101 votes. In percentage terms, he won 53% of the final-round vote versus 47% for Dave Baigent. While this is a pretty close result, it’s not that far from the 2012 outcome, a Conservative victory by 55.7% to 44.3%, meaning Dave added 2.7% to Labour’s previous vote share.

The next Police and Crime Commissioner elections are due in May 2020, and it’s very likely that they’ll have a much higher turnout than this year’s 30.6% – because a General Election is due to be held on the same day. I suspect this factor will favour the Conservative candidate, but if a week is a long time in politics, four years is an aeon.

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The 2016 Cambridge City Council election results

Now that Cambridge political activists have largely recovered from the excitement of the local election campaign, here’s a look back at how the parties performed in each of Cambridge’s 14 wards. Overall, the story was of a dominant performance from Labour, mixed fortunes for the Lib Dems, and disappointment for the Greens and the Conservatives, who both lost vote share in every ward and failed to win any seats.

Looking at the graphs for each ward, a number of general patterns emerge. In the safe Labour wards, Labour’s share of the vote increased sharply, and the other parties fell. This is partly because last year’s local elections took place on the same day as the General Election, so these wards saw a good deal more Lib Dem and even Conservative campaigning last year than they usually do. However, this only explains some of the increase in the Labour vote, which in most of these wards is now higher than it has been in recent years. Other factors may include improved performance of the Labour campaigning operation in Cambridge, which is certainly working pretty effectively now, and the national political situation – despite being at odds with much of his Parliamentary party, Jeremy Corbyn does seem to be a net positive factor for Labour in Cambridge. I’m sure Labour activists would add satisfaction with the City Council to the list.

The Lib Dems saw their vote share rise in eight of the fourteen wards, but in Romsey and the Chestertons this wasn’t enough to defeat Labour. The Conservatives seemed to put in very little campaigning effort this year, losing their sole councillor, Trumpington’s Shapour Meftah, and managing only two second places across the city, and distant ones at that. The Greens were disappointed in their main target ward, Market, and they performed poorly elsewhere. General Election “unwinding” will have played a part in this, though it’s also likely that they suffered from the Jeremy Corbyn effect.

On to the wards. For each, I’ve made a graph showing the local election results (excluding by-elections) for the last ten years, to give some context to this year’s results.


Abbey followed the typical pattern of most safe Labour seats, with a substantial jump in the Labour share of the vote, and a fall for the other parties. Richard Johnson won a third term by a very comfortable margin. The Greens just managed to retake second place ahead of the Lib Dems, but with just 15% of the vote in a ward which they won as recently as 2010.


Arbury was another ward following the pattern of safe Labour seats. Labour’s well-known councillor Mike Todd-Jones managed to increase his already enormous share of the vote from 2012, scoring Labour’s best result in Arbury since 1973. Lib Dem Tim Ward took second place with his party’s lowest Arbury vote share this century.


After missing a year in 2015, the Castle Independents were back on the ballot paper this year, as John Hipkin sought re-election to the City Council. Despite facing active campaigns from both Labour and the Lib Dems, John won pretty comfortably, with Labour’s Patrick Sheil pushing Lib Dem Mark Argent into third place. From what I saw at the count, Labour were particularly strongly supported in the parts of the ward with a concentration of student voters. John may be back on the ballot paper in Castle again next year, as his County Council seat is up for re-election.


There was another typical safe Labour result in Cherry Hinton, with Mayor Rob Dryden winning with a significant increase in the Labour vote over 2015. He didn’t quite manage the mountainous 73% that he scored in 2012, though he faced two more opponents this time. All other parties saw their share of the vote fall, with Eric Barrett-Payton taking one of only two second places for the Conservatives in the city.


Coleridge was the other ward to record a second place for the Conservatives, with Sam Barker taking 15% of the vote, as newcomer Rosy Moore won a very comfortable victory for Labour. As in 2011, the Lib Dem vote fell sharply following the General Election the previous year. Sadly there was no return to the ballot paper this year for 2014 candidate Puffles the Dragon Fairy.


East Chesterton saw one of the more intense battles this year as Labour’s incumbent councillor Margery Abbott was challenged by Lib Dem Shahida Rahman. Despite improving on last year’s Lib Dem vote share, Shahida wasn’t able to overhaul Labour’s lead, though did manage to record the Lib Dems’ closest second place in Cambridge this year. Next year the sole remaining elected Lib Dem in East Chesterton, County Councillor Ian Manning, is up for re-election in what promises to be another closely-fought contest. [Update: As City Councillor Peter Sarris points out, next year’s County Council elections are likely to be fought on new boundaries in any case.]


King’s Hedges is yet another ward following the now-familiar pattern of safe Labour seats this year. In this case it was incumbent councillor Nigel Gawthrope who was comfortably re-elected with an increased majority. The Lib Dems, who held all four council seats in the ward a few years ago, could only manage a distant second place with 13% of the vote. They were ten votes ahead of UKIP, who recorded their best result in Cambridge in King’s Hedges – not that that is saying a great deal.

Last year Market provided the closest three-way result in Cambridge political history, with just thirteen votes separating the top three candidates. It was a different story this year, as Lib Dem group leader Tim Bick held off the challenge of Danielle Greene for Labour, while Stuart Tuckwood suffered a substantial drop in Green Party support, despite the Greens focusing much of their campaigning effort this year on the ward. The Conservative vote plummeted to a dire 6.2%, their worst-ever result in Market.


There was a somewhat similar pattern in Newnham, as Lucy Nethsingha slightly increased the Lib Dem lead over Labour, adding a City Council seat to the County Council seat she already holds. The Green vote share fell substantially, and the Conservatives recorded their worst share of the vote for decades, despite an active campaign by their candidate Julius Carrington.


Despite having elected Lib Dem councillors towards the tail end of Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister, Petersfield is nowadays yet another safe Labour ward, and followed the familiar pattern. Richard Robertson was re-elected comfortably with an increased share of the vote. Sharon Kaur held on to second place for the Greens.


Queen Edith’s is one of the safer Lib Dem seats in Cambridge (though that isn’t saying as much as it once was) and Jennifer Page-Croft won a comfortable victory for the yellow team. Labour’s John Beresford took a respectable second place, increasing the Labour vote share and pulling away from the Conservatives, whose vote fell, along with the fourth-placed Greens.

I spent much of polling day in Romsey trying to prevent my prediction of a Labour gain in the ward from coming true. However, in the end Labour newcomer Sophie Barnett recorded a convincing victory over veteran Lib Dem Catherine Smart. Catherine first stood for election in Romsey in 1993, when Sophie was aged 7, and represented the ward continuously for 18 years from 1998. Labour put a great deal of effort into winning the seat, even hiring taxis at 4am on polling day to take a team of student volunteers to Romsey for early-morning leafleting, and their victory brought the loudest Labour cheer of the night at the count. As elsewhere in the city, the Green and Conservative vote share both fell, despite at least some campaigning by both parties.


Trumpington provided the solitary Lib Dem gain in Cambridge this year, as Donald Adey convincingly defeated the city’s last Conservative Councillor, Shapour Meftah. The Conservatives recorded their worst-ever share of the vote in the ward, finishing behind Labour for the first time.


Finally, West Chesterton provided another emphatic win for Labour, as Mike Sargeant took the seat at the ninth attempt, only the second Labour victory here since the 1960s, and the first on the City Council. The defeated Lib Dem candidate was Nichola Harrison. Both parties put considerable campaigning effort into the seat, and the vote share of the other candidates was squeezed as a result.

Overall Labour gained two seats from the Lib Dems, in Romsey and West Chesterton; the Lib Dems gained one, in Trumpington; and the other eleven were held. The new City Council, which meets for the first time on 26th May, has an increased Labour majority of ten over all other parties:


Here are two final graphs that demonstrate the emphatic nature of Labour’s victory this year. First, here is the Labour lead over the Lib Dems in each ward this year:


Labour racked up enormous leads over the Lib Dems in their safe wards, three of which (Arbury, King’s Hedges, and Petersfield) elected Lib Dem councillors only a few years ago. Things were closer in the “battleground” wards, but without any of the really knife-edge results that we’ve seen in recent years – Tim Bick’s 60-vote victory in Market was the closest this year.

Secondly, the graph below shows the swing to Labour from the Lib Dems in each ward since 2015. This is the average of the rise in the Labour vote and the fall in the Lib Dem vote, so it gives an indication of how far opinion has moved. Negative numbers mean that the swing was from Labour to the Lib Dems.


As you can see, the swing to Labour was strongest in their safe wards, partly due to the lack of General Election campaigning this year. The other wards saw a mixed picture, with the Lib Dems doing best relative to Labour in Trumpington.

Overall, six of the fourteen wards were pretty solid for Labour this year. If the Lib Dems had won all of the other eight, and kept winning them, they would have been in a position to deprive Labour of control by 2018 and return to power in 2019. As it is, with a net loss of one seat this year, the long road back to power for the Lib Dems in Cambridge has just got even longer.


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My predictions for the 2016 Cambridge local elections

By now longstanding tradition, each year I make an attempt to predict the outcome of the Cambridge local elections in each ward. Last year I very nearly got fourteen out of fourteen, with only Market escaping my crystal ball, and even then by just seven votes. Admittedly this was ever so slightly overshadowed by my prediction of a narrow Huppert victory in the contest for Cambridge MP, but hey ho. This year, I have to admit I’m feeling a good deal less confident in predicting the City Council results; now that I’m more involved in election campaigning since rejoining the Lib Dems, it’s harder to get a dispassionate view of what’s going on. Another factor is that it seems, well, a little rude to suggest that some of my hard-working colleagues aren’t going to triumph at the polls; and I’ve also had quite enough of being quoted in other parties’ leaflets. Consequently I’m going to delay publishing the remainder of this blog post until the polls close at 10pm on Thursday. I hope it’ll give you something slightly interesting to read before the first results are announced in the early hours.


So, for what it’s worth, here are my predictions:

  • Abbey: Labour hold. Richard Johnson hasn’t faced any significant opposition in his re-election campaign, and should hold his seat comfortably.
  • Arbury: Labour hold. Another ward that has seen little activity from other parties; Mike Todd-Jones’s considerable personal vote should see him home.
  • Castle: Independent hold. The Lib Dems have fought an active campaign hoping to unseat Independent John Hipkin,  but I expect John to hold on reasonably comfortably; his long record in the ward and network of supporters are key factors in his favour.
  • Cherry Hinton: Labour hold. It’s been many years since Cherry Hinton was a marginal ward, and it’s now one of Labour’s safest strongholds. Add to that a popular candidate in Rob Dryden, who is approaching the end of his third term as Mayor and 21st year as a councillor, and a large Labour majority seems virtually assured.
  • Coleridge: Labour hold. Coleridge saw a relatively close result last year, as the General Election brought it a more vigorous Lib Dem campaign that it usually sees. This year, however, the Lib Dem campaigning focus has been elsewhere, and we’re likely to see a return to the usual pattern in recent years of reasonably comfortable Labour majorities.
  • East Chesterton: Labour hold. East Chesterton has been one of the most closely contested wards this year, and it could go either way. I hope I’m not being unduly partisan in describing Labour’s candidate, Margery Abbott, as one of the lower-profile City Councillors, but she’s had a lot of support from Labour campaigners. The Lib Dems have also been campaigning strongly in the ward, but I think on balance a Labour hold is more likely.
  • King’s Hedges: Labour hold. Another fairly safe Labour ward that has seen little campaigning action; Nigel Gawthrope should be re-elected comfortably.
  • Market: Lib Dem hold. Last year saw an amazingly close result with just thirteen votes separating the top three candidates, and the Greens winning the seat for the first time. This year they’ve been focusing their efforts on adding a second seat, with Green candidate Stuart Tuckwood hoping to oust Lib Dem incumbent Tim Bick. Labour have also been working hard in support of their candidate Danielle Greene. It could go three ways, but on balance I think Tim Bick will hold on.
  • Newnham: Lib Dem hold. Newnham is far from the safe Lib Dem seat that it once was, but it doesn’t seem to have had quite the level of Labour campaigning that it has seen in recent years. Lucy Nethsinga should hold on to it for the Lib Dems, adding a City Council seat to her existing County Council one.
  • Petersfield: Labour hold. Another no-longer-marginal ward, Richard Robertson can expect to be re-elected comfortably. The Greens may well take second place.
  • Queen Edith’s: Lib Dem hold. Queen Edith’s is probably the safest Lib Dem seat in the city now, and while that still doesn’t make it entirely safe, Jennifer Page-Croft can expect to succeed Viki Sanders with relative ease.
  • Romsey: Labour gain from Lib Dem. I really hope I’m wrong about this one. Lib Dem incumbent Catherine Smart has a large personal vote, and a long record of hard work in the ward, but I think the greatly improved Labour campaign organisation in Romsey together with the continued absence of the Cambridge Socialists from the ballot paper could finally be enough to oust her after eighteen years.
  • Trumpington: Lib Dem gain from Conservative. The lone Conservative on the City Council, Shapour Meftah, has faced a strong challenge from Lib Dem Donald Adey. The Lib Dems have certainly out-leafletted the Conservatives, and from what I’ve seen have been more active on the doorstep as well. While it’s possible that the Conservatives will hold on, I think a Lib Dem gain is more likely.
  • West Chesterton: Lib Dem hold. This is one of the predictions I’m least confident about, as the Lib Dems face a strong challenge from the determined and well-organised Labour campaign for Mike Sargeant. Both Chesterton wards have proved particularly tricky to predict in previous years, but this time I’m plumping for a Lib Dem hold.

If I’m right, the overall result will see Labour up one seat to 25, the Lib Dems steady on 14, two Independents, one Green, and a Conservative wipeout. But, as noted above, the outcome in a number of wards is far from certain, and this could easily be my worst year yet for prediction accuracy.

In the Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner elections I’m expecting a Conservative win, though perhaps with a smaller majority than last time.

We’ll know soon enough whether I’m right. The local election results are expected in the early hours of Friday; the PCC count gets underway at midday on Friday and should be declared some time in the afternoon or early evening.

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The 2016 Police & Crime Commissioner Elections in Cambridgeshire

The election season is well underway in Cambridge now, with less than four weeks until voters go to the polls. Party activists, myself included, are tramping the streets of the city, stuffing leaflets into sometimes-reluctant letterboxes, and knocking on doors to talk to the (almost entirely) charming and delightful Cambridge electorate. But as well as the annual elections for local councillors that we’re so used to, there is another election taking place on 5th May – for only the second time, voters will be choosing a Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) for Cambridgeshire.

The first PCC elections were held in 2012, and attracted a pretty derisory turnout in Cambridgeshire of just 15.3%. This wasn’t helped by the vote being held in November, and with no other elections taking place on the same day. There were seven candidates standing, and the result was a fairly comfortable victory for the Conservative candidate, Graham Bright. Here are the 2012 results:


Now, as Labour activists are extremely keen to point out, the voting system used for the PCC elections is the Supplementary Vote (SV). This means that as well as putting an X by the name of their preferred candidate in the usual way, voters can also place a second X by the name of their second-choice candidate. Here’s what the ballot paper looks like:


If no candidate gets more than half the first choice vote, then the top two candidates go forward to a second round. All the other candidates are eliminated, and their second choice votes are added to the totals for the top two candidates. Here’s how that worked in 2012:


The top two candidates were Conservative Graham Bright, on 26.8%, and Labour’s Ed Murphy, on 19.8%. All the other candidates were eliminated, and the second choice votes were counted. This added another 8.9% for Graham Bright, and 8.5% for Ed Murphy:


It’s notable, however, that most of the second choice votes didn’t transfer to either of the top two candidates. These voters either didn’t cast a second choice vote, or they cast it for a candidate who didn’t end up in the top two.

So much for 2012. How does the contest look in 2016? Nominations closed on Thursday, and this time we have only four candidates standing:

  • Jason Ablewhite, Conservative, leader of Huntingdonshire District Council leader and chairman of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough police and crime panel.
  • Dave Baigent, Labour, Cambridge City Councillor for Romsey and former firefighter.
  • Nick Clarke, UKIP, former leader of Cambridgeshire County Council.
  • Rupert Moss-Eccardt, Lib Dem, former Cambridgeshire County Councillor for Arbury

The incumbent, Graham Bright, decided not to seek re-election this time. Labour’s previous candidate, Ed Murphy, did seek the Labour nomination again, but was defeated by Dave Baigent in a closely-fought contest.

So what are the prospects for the four candidates this time? They all face a pretty daunting challenge in getting their message across to the voters – the PCC area covers the same territory as seven Parliamentary constituencies, with an electorate of around 600,000. Unlike elections for MPs and MEPs, there is no “freepost”, a publicly-funded leaflet delivery to help PCC candidates communicate with the voters. Polling cards do give a website address – – where voters can find more information about the candidates, but it seems unlikely that many voters will bother to visit it before heading to the polling station. I would estimate that at the moment around 98 out of 100 Cambridgeshire voters have no idea who their PCC candidates are. By the end of the campaign that figure might be down to 95, but a great many voters are likely to cast their PCC votes largely on the basis of party preference – and this can only favour the Conservative candidate. Here are the total votes cast in the 2015 General Election in the seven constituencies that make up the PCC area:


As you can see, the Conservatives had a substantial lead across the PCC area at the General Election. If PCC votes follow this pattern, then the Conservative candidate should be substantially ahead on the first choice vote – though not quite enough to win outright. This is the reason that Labour activists are so keen to emphasise the second choice vote – they hope that their candidate can get enough second votes from voters supporting other parties to overhaul the likely Conservative lead. However, the results from 2012 suggest that many voters don’t cast their second vote in a way that counts in the second round. Similarly, UKIP’s Nick Clarke will be hoping to snatch second place ahead of Labour, and then benefit from second-choice votes to overhaul Conservative Jason Ablewhite. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt will also be hoping for second-choice transfers – results from other SV elections show the Lib Dems often do well in second-choice votes, but struggle to get enough first-choice votes to make it into the final two. Overall, a fairly comfortable Conservative victory seems the most likely outcome, but other candidates will be working hard up to polling day to make their case to voters. There is one aspect of the PCC vote that we can be pretty confident about – with local elections on the same day, the turnout should be a good deal higher than 2012’s 15.3% – but still probably only around 30%. However it’s hard to tell what difference this will make to the outcome.

If you aren’t yet registered to vote, you’ve got until 18 April – you can register online via If you can’t get to the polling stations on May 5th, you can arrange to vote by post here.

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