Cambridge and the Labour Leadership election

With more than six weeks to go in the Labour leadership election, here’s a quick look at how the contest is playing out in our local Labour party. By way of background, here’s a summary of how the Cambridge Labour Party voted in the last leadership contest, back in 2010:

lablead2010

This graph shows the first preference votes cast in 2010 by members of the Cambridge Labour Party, compared to the overall totals for all Constituency Labour Parties. Broadly, Cambridge was a bit more pro-Ed and less pro-David Miliband that the overall Labour membership, though David was still a narrow favourite. Among the (then) lower-ranked candidates, Cambridge Labour tended to favour Diane Abbot rather more than the national party, and Andy Burnham rather less. In total, 716 ballot papers were distributed to Cambridge Labour members, and 522 of them voted – a pretty respectable turnout of 72.9%.

Five years on, which way is the Cambridge Labour party leaning this time? So far, it’s hard to tell much more than that there is a fairly broad spread of opinion. In a spirit of enquiry, I emailed all 32 Cambridge Labour councillors to ask which of the candidates they were planning to support. Perhaps unsurprisingly, not many of them were willing to share their preference with a Lib Dem activist, though I did get a few thoughtful and interesting replies – thank you for those. I’ve put together the following list of supporters based on various sources. I’d be happy to update it with more information – please do get in touch by commenting below, Twitter, or email – though I’m only including those who hold elected office for Labour.

Andy Burnham supporters:

  • Dave Baigent, City Councillor for Romsey
  • George Owers, City Councillor for Coleridge
  • Peter Roberts, City Councillor for Abbey
  • Ashley Walsh, County Councillor for Petersfield

Yvette Cooper supporters:

  • Richard Howitt, MEP for the East of England
  • Ann Sinnott, City Councillor for Petersfield,
  • Daniel Zeichner, MP for Cambridge

Jeremy Corbyn supporters:

  • Margery Abbott, City Councillor for East Chesterton
  • Kevin Price, City Councillor for King’s Hedges
  • Peter Sarris, City Councillor for East Chesterton

Liz Kendall supporters:

  • Richard Johnson, City Councillor for Abbey

As last time, the election is by the Alternative Vote system, which means that voters list the candidates in their preferred order, and as the less popular candidates are eliminated, votes are transferred to the next preference. This vote transfer was crucial to the outcome last time, allowing Ed Miliband to overhaul his brother David by a slender margin. Arguably, 2010 was the first Labour leadership election since 1980 whose result was genuinely uncertain, but it looks like we are in for a similarly unpredictable contest this time. It’s going to be a fascinating few weeks for British politics.

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Emails between Cambridgeshire County Council and Kora

I’ve just received a response to my Freedom of Information request to Cambridgeshire County Council, asking for emails relating to the preparation and redaction of an earlier request by Paul Lythgoe, which originally revealed the 37 meetings about the (then secret) Kora library project that had taken place over two years.

There’s a great deal of information in this response – I’ve been sent over 200 pages of emails, though because of quoting there is a good deal of repetition of material. I haven’t had a chance to analyse it in detail yet, but because of the interest in this issue I’m publishing the response here. It should in any case appear on the Council’s public FoI log at 9pm this evening.

So here are the documents:

They certainly throw an interesting light on the process of preparing a Freedom of Information response.

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At the Council meeting reviewing the Kora library decision

This morning I spoke at Cambridgeshire County Council’s Highways & Community Infrastructure Committee meeting, which was debating the future of the Kora project at the library. Here’s (approximately) what I said:

Good morning.

My name is Phil Rodgers, and this meeting is, to some extent, my fault. The information that has brought us here today was uncovered by me, sitting at home with a laptop one Thursday evening earlier this month.

The reason I was doing this research was because I was trying to understand why the Council had been working so exclusively with this one organization on the library project, and seemingly in such secrecy.

I want to stress that I found no evidence of any improper relationship between Kora and anyone at the council. But I did find out, fairly quickly, that Kora’s lead negotiator had been involved in another enterprise centre project in 2009 that went into liquidation owing a lot of money, and that he had been disqualified from being a company director for eight years.

You now have to decide whether to press on with the Kora project, or whether to rescind the decision that this committee took on 2nd June. The report in front of you quite rightly highlights the reputational risks to the Council of pressing on.

I think one of the most striking things about Cambridge Central Library that has emerged during all this, is the fact that it is the fourth busiest library in the country, with around 850,000 visits per year – pretty impressive since Cambridge is only about the 50th largest city. The Central Library is a precious asset that needs to be safeguarded in a way that people can have confidence in. Given what we know now, I do not think that people will have confidence in a project involving Kora.

For the good of the library, for the good of the Council, and for the good of the people that it serves, I urge you to rescind this decision and find another way to address the very difficult budget pressures that I know you face.

And I want to ask one more thing. Please can we have a more open and transparent process this time. Because I can promise you that whatever happens next is going to be subject to a level of public scrutiny that the Kora project clearly wasn’t ready for.

Update: Thanks to Antony Carpen for filming my statement:

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My prediction for the Romsey by-election result

This is the first scheduled post I’ve done, so I’m hoping it’s appearing as if by magic at 10pm on Thursday. It’s been a busy day, so this’ll be brief. At the start of the campaign I expected Labour to win fairly comfortably, but as the campaign has gone on my opinion has shifted towards the Lib Dems. However I think Labour are still likely to win narrowly – though I’ll be delighted to be proved wrong.

Here’s my best guess at the by-election outcome:

  • Con: 6%
  • UKIP: 3%
  • Green: 22%
  • Labour: 36%
  • Lib Dem: 33%

Counting of the votes will start shortly at the Guildhall, so we’ll soon know the result. Getting my excuses in early, by-elections are particularly tricky to predict, and with a fairly low turnout the outcome is heavily influenced by how good the parties are at getting their supporters to go to the polls.

Update: The result has now been declared, and was:

  • Labour 829 (37.3%)
  • Lib Dem 782 (35.2%)
  • Green 467 (21.0%)
  • Con 100 (4.5%)
  • UKIP 46 (2.1%)

Congratulations to Zoe Moghadas, and commiserations to Nichola Martin and the other unsuccessful candidates.

Here’s the result in the context of the last decade’s local election results in Romsey:

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The battle over Romsey’s boundaries

As polling day in the Romsey by-election hurtles towards us, controversy has broken out about the proposed changes to Romsey’s boundaries. The Lib Dems have accused Labour of supporting “proposals that would rip apart the strong Romsey community”, while Labour have hit back, accusing the Lib Dems of hypocrisy after they put forward their own amendments to the proposed boundaries. Here’s an attempt at a summary of the situation, with what I understand to be the positions of both sides. As regular readers will know, I’ve been involved in the Lib Dem campaign – but I am not speaking on their behalf here; I’m just trying to set out the facts as I understand them.

Here are the current boundaries of Romsey ward, courtesy of the handy Election Maps website:

As you can see, it covers the area between Mill Road and Coldham’s Lane, and a little way to either side, on the eastern side of the railway line. It’s a fairly compact ward, thanks to the high-density terraced housing in a lot of it.

As I’ve previously discussed, there is a review underway of the County Council’s division boundaries, which is expected to reduce the number of County Councillors representing Cambridge from 14 to 12. This is likely to have knock-on effects for the City Council as well, since it’s generally agreed that it would be a bad thing for the County Council divisions to have different boundaries from the City Council wards – at the moment the two coincide, making things a lot easier for everyone. Some time ago, the Labour party put forward detailed proposals for how the boundaries in Cambridge should be redrawn. As I understand it, the bulk of Labour’s proposal was put together by former city councillor Ben Bradnack, and Ashley Walsh, leader of Labour’s group on the County Council and historian of the Cambridge Labour party. Here’s what Labour proposed for Romsey:

My apologies for the poor quality of this picture; this is the best I could find on the Boundary Commission’s website. Essentially, what Labour proposed is that Romsey’s northern and southern boundaries should both shift some way to the south, losing the area around Coldham’s Lane, and gaining an area to the south down as far as Cherry Hinton Road, which is currently part of Coleridge. The proposed new boundaries look rather like a shouty cartoon head; the pointy nose is the Burnside area at the end of Mill Road, and the mouth contains Langham Road and Perne Avenue, which would be in the neighbouring Cherry Hinton division. The rather jagged haircut follows the line of the traffic barriers which stop wider vehicles from travelling between Coldham’s Lane and Mill Road through Romsey Town. The area to the north of this line currently in Romsey would be shifted into Abbey.

The Boundary Commission adopted Labour’s proposal for Romsey almost unchanged in their draft recommendations:

The main difference from Labour’s proposal is that the upper lip of the head moves west a bit, to shift some houses on Perne Road into the Cherry Hinton division, but this affects only a small number of voters – the Boundary Commission’s plans are otherwise identical to Labour’s.

Last time similar boundary changes were proposed in Romsey, there was considerable local opposition, and the Lib Dems have sought to make the most of the issue in the by-election campaign. Here is the front page of their newspaper distributed last weekend:

It features candidate Nichola Martin and Lib Dem campaigner Donald Adey in fine “glum councillors” form, standing by the Romsey Town & District Allotment Society sign, which under Labour’s proposals would no longer be in Romsey.

Despite the proposals being put forward by the Labour group, an article appeared on the Romsey Labour website saying that Labour councillors, and their by-election candidate Zoe Moghadas, were “fighting to maintain the boundaries of Romsey as an independent and discrete ward in the City”. As already discussed, after I posted a comment pointing out that the proposals originated from Labour, the article disappeared from the Romsey Labour site, though (at time of writing at least) it has reappeared again, complete with my comment.

The latest development in the story came yesterday, with the publication of this document on the City Council’s website, which contains Lib Dem amendments to the Boundary Commission’s proposals. This provoked a flurry of outraged tweets from Labour activists, swiftly retweeted by their comrades:

The Lib Dem amendments will be discussed at the City Council’s Civic Affairs committee meeting at 5pm on Friday – the day after polling day in Romsey. It should be an exciting meeting. But what exactly are the Lib Dems proposing for Romsey? And does it really justify Labour’s charge of hypocrisy? Unfortunately, the Lib Dem document doesn’t include a map, but I have done my best to make one, based on its description of the boundaries. Here it is:

The Lib Dem amendment would leave the western edge of Romsey at the railway line, where it is now; the eastern edge, where it borders Cherry Hinton, would stay where the Boundary Commission proposes. The northern border would move back north to where it is now – with one exception, which I will come back to. The southern boundary would also shift northwards, though not all the way back to where it is now; part of the extra area of Coleridge would be retained.

So what is the basis of Labour’s charge of hypocrisy? Doesn’t the Lib Dem amendment retain all of the current Romsey ward, adding a little bit of Coleridge too? Well, not quite. Look back at the first map up above, and on the eastern (right-hand) edge, you’ll see one area that the Lib Dem amendment doesn’t restore. Here’s a closer look:

This little peninsula of Romsey consists of Nuttings Road and Uphall Road (which is the straight bit at the north end of Nuttings Road, not marked on the map). It’s on the left just after the railway bridge as you head out of town past Sainsbury’s on Coldham’s Lane. It currently contains 85 voters, though according to the Boundary Commission’s demographic projections, by 2020 it may have as many as 88. Labour’s boundary changes, adopted by the Boundary Commission, move these voters, plus 1,576 other north Romsey voters, out of Romsey and into Abbey. The Lib Dem amendment moves the 1,576 other voters back into Romsey, but not these 85. And that, as far as I can see, forms the entire basis for Labour’s charge of hypocrisy.

I’ll leave you to decide for yourself whether you think that’s reasonable or not.

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Romsey ward boundaries

With a week to go until polling day in the Romsey County Council by-election, the campaign is in full swing, with leaflets once again plopping onto doormats, and party workers exercising their knuckles across the area. As I’ve recently rejoined the Lib Dems, I have also been out on the doorsteps, trying to encourage Romsey voters to support Nichola Martin – which you might want to bear in mind while reading the rest of this article. While Labour, the Lib Dems, and the Greens have all been running active campaigns, my impression is that the seat is likely to be a close-run thing between Labour and the Lib Dems – but then I would say that, wouldn’t I?

One issue that has been featuring in Lib Dem literature in Romsey, particularly in the northern part of the seat, is proposed boundary changes. Plans are afoot to “redistrict” Cambridge, reducing the city from 14 to 12 County Councillors, and moving a lot of the seat boundaries around. In Romsey, the proposals would move a lot of local residents out of the seat, instead placing them in Abbey (which would be renamed as Barnwell). A couple of weeks ago, an article appeared on the Romsey Labour website about this issue. Here’s what it said:

Defend our Ward Boundaries against changes

Councillors Anna Smith and Dave Baigent supported by Zoe Moghadas are fighting to maintain the boundaries of Romsey as an independent and discrete ward in the City.

The Boundary Commission have now issued proposals that intend to increase the size of wards to 8000 and reduce the amount of county councillors.

This proposal if enacted will probably lead to a reduction in City Councillors along similar lines.

The article was illustrated by a charming photo of the Romsey Labour team holding up “I ♡ Mill Road” stickers. I posted a comment on the article which read as follows:

It was the Labour Group’s submission to the Boundary Commission that originally proposed removing the northern part of Romsey from the ward. The Commission’s proposals for Romsey are almost identical to the boundaries that the Labour Group suggested.

Here is the Labour Group’s submission (starting on page 5): http://www.lgbce.org.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0019/24508/PoliticalGroups-Combined-and-Linked-Cambridgeshire-2015-02-03.pdf

Here’s what it says about Romsey: “Romsey Division incorporates all the existing division minus those parts of northern Romsey absorbed into the new Barnwell Division, following the line of the existing traffic barriers. It is bounded by the railway in the west until that meets Hills Road at which point it is clearly then bounded in the south by Cherry Hinton Road, of which it retains only the north side. To the east it is bounded by, but does not include, Perne Road, Perne Avenue, and Gisborne Road. It does include Brooks Road and Brookside. The name Romsey is chosen in recognition of the historic consideration that Coleridge Division was originally created out of Romsey. Unlike the present Petersfield Division, Mill Road east of the railway serves as a community unifier. Residents in the existing Romsey and Coleridge divisions identify themselves as residents east of the railway and locate Mill Road as the central spine of their community. In particular, Mill Road serves as a key transport routé for Coleridge residents who access the road via Coleridge Road.”

Sadly, this article now seems to have mysteriously disappeared from the Romsey Labour website. It used to be here, and as I write you can still see it in Google’s cache here. I hope the Labour group have resolved any internal differences on this issue amicably.

Update (23 June): Romsey Labour have now un-deleted the article, which you can read here (with my comment intact). Meanwhile, Labour have accused the Lib Dems of hypocrisy after the Lib Dems produced some proposed adjustments to the Boundary Commission plans. I’m hoping to find time to do a longer blog post about this today or tomorrow – polling day in Romsey is on Thursday.

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Questions about Regus Kora

A number of people have been asking questions about Regus Kora, the company that has been working with Cambridgeshire County Council on the proposed Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre. After doing some further research, I have some questions too.

My questions concern Roger Perrin, who is described on this LinkedIn page as “Global Managing Director Regus Kora”. Although names of Kora staff have been redacted from the minutes of the meetings between Kora and Cambridgeshire County Council, it seems very likely that Mr Perrin is the “RP” referred to throughout the minutes. Here’s a sample extract, from the meeting of 16 September 2014:

From his LinkedIn page, we can see that Mr Perrin has been involved with a number of different companies during his career. Indeed, he has previous experience of similar projects – here is an article from the Cambridge News in 2009 in which he’s launching an “enterprise hub” called Start Cambridge. I didn’t remember hearing about this before, and it no longer seems to be operating, so I did a little research to see what had happened to it. During the course of this research, I turned up a number of interesting facts.

Firstly, there’s Start Operations Limited, of which Mr Perrin was a director. I say was, because as you can see from the company’s filing history at Companies House, the company was dissolved last year following a liquidation. From the Statement of affairs document filed on 9 February 2009, it seems that it owed its creditors around £1.5 million when it ceased trading.

Secondly, if you go to the Companies House Disqualified Directors Register and enter Mr Perrin’s name, it turns up this record (I’ve redacted Mr Perrin’s address and date of birth):

So it seems from this record that Mr Perrin is just over half way through an eight-year period of being disqualified from acting as a company director. If you click on the reason code, it explains that this is because of section 7 of the Company Directors Disqualification Act 1986. The explanatory notes say:

Sections 6 – 8: Disqualification for unfitness to act as company director –
6: Duty of court to disqualify unfit directors of insolvent companies.
7: The Secretary of State may accept a disqualification order where the conditions in section 6(1) are met and it appears to him to be expedient to do so in the public interest.
8: Disqualification after investigation of company, under companies and other legislation.

Company number 03215974, mentioned in the record, is (or rather was) Start Architecture Ltd, which was “dissolved via compulsory strike-off” last year – its filing history is here.

Naturally, this raises a number of questions about the Cambridge Library Enterprise Centre project:

  • Did Council officers know about Mr Perrin’s history when they decided to work with Kora on the CLEC project?
  • If did know, why didn’t they tell the councillors who were deciding whether the project should go ahead with Kora as a partner?
  • If they didn’t know, why not? The information is all on the public record – due diligence should have turned it up.

Cambridge people need to know the answers.

Update: The Cambridge News has an article about this here. As it says, the County Council has issued a statement:

“The highways and community infrastructure committee agreed in principle on Tuesday to approve the proposals for an enterprise centre. No signing of any contracts has yet taken place.

“In light of information that has come to our attention the council’s executive director for economy, transport and environment has following consultation with the committee chairman suspended further work on the project, pending consideration by the committee.”

Second update: I want to make it very clear that I am in no way suggesting that Mr Perrin has done anything illegal. My point is that councillors should have been aware of his background when making decisions about the project.

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