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.