The Cambridge local election campaign is now well under way, with the candidates and their supporters busily delivering leaflets and knocking on doors around the city. One-third of the 42 seats on Cambridge City Council are up for grabs this year, one in each of the city’s 14 wards. The ruling Liberal Democrats are facing a strong challenge from Labour, and as last year, they have a particular disadvantage – being in government at Westminster. History shows that this is generally bad news for a party at the local elections:
The background colours on this graph show the parties in power at Westminster. As you can see, during the Thatcher and Major governments of the 1980s and 90s, the Conservatives went from being the largest party on the council to having just a single councillor left. Similarly, Labour’s representation fell steadily during the Blair and Brown governments, reaching a low of just nine by the 2010 elections. The first year of the coalition brought the Cambridge Lib Dems’ first significant setback in twenty years, as they lost four council seats.
The Lib Dems were perhaps fortunate that their losses were limited to four last year, as they clung on with greatly reduced majorities in a number of others. This graph shows the size of the swing to Labour between the 2010 and 2011 elections:
There are several interesting points to note here. The decline in the Lib Dem vote was steepest in Petersfield, Abbey, Coleridge and Cherry Hinton, which have traditionally been strong Labour areas.
There is then a tight grouping of Romsey, East Chesterton, Kings Hedges and Arbury, all won by Labour last year. These are the “battleground” wards, where the parties will be concentrating much of their effort this year. Of these wards, the Lib Dem vote held up slightly better in Kings Hedges, perhaps reflecting the relative strength of the Lib Dem team there.
Among their previously safer seats, the Lib Dems very nearly lost Market last year, hanging on with just 28% of the vote, the lowest-ever winning vote share in a Cambridge local election. The other student wards, Castle and Newnham (whose near-identical figures show as a single line on the graph) also saw particularly steep falls in Lib Dem support, no doubt related to many Lib Dem MPs breaking their pledges on tuition fees.
2012 looks like being a particularly interesting year for fans of Cambridge elections, and I’ll be posting more about the campaign as it goes on.
Thanks to Colin Rosenstiel for election data.