With the County Council elections now imminent, here’s a look at the prospects for each of the 14 seats up for grabs in Cambridge. There are several fascinating contests this year. For each seat I’ve made a graph of the local election results over the last five years, showing the dramatic shifts of opinion that some seats have seen since the General Election. Cambridge has annual local elections, choosing one-third of the City Council each year for three years, and then voting for its County Councillors in the fourth year. All councillors serve a four-year term, and can seek re-election indefinitely. This year it’s the turn of the County Council, which was last elected in 2009.
On to the wards. First, Abbey:
Until recently, Abbey was a Green/Labour marginal, and was notable for electing the first Green councillors in Cambridge. However, following the death of Green Party stalwart Margaret Wright, and the defection of Councillor Adam Pogonowski to Labour, Green party prospects here have faded. Indeed, Abbey’s only remaining Green councillor, Simon Sedgwick-Jell, has decided to stand in Market rather than Abbey this time, presumably hoping to improve his chances of being elected. As well as the County elections, Abbey is also holding a City Council by-election on Thursday following the resignation of Councillor Pogonowski, who has recently moved to London. Labour should win both of these seats comfortably.
After several years as a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, Arbury has returned to being a fairly safe Labour ward, with the Lib Dems putting in relatively little campaigning effort last year. Although Labour’s strong showing last year was partly due to Mike Todd-Jones’s personal vote, Labour County group leader Paul Sales will expect to be re-elected without too much difficulty. Cllr Sales first won the seat from the Lib Dems in a 2011 by-election.
Castle provides one of the most interesting and unpredictable contests this year, with Independent John Hipkin hoping to win the County Council seat to add to the City Council seat that he took so emphatically last year. Cllr Hipkin split from the Liberal Democrats before being elected as an Independent City Councillor in 2008. In 2009 he was defeated for the County Council seat by Belinda Brooks-Gordon, who is his Lib Dem opponent again this year. Although the Lib Dems came a poor third in Castle in 2012, they put little work into that year’s campaign, and will be making much greater efforts this time. However, it will be a tall order for them to overcome Cllr Hipkin’s substantial support in the ward.
At one time Cherry Hinton was a Labour/Tory marginal, but you wouldn’t know it from looking at last year’s result, in which Labour’s Rob Dryden scored an almost North Korean 73%. Again this includes a substantial personal vote, but even so Labour should have a very comfortable margin of victory here this year.
Like Cherry Hinton, Coleridge is also a former Lab/Con marginal that has turned into a safe Labour seat. With the departure of key Conservative activists from the ward, there is little standing in the way of an easy Labour win here.
East Chesterton was previously the County Council seat occupied by Julian Huppert, now Cambridge MP. This year it is the site of a battle between former colleagues, as Lib Dem incumbent Ian Manning faces former City Councillor Clare Blair, who quit the Lib Dems to join Labour in 2012. From their exchanges on Twitter it is safe to say that they have not been getting on very well recently. The Lib Dems have been putting a good deal of effort into this ward and are keen to reverse their substantial defeat at the elections last year. Labour are equally keen to repeat their victory. Whichever way it goes, expect a closer result here this year.
Although on paper Kings Hedges looks a better bet for the Lib Dems than East Chesterton, with a smaller margin of defeat in 2012, in practice it is unlikely to be on their target list this time. Incumbent councillor Andy Pellew is restanding in Bar Hill, where he now lives, and Labour are the clear favourites here and should win comfortably – though the Lib Dem candidate, former City Councillor Neale Upstone, would no doubt disagree.
After many years as one of the Lib Dems’ safest wards, Market has had an exciting time of it in the last couple of years. With the majority of the Market electorate being students, Lib Dem support dropped substantially after the national party’s volte-face on tuition fees. 2011 saw a remarkably close result with all four candidates receiving vote shares within 5% of each other. The Lib Dems recovered a little last year, but each of their three opponents have stepped up their campaigning this time. Labour are aiming to take the seat and have been working hard, while it is also the Green’s top target, as their sole councillor, Simon Sedgwick-Jell, has abandoned his former ward of Abbey to stand here. The Conservatives have also been more active than usual, though that isn’t saying a great deal. With incumbent Lib Dem Sarah Whitebread standing down in favour of the relatively unknown Ed Cearns, it’s hard to predict the outcome, though a Lib Dem or Labour victory seems most likely.
Newnham is now the safest Lib Dem seat in Cambridge, though as last year’s startling result in Queen Edith’s demonstrated, there are no longer any really safe Lib Dem seats anywhere in the city. Incumbent Lib Dem councillor Lucy Nethsingha should hold on, but it’s impossible to entirely rule out a Labour win here.
As the graph shows, Petersfield has moved from Labour/Lib Dem marginal to a safe Labour seat since the General Election. The Lib Dem County Councillor elected in 2009, Nichola Harrison, resigned from the
party Lib Dem County group to become an Independent over transport policy, and is standing down this time. A comfortable Labour victory here seems assured.
Queen Edith’s provided the shock result of the election last time, with Labour snatching the formerly safe Lib Dem seat from City Councillor Amanda Taylor, after a very impressive campaign. Peter Roberts, the mastermind behind Labour’s campaign, is busy standing in the City Council by-election in Abbey ward this year, but Labour will still be a force to be reckoned with. Amanda Taylor is aiming for a comeback as County Councillor, following her colleague Geoff Heathcock’s retirement.
Romsey has a history of close results between Labour and the Lib Dems, and this is the likely outcome again this year. The Lib Dems are once more being helped by the presence of a Socialist candidate, Tom Woodcock, who will certainly take some votes that would otherwise go to Labour. The Greens are also returning to the fray after failing to run a candidate in 2012, with UKIP and the Conservatives giving the Romsey electorate a total of six options to choose from. Last year, Catherine Smart, who has been an active Lib Dem campaigner in Romsey for twenty years, held off the Labour challenge thanks in large part to her substantial personal vote. This year’s Lib Dem candidate is Kilian Bourke, currently leader of the Lib Dem group on the County Council, and while he is well known in the ward, the result is likely to be even closer than last year.
The Conservatives have always been in contention in Trumpington ward, which stretches from Trumpington village in the south to the Newtown area near the city centre. Last year they finally managed to take it from the Lib Dems, by focusing almost all their (admittedly rather meagre) Cambridge campaigning resources on this one ward. They will be hoping for a repeat this year; the ward could go either way.
Labour very nearly won West Chesterton last year by accident, without putting much campaigning effort into what had been a safe Lib Dem ward. They are working a good deal harder this year, against a new Lib Dem candidate, David Grace, as incumbent Councillor Kevin Wilkins is standing down after moving to Ely. Cllr Wilkins, one of the few Lib Dems to vote against going into coalition with the Conservatives at the party’s special conference in 2010, is known to be unhappy with the Lib Dem leadership, but is nevertheless playing a key role in the organisation of this year’s Cambridge Lib Dem campaign. This is something he has been extremely effective at in the past, with long experience as election agent and leaflet writer.
Across Cambridge as a whole, the picture is very much of Labour on the front foot and the Lib Dems on the back foot, a dramatic turnaround from the last County Council elections in 2009, when the Lib Dems won 11 seats to Labour’s two. However there is a wide range of possible outcomes. Six seats (Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, Kings Hedges and Petersfield) are virtual certainties for Labour, but if everything goes their way they could conceivably win six more from the Lib Dems (Market, Queen Edith’s, Romsey, both East and West Chesterton and, at a stretch, Newnham), for a total of 12. In contrast, while the Lib Dems have at least some prospect of winning in those six seats plus Castle and Trumpington, for a realistic maximum of eight, their worst-case scenario is a complete wipe-out, which they have not suffered since 1988. The Conservatives are only effectively in contention in Trumpington, Independent John Hipkin is strongly placed in Castle, and the Greens are unlikely to win even their top target, Market. Whatever happens on Thursday, Labour will be eagerly looking forward to next year’s elections, when they hope to take outright control of the City Council, and they will also be hungrily eyeing up Julian Huppert’s seat at Westminster.
It’s important to remember that Cambridge has only 14 of the 69 seats up for election on the County Council. Outside Cambridge the Conservatives have a much higher level of support, and are very likely to retain overall control of the Council – though it will also be interesting to see how well UKIP do.
Thanks to Colin Rosenstiel for election results data.