With the County Council elections out of the way, the thoughts of many local party activists will turn to visiting Reach Fair, having a bit of a rest, organising “Thank You” parties for election workers, and perhaps doing some work in their sadly neglected gardens. But in the longer term, they will be starting to think about the prospects for next year’s City Council elections, when the Lib Dems are almost certain to lose control of the Council, and Labour very likely to take over.
The last City Council elections, in 2012, left the Lib Dems clinging to power in Cambridge by their fingernails. Here is the current makeup of the Council:
The 21 Lib Dems face 21 opposition councillors, but still retain effective control thanks to Mayor Sheila Stuart’s casting vote. However, the Lib Dems’ key problem next year is that they are defending eight more seats than Labour are.
Like many District Councils, Cambridge has one-third of its councillors elected each year, with a break in the fourth year when County Council elections are held. Councillors serve a four-year term. Here are the results of the last three City Council elections, which between them elected the current Council:
As you can see, more than half the present Lib Dem strength comes from their 11 councillors elected in 2010. The single Green seat from 2010 is now held by Labour, so they have three seats to defend next year. Here is the current makeup of the council again, this time with hollow blocks showing seats up for election in 2014:
Labour have a six-seat lead over the Lib Dems amongst the councillors not up for election next year. To retain control of the Council, the Lib Dems would need to win all eleven of the seats they are defending. Given the shift in political opinion since the General Election, this is next to impossible – it would require an extraordinary political earthquake such as Tony Blair somehow returning to power and launching another invasion of Iraq. Meanwhile, for Labour to take control, they only need to win six seats next year. In the County Council election this year they won seven.
Here’s how the City Council would look if this year’s election results were repeated next year. Labour would become the largest party, with a majority of four:
Since Independent councillor John Hipkin is (as far as we know) unable to clone himself, he will not be able to stand again next year, as he already holds the City Council seat he won in 2012. However, he might well support another Independent candidate in Castle ward.
What would the Lib Dems have to do to stop Labour taking outright control next year? Firstly, they would have to win the seats they won this year – itself no mean feat, particularly in East Chesterton and Romsey. Then, they would have to take at least two more seats that Labour won this year. An obvious candidate for one of these is West Chesterton, which the Lib Dems lost quite narrowly this year, but it is harder to see where the other is coming from – Kings Hedges, Arbury and Petersfield all seem out of reach now, despite the Lib Dems having sitting councillors in all three. (Castle is more winnable but wouldn’t help to stop Labour). Even if they did somehow manage to take one of these, Labour would still have 21 councillors, equal to all other parties combined. However in this scenario the 21 non-Labour councillors could combine to elect a new non-Labour mayor on the outgoing mayor’s casting vote, depriving Labour of control. The Conservative and Independent councillors might well support such a move, as they would have a great deal more influence if there were no overall control, though they would undoubtedly want some concessions in exchange. This raises the intriguing possibility of John Hipkin returning for a second term as Mayor of Cambridge.
However, in present political circumstances it is much more likely that Labour will indeed take outright control next year, and that the Lib Dems will have to bide their time in opposition until 2015, when Labour will have eight seats to defend and very likely a General Election to fight on the same day.