Update: I’m now expecting a Labour hold in Cambridge. See the final paragraphs for more.
With polling day nearly upon us, here is a look at the prospects for each of the candidates for Cambridge MP, and some predictions as to how they will fare on June 8th.
Locally, this year’s campaign has had a lot in common with the 2015 contest – once again it has been a closely-fought contest between Labour’s Daniel Zeichner and Lib Dem Julian Huppert, with a less well-known Conservative candidate struggling to make much impact. Nationally, of course, circumstances are radically different from 2015, with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership victory, the Brexit vote, and David Cameron’s sudden departure having transformed the political landscape. Of course, there are some points in common too. In an article about the 2015 campaign in Cambridge, I said:
Ed Miliband has come across better than many people (including me) expected, and has not turned out to be as much of a liability as he once seemed. Meanwhile the Lib Dems have struggled to make much impact nationally, a far cry from the Cleggmania of 2010.
Arguably it’s a similar story this time – Labour’s poll average has increased significantly during the campaign, though from a low base, while the Lib Dem poll rating has languished.
On, then, to the candidates, in reverse order of how many votes I expect them to get. As ever, bear in mind that I’m a Lib Dem member, and I’ve been actively involved in campaigning this year, so this is probably all a cunning ploy to get you to vote for Julian.
I’m expecting last place to be occupied by Keith Garrett, running once again on a platform of government by randomly-selected groups of citizens. Last time Keith garnered just 0.4% of the vote. This time his ballot paper description is “Rebooting Democracy” instead of 2015’s “Removing the Politicians”, but I’m not expecting this to make a great deal of difference to his level of support. I think Keith will win less than 0.5% of the vote this time, well short of the level needed to retain his deposit – so he could have saved himself a good deal of trouble by making a pile of a hundred £5 notes and setting fire to them. I hope he has enjoyed the campaign.
Fourth place is likely to go to the Green party candidate, Stuart Tuckwood. Cambridge has proved a frustrating constituency for the Greens in recent General Elections. Despite having a solid level of support in local elections, a large part of it tends to melt away when it comes to choosing Cambridge’s MP. Here are the results from 2015, with the General Election results in darker colours and the Council election results in lighter colours.
As you can see, the Greens got more than twice as many votes in the Council elections as they did in the General election. The graph suggests that much of their missing support went to the Lib Dems, though the vote switching pattern is probably more complex than this. I’m not expecting a Green breakthrough in Cambridge this year; Green support has fallen since the last General Election, and nationally their focus is on retaining Brighton Pavilion and winning Bristol West. In Cambridge, Stuart Tuckwood has had nothing like the resources that were squandered so ineffectively by Tony Juniper in 2010, or the repeated visits by Green leaders that supported Rupert Read in 2015. Given all this, I’m expecting the Green vote share to fall slightly this time to around 6%. If this does happen, it’ll be no fault of Stuart’s – he’s a passionate, committed and likeable campaigner who I’m sure we’ll see more of in Cambridge politics.
Along with almost everyone else who is politically active in Cambridge, I’m expecting Conservative candidate John Hayward to finish in third place. A last-minute selection for a seat where the Conservatives were already a distant third, he has struggled to make much impact on the campaign, with few canvassers on the streets, little leaflet delivery, and activists of other parties competing to spot the rare Conservative posters. I think it’s fair to say that he has found little support amongst hustings audiences – though (at least at the ones I’ve attended) these have been noticeably more partisan than in 2015, with fewer “ordinary voters” in attendance. There are of course some points in John Hayward’s favour. He has an unusual and impressive backstory compared to many Conservative candidates; the Conservatives, despite recent wobbles, are still higher in the polls than in 2015; and with no UKIP candidate in Cambridge this time, he is the only mainstream Leave supporter on the ballot paper. While Cambridge did only have a 26% Leave vote, this is still 10% higher than the 16% vote share recorded by Conservative Chamali Fernando in 2015. While the 2010 Conservative candidate, Nick Hillman, managed to snatch second place from Daniel Zeichner by a few hundred votes, that was after a much longer campaign that was more attuned to Cambridge. I think a top two Conservative finish is wildly unlikely this time. However, with UKIP’s 5% of the vote up for grabs, and starting from the low base of the 2015 result, I do think John Hayward will increase the Conservative vote share slightly. My best guess is that he’ll end up on 18%.
Rounding Keith Garrett down to 0%, that leaves 76% of the vote for the two leading candidates, Labour’s Daniel Zeichner and Lib Dem Julian Huppert. This is of course their third contest for the Cambridge seat, with the score standing at 1-1 so far, though with Julian’s 2010 majority of 6,792 just slightly more comfortable than Daniel’s 2015 knife-edge lead of 599. Both are battle-hardened campaigning veterans with large and effective teams of activists behind them. How will they fare this time?
As noted above, while there are a lot of similarities with the 2015 contest, a great deal has changed too. One of the most significant factors in Cambridge election results is the extent to which the Lib Dems manage to “squeeze” the Conservative vote by persuading natural Conservative supporters to lend the Lib Dems their vote in order to keep Labour out. My impression this time is that the Conservative vote was a bit less squeezable at the start of the campaign, with Brexit clearly a factor, but has softened somewhat as the campaign has gone on and Labour have reduced the gap in the national polls.
In terms of “feet on the streets”, there has been plenty of activity from both main parties. My impression is that, as usual, Labour have probably done more canvassing, and the Lib Dems are ahead in leaflet delivery. There seem to be more Labour posters on display across the city, but that was also the case in the last two General Elections, and in any case, as we saw with the Greens in 2010, posters don’t necessarily translate directly into votes. One noticeable change from 2015 is that the Labour student organisation, CULC, while still active, hasn’t been quite so prominent in the campaign this time – hardly surprising with University exams underway at the moment.
So my best guess for the result of the 2017 General Election in Cambridge is… aggravatingly, not going to be revealed until the polls close at 10pm on Thursday. I can only apologise for this after you’ve read so much of the article, but with activists from the two main parties going all-out over the next few days to win those extra votes, I’m not going to pre-empt their efforts now. Check back here when the polls close for an update. But here’s a prediction to keep you going until then: I think it could well be even closer than the 1.2% margin of victory in 2015.
Update: The polls have just closed, and I’m at the Guildhall to watch the votes being counted. I’m now expecting a Labour hold in Cambridge; while it could still be a close result, I think it’s mostly likely that Labour have done enough to retain the seat with an increased majority – my best guess is 41% for Daniel Zeichner to 35% for Julian Huppert. This is partly due to the increase that we’ve seen in Labour’s national poll rating as the campaign has gone on, and partly due to the effective local campaign that Daniel Zeichner’s team have run, successfully mobilising an army of activists. The Lib Dems have put in a strong campaign locally too, but their national poll rating has only gone sideways during the campaign from its already low 2015 base, as their strong anti-Brexit position failed to gain much traction. As a Lib Dem member I would very much like to be wrong, but I’m expecting to see Daniel Zeichner returned to Parliament for Cambridge.
However, I don’t think it’ll be unalloyed joy for Cambridge Labour supporters, as I’m not expecting a Labour government. It’s been an unusually volatile campaign, and Labour have certainly improved their position against a lacklustre performance from Theresa May, but I’m just not convinced that they’re going to oust the Conservatives from power. Recent electoral history is littered with unexpected events, of course. We’ll know soon enough how close it is this time. As the next few hours unfold, follow me on Twitter for a running commentary live from the Guildhall.