As I left the Guildhall in the early hours of Friday morning, following Labour’s resounding victory in the contest for Cambridge MP, I met a large and very happy group of Labour supporters. Several of them expressed a keen interest in reading my next blog post. So here it is – I’m sure they’ll enjoy it.
It was already pretty clear by the time the polls closed on Thursday evening that Labour were going to win, but I’m not sure anyone was expecting the result to be quite as overwhelming as it was. My own best guess at the time was 41% for Labour to 35% for the Lib Dems, but this was well wide of the mark – Labour’s actual margin of victory was 52% to 29%. This is the first time any candidate for Cambridge MP has won over half the vote since Anne Campbell’s 53.4% in the Labour landslide of 1997. Before that you have to go back to Robert Rhodes James’s victory in the 1976 by-election to find a candidate winning more than half the vote.
Both main parties put in a huge effort on polling day, significantly in excess of what they managed in 2015. As I was out knocking on doors I was particularly struck by how many campaigners there were on the streets whom I didn’t recognise, a marked contrast to the situation in local elections.
I’m sure you’re expecting a few graphs at this point. And I’m not going to disappoint you. Here are the Cambridge vote shares compared to the last General Election in 2015:
In contrast to 2015’s knife-edge result, Labour’s 2017 win can only be described as emphatic. I’d been expecting the Conservatives to improve on their terrible showing in 2015, with Brexit playing a role and no UKIP candidate, but in the event they managed only a tiny improvement. The evaporation of the Green vote was a marked feature of the result, with much of it presumably going to Daniel Zeichner, despite a determined campaign from Stuart Tuckwood. Here are the graphs again, this time showing the actual numbers of votes, rather than the percentage share:
This graph makes clear how much Labour’s win was due to the increase in their vote, rather than the Lib Dem vote falling. Julian Huppert’s tally was down by 1,676; but in contrast Daniel Zeichner added 10,386 votes to his 2015 total. It’s likely that Labour’s victory came primarily from turning out previous non-voters, rather than in converting Lib Dem supporters. They probably also got a net benefit from former UKIP voters.
Back in May, Lib Dem hopes had been raised by a relatively competitive showing in the County Council elections. Although Labour won seven seats in the city to five for the Lib Dems, in terms of vote share they ran Labour pretty close, and were heartened by the fact that previously their Parliamentary vote share was ahead of their vote share in local elections. Here’s a comparison of the vote shares in the local and General elections this year:
As you can see, the 2017 local election graph looks a lot like the graph of the 2015 General Election, with the two main parties pretty close and the Conservatives and Greens well behind. But just five weeks later the picture looked very different. One reason why is clear from a graph of the absolute number of votes in the local and General elections:
As you can see, the turnout at the General election was much larger than in the locals – for every ten votes that Labour got in Cambridge on May 4th, they got 23 on June 8th. Meanwhile the Lib Dems got only about 14 General Election votes for every ten in the locals. (These figures are based on the estimated local election vote in the Cambridge constituency; boundary changes mean we don’t have exact totals).
Commiserations, then, to Julian Huppert and the other unsuccessful candidates, and congratulations to Daniel Zeichner, as he enjoys his victory party this evening. As I cycled to the count across Jesus Green on Thursday evening, with bats flying low around the trees, I reflected what an enormous privilege it is for Cambridge’s MP to represent this amazing city. I’m sure Daniel would agree with that.