It’s the last weekend before this year’s Cambridge local elections, and across the city, activists are making their final appeals to the voters ahead of polling day on Thursday. In contrast to the beautiful sunshine over the Easter break, this weekend the weather has been rather more conducive to staying at home and writing blog posts. So while workers for all parties and none are enduring the wind and rain as they slog round the streets of Cambridge bringing their message to the voters, here are my predictions for the results that Returning Officer Antoinette Jackson will be announcing when she steps up to the Guildhall microphone in the early hours of Friday morning.
In recent years I’ve managed a reasonably respectable hit rate with my predictions, usually getting all but one or two of them correct:
However, despite coming very close on occasion, I haven’t yet managed to get the full set correct all at once. For some reason, Chesterton has been particularly difficult to get right; my hit rate for the Chesterton seats is a feeble 44%, whereas in the rest of the city I’ve got it right 93% of the time. However, I’m feeling slightly more confident about Chesterton this year.
Last year I managed twelve correct predictions for the fourteen seats, with Trumpington and, yes, West Chesterton going the other way:
In Trumpington, Katie Thornburrow took the seat by just four votes from the Lib Dems, Labour’s first victory in the seat since 1945. In West Chesterton, Jamie Dalzell held on to the seat for the Lib Dems ahead of Labour’s Clare King.
So what’s going to happen this year? As ever, let’s do the easy ones first – Labour’s safe seats:
- Abbey: Labour hold. After a flurry of excitement in 2017, Abbey is once again pretty safe for Labour.
- Arbury: Labour hold. It’s looking very much like another term of office for Carina O’Reilly. The most Lib Dem Tim Ward can reasonably hope for is to reduce Labour’s majority.
- Cherry Hinton: Labour hold. This is probably Labour’s safest seat in the city. While there has been more Lib Dem campaign activity than usual, it’s unlikely to make much of a dent in Labour’s mountainous majority.
- Coleridge: Labour hold. Another very safe Labour seat, which Grace Hadley is set to take over as councillor Jeremy Benstead retires.
- East Chesterton: Labour hold. Despite the seat being in contention in recent years, current Mayor Gerri Bird should hold on pretty comfortably.
- King’s Hedges: Labour hold (two seats). Kevin Price is set to be re-elected comfortably, and the seat vacant after the sad death of Nigel Gawthrope is virtually certain to go to Alex Collis.
- Petersfield: Labour hold. Despite the surprise deselection of long-serving councillor Kevin Blencowe, Labour are likely to increase their majority significantly from the margin of 210 in last September’s by-election.
- Romsey: Labour hold. Anna Smith can expect to be re-elected by a wide margin, probably similar to last year’s thumping win by Dave Baigent.
So that’s nine for Labour, including the two in King’s Hedges – what about the Lib Dems? Their list of safe seats is a good deal shorter, and somewhat less certain:
- Newnham: Lib Dem hold. I’m expecting Markus Gehring to hold on reasonably comfortably, perhaps increasing his majority a little.
- Queen Edith’s: Lib Dem hold. Under normal circumstances this would be the safest Lib Dem seat in Cambridge, but Independent candidate Sam Davies adds an element of uncertainty to the outcome. However, I’m expecting former mayor George Pippas will retain his seat with a decent majority.
Now for the most interesting – and least predictable – group of seats, the “battleground seats” which have more than one party in serious contention.
- Castle: Labour gain from Lib Dem. This is one of two the seats that I’m least certain about, along with Trumpington. The ward has a large student population, who tend to vote, when they vote at all, on issues like global warming and Brexit rather than the quality of the local bin service. Both main parties are fielding new candidates who were little known before the election campaign began. Overall I think Labour are more likely to take the seat, but it could easily go either way.
- Market: Lib Dem gain from Green. The Green vote has fallen steadily in recent years from the knife-edge three-way result that saw them take the seat in 2015. With councillor Oscar Gillespie not restanding, the Lib Dems seem best placed to retake the seat, following their gain from Labour last year.
- Trumpington: Labour gain both City and County Council seats from Independent councillor Donald Adey and one City Council seat from the Lib Dems. As with Castle, Trumpington is very difficult to predict, following last year’s four-vote victory for Labour. However, Labour have been pouring resources into the ward, and housing growth has seen long term demographic trends in their favour.
- West Chesterton: Lib Dem hold. Although this seat has been in contention in recent years, I’m expecting incumbent Damien Tunnacliffe to hold on.
If all my predictions are correct, then the net effect on the City Council will be that Labour gain three, the Lib Dems gain one but lose two, the Greens lose their only seat, and there will also be one less Independent councillor. This would give the new City Council 29 Labour councillors, 12 Lib Dems, and one Independent, John Hipkin. The Greens, Conservatives and UKIP would have no seats, and Labour’s majority would be a very healthy sixteen.
I’ll be reporting from the count at the Guildhall from 10pm on Thursday evening, so do follow along on Twitter for live coverage of all the thrills and spills as the count progresses. What vivid shade of red will Councillor Price be dressed in this year? Have all the activists escaped the fangs of Cambridge’s dogs? Will Labour’s rendition of The Red Flag be any more tuneful than last time? If you’re very lucky, there might even be a little impromptu poetry too. Don’t forget to vote on Thursday – the polls are open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., and you don’t need your polling card to vote. Let’s hope the weather is reasonably kind.