How will Cambridge vote on May 6th?

There are now only a few days left until Cambridge voters will be puzzling over no fewer than four different ballot papers at the city’s polling stations. Here’s a look at how things are likely to turn out in each of the contests, starting with the City Council.

In normal times, Cambridge elects one third of its City Councillors each year, with County Council elections in the fourth year. But every so often, as the city grows and demographic patterns shift, the ward boundaries are redrawn to keep the populations of the wards roughly the same size. When this happens, all 42 councillors (three for each of the 14 wards) are re-elected in one go. Here are the old ward boundaries, which have been in use since the last boundary changes in 2004:

The new ward boundaries (below) aren’t radically different, but there have been some noticeable changes: Market and Petersfield have taken part of the oversized Trumpington ward; Newnham has grabbed some colleges from Castle; West Chesterton has annexed the southern tip of Arbury; and there are several other adjustments.

The first City Council elections on the new boundaries were due to take place in 2020, but like so many other things they fell victim to the pandemic, resulting in the unprecedented crop of simultaneous elections that we have this year. It’s hard to know what effect this will have on the results, though it looks like the shift to postal voting could offset any reduction in turnout.

Let’s take a look at the contests in each of the wards. For each one, I’ve made a graph of the results in the last few years. You’ll notice that 2017 is missing from most of the graphs – this is because that year was the County Council elections, which use yet another set of boundaries. Except for Abbey, these are different from the City Council ones, so the results aren’t really comparable.

With the exception of a Lib Dem surge in 2017, Abbey has been reasonably plain sailing for Labour in recent years, but there may be a bit more excitement this time. The Green Party has made Abbey its top Cambridge target, aiming to build on its second place in 2019. Abbey elected a number of Green councillors in the final years of the last Labour government, and it’s not impossible that could do so again, though I expect Labour will hold on this year, with all three of their City Councillors restanding. The boundary changes make little difference to the ward, which gains a small part of northern Petersfield, also solid Labour territory.

Here in Arbury ward our doormat has not exactly been groaning under the weight of campaign literature, which reflects the fact that everyone is expecting a comfortable Labour victory. The three Labour City Councillors are all restanding; they face a full slate of Lib Dem, Green and Conservative candidates, plus Keith Garrett of Rebooting Democracy, undeterred by his last place in the last three General Elections in Cambridge.

Arbury loses its southern end to West Chesterton in the boundary changes, but gains an area off Histon Road from Castle ward. The net effect may benefit the Lib Dems slightly, but not nearly enough to overhaul Labour’s substantial lead.

After a knife-edge result in 2018, the Lib Dems won Castle fairly comfortably in 2019, and with Independent councillor John Hipkin standing down, I expect they’ll repeat their victory this year. Lib Dem Councillor Greg Chadwick is also standing down, but his colleague Cheney Payne is seeking re-election, with Michael Franklin and Caroline Stoddart completing the Lib Dem ticket for the City Council.

With new development at Eddington increasing its population, Castle needed to lose some territory in the boundary changes. An area near Histon Road moves to Arbury, and several colleges at its south-eastern tip go to Newnham, but Castle remains a heavily University-dominated ward.

Cherry Hinton has been solid Labour territory for many years, and with their three long-serving councillors, Rob Dryden, Russ McPherson, and Mark Ashton, all restanding, a comfortable Labour victory is virtually guaranteed.

It’s a similar story in Coleridge, seat of council leader Lewis Herbert and his colleague Rosy Moore, both of whom are seeking re-election. They are joined by Anna Smith, who previously represented Romsey, while Councillor Grace Hadley is standing down.

East Chesterton is a bit more closely contested, with an active Lib Dem campaign challenging Labour – though the Lib Dems will also be focusing on retaining Ian Manning’s seat in the overlapping Chesterton division of the County Council. Once again all three Labour councillors are restanding – Baiju Thittala, Carla McQueen, and former mayor Gerri Bird. As well as the main party slates, the East Chesterton ballot paper features Peter Burkinshaw of UKIP, well known for his forthright responses to the Cambridge Cycling Campaign election survey.

King’s Hedges is another pretty safe Labour ward, with sitting Labour councillors Alex Collis and Martin Smart seeking re-election. Their former ward colleague Kevin Price resigned from the council in October 2020 after a disagreement over a motion on transgender issues, and Labour’s candidate for his seat is Jenny Gawthrope Wood, whose late husband, former mayor Nigel Gawthrope, previously represented King’s Hedges. As well as the Green, Lib Dem and Conservative candidates, the King’s Hedges ballot paper also features Lionel Vida of the Workers Party of Britain, a relatively new party led by George Galloway. King’s Hedges gains a bit of the more pro-Lib-Dem West Chesterton in the boundary changes, but this won’t make much difference to what looks like a comfortable Labour win.

The three Lib Dem councillors in Market, Tim Bick, Katie Porrer, and Anthony Martinelli, are all seeking re-election and seem likely to hold their seats. After some years as a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, Market saw a comfortable Lib Dem win in 2019. This was undoubtedly helped to some extent by the Brexit turmoil – Market produced the highest Remain percentage in the UK in the 2016 referendum – and this factor will have faded somewhat, but it still seems likely that the Lib Dems will do well here. The boundary changes give Market the Newtown area from Trumpington ward, but this is unlikely to do the Lib Dems any harm.

Newnham is another seat where the Lib Dems were likely boosted by the Brexit factor in 2019, but they had been keeping the Labour challenge at bay previously in any case. Sitting Lib Dems Markus Gehring and Josh Matthews are seeking re-election, while Lucy Nethsingha is set to return to her former City Council seat following a spell as an MEP. Former Lib Dem councillor Rod Cantrill resigned last year on becoming bursar of Fitzwilliam College. Newnham gains a number of colleges from Castle in the boundary changes, but this is unlikely to make much difference to the result.

Petersfield is significantly affected by the boundary changes – it loses part of its northern end to Abbey ward, but gains the Botanic Garden and the area south of it from Trumpington ward. The overall effect is probably to make it more inclined toward the Lib Dems, though I think Labour will still hold on here, helped by the unwinding of the Brexit factor. Sitting councillors Mike Davey and Richard Robertson are restanding for Labour, joined by Katie Thornburrow, who is transferring from Trumpington, where she won by just four votes in 2018. Katie points out that the old Trumpington boundaries partly overlap the new Petersfield ones. Former Labour councillor Kelley Green is not restanding.

Normally a fairly safe Lib Dem seat, Queen Edith’s is a good deal more interesting this year thanks to Independent candidate Sam Davies, who was runner-up in 2019. You don’t have to talk to Sam for very long to see that she would make an excellent councillor, and her network of supporters is running a well-organised and effective campaign. She is joined on the ballot paper by another Independent, Al Dixon. For the Lib Dems, councillor Jenny Page-Croft is seeking re-election, but her colleague Colin McGerty is standing down, and former mayor George Pippas resigned in August 2020 due to ill health; new candidates Daniel Lee and Richard Eccles are hoping to take their places. I think the seats are likely to go to Sam Davies and two of the Lib Dems.

These days Romsey is firmly in Labour’s grip, and despite the controversy over Mill Road bridge, a comfortable Labour win seems likely. Incumbent councillor Dave Baigent is restanding, while his colleague Anna Smith moves to Coleridge ward, and Sophie Barnett is standing down. Labour’s new candidates are Mairéad Healy and Dinah Pounds.

It’s all change in Trumpington, with Lib Dem councillor Dan Summerbell standing down, Labour’s Katie Thornburrow transferring to Petersfield, and Lib Dem Peter Lord having resigned last year. The Lib Dems are fielding a new team of Olaf Hauk, Ingrid Flaubert, and Alan Cox, who seem best placed to take the seats.

West Chesterton is the only ward with incumbents of two different parties restanding, as Labour’s Mike Sargeant faces Lib Dem Jamie Dalzell. Jamie’s colleague Damien Tunnacliffe is standing down after 11 years. Mike is joined by Jocelynne Scutt, who previously represented West Chesterton and then Arbury on the County Council, and Richard Swift, a teacher and local Labour activist. Jamie is running with David Grace, a self-styled “disgruntled radical” who is well known in the Lib Dem party nationally, and Shahida Rahman, who has previously stood in East Chesterton. The result is likely to be closer than the 2019 vote shares would suggest, particularly given Mike’s name recognition in the ward, and the boundary changes which bring in a fair-sized chunk of Arbury ward. It’s possible that we could see a split result between the two parties, but I think a Lib Dem win is most likely.

So what does all this mean for the new City Council? If my predictions are correct, then it’ll consist of:

  • Labour: Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, Coleridge, East Chesterton, King’s Hedges, Petersfield, Romsey
  • Lib Dem: Castle, Market, Newnham, Queen Edith’s (2), Trumpington, West Chesterton
  • Independent: Queen Edith’s (1)

Each ward has three seats. This would give Labour 24 councillors, 17 for the Lib Dems, and one Independent – and zero for the Conservatives, Greens and other parties. Labour would have a majority of six, slightly down from the position after the 2019 elections. However, if the Lib Dems do worse than I’m expecting, then Labour’s majority could even increase. In any case, I think it’s very unlikely that Labour’s control of the City Council will be threatened.

What about the County Council, whose elections are being held on the same day? As mentioned above, the County Council divisions use different boundaries from the City Council wards. Here they are:

As you can see, there are only twelve of them – Chesterton has one rather than two, and poor old Coleridge has been dismembered and split up amongst its neighbours. This makes it a bit trickier predicting the County Council results, as we only have the 2017 results to directly compare, and many of the current councillors are standing down. But let’s have a go anyway:

  • Abbey: Incumbent Joan Whitehead is standing down after moving to York. Alexandra Bulat, a well-known migrants’ rights campaigner, is likely to hold the seat for Labour.
  • Arbury: Current councillor Jocelynne Scutt is contesting West Chesterton on the City Council instead; the seat will likely go to Labour’s Hilary Cox Condron, the well-known Cambridge artist.
  • Castle: Labour’s Clare Richards is standing down; Lib Dem Alastair Gadney looks well placed to make a gain.
  • Cherry Hinton: Labour’s councillor Sandra Crawford resigned from the party in December 2020 and has been sitting as an Independent. She is not contesting the seat, and Labour’s new candidate Bryony Goodliffe is likely to win.
  • Chesterton: Lib Dem Ian Manning faces a strong challenge from Labour’s Gerri Bird, but I expect him to hold on.
  • King’s Hedges: Labour councillor Elisa Meschini is restanding and is set to hold her seat.
  • Market: Lib Dem Nichola Harrison is standing down; Lib Dem Yemi Macaulay, who runs an African restaurant in Norfolk Street, is set to hold the seat.
  • Newnham: Lib Dem Lucy Nethsingha is likely to hold her seat.
  • Petersfield: Linda Jones is standing down for Labour; former MEP Richard Howitt is likely to succeed her.
  • Queen Edith’s: Long-serving Lib Dem councillor Amanda Taylor is standing down, and is likely to be succeeded by her party colleague Alex Beckett.
  • Romsey: Labour’s Neil Shailer should hold the seat previously won by Noel Kavanagh, who is standing down.
  • Trumpington: Barbara Ashwood is standing down for the Lib Dems, and former City Councillor Philippa Slatter is set to hold the seat.

Within Cambridge, that means the County Council seats would go as follows:

  • Labour (6): Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, King’s Hedges, Petersfield, Romsey
  • Lib Dem (6): Castle, Chesterton, Market, Newnham, Queen Edith’s, Trumpington

However, there are 49 more County Council seats in other parts of Cambridgeshire, and I expect the Conservatives will win enough of them to hold on to their overall majority.

That just leaves the elections for the Mayor of the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, and the Police and Crime Commissioner. I’m expecting both of these to go to the Conservative candidate, though it will be interesting to see if the voters do a better job of using their second choice votes this time.

The election count is going to be a protracted one, with the City and County results expected during the day on Friday 7th May, and the Mayor and PCC results set to be announced on Saturday 8th. When the dust settles, we’ll have a better idea of how Cambridge politics is likely to look as the city starts to recover from the pandemic. Best wishes to everyone involved in campaigning this year!

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4 Responses to How will Cambridge vote on May 6th?

  1. Great analysis as ever, Phil. “All up” elections City Council ought to be a chance for wards to return mixed groups of councillors, party-wise, but the low number of independent and minor party candidates means that’s far less likely, as you predict. Most voters can (and will) just stick three crosses next to candidates from the same party.

    In the County Council elections, the Lib Dems must surely be targeting the half a dozen gains they need to take the council back to no overall control, and must stand a decent chance (for example, with the two seats in Sawston & Shelford). After all, they’ve had their stunning 2018 South Cambs success since the last County Council elections. How do you rate their chances?

    • Phil Rodgers says:

      I haven’t looked at the rest of the County in much detail, to be honest, but I’d be a bit surprised if it went to NOC. The Lib Dems have had the Brexit wind taken out of their sails, and I don’t get the impression that their campaigning this time quite has the momentum that won South Cambs. On the other hand the polls have moved away from the Conservatives since the 2017 local elections – at that point of the General Election campaign they had a pretty massive lead over Labour (which of course largely eroded away as Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn developed their campaigns) – it was something like Con 47, Lab 29, LD 9 on local election day, whereas now it’s more like Con 42, Lab 34, LD 8. But that size of swing to Labour probably won’t make many County seats change hands, as they have a mountain to climb in many places.

  2. Pingback: Election Update No.6 - Sam Davies

  3. In addition to what Chris Rand Writes, writes, I seem to recall that at the last district elections, LibDems took a fair no of seats from E Cambs Tories. Is that factored in?

    And is ‘Farmgate’ having no effect?

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