My predictions for the 2017 Cambridge local election results

This year I’m going to be one of the Lib Dem counting agents at the election count, whose duty it is to scrutinise the process, so blogging and tweeting will have to wait until after the results are declared. The count takes place in two phases – the verification stage, which checks that the right number of ballot papers are in each ballot box, followed by “counting into favour”, i.e. separating the ballot papers to see how many votes each candidate has got. Normally these phases take place one after another, straight after the polls have closed, with the results usually being declared in the small hours of Friday. By closely observing the verification stage, party workers can get a pretty good idea of how the vote has gone in each polling station area, and will know which seats are going to be close and thus need special scrutiny during the counting into favour stage.

Things are a little different this year, partly because both the council and mayoral elections are being held on the same day. The verification stage will take place straight after the polls close as usual, but the ballot papers will then be locked away for the remainder of the night until Friday morning. Counting into favour for the County Council seats will begin at 9am, so we should get these results declared by mid-to-late-morning; counting into favour for the Mayoral election will begin at 12:30pm. Unless one candidate gets more than 50% of the first choice votes (which is unlikely), there will be two stages to the mayoral count. The two candidates with most first choice votes go through to a second round; all the other candidates are eliminated, and second choice votes from those ballot papers are then added to the first choice votes for the surviving two candidates. The whole thing has to be coordinated across several different counting centres across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, so it all takes some time – I’m expecting the mayoral result to be declared some time in the late afternoon.

Because of the verification stage, party workers will have a pretty good idea overnight of what results are going to be declared on Friday. However, the law requires that the secrecy of the count must be maintained, and I won’t be sharing any information about how things have gone until the results are declared.

For the last few years I’ve published predictions for the local council results beforehand, but this year I’m not going to until 10pm on Thursday – just after the polls close but before the count starts. Look out for them on Twitter.

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What do the new boundaries mean for Cambridge’s local elections?

As Cambridge goes to the polls on Thursday in the local and mayoral elections, we’ll get some indication of how political opinion is moving in the city ahead of June’s General Election. The last General Election, in 2015, was held on the same day as the local elections, and there was a marked difference in voting patterns. Here’s a comparison of how the Cambridge constituency voted for its MP (darker colours) and local councillors (lighter colours):

As you can see, while Daniel Zeichner won his seat from Julian Huppert with a knife-edge 1% margin, Labour council candidates outpolled their Lib Dem rivals more comfortably, with an 8% lead. The other notable feature was that Green MP candidate Rupert Read scored less than half the vote share of his council colleagues.

This year the Cambridge local election results will be announced after 9am on Friday 5th of May, rather than overnight. As the results come in, we’ll have some idea of how the parties have fared relative to 2015. If Labour manage a bigger margin of victory in the local elections, then it’ll be good news for Daniel Zeichner, but if the Lib Dems close the gap, then Julian Huppert will be more hopeful of recapturing the Cambridge seat. But because of the difference in performance between the local and general elections, it’s quite possible that Labour could lose the Parliamentary contest while winning locally at Council level.

As well as the impending General Election, another factor making this year’s local elections harder to predict than usual is the boundary changes. As I’ve discussed in a previous article, most of Cambridge’s County Council seats have new boundaries this year, making it harder than usual to predict the likely winners. To try to throw some light on the situation, I’ve put together projections for each new seat, estimating the votes cast in each of the new boundaries for the last five local elections.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many votes were cast within the new boundaries at previous elections, but we can make an educated guess. We know how much of each old seat is included in each new seat, so by taking appropriate proportions of previous election results, we can estimate the votes cast at previous elections within the new boundaries. For example, the new Queen Edith’s seat consists of 87% of the old Queen Edith’s seat, 26% of the old Coleridge seat, and 7% of the old Cherry Hinton seat. So if you add up the previous election results in those seats in those proportions, you get an estimate of how people living within Queen Edith’s new boundaries voted at previous elections. This method isn’t perfect, of course – party support isn’t uniformly distributed across seats, and people don’t just vote for the party label – but it does give us some idea of the baseline that the parties are starting from in each of the new seats. If you’re interested in the exact ingredients of each seat, refer to Colin Rosenstiel’s tables here – electoral divisions (EDs) are the new seat boundaries for this year’s County Council elections; wards are the old boundaries, which will still be used for City Council elections.

Let’s look at the projections for each of the new seats. As ever, remember that I’m a Lib Dem member, so adjust your confirmation bias accordingly.

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Unlike all the other County Council seats in Cambridge, Abbey’s boundaries are unchanged, so this graph simply shows the previous local election results. As you can see, Labour have enjoyed a commanding lead over other parties in recent years.

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The new Arbury seat consists of 86% of the old Arbury seat, 11% of old West Chesterton, 10% of old Castle, and just 4% of old King’s Hedges – so this graph shows the previous results for all those seats added up in those proportions. This heady mix still gives Labour a pretty comfortable lead over the Lib Dems, though less so in 2015, the last General Election year.

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With Castle, the projection method does break down a bit, though it still gives an interesting illustration of the electoral situation this year. The new Castle seat is made up of just 57% of the old Castle, plus 20% of old West Chesterton, and 14% of old Arbury. The Castle Independents, huband-and-wife team John Hipkin and Marie-Louise Holland, have won Castle on the old boundaries in four of the last five years – the exception being 2015, when they did not stand. However, with a big chunk of the old Castle gone from the new seat, and parts of two other seats mixed in, the projection shows a knife-edge Lib Dem/Labour contest in recent years, with Labour ahead last year, and the Independent vote some way behind. However, this is somewhat misleading, because there were no Independent candidates in either Arbury or West Chesterton in recent years, and if there had been they would certainly not have got zero votes. This factor artificially lowers the projected Independent share of the vote – indeed, I think John Hipkin is still front-runner even on the new boundaries. But it does illustrate the challenge that the Castle Independents face in persuading the “new” Castle voters to support them – and we certainly can’t rule out a surprise result in Castle this year.

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The new Cherry Hinton seat is made up of 93% of the old Cherry Hinton, plus 39% of the now-dismembered Coleridge seat. This doesn’t do very much to change its electoral makeup, which in recent years has been dominated by Labour.

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The new Chesterton seat promises one of the most intriguing contests this year, with well-known Lib Dem councillor Ian Manning facing a strong challenge from Labour newcomer Kelley Green, who has proved herself to be a formidable campaigner. The new seat is made up of 68% of the old East Chesterton, plus 60% of the old West Chesterton. The projected results show a close contest between the two main Cambridge parties. Labour will take heart from the 2016 projection, which put them 8% ahead on the new boundaries, while Lib Dems will note that in 2013, the last time Ian Manning stood for the County Council, they had a 5% advantage.

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The new King’s Hedges contains almost all – 96% – of the old King’s Hedges, plus 32% of the old East Chesterton and 9% of the old West Chesterton. This mixture slightly reduces the lead Labour had on the old boundaries, but not by a great deal – Labour will be hoping for a comfortable win ahead of the Liberal Democrats.

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Market is enlarged by the boundary changes, and includes all its previous voters plus 23% of the old Castle ward. This doesn’t change its basic makeup very much – it remains a tight Lib Dem/Labour marginal, with the Greens also potentially in contention. Although fading last year, the Greens polled strongly in 2015, narrowly winning the seat on the old boundaries, and could perhaps make a come-back this time.

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Newnham sees little change with the new boundaries, retaining all its old area and adding just 9% of the old Castle ward. It remains a reasonably close Lib Dem/Labour contest, though with the Lib Dems ahead by a small margin.

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Petersfield is expanded significantly by the boundary changes, keeping all its previous voters and adding 34% of the old Trumpington ward, a Lib Dem stronghold. However, Labour have been doing well enough in Trumpington in recent years that this doesn’t do much to dilute their lead, and on the projection they retain a comfortable lead.

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The Queen Edith’s projection is particularly interesting. The old Queen Edith’s  was generally a Lib Dem stronghold, with the exception of a surprise Labour win in 2012, but on the new boundaries it looks like a much closer fight. The new Queen Edith’s seat includes 87% of the old Queen Edith’s, but adds 26% of the old Coleridge seat and 7% of the former Cherry Hinton – both being strong Labour areas. This is enough to erode the Lib Dem lead and put Queen Edith’s firmly into knife-edge marginal territory. Indeed the projection shows Labour slightly ahead on last year’s votes. Much will depend on how effective the rival party campaigns have been this year.

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The new Romsey includes all of the old Romsey’s boundary, and extends it some way to the south to include 34% of the old Coleridge ward. Coleridge has been a strong Labour area for some time, so this extends Labour’s lead in Romsey over the Lib Dems. Labour will be hoping for a comfortable win this year on the new boundaries.

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The new Trumpington seat is somewhat smaller than before, including just 66% of the old seat, plus 13% of the old Queen Edith’s. The projection is not very different from the previous Trumpington results, with the Lib Dems having mostly comfortable leads in recent years.

Overall, then, the projections show Labour leading in nine of the new seats on last year’s votes, with the Lib Dems ahead in just three – Trumpington, Newnham, and (by a whisker) Market. However, these projections definitely need to be taken with a pinch of salt – and a whole handful in the case of Castle. Nevertheless, they do indicate that there might be one or two surprises in store when the results are announced on Friday morning.

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The Cambridge News mayoralty survey

Earlier this week, the Cambridge News published the results of a survey about how (and whether) people are likely to vote in the election for Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. Here’s a look at what they found.

First, though, it’s worth stressing that this survey probably won’t be as accurate as a properly conducted opinion poll. The News surveyed 986 randomly selected visitors to its website, so many of the respondents will be from Cambridge and the surrounding area, and fewer from Peterborough and the north of Cambridgeshire. Also, they probably don’t reflect the demographics of the whole electorate very accurately. Opinion polling companies apply geographic and demographic weighting to try to reflect the whole of the electorate they are covering, and those following British Polling Council rules publish full data tables so you can check their sums. Even then they don’t always get it right, of course. On the other hand, the News survey is still a lot better than self-selecting online “polls”, which tell you little more than which party’s activists have most time available to click on websites. These are known as voodoo polls and should be ignored completely.

On to what the survey found. Here’s the headline result, giving the overall level of support for each Mayoral candidate:

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The News found that 30.6% of respondents said they wouldn’t be voting, though if turnout is really anywhere near 70% I will be very surprised. Amongst those voting, the three main parties are fairly close together, with Lib Dem Rod Cantrill enjoying a small lead. I can only apologise to Independent candidate Peter Dawe and English Democrat Stephen Goldspink for lumping them together under “Others”, but that is how the data was presented in the News article. Here are the numbers again, excluding those not voting:

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The News also gave a breakdown of the figures across different districts, at least for the leading candidates. Here are the numbers for Cambridge City:

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As usual Cambridge is a Labour/Lib Dem contest, with the other parties a long way back; the level of Conservative support is well below even their pitiful showing in the 2015 General Election.

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The picture is better for the Conservatives in South Cambs, where James Palmer leads the field by a short head from Rod Cantrill, with Kevin Price still in contention.

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The Conservatives have a more comfortable lead in East Cambs, with Labour a long way back – though the News admits that this is based on a small sample of respondents.

Finally, here are the issues that voters are most concerned about, according to the survey. The total is more than 100% because people could choose more than one issue.

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The NHS is top of the list by some way, though it isn’t a specific responsibility of the new Mayor. Indeed of these issues, only transport is an area that the Mayor is primarily responsible for. Perhaps surprisingly, housing doesn’t feature on the list, even though it’s another key part of the Mayor’s remit. Perhaps it wasn’t listed as an option on the survey.

I haven’t seen any similar survey results for Peterborough or the north of Cambridgeshire, and it’s important to remember that voting patterns there will probably be quite different to those in Cambridge and the surrounding area – so this survey on its own isn’t a reliable guide to the likely outcome of the contest. However, it does give some indication that the Lib Dems are serious contenders with Labour for a place in the top two. Rod Cantrill will be reasonably pleased with that.

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Cambridge 105 Election Studio podcast

Earlier today Chris Rand and myself were guests on the Cambridge 105 Election Studio, on Julian Clover’s show. We were talking about the General Election contest in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, as well as the Mayoralty and the County Council elections on May 4th. You can listen to the programme here.

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Prospects for the 2017 General Election in Cambridge

Well, there’s a title I wasn’t expecting to be writing this morning. Following Theresa May’s surprise announcement, here’s a very quick look at the initial prospects for the Cambridge seat on June 8th. Firstly, here’s a reminder of the result in 2015:

Daniel Zeichner edged Julian Huppert out by just 599 votes in 2015, following a knife-edge campaign. Both will be re-standing this time, their third battle for the Cambridge seat in a series that currently stands at one victory each. The Green Party have also selected their candidate, Stuart Tuckwood, an NHS nurse and community activist who came third in the contest for Market ward in last year’s City Council elections. As far as I know neither the Conservatives nor UKIP have a candidate in place, though no doubt emergency selection processes are whizzing into action even as I type. However, realistically, Cambridge is going to be a two-way contest between Huppert and Zeichner.

I’ve heard a number of suggestions today that Julian can expect to regain Cambridge reasonably easily, given the closeness result last time, the current state of the Labour Party, and Cambridge’s heavy Remain vote, which aligns with Lib Dem policy. However, I really don’t think this is the case – I’m expecting another close contest. Despite Labour’s problems nationally, the Cambridge Labour Party remains a well-run and effective campaigning organisation, and has several times as many members in the city as the Lib Dems do – numbers fluctuate, but I believe it’s somewhere between three and five times as many. It’s hard to know exactly what effect the Brexit factor will have, given Daniel Zeichner’s pro-Remain stance. There’s also the consideration that, five weeks before the General Election polling day, Labour is likely to win more seats than the Lib Dems in the local elections on May 4th – this is less certain than it was yesterday, but still probable. Labour also has the benefit of incumbency, an advantage the Lib Dems have lost since 2015. On the other hand, the Labour student organisation is probably going to be a bit less of a factor than last time, as the campaign falls right in the middle of exam season, and there probably won’t be a Cambridge seat opinion poll from Lord Ashcroft showing Julian with a clear lead – or if there is, people will pay less attention to it. [Update: please bear in mind I’m a Lib Dem member]

In any case, it’s going to be a fascinating – and exhausting – seven-and-a-bit weeks.

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Prospects for the 2017 Cambridge local elections

As well as choosing a Mayor for the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Cambridge voters will be going to the polls on May 4th to select their County Councillors for the next four years, and the lucky voters of Arbury also have a City Council by-election. Here’s a look at the contest for each seat in Cambridge, and a few thoughts about the wider contest across the county.

I usually illustrate these articles with a graph for each seat showing its recent history of local election results. However this year I have been largely thwarted in this by the Local Government Boundary Commission, which has redrawn the seat boundaries for the County Council, rendering comparisons with previous years less relevant. The number of councillors across the county is being reduced from 69 to 61, and in Cambridge from 14 to 12 – East and West Chesterton are replaced by a single Chesterton division, poor old Coleridge disappears entirely, and many other boundaries are shifted. The picture is complicated even further by the fact that the City Council still uses the old seat boundaries, leaving the long-suffering electoral authorities with a bewildering patchwork of overlapping areas to administer. For example, here is the new County Council seat of Arbury, which is divided into six separate areas:

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Each area has a three-letter code. The first letter indicates the City Council ward (B for Arbury, C for Castle, G for King’s Hedges, N for West Chesterton); the middle letter relates to the polling station; and the third letter indicates the County Council division. Another part of the old Arbury seat is now in the new Castle division. There’s a full set of maps on the City Council’s website here along with street-by-street lists. Colin Rosenstiel has also produced tables showing how much of each new County division comes from each old City ward, and vice versa.

Let’s have a look at each of the seats. As usual, recall that I’m a Lib Dem member (and have even done a little campaigning this year) so be on the lookout for unconscious bias. I’ll do my best to avoid conscious bias. Honest.

Abbey

Abbey is the one County seat where I can still deploy my traditional graph, because it is the only one whose borders are unchanged – though only after a concerted campaign by various local activists to persuade the Boundary Commission not to add parts of Petersfield to it. So here are the election results for the last few years:

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As you can see it was a very comfortable win for Labour last time, and Labour’s incumbent, Joan Whitehead, will be hoping for another substantial majority this year. The Lib Dem candidate is Nicky Shephard, who also stood last year, and who has been running an active campaign. Monica Hone is standing for a third year for the Green party, and the Conservative candidate is Kevin Francis, who has a long record of flying the flag for the blue team, though mostly in East Chesterton.

Arbury

As mentioned above, Arbury has two council elections this year, albeit on different boundaries. For the County Council, Labour’s Paul Sales is retiring; Labour’s candidate this time is loquacious Australian barrister Jocelynne Scutt, who currently represents the old West Chesterton seat, which partially overlaps with the new Arbury. The Lib Dem candidate is newcomer Cecilia Liszka, a marine scientist. Lucas Ruzowitzky, a social entrepreneur and conservationist, is standing for the Green Party, and the Conservative candidate is Henry Collins, who works as a Deliveroo courier. Henry is also standing for the Conservatives in the City Council by-election, where he faces former councillor Tim Ward for the Lib Dems and Labour’s Patrick Sheil, who contested Castle last year, finishing second to John Hipkin. The by-election is being held following the resignation of Labour City Councillor Charlotte Perry, who has recently given birth to a son and will soon be moving to Hong Kong where her husband has a new job. Best wishes to all three of them.

For the City by-election at least we can still use last year’s graph:

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…though the mountainous Labour majority in 2016 was due in no small part to Mike Todd-Jones’s personal vote. Nevertheless Labour will be hoping to win both the City and County seats reasonably comfortably this year.

Castle

Once a Lib Dem stronghold, in recent years Castle has been dominated politically by the Castle Independents, husband-and-wife team John Hipkin and Marie-Louise Holland. John is a Cambridge political veteran; he was first elected in 1979, became Mayor of Cambridge in 2005, and celebrates his 82nd birthday this month. Although the new Castle seat contains only about two-thirds of the old seat, with fair-sized chunks of the former Arbury and West Chesterton seats thrown in, John is still likely to be the front-runner for this year’s contest. Labour came second last year in the old Castle seat; their candidate Claire Richards lives across the city in Abbey ward. Paul Sagar, a Junior Research Fellow in Politics and International Relations at King’s College is standing for the Lib Dems; Gareth Bailey, another newcomer, for the Greens; and regular also-ran Edward MacNaghten for the Conservatives.

Cherry Hinton

Once again Cherry Hinton promises one of the least exciting electoral contests in Cambridge – indeed it hasn’t been even slightly exciting since 2010. The new seat is 70% from the old Cherry Hinton and 30% from Coleridge, but both are strong Labour areas, and Labour will be feeling confident of winning on the new boundaries. Their candidate is the incumbent Cherry Hinton County Councillor Sandra Crawford, who faces second-time Green candidate Maximilian Fries, and newcomers James Mathieson for the Conservatives and John Oakes for the Lib Dems.

Chesterton

The new Chesterton seat takes in slightly more of the old East Chesterton than West, and will provide one of the more unpredictable Lib Dem/Labour battlegrounds this year. The Lib Dem candidate is East Chesterton incumbent Ian Manning, who faces Kelley Green for Labour. Ian was first elected in 2010 and has been an active and well-known councillor; Kelley has worked on new public spaces and urban regeneration for councils in Cambridgeshire and East London, and now runs Cambridge Farmers Outlet in Lensfield Road. Both are effective campaigners with strong party organisations behind them, and it’s hard to know which one will emerge victorious. The other candidates for Chesterton are regular UKIP candidate Peter Burkinshaw, whose combative responses to the Cycling Campaign questionnaire I have enjoyed in previous years; Connor Macdonald, who lives in Harston, for the Conservatives; and Stephen Lawrence for the Greens, who has made 19 previous appearances on Cambridge ballot papers, all unsuccessful. I don’t think he’s going to win this year either.

King’s Hedges

The new King’s Hedges takes in a good-sized chunk of the old East Chesterton with a flavouring of West, as well as retaining nearly all its previous electorate. Lib Dem candidate Jamie Dalzell has been actively campaigning, but given recent electoral history Labour newcomer Elisa Meschini is favourite to take the seat. The other candidates have all stood previously in King’s Hedges: Angela Ditchfield for the Greens, Conservative Anette Karimi, and Dave Corn for UKIP – one of only two UKIP candidates in Cambridge this year.

Market

In recent years Market has been a three-way Lib Dem/Labour/Green marginal, with the Greens managing to snatch the seat by just seven votes in 2015, but fading somewhat last year. The new Market boundaries retain all of the old Market division and add a good slice of the former Castle division as well, but it’s hard to predict what effect this will have on the delicate political balance of the seat. It is once again the top Green target in the city, with Jeremy Caddick, Dean and Chaplain of Emmanuel College, as their candidate. The former Lib Dem County Councillor for Market, Ed Cearns, is standing down, with transport campaigner Nichola Harrison seeking to return to the County Council for the Lib Dems. Labour’s candidate is Nick Gay, who came second in Trumpington last year, while Henry Mitson, an undergraduate at Caius College, is standing for the Conservatives. A close result seems likely.

Newnham

Newnham is changed relatively little by the new boundaries, retaining all its former voters, and with just 10% of the new electorate coming in from the old Castle division. So I will risk re-using the graph of previous results:

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This shows the pattern of recent years, with a once-safe Lib Dem seat still managing to hold off an increased challenge from Labour. I expect the new seat will follow a similar pattern this year, with Lib Dem group leader Lucy Nethsingha likely to retain her seat – though of course nothing is certain in politics, particularly these days. Her Labour challenger is Joe Dale, who is studying for an MPhil in Planning, Growth and Regeneration at Clare Hall. Julius Carrington returns for a second year as Conservative candidate, as does Mark Slade for the Greens.

Petersfield

On the new boundaries, Petersfield gains a large swathe of territory from the former Trumpington district, marked MAJ on the map below. This takes in the Newtown area and extends south to the University Press building by the railway line and west to the river by Fen Causeway.

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It’s hard to know what effect this will have politically – it might make the ward slightly less safe for Labour, but probably without doing too much to dent the large majority that the party has enjoyed in recent elections. With Labour’s Petersfield incumbent and group leader Ashley Walsh standing down, Labour’s candidate is Linda Jones, a Professor of Public Health. Emma Bates, a Gwydir Street resident, is standing for the Lib Dems, Virgil Ierubino, last year’s Coleridge candidate, for the Green Party, and Linda Yeatman for the Conservatives.

Queen Edith’s

Queen Edith’s is the nearest thing the Lib Dems have to a safe seat in Cambridge, but in these post-Coalition days it certainly isn’t entirely safe. The new boundaries don’t help the yellow team either, adding a chunk of the dismembered Coleridge division as well as a slice of Cherry Hinton, two Labour seats on the old boundaries. Lib Dem Amanda Taylor, first elected in 1994, will be hoping to win a seventh term in office as a Cambridge councillor. Labour’s candidate is Adam Pounds, a local composer, conductor, and arranger, who was previously active in the Essex Labour party, though is standing for council in Cambridge for the first time. Joel Chalfen is standing for the Greens for the fifth time in Queen Edith’s, and Manas Deb appears on the ballot for the second time for the Conservatives. Here is local resident Chris Rand’s view of the election – always worth reading – which also gives details of a Queen Edith’s hustings event on Thursday 20 April.

Romsey

Once a Lib Dem stronghold, Romsey is now firmly in the grip of Labour’s formidable local campaign team, which has now won all the council seats. The boundary changes bring in a large section of the old Coleridge division, which will probably only help Labour further. With Romsey incumbent Zoe Moghadas standing down, Coleridge’s sitting County Councillor, Noel Kavanagh is this year’s Labour candidate, and will be hoping to continue Labour’s recent record of success in the area. The Lib Dem candidate is Simon Cooper, a software engineer who has previously stood for election on Coleridge. Caitlin Patterson, an NHS Staff Nurse, is standing for the Greens, and the Conservative candidate is Simon Lee, a former soldier and co-founder of a PTSD charity. Once again there is no Cambridge Socialist candidate this year, another factor which can only help Labour.

Trumpington

As noted above, the new Trumpington seat loses a large chunk of territory to Petersfield, but it also gains some from Queen Edith’s. The Lib Dem candidate is Donald Adey, who already holds a Trumpington City Council seat, with the Lib Dem County Council incumbent Barbara Ashwood standing down. The Conservative candidate Shapour Meftah was previously Trumpington City Councillor, but lost his seat to Donald Adey last year, finishing only third. Newcomer Katie Thornburrow, an architect, has been campaigning actively for Labour, and regular Green candidate Ceri Galloway is making a 15th attempt to win office. A Lib Dem win seems most likely, though not entirely certain.

Cambridgeshire

In Cambridge, then, Labour will be feeling confident in six of the twelve new seats: Abbey, Arbury, Cherry Hinton, King’s Hedges, Romsey and Petersfield. The Lib Dems will be hopeful in Newnham, Queen Edith’s and Trumpington, and Independent John Hipkin is front-runner in Castle. The main battleground seats this year are Chesterton, a Labour/Lib Dem marginal, and Market, a three-way contest also involving the Greens. Despite flying high in the national polls, there’s not much sign of a Conservative revival in Cambridge, and the two UKIP candidates are unlikely to trouble the scorers very much either. However, the simultaneous mayoral contest will mean that the parties will focus less intensely than usual on the battleground seats, as they need to gather votes more widely for their mayoral candidate – a similar phenomenon to General Election years.

As usual, things are a bit different in the rest of Cambridgeshire. In 2013, UKIP unexpectedly took a swathe of seats in the north of the county, depriving the Conservatives of overall control. Many of their candidates had done little more than sign their nomination papers, and were somewhat surprised to find themselves elected. It is widely expected that the Conservatives will regain a number of these seats this year. Conversely, at the last County elections the Lib Dems were experiencing some of the worst of their Coalition unpopularity, and are hoping to make a comeback in a number of areas this time. Whether this will be enough to prevent the Conservatives regaining overall control remains to be seen. Labour will probably struggle to win seats outside Cambridge itself, and the best hope for the Greens is Market division in the city. As well as John Hipkin in Castle, a number of independent candidates also have good hopes of being elected. We’ll know the full picture in just over two weeks, but the County will be living with the consequences of these elections for the next four years.

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Prospects for the 2017 Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayoral Election

In just over two weeks, voters across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will go to the polls to choose the first mayor of the new Combined Authority for the area, a fresh new layer of local government with powers over transport and housing policy. Here is a look at the prospects for the election.

At first glance, standing as a candidate for the Combined Authority Mayor area is a pretty daunting undertaking. The Authority’s area covers seven Parliamentary constituencies, stretches over 1,300 square miles from Wisbech in the north to the outskirts of Royston in the south, and is home to around 600,000 registered voters. That’s an awful lot of doors to knock on. Neither is it cheap – as well as the £5,000 deposit required in order to stand, the election spending limit is around £50,000.

The election is being held under the Supplementary Vote system, which gives each voter a first and second choice vote. If no candidate gets more than half of the first choice votes, then the two top candidates go through to a second round. All the other candidates are eliminated, and the second-choice votes from their ballot papers are added to the totals of the remaining two candidates to decide the final result. This means that the candidate who is placed second on first-choice votes can still win if they get enough transferred votes from the eliminated candidates.

Each household in Cambridgeshire and Peterborough will shortly be sent a booklet about the election, including an election statement from each of the candidates. The booklet is available online here, and I’ve reproduced each candidate’s statement below – click them for a larger view.

Before reviewing the field, I should add my usual disclaimer that I’m a member of the Liberal Democrats, and while I’m trying to give an impartial view of the election, members of other parties might see things differently. On, then, to the candidates, in the order they will appear on the ballot paper:

Paul Bullen, UKIP

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Paul is the UKIP group leader on Cambridgeshire County Council, where he currently represents St Ives. As well as seeking the Mayoralty, he is also standing for re-election to the County Council, though for the new seat of Warboys & The Stukeleys, which includes his home village of Little Stukeley near Huntingdon. In recent elections UKIP have been strongest in the north of Cambridgeshire, particularly in Fenland and Huntingdonshire, but have struggled to make an electoral impact in Cambridge.

Rod Cantrill, Lib Dem

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Rod is City Councillor for Newnham ward in Cambridge, which he has represented since 2004, and where he lives.  As well as being a City Councillor, Rod is a partner in a firm that advises on mergers and acquisitions. He played a leading role in the Cambridge Lib Dem fundraising effort before the last General Election, which garnered over £230,000 in donations in 2014 and 2015. Traditionally the Lib Dems have been strongest in Cambridge and nearby areas in the south of the County, but have struggled to make an impact in northern districts, particularly Fenland.

Peter Dawe, Independent

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Peter Dawe is a Cambridgeshire businessman perhaps best known as an Internet entrepreneur in the 1990s. He lives in the village of Stuntney near Ely. At the 2013 County Council elections he stood as a UKIP candidate, but he is contesting the mayoralty as an Independent. His campaign has advocated a wide range of policies including using Twitter polls for local decision making, on-demand shuttle minibuses, and building thousands of modular homes in a factory in Fenland.

Stephen Goldspink, English Democrats

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Previously a Conservative councillor in Peterborough, Stephen Goldspink won 8% of the vote for the English Democrats in the inaugural Cambridegshire and Peterborough Police and Crime Commissioner elections in 2012. He gained press coverage earlier in the mayoral campaign by inviting Donald Trump to visit Cambridgeshire. He lives in the small village of Turves near Whittlesea.

Julie Howell, Green

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Julie is the only female candidate for Mayor, and the only one to live in Peterborough. She is a Parish Councillor in two Peterborough parishes, and stood for election to Peterborough City Council last year, finishing fifth in a three-member ward. She works as a Communication and Confidence Coach, and is leader of the Green Party in Peterborough. Like the Lib Dems, the Green Party is strongest in and around Cambridge.

James Palmer, Conservative

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James is currently the leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, and lives in Soham, where he represents the Soham North ward. He was selected as the Conservative candidate in January, ahead of County Council leader Steve Count, and St Neots councillor Roger Harrison. The Conservatives have long been the strongest party across Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, and James is widely regarded as the front runner in the Mayoral contest.

Kevin Price, Labour

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Kevin is Labour City Councillor for King’s Hedges ward in Cambridge, and lives just off Milton Road in the north of the city. He works as a college porter at Clare College, and on the City Council is Deputy Leader and Executive Councillor for Housing. Labour is currently strongest in Cambridge, where it has a large majority on the City Council, and has also performed fairly well in Peterborough, but has less support in more rural areas.

So who is likely to win? The Conservative candidate is certainly strongly placed. Here is a summary from Wikipedia of the General Election results in Cambridgeshire over the last 20 years:

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As you can see, even in Labour’s 1997 landslide, Cambridgeshire returned a majority of Conservative MPs. A slightly more nuanced picture emerges from this map of the most recent local election result in each area (from Nudge Factory):

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However, blue is still the most prevalent colour. Could the Conservatives win in the first round by gaining more than half of the first-choice votes? I think the chances of this are pretty remote, and it’s much more likely that the contest will go to a second round between the top two candidates. Who, then, will the second candidate be? Given the electoral history, I don’t think it will be the English Democrat Stephen Goldspink, or Green candidate Julie Howell. Could Independent candidate Peter Dawe make it through? In these turbulent political times we can’t entirely rule it out, but my instincts are against – although his campaign is well-resourced and certainly has plenty of ideas, I don’t think it is having sufficient impact across the large election area to compete effectively against the battle-hardened party organisations. Neither do I expect UKIP’s Paul Bullen to make the final two – with their key objective achieved nationally, UKIP seem to be something of a fading force, and have never been very effective at running election campaigns in any case. So I think the second place will be filled either by Labour’s Kevin Price or Lib Dem Rod Cantrill.

Labour’s campaign literature has been featuring the following bar chart prominently:

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This shows the first-round result of last year’s Police and Crime Commissioner election, which was contested across the same area and with the same voting system as this year’s mayoral contest. In last year’s second round, Labour’s Dave Baigent went on to score 47% against 53% for the victorious candidate, Conservative Jason Ablewhite. So is this a reasonable guide to this year’s likely result? Well, perhaps; however, nationally, opinion polls have developed not necessarily to Labour’s advantage in the last year:

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The graph above (from Wikipedia) shows the national opinion poll standings over the last two years (Con, Lab, UKIP, Lib Dem, SNP and Green from top to bottom). The most noticeable feature is the yawning gap that has opened up between Conservative and Labour since the Brexit referendum. While UKIP have faded slightly, there has been only a small rise in the standing of the Lib Dems. The Lib Dems, however, point to their strong performance nationally in Council by-elections, where they have made regular gains, often on very large vote swings, and also to the odds that Ladbrokes are offering on the mayoral contest:

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Lib Dems have been featuring these odds in their literature to establish themselves as the main challenger. Some Labour supporters have suggested that the Lib Dems have been placing bets to influence the odds in their favour, but as far as I know this is unfounded – and in any case the odds were pretty similar when betting first opened.

In a sense it doesn’t really matter to the anti-Conservative voter which of Lib Dem and Labour is the main challenger – they can simply give their first choice vote to one and their second choice vote to the other, and either way their vote will go to the anti-Conservative candidate in the second round. However, this is a complex message to get across to an electorate used to the tactical arguments of First Past the Post elections.

I think it’s virtually certain that the Lib Dems will perform more strongly in the Mayoral election than they did in last year’s Police & Crime Commissioner contest; I’m sure last year’s Lib Dem candidate, Rupert Moss-Eccardt, will forgive me for describing his campaign as low-key. In contrast, Rod Cantrill’s campaign is doing a great deal of leaflet delivery and canvassing. It’s also noteworthy that Rod’s campaign organiser is James Lillis, who also organised the campaign behind the dramatic Lib Dem by-election win in Richmond Park last October. Will the Lib Dems manage to overhaul Labour and take second place in the first round? And in any case, can the non-Conservative candidate get enough vote transfers to win? We’ll find out at the election count on Friday 5th May, a little over two weeks from now.

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