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:


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:


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:


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.


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.


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.


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:


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 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:


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.


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:


…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.


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.


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.


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 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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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:


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):


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:


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:


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:


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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The politics of immigration petitions

I’ve been digging a bit further into the huge amount of data available about petitions to the UK Parliament. Two of the most popular petitions in the last year were about migration, but took very different approaches:

  • “Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK” – 450,287 signatures
  • “Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated” – 463,500 signatures

Both petitions ran for six months and closed earlier this year. The website gives the number of signatures from each Parliamentary constituency, so I’ve made a scatter-plot from this data showing how opinion on migration varies in each seat.


Each dot here represents a different Parliamentary constituency. The horizontal position is the number of signatures for the pro-refugees petition; the vertical position shows how many people signed the anti-immigration petition. I’ve coloured each dot according to the party that won the seat at the 2015 general election. So Cambridge, for example, with 2,559 pro-refugee signatures and just 316 anti-immigration, appears well away from the main group of seats.

Of course only a small fraction of the residents in each seat signed one of the petitions – up to about 5% – but this still gives a general indication of the balance of opinion about migration in each seat, and the pressures this is likely to put on each seat’s MP.

As you can see, most of the seats are clustered towards the corner of the graph, with roughly equal numbers of pro- and anti- migrant signatures, though more seats are on the anti side. A small number of heavily anti seats float above the main group, and then there’s a “long tail” of increasingly pro-refugee seats stretching away along the horizontal axis, all the way to Hornsey & Wood Green with 3,767 pro-refugee signatures and just 158 anti-immigration.

Looking at the distribution for seats held by each party tells an interesting story too. Here’s the graph again, with just the Conservative-held seats emphasised:


Most of the seats are in the main cluster, with just a few outliers. At the top of the graph, the Essex seat of South Basildon & East Thurrock registered the most anti-immigration signatures, with the neighbouring Thurrock seat having nearly as many. Meanwhile, the most pro-refugee Conservative seats were all relatively affluent: Richmond Park, Oxford West & Abingdon, Battersea, and Twickenham – three of the four held by the Lib Dems before 2015.

The graph for Labour-held seats is also quite striking:


Here the pattern is a great deal more widely scattered than for the Conservative-held seats. The densest group of Labour seats is firmly in the anti-immigration part of the graph, noticeably more so than for the Conservatives, but there’s a wide range of opinion, with a “long tail” of pro-refugee sentiment. Three of the four most pro-refugee seats are in north London: as well as Hornsey & Wood Green, there’s Diane Abbott’s Hackney North & Stoke Newington, and Jeremy Corbyn’s Islington North, with the former Lib Dem seat of Bristol West completing the group. Overall, this graph vividly illustrates the range of pressures on Labour immigration policy.

Here’s the pattern for seats held by Britain’s third party, the SNP:


There’s a wide range of opinion here, perhaps unsurprisingly given that the SNP now holds almost every seat in Scotland. It’s noticeable that the SNP seats tend to be on the outside of the graph, perhaps indicating a greater overall level of political engagement amongst Scottish voters following the 2014 referendum.

The handful of surviving Lib Dem seats are also fairly widely scattered, but without much anti-immigrant sentiment:


Nick Clegg’s Sheffield Hallam seat is the most pro-refugee of the group.

Finally, the sole UKIP seat, Clacton, is as you might expect well to the anti-immigrant side of the graph:


Although it’s not as high up the anti-immigrant axis as some Conservative-held seats, it’s one of the least pro-refugee seats – and noticeably close to the densest part of the Labour graph.

Immigration has featured strongly in polls about the most important issues facing the country, and this looks likely to continue. I’m sure there will be plenty of more petitions on the subject, providing further insight into how this issue affects British politics.


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Petitions to Parliament from Cambridge

For some time now the UK Parliament has provided a petitions website, allowing people to sign petitions for consideration by MPs. If a petition reaches 10,000 signatures, the Government will publish a response, and if it reaches 100,000 signatures, then it is considered for a debate in Parliament. The petitions website has been very successful, with thousands of people supporting a huge range of causes, and many of the petitions being given Parliamentary debating time.

The data behind the petitions is available, and people have used it in a number of different ways. For example, there is a Petition Map website that shows the geographic distribution of petition signatures. Here’s the map for a petition about the steel industry, with signatures unsurprisingly concentrated in South Wales:


The availability of this data naturally got me wondering about which petitions people in Cambridge tend to support most. Of course there are more Cambridge signatures on the petitions that are most popular nationally, but it’s interesting to look at which petitions have the highest proportion of Cambridge signatures. With 650 constituencies in the UK, on average you’d expect about 15 in every 10,000 signatures to come from a particular constituency – or slightly less, as UK citizens living overseas can also sign. However, it turns out that people in Cambridge are fond of signing petitions, and account for around 30 in every 10,000 signatures.

I looked at the 242 petitions that have gathered at least 10,000 signatures nationally, and calculated the proportion of those signatures that were from Cambridge. This lets us rank these petitions in order of how “Cambridgey” they are. Here are the top ten:

  1. Statement on UK steps to ensure a full investigation of Giulio Regeni’s death (1198)
  2. Exempt grants for academic research from new ‘anti-lobbying’ regulation (191)
  3. Stop the Government from cutting funding for Routes into Languages. (148)
  4. Give EU citizens living & working in the UK the right to vote in EU Referendum. (138)
  5. Government to abandon all ideas of trying to ban strong encryption. (126)
  6. Scrap the £35k threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK (120)
  7. House of Commons to have Free Vote on Imposition of Junior Doctors Contract (119)
  8. Amend the immigration bill to allow 3000 lone child refugees to enter the UK (111)
  9. Stop Destruction Of British Archaeology. Neighbourhood and Infrastructure Bill (98)
  10. Allow transgender people to self-define their legal gender (83)

The numbers in brackets show how many signatures out of every 10,000 came from Cambridge residents. The leader by a very large margin is the petition about the horrible murder in Egypt of Cambridge University student Giulio Regeni. Amongst the others, there’s definitely an academic flavour, with concerns about languages, archaeology, and anti-lobbying regulations for researchers. There’s also an internationalist theme, with support for migrants and refugees. Concerns about encryption, junior doctors and transgender rights also make it into the top ten.

At the other end of the scale are a number of petitions about local issues that don’t have much to do with Cambridge. Here are the bottom five:

  • An independent investigation into the new layout at Dartford river crossing. (1.8)
  • A Petition for Southern Rail (Govia Thameslink Railway) Franchise Review. (1.6)
  • Don’t close Poole Hospital’s A&E or Bournemouth Hospital’s A&E! (1.2)
  • End the cuts to Merseyside Police (0.8)

The last on the list, supporting Ealing Hospital, has just four signatures from Cambridge out of its total of over 100,000.

Looking at the larger petitions that have garnered over 100,000 signatures nationally gives a somewhat different view of Cambridge’s concerns. Here are the most Cambridgey of these 100,000+ signature petitions:

  1. Scrap the £35k threshold for non-EU citizens settling in the UK (120)
  2. Make it illegal for a company to require women to wear high heels at work (67)
  3. The DDRB’s proposals to change Junior Doctor’s contracts CANNOT go ahead. (67)
  4. Jeremy Hunt to resume meaningful contract negotiations with the BMA. (63)
  5. Accept more asylum seekers and increase support for refugee migrants in the UK. (57)
  6. Stop retrospective changes to the student loans agreement (56)
  7. Consider a vote of No Confidence in Jeremy Hunt, Health Secretary (49)
  8. To debate a vote of no confidence in Health Secretary the Right Hon Jeremy Hunt (46)
  9. Include expressive arts subjects in the Ebacc (40)
  10. Prevent the scrapping of the maintenance grant. (40)

The recurring theme here is the Junior Doctors’ dispute, which is featured in four of the top ten. Support for students is also (perhaps unsurprisingly) popular. The recent controversy about compulsory high heels at work also seems to have struck a chord in Cambridge. Number five on the list, one of the biggest petitions nationally with over 450,000 signatures, again shows Cambridge’s particular concern for refugees. This is also evident when looking at the least Cambridgey of these larger petitions. Here are the bottom five:

  • Make an allowance for up to 2 weeks term time leave from school for holiday. (9.0)
  • Stop allowing immigrants into the UK. (8.6)
  • Restrict the use of fireworks to reduce stress and fear in animals and pets (7.4)
  • Stop all immigration and close the UK borders until ISIS is defeated. (6.8)

As well as Ealing hospital, Cambridge people are relatively unconcerned about term-time holidays from school and the effect of fireworks on pets. But I have to say I’m particularly pleased to see the anti-immigrant petitions getting so little support locally. Good for you, Cambridge.


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