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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The Hobson’s Choice Crowdfunder

As I was observing the election count at the Cambridge Guildhall recently, peering down at us from the wall of the Large Hall was this portrait of Thomas Hobson:


Hobson was a Cambridge-based carrier, best known as the origin of the phrase “Hobson’s choice”, from his policy of hiring out horses in strict rotation, offering customers “either this one, or none at all”. He was also responsible for the building of Hobson’s Conduit in 1614, bringing clean drinking water into Cambridge.

The portrait is in a pretty poor state, and for the last few weeks a Crowdfunder appeal has been underway to raise £10,000 for a restoration. Here’s a look at how it’s going.

The appeal is running for eight weeks, so to raise the £10,000 it needs to bring in about £175 per day. We’re six weeks in now, and there have been 140 contributions so far (the website shows 120 backers, but contributions raised off the site are all listed as “hobson”). Here’s a graph showing how much has been raised each day:


As you can see, less than £175 has been raised on most days, but there have been quite a few days that have brought in a good deal more. However, the second and third weeks of the project brought in the biggest contributions, and less money has been raised recently. Is the project going to achieve its target? Let’s have a look at the cumulative total:


The black line here shows the daily target that must be reached to raise the £10,000 by the end of the appeal; the red line shows the total amount raised. As you can see, things started a little slowly, but after three weeks the project was in a fairly healthy state, with the red line a fair way above the target level. However, since then the red line has been creeping perilously close to the target level, and looks in danger of falling below it before the end of the project.

I think this is a great project for a Crowdfunder, and I’d love to see it get fully funded. Thomas Hobson is an important part of Cambridge’s cultural heritage, and it seems only right to raise funds to restore his portrait by public subscription. If you’d like to help the project, you can do so at

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The PCC election results in Cambridge

As well choosing their representatives on Cambridge City Council, Cambridge voters were also helping to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough on May 5th. Here’s a look at how the PCC vote went in Cambridge and across the county.

There were four candidates in Cambridgeshire this time. Conservative Jason Ablewhite started as the favourite, but faced a strong challenge from Labour’s Dave Baigent. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt was the only candidate from the previous PCC election to restand, and former County Council leader Nick Clarke flew the flag for UKIP. Unlike the local elections, the PCC elections use the Supplementary Vote system. This means that voters can cast a second-choice vote, which is counted if their first-choice candidate doesn’t make it into the top two.

Here in Cambridge only the total vote for the whole city was announced at the count, but the City Council’s Electoral Services department have kindly sent me a ward-by-ward breakdown of the vote – you can find it here, with the second round numbers here. Here’s what the first-round votes in each ward look like as a graph:


I’ve listed the wards in descending order of the Labour vote share, which as you can see was pretty substantial throughout the city. In fact Labour “won” every ward in Cambridge in the PCC vote with the exception of Trumpington, where they were narrowly beaten by the Lib Dems. It’s notable that Dave Baigent did particularly well in his home ward of Romsey – despite being one of the more closely contested wards in the council elections, his Romsey vote share was higher than in several safer Labour wards. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt mostly recorded second places, with stronger performances in the wards where the Lib Dems were campaigning more heavily in the local elections. The Conservatives finished second only in Coleridge and Cherry Hinton, otherwise coming home third, and UKIP’s Nick Clarke managed the dubious distinction of finishing fourth in every ward of the city. UKIP’s strongest – or rather, least weak – performance was in King’s Hedges.

Of course it wasn’t just Cambridge voters taking part in the PCC election. The candidates had been whizzing around the county campaigning in all six districts, and the electoral pattern was pretty varied. Here are the total votes cast in each district in the first round of voting:


Note that this graph shows the actual numbers of votes in each district, not percentages – in East Cambs and Fenland there were no local elections on the same day, and the turnout was substantially lower. Although Labour’s Dave Baigent recorded a substantial lead in Cambridge, Conservative candidate Jason Ablewhite topped the list in every other district, with results ranging from neck-and-neck in Peterborough to more than two-to-one in Huntingdonshire. Lib Dem Rupert Moss-Eccardt did reasonably well in South Cambs, but clearly didn’t appeal as much to Fenland voters, while UKIP’s Nick Clark scored highest in Peterborough and Huntingdonshire. Amongst other things, this graph demonstrates vividly just how different the level of Conservative support is in Cambridge compared with the rest of the county – in Cambridge, Labour got more than three times the Conservative vote, whereas the Conservatives finished first in every other district.

When all the first round votes were added up, the overall picture for Cambridgeshire was this:


This gave Jason Ablewhite a lead of 9,188 votes at this stage, with 36.2% of the vote against 31% for Dave Baigent. Since no candidate had 50% of the vote (always a wildly unlikely prospect), at this point the second-choice vote came into play. The bottom two candidates dropped out, and their second-choice votes were transferred to the two remaining candidates. Here’s how that played out in Cambridge:



These are the second-choice votes of Cambridge voters who cast their first choice vote for the Lib Dem or UKIP candidates – about 80% of them being Lib Dem supporters. There were thus more votes to transfer in the wards with more Lib Dem support, and as you can see, they went predominantly to Labour.

Once again, the picture in Cambridge was quite different from Cambridgeshire as a whole. Here’s how the second-choice vote went across the county:


While Dave Baigent gained a 2,665-vote advantage from the Cambridge second-choice votes, East Cambs was nearly neck-and-neck, and all the other districts favoured Jason Ablewhite. In total, the second round was very nearly a dead heat, with Dave winning just 87 more votes than Jason. So when the votes from the two rounds were added together, this was the final result:


Here the lighter colours show the second-choice votes. Jason Ablewhite was elected for the Conservatives with a majority of 9,101 votes. In percentage terms, he won 53% of the final-round vote versus 47% for Dave Baigent. While this is a pretty close result, it’s not that far from the 2012 outcome, a Conservative victory by 55.7% to 44.3%, meaning Dave added 2.7% to Labour’s previous vote share.

The next Police and Crime Commissioner elections are due in May 2020, and it’s very likely that they’ll have a much higher turnout than this year’s 30.6% – because a General Election is due to be held on the same day. I suspect this factor will favour the Conservative candidate, but if a week is a long time in politics, four years is an aeon.

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The 2016 Cambridge City Council election results

Now that Cambridge political activists have largely recovered from the excitement of the local election campaign, here’s a look back at how the parties performed in each of Cambridge’s 14 wards. Overall, the story was of a dominant performance from Labour, mixed fortunes for the Lib Dems, and disappointment for the Greens and the Conservatives, who both lost vote share in every ward and failed to win any seats.

Looking at the graphs for each ward, a number of general patterns emerge. In the safe Labour wards, Labour’s share of the vote increased sharply, and the other parties fell. This is partly because last year’s local elections took place on the same day as the General Election, so these wards saw a good deal more Lib Dem and even Conservative campaigning last year than they usually do. However, this only explains some of the increase in the Labour vote, which in most of these wards is now higher than it has been in recent years. Other factors may include improved performance of the Labour campaigning operation in Cambridge, which is certainly working pretty effectively now, and the national political situation – despite being at odds with much of his Parliamentary party, Jeremy Corbyn does seem to be a net positive factor for Labour in Cambridge. I’m sure Labour activists would add satisfaction with the City Council to the list.

The Lib Dems saw their vote share rise in eight of the fourteen wards, but in Romsey and the Chestertons this wasn’t enough to defeat Labour. The Conservatives seemed to put in very little campaigning effort this year, losing their sole councillor, Trumpington’s Shapour Meftah, and managing only two second places across the city, and distant ones at that. The Greens were disappointed in their main target ward, Market, and they performed poorly elsewhere. General Election “unwinding” will have played a part in this, though it’s also likely that they suffered from the Jeremy Corbyn effect.

On to the wards. For each, I’ve made a graph showing the local election results (excluding by-elections) for the last ten years, to give some context to this year’s results.


Abbey followed the typical pattern of most safe Labour seats, with a substantial jump in the Labour share of the vote, and a fall for the other parties. Richard Johnson won a third term by a very comfortable margin. The Greens just managed to retake second place ahead of the Lib Dems, but with just 15% of the vote in a ward which they won as recently as 2010.


Arbury was another ward following the pattern of safe Labour seats. Labour’s well-known councillor Mike Todd-Jones managed to increase his already enormous share of the vote from 2012, scoring Labour’s best result in Arbury since 1973. Lib Dem Tim Ward took second place with his party’s lowest Arbury vote share this century.


After missing a year in 2015, the Castle Independents were back on the ballot paper this year, as John Hipkin sought re-election to the City Council. Despite facing active campaigns from both Labour and the Lib Dems, John won pretty comfortably, with Labour’s Patrick Sheil pushing Lib Dem Mark Argent into third place. From what I saw at the count, Labour were particularly strongly supported in the parts of the ward with a concentration of student voters. John may be back on the ballot paper in Castle again next year, as his County Council seat is up for re-election.


There was another typical safe Labour result in Cherry Hinton, with Mayor Rob Dryden winning with a significant increase in the Labour vote over 2015. He didn’t quite manage the mountainous 73% that he scored in 2012, though he faced two more opponents this time. All other parties saw their share of the vote fall, with Eric Barrett-Payton taking one of only two second places for the Conservatives in the city.


Coleridge was the other ward to record a second place for the Conservatives, with Sam Barker taking 15% of the vote, as newcomer Rosy Moore won a very comfortable victory for Labour. As in 2011, the Lib Dem vote fell sharply following the General Election the previous year. Sadly there was no return to the ballot paper this year for 2014 candidate Puffles the Dragon Fairy.


East Chesterton saw one of the more intense battles this year as Labour’s incumbent councillor Margery Abbott was challenged by Lib Dem Shahida Rahman. Despite improving on last year’s Lib Dem vote share, Shahida wasn’t able to overhaul Labour’s lead, though did manage to record the Lib Dems’ closest second place in Cambridge this year. Next year the sole remaining elected Lib Dem in East Chesterton, County Councillor Ian Manning, is up for re-election in what promises to be another closely-fought contest. [Update: As City Councillor Peter Sarris points out, next year’s County Council elections are likely to be fought on new boundaries in any case.]


King’s Hedges is yet another ward following the now-familiar pattern of safe Labour seats this year. In this case it was incumbent councillor Nigel Gawthrope who was comfortably re-elected with an increased majority. The Lib Dems, who held all four council seats in the ward a few years ago, could only manage a distant second place with 13% of the vote. They were ten votes ahead of UKIP, who recorded their best result in Cambridge in King’s Hedges – not that that is saying a great deal.

Last year Market provided the closest three-way result in Cambridge political history, with just thirteen votes separating the top three candidates. It was a different story this year, as Lib Dem group leader Tim Bick held off the challenge of Danielle Greene for Labour, while Stuart Tuckwood suffered a substantial drop in Green Party support, despite the Greens focusing much of their campaigning effort this year on the ward. The Conservative vote plummeted to a dire 6.2%, their worst-ever result in Market.


There was a somewhat similar pattern in Newnham, as Lucy Nethsingha slightly increased the Lib Dem lead over Labour, adding a City Council seat to the County Council seat she already holds. The Green vote share fell substantially, and the Conservatives recorded their worst share of the vote for decades, despite an active campaign by their candidate Julius Carrington.


Despite having elected Lib Dem councillors towards the tail end of Gordon Brown’s time as Prime Minister, Petersfield is nowadays yet another safe Labour ward, and followed the familiar pattern. Richard Robertson was re-elected comfortably with an increased share of the vote. Sharon Kaur held on to second place for the Greens.


Queen Edith’s is one of the safer Lib Dem seats in Cambridge (though that isn’t saying as much as it once was) and Jennifer Page-Croft won a comfortable victory for the yellow team. Labour’s John Beresford took a respectable second place, increasing the Labour vote share and pulling away from the Conservatives, whose vote fell, along with the fourth-placed Greens.

I spent much of polling day in Romsey trying to prevent my prediction of a Labour gain in the ward from coming true. However, in the end Labour newcomer Sophie Barnett recorded a convincing victory over veteran Lib Dem Catherine Smart. Catherine first stood for election in Romsey in 1993, when Sophie was aged 7, and represented the ward continuously for 18 years from 1998. Labour put a great deal of effort into winning the seat, even hiring taxis at 4am on polling day to take a team of student volunteers to Romsey for early-morning leafleting, and their victory brought the loudest Labour cheer of the night at the count. As elsewhere in the city, the Green and Conservative vote share both fell, despite at least some campaigning by both parties.


Trumpington provided the solitary Lib Dem gain in Cambridge this year, as Donald Adey convincingly defeated the city’s last Conservative Councillor, Shapour Meftah. The Conservatives recorded their worst-ever share of the vote in the ward, finishing behind Labour for the first time.


Finally, West Chesterton provided another emphatic win for Labour, as Mike Sargeant took the seat at the ninth attempt, only the second Labour victory here since the 1960s, and the first on the City Council. The defeated Lib Dem candidate was Nichola Harrison. Both parties put considerable campaigning effort into the seat, and the vote share of the other candidates was squeezed as a result.

Overall Labour gained two seats from the Lib Dems, in Romsey and West Chesterton; the Lib Dems gained one, in Trumpington; and the other eleven were held. The new City Council, which meets for the first time on 26th May, has an increased Labour majority of ten over all other parties:


Here are two final graphs that demonstrate the emphatic nature of Labour’s victory this year. First, here is the Labour lead over the Lib Dems in each ward this year:


Labour racked up enormous leads over the Lib Dems in their safe wards, three of which (Arbury, King’s Hedges, and Petersfield) elected Lib Dem councillors only a few years ago. Things were closer in the “battleground” wards, but without any of the really knife-edge results that we’ve seen in recent years – Tim Bick’s 60-vote victory in Market was the closest this year.

Secondly, the graph below shows the swing to Labour from the Lib Dems in each ward since 2015. This is the average of the rise in the Labour vote and the fall in the Lib Dem vote, so it gives an indication of how far opinion has moved. Negative numbers mean that the swing was from Labour to the Lib Dems.


As you can see, the swing to Labour was strongest in their safe wards, partly due to the lack of General Election campaigning this year. The other wards saw a mixed picture, with the Lib Dems doing best relative to Labour in Trumpington.

Overall, six of the fourteen wards were pretty solid for Labour this year. If the Lib Dems had won all of the other eight, and kept winning them, they would have been in a position to deprive Labour of control by 2018 and return to power in 2019. As it is, with a net loss of one seat this year, the long road back to power for the Lib Dems in Cambridge has just got even longer.


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