Spending the night at Cambridge Guildhall watching democracy in action as Cambridge elects Labour to take control of the city council
It was a privilege to see so many people in a buzzing Guildhall at ‘The Count’. I’d like to thank everyone that nominated and voted for me and Puffles in Coleridge – and everyone that turned out to vote. I’d also like to thank the small team of Cambridge City Council staff on the Coleridge counting desk for being friendly and helpful to me too. Also thank you to councillors and activists from the four parties standing candidates across the city for being friendly and good-natured towards me and Puffles throughout the night. Finally, thank you to the media teams that were there – Cambridge 105 Radio, Emma Howgego of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire, Ben Bland of BBC Look East (despite the tricky but superb first question!), Emma Hutchinson of ITN, Chris Havergal of the Cambridge News and Phil Rodgers. Also finally a big ***THANK YOU*** to Ceri, who I could not have done any of this without.
Cambridge City Council now has 25 Labour councillors, 15 Liberal Democrats, 1 Conservative and 2 independent councillors. I’ll save my thoughts and analysis for a later blogpost. Last night was about experiencing democracy as an integral part of it for the first time.
The impression I got of democracy in action on the floor of the Guildhall as well as up in the balcony was one that is very different to what you see on TV. From Twitter I got the impression you were all watching #NewsNigel while Puffles weaved in and out of the crowds of party-political activists – all of whom were in reasonably good spirits until the count started. It was so much more fun than watching the tellybox.
Watching the party machines whirr into action
It was interesting to watch the party activists go into ‘the zone’ when the sorting of local council votes started. They all had their tally charts watching the ballot papers being first sorted then counted. These were all fed into pre-programmed spreadsheets (the sort I used to have fun with inside the civil service) that were then presumably sent back to party HQ in advance of the final results.
It was only being on the floor of the Guildhall – mixing with the candidates and activists that I really got the sense of just how complex and organised the parties are. In that regard, I’m extremely glad that I ran the campaign that I did. Given my disposition and way of working, an inexperienced independent candidate with little support in comparison, going up against any of those machines would have been chewed up and spat out without much trouble. At the same time, I got the impression from the comments from the four parties (Conservative, Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green) that they valued the sort of campaign me and Ceri ran. We were able to raise issues that, while not issue-based or party-political-based are still important – for example on public administration. Boring but essential?
Labour and Liberal Democrats lock horns
It was a hard-fought and sometimes bitter campaign in a number of wards. I’m glad that me and Puffles were not caught in the cross-fire. With friends on both sides, I had mixed feelings overall – delighted for some such as new councillor Dan Ratcliffe as well as being gutted for others, such as the former mayor of Cambridge Paul Saunders who lost out to Labour.
Defeat is hard to take – especially when you’ve worked your socks off for your cause. At the same time, defeat is one of the things that makes democracy go round. As I said to a couple of the defeated councillors, it’s healthy for democracy to see their votes making the change – even though personally it’s hard to take. Remember too that many of the Labour activists will have experienced the really dark days of 2009 and 2010 when they were completely failed by their party leadership. Perhaps that experience made tonight’s result all the more satisfying for Cambridge Labour.
A Green breakthrough?
5,700 votes across the city – clearly they managed to get the student vote out in Market and Petersfield wards, with 1,400 between those two wards alone. They got just under 3,000 votes in 2012 on paper candidates. Ten percentage point increase in turnout plus very active campaigning by Rupert Read and team more than doubled their vote tally – and may well help secure him the European Parliament seat. This is an astonishing achievement when you consider what had gone before. It bodes well for them for 2015.
What about the Tories?
I’m getting my figures checked over, but the Conservatives didn’t seem to make the breakthrough – getting a similar number of votes to The Greens. Did they get fewer votes than The Greens? I’m trying to account for possible double-counting with the Petersfield ward where 2 candidates for the Conservatives stood vs 1 candidate for The Greens. The Conservatives in Cambridge are in the process of rebuilding – as I mentioned here. I noticed that The Greens were far more active in Cambridge than the Conservatives were in the run up to the polls.
So…what next for Puffles?
In the grand scheme of things, this is Puffles’ high point. I’ve learnt lots and had lots of fun in the process. I’ve made my point on the issues and tried out lots of new things which will stand me – and Cambridge local politics in good stead. To be fair to all of the parties, a number of people have expressed an interest in trying some new things post-election with social and digital media – things that have hardly been tried in Cambridge before. At the same time, you won’t see me carrying Puffles all over the place as over the past couple of weeks. Expect a lower ‘offline’ profile. At the same time, expect some things over the next year where I and others get going on a few more focused things to help more people learn about politics and policy. I’ll keep you posted on what they are. But now, I need some sleep.