Just under a year to Julian Huppert vs Daniel Zeichner: The rematch


As Lord Oakeshott hits HMS #LibDems with a torpedo, what are the prospects for the two lead candidates for Cambridge?

Some of you will have seen the storm in the political tea cup that is Lord Oakeshott’s botched plot to dethrone Nick Clegg. (See here). As for the people in the market stall?

“Nick Clegg? Nick Clegg…what is that?”

Exactly – though that’s not stopped Cambridge Liberal Democrats from holding a vote on Clegg’s leadership – see here. For the politically-aware, it doesn’t look great. Actually it looks like a shambles. It reminded me of when Hazel Blears resigned in the eve of the last European elections as a Labour cabinet minister – see here. Whether we see the implosion of the Coalition remains to be seen. Personally I think the best option for Clegg is to announce before the autumn conference season that he’ll be standing down as leader, allow the conference to elect a new leader for the 2015 campaign. That way, whoever is elected will have a cleaner slate (unless Clegg’s successor is currently a minister) on which to write new policies.

Impact on Julian Huppert?

Cambridge was one of the constituencies polled in the Oakeshott-commissioned poll – and the results weren’t good. (See here). Although Cambridge Liberal Democrats (on Facebook here) have stated the sample size (200) is too small, with a too wide margin of error, the results are worrying for the party on the back of the recent local council election defeat. I can’t imagine this storm is going to do party morale much good – having to be on the defensive once again. Julian I’m sure knows that for those outside the core Liberal Democrat vote, the party’s brand and Clegg’s brand are weak spots – as Carl Gardner explained below.


Reasons one and two are particularly important here. There may have been a little wilful blindness on the part of some of the voters that voted Liberal Democrat in 2010 general election. Were they aware of this? (*Wingtip, Carl*).

Julian’s community tank traps vs the Daniel’s big Labour steamroller

More revelations in the Oakeshott-commissioned poll showed that a third of Cambridge constituents could name Julian as our MP here – and that only 4% could name Daniel Zeichner as the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate. (See here). The figure for Julian compares well with the rest of the country – 22% in 2013. (I’ve not found the figure for 2014 – despite searching through the 2014 Audit of Political Engagement). Does the figure of 4% matter for Daniel, given that he is standing again for Labour as he did in 2010? This depends on what sort of campaign he is planning to run. Will it be Labour bringing in their shadow cabinet or will there be a niche Daniel can carve out for himself – something I look at later in this post.

Who needs to do what between now and the general election?

Julian Huppert for the Liberal Democrats

In my view, the difference between Julian winning and losing is his ability to get the non-party-political science and academia vote out. In the grand scheme of things, Cambridge’s science community owes a debt of gratitude to Julian – big time. The amount of public policy work that the science community channels through Julian – in particular holding the executive to account, is significant. The problem Julian faces (as I found out when I went to an RSC talk recently) is that the science community in Cambridge doesn’t like doing party or electoral politics. Niches like doing public policy, but at an arms length from the ‘dirty politics’ of Westminster.

This is no longer sustainable if Cambridge’s science & academic communities want Julian to stay as their and our MP. And Julian’s going to need to tell them this explicitly.

Having got through thousands of pieces of casework, Julian can potentially call upon the support of hundreds of people that he has helped. What will be interesting to see with all of this is how Julian brands his campaign for the next election. Will he tone down the Liberal Democrat branding and increase the personal branding, which is much stronger locally? Can Julian mobilise this non-party-political base to vote for him? Just as importantly, can he get some non-party supporters to campaign actively for him (and take the hits that might come with this?) That’s his challenge.

Daniel Zeichner for Labour

One of Daniel’s strongest policy areas is the living wage – which I blogged about here. But as the Oakeshott-commissioned poll shows, awareness of Daniel as Labour’s PPC is limited – despite him being the candidate last time around. Does this matter in the campaign? Or will people vote for Labour in Cambridge irrespective of who the candidate is?

The most frequent criticism I’ve seen of Daniel is that he’ll put loyalty to the party ahead of Cambridge city. The last Labour MP for Cambridge, Anne Campbell, lost her seat in the 2005 general election primarily due to her voting record on tuition fees – see her record here. That plus the aftermath of the Iraq War (which in the short term was a massive setback to the local Labour Party – described by Cllr Ashley Walsh and Richard Johnson in their superb history of Cambridge Labour Party) proved fatal to her political prospects. What lessons can Daniel learn from this?

For me, Daniel needs to demonstrate publicly to people beyond his core vote that he’s capable of both independent thought and independence of action – potentially defying party HQ. Julian’s done this on several occasions – though has the benefit of being in the minority party of the Coalition. Hence he can reasonably oppose anything that’s not in the Coalition Agreement. The best way I think Daniel can do this is to pick a campaign area that Labour don’t have a detailed policy position on, and one that has strongly resonates with communities locally. Dr Stella Creasy MP in Walthamstow (pictured here with Puffles – she did her PhD in Cambridge) has done this brilliantly on women’s rights and on loan sharks. Can Daniel produce campaign material than reads like how Daniel speaks rather than something that’s a line to take written by Ed Miliband’s press officers? Gary Gibbon of Channel 4 News explores Ed’s use of language here. It’s worth a read. Ditto this article by Hopi Sen on communication. Can Daniel and Ed respond accordingly and move away from the scripted ‘lines to take’?

…Lines easily lampooned on social media…

The Conservatives

My thoughts are pretty much as they are in this blogpost about Nick Clarke taking control of Cambridge Conservatives. Nick’s comments on climate change didn’t go down well at the local election hustings at Kings College (see here). It’s also worth noting that there is a wing of the Conservative Party that is embracing the science behind, and challenge of climate change. See here – and also note that Michael Gove was a keynote speaker at its launch. My point being that Nick’s views are not necessarily the views of all in his party.

A theme Cambridge Conservatives could run with that could be easily identified as fitting with core Conservative values? Getting Cambridge colleges to reduce their rents for small independent businesses as part of a wider civic responsibility/big society theme. (It was something I discussed with Nick recently and included it in my living manifesto – see here). Its success in part depends on finding a high calibre candidate. I’ve stated before that they need to find someone who is a talented and personable woman with excellent local and small business credentials who is also confident using social and digital media.

The Greens

The Greens face the difficulty of finding a high calibre candidate too. Organisationally they are still in the early stages and are yet to experience either a local media firestorm and/or detailed scrutiny of their local policies. While Cambridge Labour (on Facebook here) gave Cambridge Greens (on Facebook here) a relatively easy ride in the recent elections, I don’t think they’ll be nearly so easy-going at the general election. With Dr Rupert Read narrowly defeated at the European elections and his announcement he’s taking a step back from politics (see here), there’s a significant void in East Anglia that he leaves. Matt Hodgkinson showed great potential at the local elections, but is there a critical mass of his fellow activists (in particular women) who are prepared to push for higher public profiles in the local media?

What do the Greens need to do locally? Essentially get organised. They’ve done much of the hard work in the recent campaigns – significantly raising their profile. Can they turn some of the new voters into activists, and some of those activists into campaigning candidates? Can they get the last of these to go to local council meetings to spar with councillors from the other political parties? Can they get them to use social media to interact more regularly with local media? Can they produce a manifesto for Cambridge that is exciting, radical and one that people can relate to?

“Why are you writing this now?”

You never know – just in case it really is Coalition end-game following the Oakeshott revelations. Also, getting this on my blog now gives all of the parties some food for thought and time to take any action in response should they desire. The above is not a set of demands by any means. It’s just a little bit of analysis and my mind wandering after a sleepless night. (I’ve not slept since midday yesterday and it’s 3pm now. Yeah. #Sleepfail).

Time will tell what the voters of Cambridge will say.

Power to the people


2 thoughts on “Just under a year to Julian Huppert vs Daniel Zeichner: The rematch

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