Some thoughts on the potential impact of a new, highly-motivated MP for South Cambridgeshire who represents one of Cambridge City’s wards – Queen Edith’s.
Me and Chris Rand, a community blogger in Queen Edith’s ward interviewed Heidi Allen MP over the weekend.
I’m uploading the two videos I filmed later in the week as this will form part of a mini-launch of what are likely to become monthly extended interviews with Ms Allen, covering what she has been doing in Parliament and how the Government’s plans are going to affect our neighbourhood.
A significant change for the Conservatives in and around Cambridge?
It was no accident that Ms Allen got over 50% of the votes in South Cambridgeshire – see the full results here. But it wasn’t because the population and the electorate of the constituency growing in the same way as the Conservative share of the vote has done over the years. (See here). Ms Allen’s predecessor was the controversial former Health Secretary Andrew Lansley. My experience of him (he was once my MP prior to boundary changes) was that he was absent from our part of the constituency. That said, I hardly ever saw much of Cambridge’s 2005-10 MP David Howarth either. When Julian Huppert became MP in 2010, he set the standard of how to be a strong constituency MP in terms of casework (30,000+ in five years), visibility and availability communications-wise. Dr Huppert’s example hasn’t gone unnoticed by Ms Allen and her team.
Had Mr Lansley stood for re-election, chances are the other parties would have thrown significant national resources into the constituency due to the presence of Addenbrooke’s Hospital – one of the biggest hospitals in the country. His announcement he was standing down meant that one of the safest Conservative seats in the country was up for grabs – and Ms Allen was the candidate successful in gaining the nomination from the local party.
That’s not to say the other candidates didn’t fight – they did. South Cambridgeshire benefited from a line up of competent candidates who worked their socks off. I filmed them at Homerton College’s hustings – see here. Following those hustings I interviewed Ms Allen – see here. Without the extra burden of ministerial/shadow ministerial office, and having only become a councillor in neighbouring Hertfordshire (St Albans) in 2011, she wasn’t nearly as burdened by things like the MPs’ expenses scandal or even voting records during the Coalition.
What does this mean for the new Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner?
While both Mr Zeichner and Ms Allen have said publicly they will work together to deal with the issues that both constituencies face together, this is the first time in living memory that there has been a complete change in parliamentary representation personnel-wise across three constituencies in and around Cambridge – the final of the three being Lucy Frazer MP for South East Cambridgeshire.
With Dr Huppert as MP 2010-15, he was in the new position of being a backbench MP of a minority coalition partner, with two parliamentary neighbours who at various occasions held ministerial office. With ministerial office inevitably taking up four days per week plus more, Dr Huppert effectively had most of the Cambridge area to himself. Or so it felt – reflecting his very strong use of social media to keep constituents, campaigners and the local media up to date. Mr Zeichner faces the next five years in opposition – not having the sort of ministerial access Dr Huppert had. Furthermore, he is next door to a new MP on the Government benches who has already shown herself to be more open, approachable and accessible than her predecessor was.
“Will we see a Conservative resurgence in Cambridge as a result of Ms Allen’s presence?”
2010 was a low point for the Conservatives in Cambridge. Despite Cambridge City candidate Chamali Fernando working incredibly hard on the campaign, she scored over four thousand votes fewer than her predecessor candidate Nick Hillman. There are a number of reasons for this. They include:
- Lack of familiarity with the city compared to the other candidates
- Lack of local activists’ ‘boots on the ground’
- A split in the local party – with chairman Nick Clarke switching to UKIP
- Not being a national target seat
- Lack of a culture of active campaigning in their university student association
Ms Allen said prior to the election in an interview with me that she would be focusing her efforts on wards in and around Cambridge (have a watch here) if she were elected. Now that she has been elected, and given her very personable disposition, I expect over the next few years it will begin to pay dividends not just in Queen Edith’s but in others as well. For Queen Edith’s – a traditional Liberal Democrat stronghold, this will be a further challenge for a local party recovering from the loss of Dr Huppert as Cambridge MP.
How will Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens respond?
We’ve got a by-election already in June following the resignation of Kilian Bourke. Given the national results, I’m sure the post-election membership surges for the three parties will have had some impact inside the city – especially the Liberal Democrats. The expected candidates as per Phil Rodgers:
Here’s how things turned out in Romsey in May 2015 -> with Anna Smith elected. Having met Ms Martin and being friends with Mrs Moghadas, we’ve got two strong candidates from the top two parties. Also, expect The Greens to poll well too – especially given their victory in Market Ward with Cllr Oscar Gillespie. I think Mrs Moghadas will win due to being a former city councillor and residents being familiar with her. That said, in Ms Martin the Liberal Democrats have got an energised and personable and relatively young candidate (as Cambridgeshire County Councillors go!) – so much depends on how actively her and fellow Liberal Democrats campaign.
A changing constituency attached to a growing (overheating?) city in a time of further spending cuts
It’s not going to be a walk in the park given the challenges facing Cambridge. Ms Allen has identified housing as the biggest issue for her. The urgency is underlined by the comments from planning inspectors to the Cambridge/South Cambs local plan – see here. Some of her constituents in surrounding villages are not going to like being told that they have to allocate more rural land for housing. Furthermore, The Chancellor is expected to announce a new budget in July which is likely to have even further cuts to government spending – cuts which Ms Allen will be expected to support as a backbench MP of the governing party. Although from Parliament’s perspective it’s unheard of for a backbench MP to vote against their party line on a budget vote, Cambridge Labour skilfully and ruthlessly exploited Dr Huppert’s voting record on Coalition budgets.
Will this mean that Ms Allen and Mr Zeichner will be loggerheads for the next five years?
Unlikely. For a start Ms Allen isn’t a fundamentalist dyed-in-the-wool career politician. I expect she will be far more pragmatic than her predecessor. As for Mr Zeichner, although he has a long record as a candidate for Labour – winning after four unsuccessful campaigns in Cambridge & Norfolk, he’s not the ‘attack dog’ type of politician. When I look back at the many hustings he took part in against Dr Huppert, very rarely did he make personal attacks on Dr Huppert. It was local councillors & activists who were far more aggressive online.
One of the more interesting things to watch out for will be which parties can establish a local presence in the new housing estates that continue to spring up in and around Cambridge. Without the long and established histories of the surrounding villages, these could be the places where the other parties can establish a strong presence.
Given the impact of their student campaigning machine in Cambridge, will Cambridge Universities Labour Club ‘bank’ the Cambridge City result and start regular campaigns in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire? Because just as Ms Allen’s presence in South Cambridgeshire could open some doors to the Conservatives in Cambridge, the growth of Cambridge City beyond the parliamentary boundaries could open lots more doors not just to Labour, but to a resurgent Liberal Democrats and even the Greens, who between Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire are heading towards 1,000 members.
We live in interesting times…