Cambridgeshire local elections



Outside the Cambridge bubble, Conservatives take control of the county. What now for Labour and the Liberal Democrats?

The Conservatives have retaken political control of Cambridgeshire County Council, which they lost in 2013. They now have 36 of the 61 seats at Shire Hall – a reduced total of councillors due to the boundary changes instigated by David Cameron to ‘reduce the cost of politics’. Labour have seven seats, and the Liberal Democrats gain one, now with 15. The Cambridge city vs Cambridgeshire County political split remains – there are no Conservative councillors at city level inside Cambridge City.

The thing that struck me about the Conservative vote is that their most prominent and hardest-working candidate, Julius Carrington, got the fewest number of votes for his party in the most affluent ward in the city – Newnham. That ward is something of a Liberal Democrat stronghold. The Conservative vote was twice as strong in some of the most economically deprived wards of the city – places where in the grand scheme of things they stood ‘paper candidates’ – ie candidates that did not do any public campaigning. For Cambridge Green Party, they seem to have been beaten back to their roots by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, but still took over 3,000 votes across the city – polling nearly 500 votes in Market and Petersfield wards where they had two competent and articulate candidates in Jeremy Caddick and Virgil Ieurubino respectively.

Was it/wasn’t it a good day for Labour/The Liberal Democrats?

It depends who you ask. In terms of councillors, Labour taking 7 of the 12 vs the Lib Dems taking 5 of the 12 puts things in favour of Labour. On the other hand, the total number of votes in the city were ever so slightly ahead for the Liberal Democrats. That means both sides will be taking heart from the results, promoting the positives and diminishing the negatives. The third contest in seven years between Daniel Zeichner and Julian Huppert will go to the wire.

What about turnout?

It was noticeably higher in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire for the mayoral elections – won as expected by James Palmer for the Conservatives, though the other parties did push him to the second round.

As an aside – what about the mayoral contest?

If I’m ****really**** honest, James Palmer was the only candidate who both really seemed to want the post and was able to articulate what he would do if elected. The other candidates were never able to articulate the specifics of what they would do county-wide in comparison. The particular advantage Mr Palmer had over his opponents – in particular Kevin Price of Labour and Rod Cantrill for the Liberal Democrats is that as a county council, he had more working familiarity with county-wide issues – and also area-specific issues that he could name-check at hustings. The risk that Cllr Price had to deal with was going beyond simply stating ‘I achieved £70m for council houses in Cambridge, I’ll negotiate the same outside Cambridge.’  The feedback I’ve had from politicians outside of Cambridge is that residents there don’t see civic Cambridge and its politicians in the best of lights. The problem that hampered Cllr Cantrill in my view is that vs Mr Palmer, he seemed much less committed to specific transport schemes – such as the proposed Cambridge light rail idea developed by Dr Colin Harris. It will be interesting to see how Dr Harris and Mr Palmer work together to develop the proposals. Campaigners supporting Cllr Cantrill said their concern was that Mr Palmer was making commitments – spending commitments that he would not be able to keep. Time will tell.

Back to turnout?

Higher in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire

South Cambridgeshire pipping Cambridge City for the highest turnout

Reasonable for a local elections contest – turnout was lower in East Cambridgeshire, Fenland and Huntingdonshire.

What will this new county council look like?

UKIP vanquished by the Conservatives – all 12 UKIP councillors gone

It won’t have UKIP, and it will have a Conservative majority. That means it will be far easier for the Conservatives to get their agendas through the chamber. It also means that the otherwise toxic relationship that existed between the Conservative councillors and UKIP councillors is now no longer there – with all UKIP councillors losing their seats. Even I was surprised by this – I was expecting both Paul Bullen and Peter Reeve (who was recently awarded an MBE for services to local government) to hold their seats.

New & returning faces for Labour and the Liberal Democrats

The retirements of Paul Sales and Ashley Walsh (hardly a retirement for the latter, who is due to complete his Ph.D soon and is still in his 20s!) meant the door was open for new candidates for Labour in relatively safe seats of Arbury and Petersfield. The voters elected new candidate Linda Jones, and Jocelynne Scutt – the latter having moved sideways from West Chesterton – now merged with East Chesterton to form ‘Chesterton’, won by Ian Manning in a close contest with Labour’s Kelley Green. We also see a new face in King’s Hedges – Elisa Meschini, replacing Fiona Onasanya who is now Labour’s MP candidate in Peterborough. Surprise of the morning was the gain of Castle from Independent John Hipkin, by Claire Richards. Only 40 votes separated the top three candidates. (And only one of them had an intro video made by me – the winner. Just sayin’!)

In Market Ward we see the return of Nichola Harrison for the Liberal Democrats after several years away from all things local government. Outside of Cambridge, Linton switched from Conservatives to Liberal Democrats with Henry Batchelor taking Roger Hickford’s old seat – the latter successfully contesting one of the two seats in the neighbouring division of Sawston & the Shelfords.

Double-hatting – yes or no?

There are a number of councillors that sit on county, district and parish councils. This tells me that there is something structurally wrong with local government in our county. Parties should not need to do this, though I can understand why they do if the individuals concerned are particularly competent and the alternatives are thin on the ground. In Cambridge City, Lucy Nethsingha (Newnham) and Donald Adey (Trumpington) sit on both Cambridge City and Cambridgeshire County Councils. Donald Adey happens to be the other serving councillor who, alongside Cambridge City Council leader Lewis Herbert, lost 89 votes to Puffles the Dragon Fairy in Coleridge Ward in the 2014 Cambridge City Council elections. Few city councillors will ever be able to have that claim to fame! I don’t think any member of the public has ever asked them:

“You lost 89 votes to Puffles the dragon fairy – how can we be sure you’ll be a splendid councillor if you are going to go around losing votes to that pesky bag of fluff?”

Talking of colourful candidates, we missed the presence of Lord Toby Jug of the Eccentric Party in St Ives, Cambs in these elections.

A new generation of Conservative women

I would say I’ve been keeping a watchful eye on some of them but that sounds creepy. And they were the ones who started following Puffles in the first place, which is how I found out about some of them. Local MP Heidi Allen is mentoring a number of women in her party. One of them, Ruth Benson was elected in a by-election on Bourn ward, South Cambridgeshire District Council, which took place on the same day.

Returning to the county council benches are Anne Bailey in Ely, and Lynda Harford in Bar Hill. Samantha Hoy also returns for Wisbech in a hard-fought campaign against UKIP who until these elections had made significant gains in what was a Conservative heartland. Lina Joseph takes over the seat in Hardwick.

Near misses for people who stood out in the campaign

I was gutted for Sarah Cheung Johnson who missed out by a few hundred votes in Longstanton.

A progressive alliance could well have seen her take that seat.

Nicky Shepard also missed out in Abbey Ward against Joan Whitehead for Labour in what had been a safe Labour ward for several years.

There were only 75 votes between Labour and the Lib Dems in Abbey, Cambridge.

I was also sad for Labour’s Katie Thornburrow, a new face taking on the Liberal Democrats in Trumpington. She hit the ground running both campaigning and with social media – essential in what was a village but now a rapidly growing part of Cambridge with extensive new house building.

Katie came within 300 votes of the incumbent Liberal Democrats of taking Trumpington – something that could well be attributed to the performance and the policies of the national parties in recent times.

Newnham and Petersfield – strong slates of candidates

I was particularly impressed by the collective strength of the slates in Newnham and Petersfield in Cambridge. In both those divisions voters had a genuine choice between the candidates. Past records and policy preferences aside, there was no ‘automatic favourite’. For each, any one of three out of the four candidates would have made excellent county councillors.

Three who were unlucky – Emma Bates for the Liberal Democrats and Virgil Ierubino for the Greens, both in Petersfield, and Joe Dale for Labour in Newnham, all have huge potential as future councillors.

And finally…

Civic organisations outside of Cambridge need to stand up and be counted when it comes to future elections. The number of public debates and hustings organised – or rather publicised, was noticeably higher in Cambridge than outside. This was also the case in the general elections where candidates inside Cambridge took part in up to five times as many public debates as candidates in South Cambridgeshire and South East Cambridgeshire.

If you want to see things change in your village or town, around election time, get together with a few friends and/or a community group and organise a hustings/public debate. See Chris Rand’s guide. Simply said, create the conversation space. It might be that those turning up are inspired by the people that they meet and hear from. It might be that they become so frustrated by the people they hear from that they choose to stand themselves. This is exactly what happened with Lady Trumpington – onetime Cllr Jean Barker, Mayor of Cambridge in the 1970s. If you do organise something, make it easy for local media to come along too!


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