Cambridge and South Cambs turn out in the European Parliament elections

Summary: Some very surprising results as voters turnout in and around Cambridge was far higher than average – at 48%.

Cambridge:

South Cambridgeshire:

A grim night for Tories and Labour nationwide.

In East England, Nigel’s BXP replaced UKIP MEPs like-for-like. Expected given the nature of the campaign. But the Conservatives lost two of their three MEPs and Labour surprisingly lost their MEP Alex Mayer.

Results: Labour’s vote collapsed, leading to the surprising loss of Alex Mayer who at times had to cover for many absentee MEPs in the European Parliament as voters returned Euro-sceptic MEPs in 2014.

Greens and Lib Dems gain significantly in Cambridge & South Cambridgeshire

– leading to one new Green MEP (Prof Catherine Rowett) and two new Liberal Democrat MEPS, Cllrs Barbara Gibson and Lucy Nethsingha – the latter currently a councillor in Newnham for both councils in Cambridge.

Professor Catherine Rowett MEP (Professor of Philosophy at the University of East Anglia) polled over 200,000 votes for The Greens in the East of England on the back of a very strong showing in the local government elections earlier this month. (She’s on Twitter at https://twitter.com/catherinerowett).

Alongside her are Cllrs Barbara Gibson and Lucy Nethsingha for the Liberal Democrats

In 2017 Cllr Nethsingha stood as a parliamentary candidate for the Liberal Candidates next door to Cambridge in South East Cambridgeshire. This was my interview with her following the hustings in Waterbeach – standing room only despite the pouring rain outside.

Above – Cllr Lucy Nethsingha on Brexit and local issues raised by residents.

“Why did Labour’s vote implode in Cambridge City? I thought that was becoming a safe Labour seat?”

Cambridge is a safe seat for no one – over the past 30 years the constituency seat has been held by MPs from each of the main parties, including the Tories. Majorities can be misleading. Dr Julian Huppert’s majority in 2010 was nearly 7,000 but that was wiped out in the 2015 general election in a very tightly fought election. Daniel Zeichner MP beat Dr Huppert in the rematch in 2017 with a majority of over 12,000. But that is no guarantee that he’ll keep hold of the seat in the face of such policy uncertainty and inconsistency from the top of the Labour Party.

Statement by shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry MP indicating internal polling showed it was going to be a very difficult night for Labour.

“Are Cambridge Labour doomed?”

Not at all.

“But they got fewer votes than Nigel-Club-Party!”

This was the result of the residual UKIP and Conservative vote which together at a general election is over 10,000 votes. At the EU Referendum in 2016, 15,000 residents (26%) voted to leave the EU. So given the implosion of the Conservative vote in this election – they did no significant organised campaigning – over 5,000 people voting for the new leavers’ on the block isn’t that much of a surprise.

General elections are very different beasts compared with European elections and local council elections. For a start, First-Past-The-Post / winner takes all nature of parliamentary elections means that votes in ‘safe seats’ effectively don’t count – and voters in those areas soon learn this. Take Saffron Walden who, between the 1929 Stock Market Crash and the EU Referendum have only ever had three members of Parliament – all Conservative. Furthermore, the turnout in these EU elections was in the 30-50%, while in general elections it’s generally 60-70%.

What will be of concern to Cambridge Labour is that their strong message on being pro-Remain at a local level did not prove to be reassuring to nearly enough voters in pro-Remain Cambridge. Expect some difficult internal conversations and feedback from local constituencies to party HQ.

“Thumpingly good results for the Lib Dems and The Greens?”

Absolutely.

Again I voted Greens in these elections (I think I’ve always been a tree-hugging eco-warrior at heart, ever since I got hold of the Blue Peter Green Book in 1989) – I had assumed Labour had a strong enough loyal vote for Alex Mayer to keep her seat for Labour. As it turned out, such was the swing towards The Greens and The Lib Dems that the final seat in the East of England was a battle between what was left of the once mighty Conservatives and Labour.

The Lib Dems are ecstatic with two MEPs following the loss of longtime MEP and former Cambridge Councillor Andrew Duff in 2014 – effectively to UKIP. The lonely experience of the Coalition years makes their recent successes all the more satisfying for those that went through that experience and stuck the course. Note we are also starting to see the Lib Dems deploying the talents and skills of party members  who joined after the 2015 implosion.

Victories like this don’t happen by accident – it’s the result of a lot of hard work on cold, wet evenings over an extended period of time.

“So…does that mean Cambridge will become a Lib Dem seat at the next general election?”

Not automatically – the Lib Dems will have to move very quickly on the back of this result to increase their chances. The reason being while they have a very strong ground operation in the seats that they hold on Cambridge City Council, it is also almost non-existent in safe Labour seats such as Coleridge, Cherry Hinton and Romsey. In each of those wards, Labour have a slate of hard working councillors with very deep local roots from which to draw from. At the same time, Labour’s NEC will need to move quickly to stem the losses by coming up with a much more clear policy position on the EU. There’s no point in trying to out-Brexit the Brexit Party. The Tories tried that and now look at them. The longer Labour at a national level prevaricates over their EU policy in the minds of the public – and that includes having shadow ministers presenting different policies as party policy in the media, the more votes they will lose to other Remain parties.

“What about Change UK?”

Over 1,300 in Cambridge, nearly 4,000 in South Cambridgeshire – Heidi Allen’s constituency. Which means the Liberal Democrats will need to decide whether they come to an electoral pact (i.e. Change UK recommending a vote for the Lib Dems in Cambridge in return for not standing against Heidi Allen in South Cambridgeshire – knowing that those 1,300 votes might be the difference between Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Cambridge), or see Change UK as a movement that needs crushing in its infancy in order to sweep up their members.

Essentially the party made far far too many unforced errors. They got caught by doing the opposite of what Nigel did with BXP. They should have gone with “Remain UK” or similar as their brand, and focused on that stating they would develop other policies in more detail once Brexit was sorted. They also could have adopted a line of “We’re not interested in what the other parties are saying or doing, our audience is [insert description of their target audience] and concentrated on opposing Brexit rather than getting into spats with other pro-Remain parties. Furthermore, their branding was incredibly weak despite the resources they were able to put into it.

“Disappointing – disastrous even for Change UK?”

This was the message they should have gotten out at the start – and repeated it:

Above – Neil Carmichael (Change UK No.2 candidate in East England) – three reasons on why their party exists.

It’s also worth noting that a significant social media spend by Change UK did not pay dividends – see the thread here. They will need to discuss between them why.

My take is that a lot of people showed a lot of courage to stand up and be counted to get involved in a new political party – especially given the relative fizzling out of the likes of Renew Party and the Women’s Equality Party in progressive circles in recent times. Take a look at the results in London.

190527 London region EU votes 2019.jpeg

Over 23,000 votes across London is a lot of votes, but it was still 2,000 fewer than the Animal Welfare Party. Nearly 120,000 for Change UK is a huge amount of votes – but they needed double that to get an MEP seat where they had a number of high profile supporters and a handful of very strong candidates. Can they hold things together there?

“What should/could they do now?”

As a very new party they need to convene a party conference and commission expert group facilitators to thrash out their agreed values and the new policies that stem from them. Because if it descends into a big political in-fighting event, it will make those who wanted to get involved in a ‘new’ way of doing politics even more put off than they were before.

“Will there be any changes on local democracy in and around Cambridge?”

Part of it will depend on what sort of presence the new MEPs want to have. With three MEPs noting the very large number of votes their parties got (nearly 18,000 for The Greens, and over 37,000 for the Liberal Democrats on a 48% turnout – compared with 7,000 for Labour & 6,000 for Conservatives) there’s a big incentive to have a higher media presence for a start. Given the resource and financial support that the European Parliament gives to MEPs, they’ll want to get their operations up and running as quickly as possible knowing that there’s a chance that it could all disappear by 31 October if the UK ends up crashing out without a deal. And as things stand, that is the legal default – the ultimate destination if whoever replaces Theresa May as Prime Minister sits back and does nothing. If a pro-No Deal Brexiteer takes office, the only thing that can stop them is a Vote of No Confidence and a general election returning a pro-Remain government prepared to revoke Article 50. Given that turnout in the EU Parliament elections in England was noticeably higher in pro-Remain areas (plus those EU citizens who were able to vote – aside from the scandal of those not able to vote), there is no guarantee that a second EU Referendum would result in a victory for the Pro-Remain side.

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