Delighted for Daniel, gutted for Julian.
I’ve posted a few tweets having found out the results. I ran out of mental health spoons so didn’t make it to the count. I made it to the railway station on the bus before getting off & turning back. I knew I couldn’t hack staying up till 7am as I had done this time last year when me and Puffles thumped Nigel and co at the ballot box. So I’m covering the local council count from lunchtime later – after another sleep!
*****Gutted gutted gutted***** for Julian
Totally. I’ve got to know Julian well over the past five years – starting with conversations on the Cambridge-Kings Cross train on our commutes during my civil service days. Julian’s defeat in my opinion had little to do with him. Despite being part of the coalition (signed off by the party – see here – you can’t blame Clegg alone), Huppert lost just over 1,500 votes – a tiny amount given the thumping their incumbent MPs got.
“So…why did Julian lose?”
Not enough of his core vote bothered to turn out & vote. Have a look at the turnout – just 62.1%. Now, either we have a really rubbish system of record-keeping with turnover of population, or too many people who might otherwise have sympathised with him – in particular in the science communities – did not respond to the call when Julian needed them most. Given the work Julian’s done for Cambridge’s science community – and for science policy in general, he deserved far better than this. On the plus side, it might be the wake up call Cambridge’s science community needs to get scientists engaging in democracy, and not just public policy.
In the final week, tactically Cambridge Liberal Democrats started panicking – and made a number of errors under pressure. A number of people around me mentioned that this smacked of desperation on the part of the party, & reflected badly on Julian. Concerns about direct emails (use of & content within), to the deluge of leaflets unnecessarily irritated people who might otherwise have sympathised with him. (This is going by numerous conversations I’ve had with people in my community in South Cambridge).
The successive years of defeats at local elections also meant that the network of councillors Julian had in the run up to 2010 were simply not there in 2015. Thus the casework that normally binds councillors to communities was not there – instead taken on by their Labour opponents.
Julian starts the hustings strongly
I followed the campaigns of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and The Greens closely over the past few years. Note my blogpost this time last year. Julian started off the more confident in the hustings and public debates, reeling off achievements effortlessly & batting off criticisms with relative ease. He won over the business communities with ease, and performed well in the various sustainability-related hustings. The first hustings where he came unstuck was the Priced Out hustings on housing. (See here filmed by Richard Taylor) where he took political hits for his votes on the Bedroom Tax. As Daniel knew a fair bit about housing policy, this was the first time people noticed things getting heated. Then Owen Jones turned up.
‘It woz Owen Jones wot wun it!’
Author & campaigning journalist Owen Jones spoke to a massive audience in Cambridge – see here. In that audience as well as Cambridge University Labour Club members were dozens of undecided voters that could easily have gone to Julian or to Rupert Read of the Green Party. Jones’ talk convinced many not just to vote for Labour, but to actively campaign for them. As a result, Cambridge Universities Labour Club were able to mobilise several dozen activists for regular campaigning sessions across the city.
Campaign rally at Trinity College Cambridge for CULC
The only way Julian was able to mobilise similar numbers was when Liberal Youth campaigners from across the country came over for a campaigning weekend. As a couple of local Lib Dem activists said to me very recently, CULC was ‘a machine’.
Conspicuous by their presence were numbers of energised, informed & talented young women – such as Holly Higgins in this video who was an absolute dynamo. The other parties simply could not compete with the ‘ground war’ in Cambridge. As Daniel correctly predicted in the interview below, it was the students & young people that helped tip that balance.
Previous interviews I had done with Daniel felt more tense. This was the first interview I did with him where I felt something had changed – he was more relaxed & more confident than I had ever seen him. I detected that this was the first time he believed in his heart of hearts that he could defeat Julian. And so it turned out to be.
“What about The Conservatives?”
Chamali Fernando’s campaign didn’t get off to the best of starts – in particular accusations relating to what she was alleged to have said about treating people with mental health. In the grand scheme of things, I thought she made the best of being caught between a rock and a hard place. Getting over 8,000 votes in this climate is a reasonable score. But should she have been selected in the first place? Why could the Conservatives locally not find a local activist – or run an open primary that they ran successfully last time? The defection of Nick Clarke, former Conservative leader of Cambridgeshire County Council to UKIP didn’t help as far as headlines were concerned.
What was noticeable about the Conservatives was the almost complete lack of local familiar faces going door-to-door or street campaigning. It was lucky for the party that Chamali was able to draw on a wide network of friends, family & activists from beyond the city to support her campaign. Although I think she was not the right candidate for Cambridge, she deserved far better from her party than she got. The Conservative Party in Cambridge & nationally will need to ask themselves why, despite getting 12,000 votes in 2010 and 8,000+ in 2015 they have such a weak presence in Cambridge city. This article about Cambridge University Conservative Association shows that all isn’t well campaigning-wise with their student branch either.
And yet, despite all of this it looks like the Conservatives will be in government again, either as a minority government, a coalition with one of the parties in Northern Ireland, or with the most slender of majorities. Chamali is young, ambitious, clearly very bright and will have learnt a lot about politics and campaigning as a result of her campaign in Cambridge. (She’s a barrister by profession, not a ‘career politician’ in the narrow sense). Expect to see her in the future.
“…and The Greens?”
Rupert Read did for the Greens what the Greens needed: They needed a candidate who could take the fight to their opponents, raise the profile of the local party and be the ‘lightning conductor’ for anything that was thrown back. No one else put their name forward as parliamentary candidate for Cambridge. Yet at the same time, they needed someone who was not going to be a quiet voice. Rupert didn’t disappoint.
Inevitably, Rupert’s personality didn’t sit well with everyone – sometimes upsetting people & groups that might otherwise be sympathetic. As a result, some votes were lost – perhaps needlessly/carelessly.
At the same time, Rupert ran a strong social media campaign (for which I provided some free video footage for), one that influenced the other parties to try similar. The number of ‘views’ and minutes viewed on my Youtube page shows a reasonably high level of success, with videos featuring The Greens getting dozens if not hundreds of views over the past month.
The challenge Cambridge Greens now face is this: What is their ‘post Rupert strategy’? Rupert works at the University of East Anglia in Norwich, so unless he moves permanently to Cambridge I assume he’ll be returning to work there. As things stand, I’ve not identified anyone who strikes me as ‘figurehead in waiting’ to pick up the reins from Rupert. That said, with over 400 people having joined The Greens in the past year in Cambridge, and another 300 in South Cambridgeshire there may well be some new activists who are ready to be the local media’s ‘go-to’ person.
Given their European result (over 5,000 votes) I was expecting an even higher score for Patrick O’Flynn MEP, and for the Greens too. But they saved their deposit. It will be interesting to see how they score in the local election results later today. Will it be concentrated in their target wards or will it be more evenly spread?
“What does this all mean for Cambridge?”
I’ll need to sleep on that. But for now, I’d like to personally thank the local parties for making the campaigns in Cambridge far more exciting than what the national parties came up with! And thank you for letting me film and for all of the interviews. Best wishes for the future!