I’ve just read local blogger Phil Rodgers’ excellent preview of the forthcoming City Council elections in Cambridge, and if you’re interested in local politics elsewhere in the city, I’d thoroughly recommend it. As far as prospects go in Queen Edith’s, Phil writes: “The Lib Dems managed a convincing comeback last year, and should hold on again this time”, and history would suggest that to be a reasonable prediction. However, in 2012, Queen Edith’s provided the most surprising result in the whole of Cambridge when it elected its first-ever Labour councillor, and it got me wondering: could our ward provide a shock again?
I’m not suggesting a Labour win here: that would hardly be a shock now. The real long shot? A Green Party gain.
Here’s how it might work. Firstly, we can expect a turnout of about 2,600 to 2,800. In addition to a possible increased Green Party vote, I expect the local Conservative Party to put up a much better show than usual. Last year they barely bothered in Queen Edith’s, but already this year there are signs that there’ll be some campaigning. So it’s possible that the ward could become a 4-way fight, and the winning candidate might only need around 800 votes.
Now, previous elections where the Green Party had just a paper candidate showed that there are 150-200 votes which it can rely on without even trying. So the party needs to find at least 600 new voters. Could it achieve this?
One of the issues in Queen Edith’s in the last year or so has been the proposed housing development on Wort’s Causeway, which gave birth to the Save The Green Belt campaign, largely based in the ward. It’s a very important issue to a small but vociferous and well-organised group of residents, who have an extensive mailing list. Already, some of the candidates in the forthcoming election are hoping to get some votes by claiming to be on the side of the campaigners – but this has merely served to make some of the campaigners rather irritated. It’s well known that the Liberal Democrats pushed through the Local Plan which contained the recommendation to build on Wort’s Causeway, and that the Conservatives on the County Council seem to be gleefully making plans to implement it, even ahead of the Inspector’s report. And at least one member of the city’s Labour Party has been almost abusive to the campaign in his disagreement with its aims. The Save The Green Belt campaigners know full well that they do not have the unqualified support of any of the three establishment parties.
There is no doubt, in my mind, that the Green Party could grab the votes of almost all of the local residents concerned about Green Belt development. With the support of the campaign itself, that could easily account for a couple of hundred new votes.
Secondly, I think there might be a handful of votes coming to the Green Party from that most unlikely of sources, UKIP voters. Although Queen Edith’s is not especially receptive to UKIP’s attraction, a number of voters will probably turn out to register their “protest” UKIP vote in the European elections. And what will they then do when faced with a UKIP-free ballot paper for the City Council? The Green Party seems the obvious choice for the casual protest voter.
Thirdly, there has never been a better chance for an outsider in Queen Edith’s. The extremely popular Liberal Democrat councillor Jean Swanson is retiring, so there are no past or present Councillors on the ballot paper. Some of the candidates have stood unsuccessfully before, but that’s hardly an advantage. The ward is faced with new names or previous losers.
The fourth and final part of the jigsaw, however, is where this could all fall down for the Green Party. They need to put in the effort and resources. And to date, there’s been no sign of that happening. The Lib Dem machine is whirring into action, we’ve had literature from the Conservatives (which we don’t always get), and Labour have been campaigning since last year (although they seem to have changed candidate now). The Green Party aren’t giving their candidate much support (yet): I can’t find anything online about him, and as yet I’ve seen no literature or canvassing. It’s getting late.
I should stress that even if everything was in place, a Green Party win in Queen Edith’s would be an outside bet. But I doubt they will ever have a better chance here, and it would be a shame for the political neutral if they didn’t get some resources in and give it a go.