Byelection News Roundup No.1

It’s just over four weeks until our City Council by-election here in Queen Edith’s, on Thursday 13th November, and there are a few pieces of news to round up. Firstly, the nomination period for candidates has closed, and we now know there will be four candidates standing, representing the same four parties as most of the recent elections here. There are no independent and no UKIP candidates. Here’s the official list, to be published on Monday:


I have already requested information from the candidates, and will be publishing a full guide next week.

The Saga Of The Previous Councillor

This by-election has been necessitated by the resignation of Sue Birtles, the Labour councillor who we elected in May 2012. Sue’s resignation was not accompanied by any official explanation, just a statement in the local Labour party newsletter that the announcement “followed her selection as Labour’s parliamentary candidate for South Cambridgeshire in the general election”. The same wording also found its way into the Cambridge News.

However, Sue became the parliamentary candidate back in April, and was certainly not considering resigning as recently as late June, when she was elected chair of the South Area Committee. So at the committee meeting this wek, I asked in public for an explanation, which I think we are due, given that recent by-elections have cost as much as ?8,500 of public money. Labour councillors briefly conferred, and said that the resignation was “for personal reasons”, a completely acceptable – but somewhat different – explanation.

Yesterday we found out that Sue was no longer the parliamentary candidate either! Again, there was no official announcement – the news slipped out through a Twitter conversation:


This seems a strange way of the news being made public, but the city Labour party (which covers Sue’s council position) hasn’t been updating its website even monthly, and in South Cambridgeshire I don’t believe the Labour party has a website at all. So we perhaps shouldn’t be surprised. I like Sue, and think she has been a good councillor for Queen Edith’s, so she deserves better than the way this has been handled.

What To Ask The Candidates

There are four weekends until the by-election, and I expect there’ll be a lot of doorstep campaigning during that time. If you get a visit from a prospective candidate, what issues should you be raising with them? It’s important to note that in this area, responsibilities are split between different councils (city and county), so although city councillors may be able to progress issues about, say, parking, it’s not their direct responsibility, and there’s no point in asking candidates “how they’d vote” on many subjects. These then are the responsibilities of the city council, and if you have strong views on any of them, you should be asking visiting candidates for their opinions.

– Housing
– Leisure and entertainment
– Rubbish and recycling collections
– Licensing
– Planning and building control
– Council Tax collection
– Environmental health services

I expect the local “Save The Green Belt” campaign to question the candidates hard on their views, and in particular their parties’ track record.

22 Replies to “Byelection News Roundup No.1”

  1. I am more concerned at the moment by the felling of all the Silver Plane trees on the S.W side of the Bell site, along with the removal of many mature trees on the Southern side. According to the local Plan of 2005′ these were sites to be preserved for wlld life. If you believe in Councillors, planner, builders or pledges, you must clap your hands, as when Tinkerbell has to be saved in Peter Pan- we all believe in fairies, don’t we?
    “Retention and enhancement of the existing mature parameter vegetation is encouraged where practicable, in particular development must be sensitive to the southern and western boundaries which are designated City Wildlife Sites”
    So why are the Plane trees felled and most of the Southern boundary trees removed – what was a thick and dense boundary is now like a nearly toothless 17th C. peasant’s mouth!
    We vote – we do not get heard.
    Do9 “they” think that we do not remember what was stated a mere 9 years ago?

  2. Queen Edith’s and Trumpington have been lined up as the sacrificial lambs on the altar of the city’s growth, with local councillors apparently unwilling or unable to do anything about it e.g.

    There is an interesting article in the October newsletter from Cambridge Cycling Campaign about how Barton, Granchester, Coton and Madingley Parish Councils have got together to create the ‘Quarter to Six Quadrant’ (think map) aiming to “position themselves as the ?green lungs? of Cambridge, presumably with a view to forestalling unwelcome future developments”. Landowners have been persuaded to create permissive bridleways, signage has been installed, maps and leaflets printed and distributed. You can find out more here:

    We should be able to expect *our* local representatives to work together to create a vision for *our* area and underpin that vision with practical improvements that will improve the life of residents in *our* ward. Instead we get – what exactly? If you are lucky enough to get a doorstep visit in the next few weeks, maybe ask the candidate what their vision is and how they propose to achieve it. It might be more significant than their views on rubbish and recycling collections …

  3. Rosemary is right to be concerned about the destruction of the hedgerows round the Bell School site. I have written to the council’s nature conservation officer and to local councillors – I’d recommend that others do the same. I fear it shows what happens when developers cut loose on the environment and underlines the importance of maintaining the green belt.

  4. I feel for Sue Birtles. I think she’s been honest, helpful and has supported her Ward well.

    My gut feel is that she has paid the penalty for standing up to the party whip and supporting her local residents on the proposed sacrifice of yet more protected Green Belt land.

    I’ve heard and read complaints that she didn’t resign prior to the May elections, when her Ward could have gone to the polls together with the others, and not have resulted in a further cost of ?8,500 cost to run another election. I don’t believe this is her fault at all. Whilst the Cambridge Labour party couldn’t afford to have her resign prior to the May elections when the majority in the Council might not be certain, as soon as they were secure and knew they no longer relied upon her seat in Queen Ediths, she mysteriously disappears. My expectation is that once the City Council majority was confirmed, her death knell as a Labour Councillor was sounded.

    I was doorstepped by a young Labour Party supporter this morning handing out leaflets for Ms Ahammed, and when I asked what had happened to Sue, he trotted out the hackneyed old line “She wants to spend more time with her family…” I didn’t realise people did actually use that old euphemism – I thought it was just a Yes Minister gag. When I dug a little deeper, he said that “She found the stress too much” which, if true, would have meant that she would never have been put forward as the Parliamentary Candidate. Smoke screen after smoke screen.

    In my view she’s clearly suffered for doing the job she was elected to do – namely represent the interests of her local community.

    Another great day for representative politics…*sigh*

  5. Local election for local issues – those that can be influenced at a local level.

    So, what have the candidates done for our ward?

    Viki Sanders has already been an active Lib Dem Councilor and shown her hard work and worth to the ward. She is standing for the second time, and lives and works in our ward – she grew up here and raised her children here – she understands our local issues.
    I asked our Conservative candidate who could remember nothing that he has done for Queen Edith’s ward, nothing at all.
    Has the Labour candidate helped us in any way? I know of none. I have seen no practical campaigns about local issues.

    Local democracy is important to our community. Being a Councilor is hard work. Getting local improvements requires persistence, good support and determination.
    I know who I’m voting for – the only person with a local track record as a local Councilor, who lives and works in the ward – its Viki Sanders for me.

  6. I have thought long and hard about how, and whether to make a public response to the postings relating to my resignation from the council and the parliamentary candidacy. I would say firstly that I have been very heartened by all the emails and public comments about my time serving my ward. Many thanks to Chris and Jeremy for their postings on this blog, and their insightful thoughts on my situation. I can honestly say that I loved my ward and the people that I met and voted for me as their Cllr. This in itself was probably my downfall. Jeremy Jones is not far off the mark in his analysis (above). I can only assume that the canvasser that knocked on his door had been briefed to speak as he/she did – they certainly did not know me, and probably had no knowledge of my situation. I did consider crossing the floor to be an Independent Cllr, however, I was conscious that I had been voted in on a party ticket. I am in the ward every day as I am continuing to work at the hospital and would be very happy to meet up with anyone who might wish to do so.

  7. Thank you Chris – and Jeremy for seeing it. I also note that my name still appears on the national Labour website as the selected candidate – I am still getting emails from the wider constituency as a result.

  8. If only Sue Birtles had decided to stand as an Independent this time! She has been a brave and active councillor. It took guts to try to support the Green Belt Campaign and go against the party line. It was also so refreshing to have someone break the Lib Dem strangle hold on this ward and someone who cared about the views of the ward. It is disappointing too that John Beresford is not standing in her place. We must try to establish which of the candidates really will try to save the green belt.

  9. I think that our area has suffered destruction of a big part of the “Green Belt” by the building and extensions of Addenbrookes. It seems incredible that this is not enough.

  10. Looking at today’s Cambridge News it is clear there is more than meets the eye. I could understand resigning on a point of principle and saying so at the time and many do, but that did not happen. The use of green belt was put forward by Liberal Democrats in the City, and supported by Labour in the City though it is the Inspector who will have the final say. Seems to me this is more a personal thing and lives down to the low expectations of politicians stabbing each other in the back when they can. Seems very unfair to me to her party’s candidate to try and derail her at this time.

  11. I believe that by keeping her reasons to herself, we now see that Sue was being commendably loyal to her party and colleagues. The fact that the story has come out now is due to the inevitable questioning which was always likely to come up during the by-election campaign, something which was always a risk to those who wanted it kept under wraps. For a resignation, this was about as far from “politicians stabbing each other in the back” as it gets.

  12. This came out into the open because of the astute observations of residents on this site – and I certainly wish the new candidate well. She was not involved previously and will have no knowledge of the history of this. I do note however, that she is receiving city support and I therefore hope that the party have learned lessons from this. I have had many messages of support from my former colleagues (including public observation from those close to QE that this was not made available to me) and residents in the ward and I am very grateful that they took the time to do so. I have met many committed Councillors from both parties and it is true that it is very demanding – and also rewarding – and all parties should support those that take on this role in their name.

  13. In response to Tim Moore: so what you’re saying is, the coming acres of paved-over Green Belt won’t have potholes on your watch? Thanks, but that’s not good enough.

    The Addenbrooke’s 2040 blueprint includes building out all the way to Granham’s Road. Should fit nicely with the housing on Wort’s Causeway …

  14. Everyone is entitled to their own view but to be honest mine has not changed. I don’t rate any politician highly and most resign for a mixture of reasons. Even if the City showed no support, it seems very odd to then resign as PPC for a different constituency a few months before a general election than stand up and fight for the green belt on principle. Besides, most of us only get to hear whatever ‘either’ side wants us to know and, for the vast majority, the petty squabbles in any organisation are just that – petty – whilst the real issues of principle like the green belt are ignored. I imagine Ms Birtles will have her supporters and her detractors and it seems a great pity and highly self indulgent to play it all out in public and on Twitter. Let’s just move on and concentrate on the next stage of the Local Plan.

  15. Thanks for your comments Simon – I don’t intend to keep responding – but I was invited to respond in the first instance on this site – and my comments were in relation to my standing down at a by election and the cost of this – when in fact I had wanted to go in May. The reasons for resigning as PPC were entirely different and I haven’t commented on that at all. I take on board that perhaps I should have continued to be silent – but at least for me it is now in the past and we can all move on. I was of course slightly misquoted in the press – but such is the way of things. I wish the candidate all the luck in the world and I do think that she will have a different experience.

  16. So we can now see that all this fuss (and the loss of a good councillor) is another unwanted consequence arising from having an integral part of the city (Queen Edith’s) arbitrarily allocated to the South Cambridgeshire parliamentary constituency, rather than the city constituency. This is something which is crying out to be fixed when another round of boundary changes comes up, as it inevitably will. I do appreciate that the city constituency can’t accommodate all the council wards, but throwing out Queen Edith’s when other wards are further away from the city centre and have more of a village feel (I’m looking at you, Cherry Hinton) makes little sense. However, I don’t suppose we shall get any enthusiasm for changes from the ruling group on the city council while Cherry Hinton continues to return three Labour councillors.

  17. Having said that I would not comment again – I should say that there was of course support from committed party members and activists in Queen Edith’s – it is not possible to run a campaign without others! There are many members who helped and gave up time to help and I do feel my previous post did not acknowledge that. So open apologies to all those fantastic residents of both constituency Labour parties.

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