My view of the local elections in Queen Edith’s 2017: Part 3

The election for our County Councillor

There are two big local elections taking place here on 4th May, and these will now take place in the looming shadow of a General Election. I’ve already looked at the election for a Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayor. Today it’s the turn of the other election, for our County Councillor.

This election takes place every four years, and the post runs for four years. Our current County Councillor – Amanda Taylor – was elected in 2013, and she is standing for re-election. The Queen Edith’s County Councillor will join 60 other members on the next County Council, representing every part of the county. The responsibilities of the County Council include roads and transport, schools and colleges, libraries and social services. This means we’re electing someone as the only person who will represent us on issues which have divided opinion in recent years, such as roadworks, cycle lanes, parking and streetlighting. The County Council also sets the level of Council Tax.

Four candidates are standing:

  • Joel Chalfen (Green Party)
  • Manas Deb (Conservative Party)
  • Adam Pounds (Labour Party)
  • Amanda Taylor (Liberal Democrats)

Last week, there was a “Meet the Candidates” event at St John The Evangelist Church on Hills Road, which was attended by over 50 people, and which I was asked to moderate. If you’d like to watch the presentations, or just listen to them, there are recordings on the Queen Edith’s Community Forum site here. I’m also pleased to say there’s a preview featuring all of the candidates in the new issue of Queen Edith’s Community News, which should be delivered to you this week.

So what’s likely to happen? Blogger Phil Rodgers has analysed all the Cambridge divisions, and reckons Queen Edith’s is “the nearest thing the Lib Dems have to a safe seat in Cambridge”, although “in these post-Coalition days it certainly isn?t entirely safe”. Actually, I think things are nowhere near safe for the Liberal Democrats. There are three issues which make things rather uncertain:

  • The new Queen Edith’s boundaries for the County Council. These have brought in much of Cherry Hinton Road, the Lichfield Road area, and the Greystoke Road area. We have lost the western side of Hills Road, along with Luard Road and Sedley Taylor Road. The ‘old’ Queen Edith’s accounts for less than three-quarters of the new County Council division, and I reckon the net impact will be a significant increase in vote share for the Labour Party candidate, mainly at the expense of the Liberal Democrats.
  • Controversial local issues. Over the last four years we have seen poorly managed roadworks and cycle lanes, a disappointingly-consulted residents parking scheme and cuts in streetlighting. Most of these are the fault of the wider, Conservative-led, County Council and its officers. Councillor Taylor spoke out against some of them, but I still think that she might get caught in the fallout.
  • Party sentiment. Many of us think national issues should have nothing to do with local elections, but it’s clear that many people do vote on that basis. The candidates tell me that Brexit and Jeremy Corbyn certainly aren’t proving to be the main topics of conversation on doorsteps, which is good, but it must have some effect, especially now that a general election is looming. I’d expect this to favour the Liberal Democrats and perhaps the Conservatives.

As for the County Council as a whole, there is only one question: will the Conservative party get back the majority which it held for many years until 2013? While here in the city we tend to elect Labour and Liberal Democrat Councillors, it’s very different elsewhere. In some parts of the county, they elect nothing other than Conservatives. Before 2013, the County Council had a comfortable majority of Conservative councillors, with the opposition being made up almost entirely of Liberal Democrats. Four years ago at the last election, this comfortable arrangement was shattered, with the arrival from nowhere of 5 new Labour councillors, 4 Independents and no fewer than 11 members from UKIP. The result was a council with no single party in overall control, with four parties of decent size, and independents who have sometimes found themselves making the casting vote. Most importantly, the old ‘cabinet’ system of working, where decisions were made out of the public eye, was thrown out in favour of what has been a much more transparent way of decision-making.

That was, however, likely to have been a freak high point for UKIP. It’s widely thought that many of their existing councillors will lose their seats back to the Conservatives. Labour is highly unlikely to win any seats outside of the city, so the only real challenge to the return of a Conservative majority is if the Liberal Democrats can win seats from them, outside of the city. I hope that they do, because even if the County Council has deserved the criticism thrown its way over the last four years, in my opinion things were even worse before 2013. Don’t forget that the stupid charge for parking at the Park & Ride sites, which even some Conservative candidates are trying to disown, was one of the last acts of the old ‘cabinet’ system of Conservative County Council governance.

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