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Labour’s Nik Johnson elected mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough in stunning victory over Conservative James Palmer



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Labour’s Nik Johnson has been confirmed as the next mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough after a stunning victory against Conservative James Palmer.

In a result that will send shockwaves through the Tory party, Mr Palmer was ousted in the second round of the supplementary vote system in the race to lead the Combined Authority.

Dr Nik Johnson with his mum Kath after securing victory. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Nik Johnson with his mum Kath after securing victory. Picture: Keith Heppell

Dr Johnson, an NHS children’s doctor at Hinchingbrooke Hospital, said he was “over the moon” and “hugely honoured to be the lad who came from the north-east and ended up adopting Cambridgeshire as my home, and feeling the support across the county”.

Mr Palmer had won the first round quite comfortably, with a 40.50% share of the vote, but as he did not have a majority voting went on to the second round.

Liberal Democrat Aidan Van de Weyer, who had polled 26.68% of the vote in the first round, was eliminated, and the second choice of voters who had opted for him were then counted.

These second preference votes were enough for Dr Johnson to topple Mr Palmer, who had been favourite to win and serve a second term.

Dr Nik Johnson on the podium with his mum Kath. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Nik Johnson on the podium with his mum Kath. Picture: Keith Heppell

Instead, Dr Johnson earned a total of 113,994 votes after the two rounds, with Mr Palmer securing 108,195.

In his victory speech, he admitted: “It’s a bit of a surprise. I want to say thank you for all the hard work that has been undertaken across the region, making sure that democracy is delivered here in Cambridgeshire today.

“I’ve been doing local politics for almost a decade but I’m at heart and always will be an NHS doctor and I’m very proud of that role.

Newly-elected mayor Dr Nik Johnson with PCC candidate Nicky Massey. Picture: Keith Heppell
Newly-elected mayor Dr Nik Johnson with PCC candidate Nicky Massey. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I wanted to make a difference, I wanted to make change and the only way I feel I could do that in local politics was with the three Cs, and I’ve said it many times and it’s what I’d like to see in all politics - the three Cs of compassion, cooperation and building a community.”

The result could have huge implications for the £2bn Cambridgeshire Autonomous Metro project, championed by Mr Palmer as the future of transport for the region.

Dr Johnson has told the Cambridge Independent: “I believe in being honest and upfront with voters and therefore I have to say it straight out - no I will not support this project.

“I want to start my term as mayor with a clean sheet and consider all transport options with a fresh eye.

Conservative James Palmer speaks after losing the mayoral vote. Picture: Keith Heppell
Conservative James Palmer speaks after losing the mayoral vote. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I want to concentrate on making more immediate positive transport changes for the betterment of residents across Cambridgeshire.

“In principle I’m not totally opposed to a rapid system project but this has all the hallmarks of being an expensive folly and a potential financial blackhole.”

He has promised voters: “I will be the mayor who develops a fully integrated, greener, countywide transport system.

“I will be the mayor who provides free transport for 16-18 year olds, and subsidised travel for all under 25s.

“I will be the mayor who actually delivers affordable and social housing with green, sustainable, carbon neutral developments.

Dr Nik Johnson’s victory is celebrated by Labour supporter. Picture: Keith Heppell
Dr Nik Johnson’s victory is celebrated by Labour supporter. Picture: Keith Heppell

“I will be the mayor who helps build a county-wide water management group to prevent flooding and save precious water resources.

“I will be the mayor who encourages people to lead healthier lifestyles.

“I will be the mayor who encourages the arts.”

During his campaign, he had pledged: “As Labour mayor I will lead our recovery. I’ll champion 21st-century transport, affordable housing and decent jobs. I have a track record of working constructively with all those around me. My current NHS work places me at the heart of communities. I meet, help and support people from all walks of life. As mayor I will be at the heart of the community and a force for transformative change.”

Afterwards, his mother, Kath Johnson, said she was “very proud” and added: “I’m a bit overwhelmed. It’s been extraordinary.

“I was proud of him when he got to be a doctor. To now get a position like this is the icing on the cake, It’s a bit unbelievable. It’s a bit unreal at the moment. But I’ve got every belief in him.

“As a mum I probably worry about him. But I know that he’ll be able to do it. He’s proved himself so many times.”

She admitted that she thought it would be an “uphill struggle” for him to win and that it was a “very nice surprise”.

Mr Palmer pulled in support from Tory big-hitters including home secretary Priti Patel during his campaign. But it was not enough to secure his second term in what will be seen as a seismic shift.

In his concession speech, he wished Dr Johnson the “very, very best in what is a wonderful role”.

His defeat follows the Conservatives’ loss of overall control of Cambridgeshire County Council yesterday and in many ways bucks the national trend for these local elections, where Labour has not fared as well as it hoped.

Among the first to congratulate Dr Johnson was Cambridge’s Labour MP Daniel Zeichner.

Aidan Van de Weyer was the Liberal Democrat candidate
Aidan Van de Weyer was the Liberal Democrat candidate

Reacting to his defeat, Cllr Van de Weyer, a South Cambridgeshire district councillor, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “I’m obviously extremely disappointed that I didn’t get through to the next round.

“Our campaign was really good. The whole campaign I think was very interesting, we got to debate a wide range of issues that come under the remit of the mayor, which I think has really helped get people engaged in this campaign. Clearly, in some areas, people found the other candidates’ offer more attractive, but I think I made a good case. I’m particularly pleased to have strong results in South Cambridgeshire, Cambridge and East Cambs.

“There is a lot for us to look at for the future and I’m very optimistic that the Liberal Democrats in Cambridgeshire will continue to be strong.”

He noted the wider range of candidates last time as a possible explanation for the Lib Dems dropping from second in 2017 to third this time, and also the increased voter turnout and the fact that Labour and Conservatives are a bigger presence on the national political stage at present.

He said the first round vote reflected “disappointment” from residents in the way Conservative James Palmer ran the combined authority from 2017.

He added: “One of the things that we can take away is that there was no support for many of the policies of James Palmer in Cambridge and South Cambridgeshire, where James Palmer resoundingly lost”.

First round results

  • Nik Johnson - Labour - 76,106 (32.81%)
  • James Palmer - Conservative - 93,942 (40.50%)
  • Aidan Van De Weyer - Liberal Democrat - 61,885 (26.68%) - ELIMINATED

Second round results

  • Nik Johnson - Labour - 113,994 (51.30%) ELECTED
  • James Palmer - Conservative - 108,195 (48.69%)

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