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Phil Rodgers’ ward-by-ward guide to the 2023 Cambridge City Council elections - plus a look at East Cambridgeshire





Our political commentator discusses the parties, the candidates and the great unknown ahead of voters heading to the polls on May 4.

Phil Rodgers, our political commentator, analyses the political scene as we head toward the local elections in May 2023
Phil Rodgers, our political commentator, analyses the political scene as we head toward the local elections in May 2023

Ah, Cambridge in the springtime. Flowers blooming on the Backs, cows chewing the cud reflectively on the commons, the gentle splashing of punt poles on the river - and, of course, the rattle of letterboxes as political leaflets land on doormats around the city. Yes, the local elections are with us once again.

Two years ago, the city had its most complicated polling day ever, with boundary changes and the pandemic combining to bring us four different sets of elections at once. The results provided some surprises too, with Labour’s Nik Johnson ousting Conservative James Palmer as Combined Authority mayor, and a Lib Dem/Labour/Independent alliance taking control of the county council.

Last year was less dramatic, with Labour comfortably holding on to the city council, and the Lib Dems increasing their already large majority on South Cambridgeshire District Council. This year another third of the city council seats are up for election, plus some by-elections, and in East Cambridgeshire all 28 seats on the council will be contested.

It’s very likely that Labour will retain control of Cambridge City Council again this year, but there are chances for the other parties to chip away at their majority, as well as some opportunities for Labour to make gains. After last year’s elections, Labour had 29 councillors, facing an opposition of nine Lib Dems, three Greens and one Independent. This year Labour are defending 12 city council seats, the Lib Dems three and the Greens one. It’s theoretically possible for Labour to lose overall control, but it would require a truly spectacular meltdown given Labour’s very large majorities last year in several wards.

This graph shows you the majority of the winning party in each Cambridge ward last year. In the two wards which had by-elections, it’s based on the highest vote for each party.

Cambridge City Council election majorities. Graphic: Phil Rodgers
Cambridge City Council election majorities. Graphic: Phil Rodgers

As you can see, Labour won in 10 wards last year. In most of them the Lib Dems came in second, though the Greens were runners-up in Coleridge and Romsey, as were the Conservatives in Cherry Hinton.

Six of Labour’s victories were with very comfortable majorities, and while past performance is no guarantee of future results, these are the wards that Labour will feel most confident of holding on to this year. In each of the six, the incumbent councillor is standing for re-election this year; the longest-serving of these is Rob Dryden in Cherry Hinton, who was first elected 28 years ago in 1995.

There are also by-elections in Coleridge, where former council leader Lewis Herbert is standing down, and for a county council seat in Arbury, following the resignation of Hilary Cox Condron. Labour are the favourites to hold both of these.

The Lib Dems, Greens and Conservatives are also contesting all the seats.

Here’s a more detailed look at the eight wards which didn’t have large Labour majorities last time.

Abbey

After several years of being safe for Labour, Abbey provided the Greens with a breakthrough onto the city council in 2021, when they took two of the three seats. They added a third seat with another gain from Labour last year. This year they are defending a seat, but their incumbent councillor Hannah Copley is standing down, and their candidate is Elliot Tong, a member of Cambridge Young Greens. Zarina Anwar, a forensic scientist, is hoping to recapture the seat for Labour, while Rosy Ansell and David Smith are representing the Lib Dems and Conservatives respectively.

Castle

Castle provides a particularly interesting contest this year, with the Lib Dems and Labour each having a seat to defend, and both hoping to make a gain. The Lib Dem seat is held by Cheney Payne, who is deputy leader of her party on the city council, as well as the next Lib Dem candidate for Cambridge MP. She is joined on the ballot paper by Will Tilbrook, campaign organiser for Cambridge Lib Dems, and previously a councillor in Sussex. The second vacancy is due to the resignation of Labour’s Sarah Baigent. Labour’s candidates this time are Mary Murphy and Antoinette Nestor, who are both directors of studies at Lucy Cavendish College, and both standing for the first time in Cambridge. The Green candidates are Esme Hennesey and Dan Kittmer, both students, and the Conservatives are represented by Rhona Boorman and Tomasz Dyl. There is one Independent candidate on the ballot paper in Castle, David Summerfield, who is campaigning against the proposed Cambridge congestion charge.

East Chesterton

Last year, East Chesterton provided the closest result in the city, with Labour’s Baiju Thittala Varkey edging out Lib Dem Bob Illingworth by just 27 votes. This year Bob Illingworth is back for another try, this time facing Alice Gilderdale for Labour, who was previously elected in Market ward. As well as regular candidates Elizabeth May for the Greens and Frank Ribeiro for the Conservatives, East Chesterton voters can also choose from Peter Burkinshaw, making a 17th appearance on the ballot paper for UKIP, and Colin Miller, representing the Heritage Party, which describes itself as socially conservative.

Market

Given their win last year, the Lib Dems will be hopeful of recapturing the seat that Labour’s Alice Gilderdale took from them in 2021. Their candidate this year is Anthony Martinelli, who was councillor for the ward from 2018-21, and works in the NHS. Labour is represented by Rosy Greenlees, who retired last year from a career in the arts and cultural sector. The Green candidate is Krzysztof Strug, an energy technologies consultant, and the Conservatives are represented by student James Appiah, who does have some experience of winning elections - in November he was narrowly elected president of the Cambridge Union Society for Easter term.

Niamh Sweeney is standing down as a councillor this year. Picture: Keith Heppell
Niamh Sweeney is standing down as a councillor this year. Picture: Keith Heppell

Newnham

From 1997 onward, the Lib Dems won every seat going in Newnham, but their run came to an end when Labour’s Niamh Sweeney took one of the three city council seats in 2021, and her colleague Cameron Holloway repeated the feat in 2022. This year Niamh is standing down, and Labour’s candidate is Anne Miller, inventor, co-founder of a technical consultancy, and chair of Carbon Neutral Cambridge. Hoping to recapture the seat for the Lib Dems is Chang Liu, a medical student at St John’s College and activist at Cambridge Students’ Union. Newnham is also a key target for the Greens; their candidate Jean Glasberg will be hoping to improve on the third place and 25 per cent vote share she achieved last year. Susan Williams is representing the Conservatives.

Queen Edith’s

Queen Edith’s is another ward with a long history of Lib Dem wins; the yellow team have won every election but two in the ward this century, though their majorities are not quite as comfortable as they used to be. Nevertheless they will be hoping for business as usual, with their candidate Karen Young standing in place of retiring councillor Jennifer Page-Croft. As well as the candidates for the other parties - Thomas Ron for Labour, Jacqueline Whitmore for the Greens, and Gordon Gregory for the Conservatives - the ballot paper also features an Independent, Antony Carpen, who is a community historian and activist. In 2014, Antony won 89 votes standing as his alter ego Puffles the Dragon Fairy.

Trumpington

The Conservative candidate in Trumpington, Shapour Meftah, has the distinction of being the last member of his party to win a seat in a local election in Cambridge, but this was back in 2012. It has to be said that election results in the city have not gone well for the Conservatives since then; Shapour only managed fourth place and 12 per cent of the vote in the most recent Trumpington election. This time the incumbent Lib Dem councillor Ingrid Flaubert will be hoping for a smooth re-election campaign. Carlos Toranzos, runner-up last May, is making a second attempt at the ward for Labour, while Chloe Mosonyi, a member of Cambridge Young Greens, completes the line-up.

West Chesterton

West Chesterton is another seat which used to be fairly safe for the Lib Dems, but where Labour have done better in recent years. Labour’s Jocelynne Scutt is standing down this year, and Rachel Wade is hoping to take her place. The Lib Dem candidate is Jamie Dalzell, who represented the ward from 2018 until he lost his seat last year by just 58 votes. Shayne Mitchell is making an impressive 20th appearance in a Cambridge election for the Greens, and the Conservative are represented by their regular candidate Mike Harford.

East Cambridgeshire District Council

Beyond the city, elections are also being held in East Cambridgeshire, where the whole council is elected every four years. At the last East Cambs elections in 2019, the Lib Dems gained several seats and came quite close to winning control, leaving the Conservatives with a majority of just two. Here are the majorities in each ward last time - most wards have more than one seat, so this is based on the highest vote for each party.

East Cambridgeshire District Council election majorities. Graphic: Phil Rodgers
East Cambridgeshire District Council election majorities. Graphic: Phil Rodgers

Labour are also contesting all the East Cambs seats, and there are two Green candidates, one for UKIP, and three Independents. The picture is a lot less one-sided than in Cambridge, so it’s a good deal harder to predict the overall result - a great deal has changed politically since May 2019, when the nation was gripped by Brexit turmoil.

The big unknown, both in Cambridge and East Cambs, is the effect that the proposed congestion charge will have on the results. The Conservatives have made their opposition to the charge the centrepiece of their campaign, while the other three parties have all issued statements stressing that they don’t support aspects of the proposals as they stand. It’s clearly coming up a lot on the doorsteps, but whether that will translate into a big shift in voting patterns remains to be seen.

A new feature of this year’s elections is that voters will now have to show photo ID at the polling station. Although there has been some publicity about this change, I suspect that many people won’t find out about it until they turn up to vote without any ID and are sent away. It’s also likely to mean longer queues at the polls than usual.

Passports and driving licences will be accepted, plus some other forms of ID listed on the city council website at www.cambridge.gov.uk/elections-in-2023. If you don’t have any suitable ID, you can apply for something called a voter authority certificate. This is free, but the deadline to apply for it is 5pm on Tuesday, April 25. There is more on the ID rules in the Cambridge Independent election guide here.

Both Cambridge and East Cambs will be counting the votes on Friday, May 5, the day after polling day, so we should get the first results by around lunchtime. You can find details of all the candidates at cambridgeindependent.co.uk/news/politics/ and whocanivotefor.co.uk.

Best wishes to everyone involved in the local elections this year, particularly the electoral services staff, who work so hard behind the scenes to make the elections happen.

Phil Rodgers has lived in Cambridge since 1984. Married with two daughters, he works as a developer for a city software firm. You can read more from him on his blog, and look out for his column each month in the Cambridge Independent.



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