Could the Cambridge City Council & Peterborough City Council elections influence the results of other elections locally?

TL:DR – it’s all about turnout.

Cambridge City Council’s entire slate of councillors are up for re-election in May 2021 following the postponement of the 2020 elections. There are also local elections for the unitary authority of Peterborough City Council where a third of councillors are up for election. The latter council became a unitary council in 1998 (which reminds me, I have a blogpost coming on the growth of that city), having previously been part of Cambridgeshire County Council since the 1974 national restructure of local government.

With the election for the Metro Mayor due to take place on the same day, the combined elections could have the effect of increasing the turnout in the cities vs the rural districts – Huntingdonshire, South Cambridgeshire, & East Cambridgeshire District Councils not due for their next elections until 2022, and Fenland not until 2023. This is politically convenient for the Labour Party given passed results. It presents a challenge for the Conservatives, and perhaps to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats who control South Cambridgeshire District Council with a surprisingly strong performance, and in East Cambs where they came closer than expected to taking control of East Cambridgeshire.

The Metro Mayoral Elections

Volatile is the best way to describe the politics of the City of Peterborough. The Parliamentary seat has switched between Labour and Conservative in recent decades. Political control of the city council – which incorporates a number of safe Conservative wards in the safe Conservative parliamentary seat of NW Cambridgeshire, has oscillated between the Conservatives and – as is now, No Overall Control. Inside Peterborough constituency, the Labour Party currently holds the most council seats, with the Conservatives just a few behind. In that sense one could argue that the wards in NW Cambs are the ones that give the Tories the edge over Labour, holding more ward seats in that constituency than all of the other parties put together. Which means ‘increasing turnout’ won’t automatically mean more votes for one party or another.

Police & Crime Commissioner Elections

Will the scheduling of these elections help increase turnout? Labour’s Cllr Nicky Massey is the first candidate to produce a home-made introduction video.

Given how few people know we have a PCC, let alone the ability to vote for one (not that there was a popular referendum for them in the first place!) I think Nicky has done the right thing in setting out early on what she believes the role of the PCC should be. This is important as the most recent high profile news about the post has not been in a positive light following the resignation of the Conservative PCC in 2019. You can read John Elworthy’s report from the Cambridgeshire Times here. Mr Elworthy is also on Twitter at, reporting mainly from the north of the County here. Covering the south of the county is Ben Hatton, at for the Local Democracy Reporting Service, embedded at the Cambridge News.

Changing populations – Peterborough supercharged

One of the things that makes measuring population change in towns and cities is the changing civic boundaries. Chesterton was not consider part of Cambridge borough until the early 20th Century. Peterborough also had a number of previously rural wards incorporated into it as part of local government changes.

In 1951, the population of Cambridge was around 81,000, while Peterboroughs was a little lower at 76,000. Then Harold Wilson designated Peterborough a New Town shortly after becoming Prime Minister in the mid-1960s. Alex Grant describes how the old city became a New Town, which set Peterborough’s population on an upward trajectory to over 180,000 by the 2011 census, and to an estimated 200,000 today. Cambridge’s population is closer to 131,000 today according to Cambridge City Council.

The European Union citizens’ votes

One of the factors that amplified the Liberal Democrats’ vote in 2018 – resulting in a thumping victory in what was a safe-as-castles Conservative district, were the votes of EU citizens. These were voters unable to vote in the general election, which resulted in the party falling short by a few thousand in the general election the following year. But to get that close was an achievement in itself in a constituency that traditionally has a higher turnout than most. When you compare the population of just over a decade ago to what it is likely to become in a decade’s time, there are also big changes – the figures from Cambs Insight below.

That said, it would be a mistake to think the majority of that population increase will automatically go towards one political party or another. There are so many different factors that affect the formation of communities in neighbourhoods of newly-built houses and homes. Historians are still trying to get their heads around the experiences and lessons learnt of the first waves of post-war newtowns. This is also one of the reasons why the Penguin Specials published between 1930s-1970s of contemporary public policy issues make for compelling reading: the authors write about the issues as people lived through them rather than with the experience of 50+ years of hindsight. (Lots of cheap second hand copies are here, under the publisher search term “Penguin special”)

Below – books published by Penguin from long ago on issues and parties that are still with us today.

The reason for publicising these books is because the authors analyse issues that we are still struggling with today – and that their insights on what they tried out are more than useful. In many cases you can find copies of the second hand books are actually cheaper than the postage. (In Cambridge, both the Oxfam shop on Burleigh Street, and the RSPCA book shop on Mill Road have a number of these books on sale between £1-3 each.)

Also it is a reminder of some of the things that we used to have but no longer have – inviting us to consider why they were scrapped and whether we are better off or not as a result. That’s not an invitation to simply turn back the clock. We are in a very different technological era, one where big data and automation enable institutions can do things that 50 years ago people could only dream of.

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