The FenPowderPlot

Some of you will have seen various accusations flying around social media. It relates to a motion of no confidence in Mayor Dr Nik Johnson, who was elected somewhat surprisingly as the Combined Authority Mayor around 12 months ago in the ‘Super-election’ that smashed Conservative domination of the county for the first time since anyone can remember. I didn’t pick the hashtag #FenPowderPlot.

The first I knew about things going wrong at the Combined Authority was the unexpected resignation of the newly-appointed Chief Executive. The editor of the Cambs Times & Ely Standard, John Elworthy wrote this opinion piece shortly afterwards. It was also picked up on telly by BBC Look East.

I’m not going to comment on the details – it’s above my pay grade (zero) and I don’t have all of the information. What we do know is from the meeting papers are here where the Combined Authority Board decides on the motion.

The thing is, the local elections threw in a result from leftfield – the loss of Huntingdonshire by the Conservatives to No Overall Control, joining Peterborough under the same status. While I expected Peterborough to form a CambsCC-style Joint Administration, I didn’t expect Huntingdonshire to be in a position to do the same. Peterborough councillors have confirmed that they won’t be in a position to form one, so it looks like the Conservatives will try to govern as a minority administration (With ***huge issues on their plate***) until their next set of elections next year. Until then, the Conservatives have to nominate a new minority leader for their council, the incumbent having lost the confidence of the small independent group that until recently had provided confidence-and-supply support.

In the meantime, Huntingdonshire decide who will be their new council leader later this evening at the time of writing. You can read the meeting papers here. In a nutshell, they have to elect a new leader because the incumbent lost his council seat to Cllr Julie Kerr (Ind – St Ives West).

What will the Huntingdonshire Independent Group do?

The balance of power is as follows:

  • Conservatives – 30
  • Huntingdonshire Independent Group – 21
  • Liberal Democrats – 14
  • Labour – 6
  • Green Party – 1

From what little I know of the Independent Group, some of them are definitely supporters of the Mayor and also of the Joint Administration on Cambridgeshire County Council – such as the until-recently Mayor of St Neots Cllr Stephen Ferguson (Ind – St Neots Priory Park/Little Paxton), who is also the Chairman of Cambridgeshire County Council. He wrote this column following the Huntingdonshire local elections earlier this month.

“This means the next council will likely be an Independent led coalition. Negotiations are ongoing. Of course, some people will say that Independents cannot lead an administration. I disagree.”

Cllr Stephen Ferguson in the Hunts Post, 10 May 2022.

Assuming Huntingdonshire becomes a non-Tory joint administration led by the Independent Group, it becomes a near certainty that Mayor Dr Nik Johnson will survive the vote of confidence – something reflected by the resignation of the Chair of the Combined Authority’s Business Board Austen Adams not so long ago. He too was one of the signatories to the no confidence motion.

Of the local council board members, it would give a board of:

  • Cambridge City Council – Labour
  • South Cambridgeshire District Council – Liberal Democrats
  • Cambridgeshire County Council – Joint Administration (Lib Dem rep)
  • Huntingdonshire District Council – Joint Administration (Rep TBC)


  • Peterborough City Council – Conservative minority
  • Fenland District Council – Conservative super-majority
  • East Cambridgeshire District Council

…noting that of the latter three, Peterborough has another third of seats up for election, and the remaining two having full elections – with East Cambridgeshire finely balanced with 15 Conservatives and 13 Liberal Democrat councillors. A net loss of two council seats is enough for East Cambridgeshire (Ely in the north, Linton in the south) to switch political control. Similar is the case for Peterborough should Conservatives lose even just a few seats to either the Liberal Democrats, Labour, or the Green Party.

Assuming all of this blows over by next week, there will inevitably have to be some rebuilding of trust and working relationships. Even more so given the three months consultation on the Local Transport and Connectivity Plan – which you can take part in here. Happening at the same time is another stage in the consultation on the controversial Cambourne-Cambridge busway that the GCP has started, and which you can respond to here.

Again, my longstanding view for ages has been for a Greater Cambridge Unitary Authority, and a light rail network with an underground tunnel for Cambridge to serve it. (See here). But in the meantime, this is what we’ve got to deal with.

Food for thought?

If you are interested in the longer term future of Cambridge, and on what happens at the local democracy meetings where decisions are made, feel free to:

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