All change at the top of Cambridge Labour Party – and the City Council

Surprise ousting of Cllr Anna Smith followed by the resignation of her deputy Cllr Alex Collis will mean more than a little soul-searching for the Cambridge Labour Party

You’ll be able to listen to former Cllr Collis’s comments to Louise Hulland on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire from just after 6pm (scroll to 3h20m) on the Chris Mann Show dated 15 May 2023. I typed up a short stream here.

“Hang on – didn’t Labour just win the city council elections with a monster majority, only dropping two seats?”

They got significantly more than each of the other parties – you can see the summary here. The share-of-vote vs seats-gained is a separate issue on voting systems which is dependent on Government Policy. You can read about the results of the group of Labour Councillors that resulted in the leadership vote resulting in Cllr Davey’s win here.

Some of you may be interested in the Civic Affairs Committee where the new Leader-Elect Mike Davey (Lab – Petersfield) is appearing – the video link is here.

Another reminder that local political parties have their own constitutions and rules on how to go about electing or selecting their own party leaders. So in one sense the change of leaders by a secret ballot of elected councillors is not a new phenomenon. It’s a part of party politics. We saw this at a national level when former PM Boris Johnson was effectively ousted as his party’s leader because he did not carry the confidence of enough of his parliamentary members following a series of shortcomings and scandals in Westminster.

“Could the Tories claim this as a victory?”

They could try – although it would a sort of UKIP style victory gained without having won a council seat. Although they came mightily close in Cherry Hinton with 63 votes between first & second – and effectively forcing candidates to declare they were not in favour of their parties’ proposals on the proposed road user/congestion charge. The biggest shame is that Cambridge has lost two high calibre local councillors (Hilary Cox Condron & Alex Collis) who broke the negative stereotypes of politicians and local councillors – whether the sharp-suited connected young graduate identified for future high office to the ageing landed gentry. And other stereotypes in between.

Note how both national politics and the C-Charge proposals are breaking trust in Cambridgeshire’s politics

It’s easy to forget that at local elections, people can and do raise national issues. If you’re standing as a party candidate there is some expectation that you will follow the party line. Not easy when your national party leader is from a different faction of your party. With large political organisations, factionalism is inevitable because the numbers of people involved mean it’s impossible to get to know every single member. To have a chance of gaining political leadership in a national political party you eventually have to become a ‘brand’ in itself, with others working on your behalf – often people you will never meet 1-2-1. When you consider how small the percentage is of the population who are members of political parties – but which still add up to a lot of people (See the House of Commons Library here), how can any leader meet the demands of tens of thousands of highly-motivated people with very strong political views?

“So…what happens now?”

We wait and see. Cambridge Liberal Democrats have a tightrope to walk on this as well as they form the largest party on Cambridgeshire County Council, as well as being the majority party (and leading) on South Cambridgeshire District Council. Therefore they cannot rock the city council boat too much over the policies of the Greater Cambridge Partnership (whose abolition I called for at the city council elections just gone) because sinking Labour risks sinking them with it – and giving the Conservatives a new foothold in Cambridge – something they get another chance at in the King’s Hedges by-election caused by Alex Collis’s resignation today. Furthermore, the component councils of the GCP have got just over 2 weeks to decide what their alternative to both the busway route through Coton Orchard and changes to their congestion charging plans they wish to make, as they have to publish papers a week before their GCP Assembly Meeting on 08 June 2023. <<– Watch that space.

“So…although there was little turbulence in terms of seat changes, below the surface the Tory vote share gains made an impact?”

It was more of a grass roots revolt that they tapped into rather than explicitly led – mainly because there is no clear visible leader of the Cambridge Conservatives with a strong media profile within the city. There hasn’t been for a number of years. That’s not to say it cannot happen in the future. As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, a city that pulls in over 8,000 votes with a paper candidate in a general election clearly has more than enough to work with in principle. For whatever reason they’ve not been able to translate that vote share into councillors. Ironically, the voting reform that their national party is dogmatically against is one of the very things that would provide the local party with seats on the current city council.

Other annual council meetings

And then there’s the Combined Authority Board on 31 May 2023.

“So…more waiting for the policy substance then?”


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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