Labour Taking Control of Cambridge City Council


Friday, May 23rd, 2014. 6:25pm

Following the election result on the morning of the 23rd of May 2014 I went on Paul Stainton’s Bigger Breakfast show on BBC Radio Cambridgeshire to discuss Labour taking control of Cambridge City Council. I have transcribed the elements of the show relating to Cambridge, which include exchanges with the outgoing council leader Liberal Democrat Tim Bick and the leader of the Labour Group in Cambridge, Cllr Lewis Herbert.

Paul Stainton: With me is Richard Taylor, a political blogger in Cambridge. Good morning Richard.

Richard Taylor: Good morning Paul.

Paul Stainton: What’s your first reaction to the result in Cambridge. It’s gone red. Many people predicted it.

Richard Taylor: Well it hasn’t just gone red, its gone red by quite a substantial majority. A very comfortable majority with which to run Cambridge City Council.

Paul Stainton: Why do you think people have gone that way? Where they disillusioned with the LibDems and the way the city was being run?

Richard Taylor: I do suspect it’s got something to do with the national picture with the LibDems in Government and I think our local Liberal Democrats here are probably suffering from the Liberal Democrats having joined in the coalition Government. I don’t think people necessarily vote in local elections on local matters.

Paul Stainton: What difference will it make on the ground do you think? How will Labour run things differently.

Richard Taylor: Well the basic thing that people get from the council is we get our bins emptied and that kind of basic stuff will continue so people might not notice a big difference. But Labour is promising some changes. I think we’ll have a bit of a change of tone in the way Cambridge is run, they’re promising more enforcement officers, they’re going to double the number of enforcement officers tackling things like litter and dog fouling in the city. And we’re going to see, Labour have promised a raft of new officers. We’re going to have a Living Wage promotion officer, we’re going to have an officer to promote Chesterton, we’re going to have a new officer to encourage people to get water meters. These are all things which I would consider to be local government non-jobs really and some of those are campaigning jobs, not the kind of thing we should be paying council officers to do.

Paul Stainton: Have we not been here before with Labour though. Isn’t this what got the country into this mess in the first place. All these jobs for the boys at the council.

Richard Taylor: Well exactly. This is one of my concerns; that we will go into spending money on officers which are not necessary and they are the kind of things that we shouldn’t be paying local council officers to do. But there are things Labour are proposing that you could have got straight out of a Conservative manifesto, they’re quite economically responsible things; they’re going to invest more in the City Council’s property portfolio to try and get us more independent income coming in for the council. Which is an excellent thing and could, as I have said, come from the Tories.

Paul Stainton: Nigel Farage promised an earthquake in politics and we felt the first tremors in Peterborough overnight but as usual Cambridge is an island in Cambridgeshire. Why is that.

Richard Taylor: While there’s no sign of UKIP in the Cambridge City results. We only had one candidate standing across the city. Cambridge is a very different place to the surrounding area when it comes to the key issue which UKIP are campaigning on, immigration. Immigration is a very positive thing for Cambridge, it brings us student to our universities, it brings people to work in local companies. We don’t have the side of immigration which is seen elsewhere in Cambridgeshire.

Paul Stainton: You voted UKIP did you? You blogged you were going to.

Richard Taylor: Well it’s a secret ballot so I don’t have to tell you how I voted. But in the European Union elections I did yes. I want to see us change our relationship with the EU but quite what we get out of it in the end whether we withdraw from the EU or we have a substantial re-negotiation I; think either option is a good one. So if anything that’s a vote for the Conservatives to get on and properly re-negotiate our position with the EU and dismantle the bureaucracy.


Paul Stainton: Stay with us Richard because we’ll talk some more about Cambridge throughout the hour. This from Dave: “I see Tim Ward failed to hold onto his ward in Arbury”. That’s ironic.

Richard Taylor: It is.

Paul Stainton: Thank you Richard, who blogs in Cambridge looking at the political scene in Cambridge. After the travel we’ll speak to the man who’s hoping to hold onto the reigns at Peterborough City Council. Marco Cereste.

[...]

Paul Stainton: We’ll be joined by Tim Bick. by the way, the Leader of the Lib Dems in Cambridge shortly, they’ve lost control of the council of course. We can hear though the reaction to Cambridge going red, Labour taking control. Lewis Herbert spoke to Emma Howgego our reporter earlier.

Lewis Herbert: It’s fourteen years. I’ve been a councillor for ten years. When the Euro elections were fought five years ago we had nine councillors and we don’t yet know exactly how many we will have but as you say we have taken control of the city and we’ve got the opportunity to tackle a whole range of challenges that face us. We’ve got a housing crisis, we’ve got congestion issues, we’ve got issues of fairness in a city like this not everybody’s got the same benefits out of the prosperity that Cambridge is experiencing.

Emma Howgego: Now a little bit earlier when I was around the count here I did see some champagne on ice. Have you gone and bought that yet?


Lewis Herbert: I’ve got a bottle of Prosecco in the office. I’m afraid life isn’t full of wine and roses we’ve got to get on with the job. Yes we’ll have a short celebration but there is a lot of work to be done and we’ve got a great team of new candidates who have been elected tonight.

Emma Howgego: What do you think of all the wards you have won has been your biggest achievement.

Lewis Herbert: Well what tends to happen in elections is political parties fight to the death in a couple of wards, and you’ve seen recounts in two of them and those are yet to be announced. We’ve put up a huge effort in wards, Romsey is probably one of the most unexpected results of the night we’ve won a seat where the Mayor has stood which the LibDems have been winning comfortable the last couple of years and we took Market which we haven’t won in a generation.

Paul Stainton: That’s Lewis Herbert, his reaction to winning Cambridge for the first time in over a decade. Still with me Richard Taylor a blogger in Cambridge. You mentioned earlier there’s going to be some tribalism, there’s going to be jobs for the boys in your opinion.

Richard Taylor: Well certainly the new council officers which Labour are proposing, the new enforcement officers, a new Living Wage officer, a water meters officer, a Chesterton promotion officer, they’re not the kind of jobs which I think Cambridge really needs, it’s not where I want to see our taxpayer’s money spend and that’s the kind of thing we’re now going to see with Labour running Cambridge City Council with a massive majority.

Paul Stainton: Tim Bick, the leader of the LibDems in Cambridge, a former leader of course, is with us now. Tim good morning.

Tim Bick : Good morning Paul.

Paul Stainton: Well it was a massive slap in the face for you wasn’t it?

Tim Bick : It’s not an evening I would like to repeat.

Paul Stainton: Why? Why did people punish you?

Tim Bick : Well I think there’s a reality about how difficult it is for a party in national government to retain local council power at the same time. What we saw when Labour was three months[sic] into Tony Blair’s government was Labour losing control of the city council to us. We’re now four years into the coalition government of which we’re part and we have lost to Labour. I’m not sure it has a whole lot to do with the records of the Liberal Democrats at the City Council. I think on the doorstep people were telling us they were really quite happy with what we were doing, but they had a message they wanted to send the government and that took precedence.

Paul Stainton: So you’re blaming your national party. You’re not saying you failed locally, to share the love, to make everybody feel the affluence that Cambridge has. You’re blaming Nick Clegg.

Tim Bick : No. That’s not what I said.

Paul Stainton: Well you sort of did.

Tim Bick It is difficult when your party is in Government to really whichever government and whichever party we are talking about. Mid-term people like to express their discomfort, if they have have some.

Paul Stainton: Did you do everything perfectly locally then? Did you do everything you could have done?

Tim Bick : Well I’m sure we have made mistakes but I really don’t think those mistakes explain the result we have had today.

Paul Stainton: It’s a resounding defeat isn’t it.

Tim Bick : Well it’s a defeat that started three years ago because the council elects its councillors in thirds on a cycle, so we have lost seats in the previous three years.

Paul Stainton: Is a Labour led council good for Cambridge in your opinion?

Tim Bick : Well obviously I don’t think so and our role on the council now will be to hold that Labour council to account to make sure that they don’t squander the legacy that we’ve left them which is really quite an impressive one and to ensure that some of those concerns that Richard Taylor was talking about, the fact that Labour is so hooked on enforcing people to do things, or not do things, the danger is that we loose the tolerant and preventative approach that we’ve adopted when we’ve been running the council.

Paul Stainton: Julian Huppert, the Liberal Democrat MP for Cambridge says you can go out of office with your heads held high. Do you go out of office with your head high?

Tim Bick : We absolutely do. Talk about the legacy. I’m talking about having delivered the half billion pound city deal; I’m talking about having delivered a local plan that will take the area through to 2031; I’m talking about schemes that have been hugely popular across the city for 20 MPH zones; I’m talking about putting the needs of the vulnerable first which we’ve always put top priority. I don’t think that we have anything to be ashamed of and everything to be extremely proud of and I think that we have set the standard that Labour will have to be judged by.

Paul Stainton: Is Cambridge safe in Labour hands?

Tim Bick : I accept the result of the electorate and I congratulate them.

Paul Stainton: That’s not the question I asked.

Tim Bick : I have my questions. As I think a lot of people do.

Paul Stainton: What are they?


Tim Bick : The concerns I have. I worry about Labour protecting the balance between the pressures on growth and protecting the character and setting of the city when our local plan comes to a public inquiry. I’m worried about the way they will treat the city’s voluntary sector. So focused they’ve been on emphasising the tribes of us and them in the city I worry about how they’ll manage to govern for the whole city fairly. I mentioned enforcement. I also worry about turning the city council into an anti-government propaganda machine and not governing in the long term best interests of the city. Now these things are concerns. I sincerely hope they don’t happen but we as an opposition will be there to point out, campaign and to win back power if those things do happen.

Paul Stainton: Thank you very much. Tim Bick. Leader of the Liberal Democrats and until this morning Leader of Cambridge City Council. You heard him there that he has very real concerns that Cambridge may not be safe in Labour hands.

Paul Stainton: Just quickly there Richard Taylor, political blogger, do you share those concerns?

Richard Taylor: As Tim just said there I think we have got some very red, socialist, partisan, tribal, councillors elected this morning and it will be very interesting to see how they cope in power.

Paul Stainton: That’s Richard Taylor a political blogger in Cambridge. His comments will keep coming. We will also have experts from Peterborough as well coming on the show later on. But first lets speak to the new leader, we presume, at Cambridge City Council, he’s the leader of the Labour group and Labour have taken control, Lewis Herbert is with us this morning. Lewis Herbert congratulations.

Lewis Herbert: It’s been a long night Paul but thank you.

Paul Stainton: I presume you will be the leader of the City Council.

Lewis Herbert: Well it all changes on the 12th of June so.

Paul Stainton: But you’re the man?

Lewis Herbert: Well we won six seats and we now have a majority of eight and twenty-five Labour councillors.

Paul Stainton: Not a great night for Labour nationally though, not the night that you needed though was it really.

Lewis Herbert: I’m happy to say I know nothing about that.

Paul Stainton: That’s a good dodge I’ll give you that. A great night in Cambridge though we’ll give you that. We spoke to Tim Bick earlier, he was very very disappointed, you could hear almost anger in his voice really that they’d been deposed. Why do you think people went for Labour’s message rather than the Libdems’ this time around.

Lewis Herbert: I think the Libdems have lost touch with parts of Cambridge. They were paying people to deliver leaflets in three of the wards and those just kind of told the story that they are not in touch with the whole city.

Paul Stainton: What are Labour going to do differently then?

Lewis Herbert: Well I think we will take account of the whole city. There are parts that the Libdems have neglected. We will particularly look at the opportunities from growth which we will support including attracting AstraZeneca but we have to ensure that the benefits are shared much more fairly so we’ll tackle that, we’ll also give housing much more priority and we’ve got quite a lot of changes to services to take account. It won’t all be easy; the government has cut our funding by 40% and we will have to become more efficient as a council. We have a great staff and it’s a partnership with them an the other organisations to make Cambridge an even better place.

Paul Stainton: There are concerns though. We spoke to Richard Taylor earlier, a blogger in Cambridge. He’s with us now. Richard your concerns are.

Richard Taylor: Well Labour have told us they’re going to they’re going to increase the number of enforcement officers the city council has to deal with dog fouling and littering; I’m concerned about the change in the tone of the city if we have more enforcement officers. Labour have promised a raft of what I would call local government non-jobs things like a Living Wage officer, an officer to encourage people to transfer to have water meters, and a Chesterton co-coordinator to promote local businesses in Chesterton. I’m just not sure these are the kinds of officers we need in the local council and if we should be spending taxpayers’ money in that way on campaigning essentially.

Paul Stainton: Lewis how do you respond to that.

Lewis Herbert: Well Richard is entitled to his view; he’s a valued blogger, he’s uncovered a lot of issues for the city. On my way in to the count last night I passed two parks which had been trashed by people and the cost of clearing that up will be five hundred pounds, or a thousand pounds, some of those people should get tickets and we think Mr Taylor hasn’t thought it all through.

Paul Stainton: Isn’t it just the same old Labour though that we had before, non-jobs in councils, thousands of people earning money out of the public purse that we can’t afford.

Lewis Herbert: We’re proposing about six new jobs and some of those will be re-deployments and the question of Living Wage is a massive issue for this city. Lots of people can’t afford to live here live the kind of housing they need and perhaps Mr Taylor should think through if people should be paid the living wage in this city.

Paul Stainton: You’ve not thought it through Richard.

Richard Taylor: Of course I want people to be able to live on what they earn but it’s a question of how we do that. Do we have an officer in the city council whose job it is to do campaigning or should the campaigning be done by our councillors and individuals. We don’t disagree on the aims here, its just how we go about doing it.

Lewis Herbert: We’re talking about a part time officer, and we’re talking about employers including the university and colleges and large employers in this city who are not paying what people deserve to be earning.

Paul Stainton: What’s the first thing you’re going to do. Day one. What is going to change.

Lewis Herbert: Well the simplest change will be to reverse the cut in rat and pest control which will happen as of the council meeting on the 12th of June.

Paul Stainton: That’s the most important thing in your in-tray?

Lewis Herbert: No it is not. We will also set up a housing committee, a single housing committee, and we will be doing a lot to improve affordable housing in this city so it will not happen straight away, some of it will require careful thought and consultation and we will listen to views, including Richard Taylor’s but we are determined to improve the city, and make the best of the growth that’s underway, tackle the congestion.

Paul Stainton: Lewis thank you for that. Thank you for coming on this morning. It’s been an amazing night for Labour in Cambridge. Well done.

Lewis Herbert: Thank you.

Paul Stainton: Lewis Herbert who is the leader of the Labour group at Cambridge City Council; who have taken control in Cambridge, not by a small margin but by quite a large margin. It’s your bigger breakfast election special. Just before we go to the news, just very quickly, Richard Taylor a political blogger from Cambridge, where in a nutshell does it leave the City of Cambridge in your opinion.

Richard Taylor: We’ll we’ve got a massive majority for Labour so they will be able to run the council as they see fit. I’m not a great fan of having such a big majority as it means decisions will be made behind closed doors in group meetings rather than on the floor of the council chamber.

Paul Stainton: Richard thank you for coming in this morning, Richard Taylor a political blogger in Cambridge. We’ll have expert opinion on Peterborough and other places throughout the show.

Labour leader Lewis Herbert is experienced, dedicated, calm, rational, and relatively moderate, with him in place to keep the more extreme members of his party in place I think Cambridge will be competently run, albeit with, in my view, excess and inappropriate spending in some areas and an unwelcome edge of authoritarianism which I don’t think will suit our liberal city.

One of the things I would have liked to have commented on (and in fact my tweets on the subject were read out on the show earlier in the morning), was the turnout.

See also:

For more on my views on UKIP see:

3 comments/updates on “Labour Taking Control of Cambridge City Council

  1. Paul Lythgoe

    I would be interested to know who you think are the more extreme members of the newly elected Cambridge councillors. I do agree with your comments about authoritarianism. I think this was a central problem with New Labour, and it has left its mark within the party. The Labour Party legitimised itself with many voters by buying into the anti-social behaviour concepts first introduced by Thatcher. It ended up criminalising young people for behaving in the way that young people had always behaved. A stupid act became a career and life destroying event as CRB checks designed to prevent sex offenders into contact with children became common place for all work roles. I struggle with your acceptance of UKIP as a legitimate anti-European party. Their links with openly fascist parties within the EU, and the fellow travellers within the party seem now to be legitimising racism and zenophobia as an appropriate response to the Tories creation of the UK as a tax haven for the rich and a return to Victorian concepts of welfare provision.

    You would think that UKIP had fundamentally transformed UK politics given the media obession. But look at Cambridge. They could get only one candidate to stand and he garnered only 350 votes. This was less votes for UKIP than in 2010. Looking across the East only Great Yarmouth showed any desire to vote in numbers for UKIP for council elections. They won no seats in South Cambs, in Norfolk and in Huntingdonshire. In Peterborough they made some gains, but the Tories still dominate. Cambridge has the most immigration of any electoral area – but people embrace this as a positive contribution to the city.

    My fear with your dalliance with UKIP is that it has allowed a voice to oppose European integration, but it does so at a cost. The party is fundamentally undemocratic. It is for business, and for the deregulation of business at the cost of the livelihood of the employed. If you fear the authoritarianism of labour how you do not find the mindless kneejerk authoritarianism of UKIP a problem I fail to understand.

    Of the comments above the most interesting is when Bick is concerned that our council will turn into an anti-government propoganda machine. I hope it does – Pickles has imposed 30% cuts on council services and at the same time many of the responsibilities of the welfare state have been transferred to councils. Do we just accept we can’t house and feed the homeless, do we just accept that our councils can’t afford to maintain our mental health services, do we just accept that we throw vunerable children back into abusive family relations? The council may not have the funding alone to solve these problems but they should promote the consequences of a 30% cut in funding.

    1. Richard Taylor Article author

      I would be interested to know who you think are the more extreme members of the newly elected Cambridge councillors.

      Labour Cllrs Dave Baigent and Ann Sinnott have been quite extremely partisan and tribal during the campaign. It will be interesting to see if they change when in power and become more open to engaging with others. A minority of people voted, never mind voted for them, and I think councillors elected by a small fraction of the population ought consider that.

      This comment was in response to, for example:

      I do agree with your comments about authoritarianism. I think this was a central problem with New Labour, and it has left its mark within the party. The Labour Party legitimised itself with many voters by buying into the anti-social behaviour concepts first introduced by Thatcher. It ended up criminalising young people for behaving in the way that young people had always behaved. A stupid act became a career and life destroying event as CRB checks designed to prevent sex offenders into contact with children became common place for all work roles.

      I fully agree with that. I have actively opposed both treating real crime as merely anti-social behaviour; and conversely treating things which are otherwise perfectly acceptable and certainly not criminal, such as youths gathering as first “anti-social” and then if directions from the police to disperse are not followed, quickly escalating to become criminal. I have campaigned strongly against dispersal:

      http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/tag/dispersal-zones

      and against misuse of Anti-Social Behaviour laws to tackle driving offences:

      http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/seizure-cars-speed-humps.html

      I struggle with your acceptance of UKIP as a legitimate anti-European party. Their links with openly fascist parties within the EU, and the fellow travellers within the party seem now to be legitimising racism and zenophobia as an appropriate response to the Tories creation of the UK as a tax haven for the rich and a return to Victorian concepts of welfare provision.

      I don’t see racisim and zenophobia in UKIP any more than in the wider population. UKIP is proposing the UK takes a global view on immigration; rather than one focused on the EU.
      In deciding to vote for UKIP in the 2014 MEP elections I gave no weight at all to their rather silly manifestos for the 2010 and earlier general elections.

      You would think that UKIP had fundamentally transformed UK politics given the media obession. But look at Cambridge. They could get only one candidate to stand and he garnered only 350 votes. This was less votes for UKIP than in 2010. Looking across the East only Great Yarmouth showed any desire to vote in numbers for UKIP for council elections. They won no seats in South Cambs, in Norfolk and in Huntingdonshire. In Peterborough they made some gains, but the Tories still dominate. Cambridge has the most immigration of any electoral area – but people embrace this as a positive contribution to the city.

      We need to wait until the EU election results are out; where every elector in Cambridge, and the wider area, had a chance to vote UKIP to see the level of support.

      My fear with your dalliance with UKIP is that it has allowed a voice to oppose European integration, but it does so at a cost. The party is fundamentally undemocratic. It is for business, and for the deregulation of business at the cost of the livelihood of the employed. If you fear the authoritarianism of labour how you do not find the mindless kneejerk authoritarianism of UKIP a problem I fail to understand.

      UKIP is pro democracy as it supports the dismantling of the European Union structures which undemocratically impose laws on the UK. The EU is too remote, too disconnected from the people to be an effective democratic system. Just locally consider the size of the MEP constituencies which make a direct connection with representatives almost impossible.
      I don’t think UKIP yet have policies worth considering on anything beyond the question of the UK’s membership of the EU, and the existence of the EU; they will continue to vote, and argue against the the EU seeking to interfere more in people’s lives. I think my vote was in line with my liberal and democratic views. As with every vote I’ve ever cast though it was just a vote expressing a preference between the options in-front of me. I’m just someone who’s voted UKIP once, I’m not a member, and I don’t consider myself a UKIP supporter.

      Of the comments above the most interesting is when Bick is concerned that our council will turn into an anti-government propoganda machine. I hope it does – Pickles has imposed 30% cuts on council services and at the same time many of the responsibilities of the welfare state have been transferred to councils. Do we just accept we can’t house and feed the homeless, do we just accept that our councils can’t afford to maintain our mental health services, do we just accept that we throw vunerable children back into abusive family relations? The council may not have the funding alone to solve these problems but they should promote the consequences of a 30% cut in funding.

      We appear to disagree on if council officers should be employed to actively politically campaign. That’s not what I want to see public money spent on in Cambridge.

      In the council chamber the question is more nuanced. I don’t want to see councillors having debates on national issues in the chamber; but I think it is right for councillors to consider how national policies are affecting Cambridge City Council and Cambridge residents. Making government, and our MPs aware of how their actions are affecting Cambridge residents is I think a function of the council.

      Health services are not funded via Cambridge City Council. Councils retain, and are still fulfilling their duties to house the homeless.

  2. Bob

    Well said Paul Lythgoe. Richard’s approval of UKIP has astounded me and in my eyes at least, has damaged any credibility he has as an observer of matters political.

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