There are two things that are weird about the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoralty, which like five other regions holds its first election this Thursday.
One is that it’s a foregone conclusion – but not for Labour. The region’s demographics mean that it’s all but certain to return Conservative James Palmer as its first mayor.
It’s not impossible, in fact, that he’ll be elected on the first round. In 2015, according to Professor John Curtice, 45.6 per cent of the county’s voters went Tory (Labour were in second with 21.6 per cent). Throw in the swing to the Tories, and low turnout, and it’s entirely plausible Palmer will get over 50 per cent of first preferences, thus eliminating the need for the instant run-off and saving returning officers some time.
All this is largely explained by the second weird thing about the region: it’s not a metropolitan area at all. Rather, it’s a county, of around 850,000 people, with a medium sized city at either end: Cambridge (c130,000 people) in the south east, and Peterborough (c190,000) in the north west. Those two cities contain a significant number of Labour voters; but a majority of the country’s population will live in safe Tory rural areas.
The bustling metropolis.
It is, in other words, not a city region. It’s not even a proper historic county: it’s actually two, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, plus a sliver of Northamptonshire around Peterborough. So why on earth is it getting a metro mayor?
At risk of getting circular, the answer, I fear, takes us back to where we came in: it’s getting a mayor because it’s choice is likely to be a Tory.
When George Osborne first came up with the bright idea of devolving powers to metro mayors, a barrier within the Conservative party was that the big cities at the top of the list were all highly likely to elect Labour candidates. To sweeten this pill, combined authorities in largely Tory shires were discussed too: a Greater Lincolnshire deal was on the cards, while demands for a Yorkshire-wide mayor helped prevent city deals in Leeds and Sheffield.
The Cambs & Peterborough deal was the only one to actually make it through the process. And even that didn’t survive unscathed: at one point it was the western half of a wider Anglia deal which also included Norfolk and Suffolk, and which fell to bits because Cambridgeshire is more worried about links with London than it is about links with Norwich.
Anyway: the point is that the will likely elect a Tory mayor because it’s a Tory area, and the fact it’s a Tory area is the reason it’s being given the chance to elect a mayor. This is a matter of some irritation to people in very much not Tory Cambridge…
…but there are no doubt Tories on the Wirral who don’t want to be part of the Liverpool City Region for basically the same reason, and that didn’t stop us writing about that one, so let’s look at the candidates.
Conservative James Palmer is currently leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, a region of fenland so rural that its biggest metropolis is Ely (population: 20,000).
He is, as discussed above, almost certain to win. So let’s take a look at his priorities, using some awkward pictures from his website:
Second from the left, looking like an overworked DCI from “Line of Duty”.
A new university, to improve educational opportunities and attract businesses to downtown Peterborough!
Not pictured: investment in apprenticeships, plans to improve the city’s transport links eastwards towards Cambridge and East Anglia.
On the right, wishing he’d worn his other suit.
A more open planning system! A diversified construction industry! A lot of guff about how great the government’s housing policies are!
(To be fair to Palmer, his position on changing the boundaries of the green belt which constrains the region’s growth is “only in exceptional circumstances” rather than “never”, which actually counts as radical in this housing market. He also talks about encouraging housing associations and councils to build more, and bringing forward “Community Land Trusts”, in which new affordable homes are owned by the community. For all my snark, this isn’t bad stuff.)
It’s okay, James, I never know what to do with my hands either.
This bit’s all about east-west links (the north-south ones to London and the north are actually pretty good): better roads and possibly new railway lines towards Bedford and Oxford.
To do any of this, though, he has to beat six other candidates.
Labour’s man is Kevin Price, the deputy leader of Cambridge council, whose website is currently doing a fairly convincing impression of a LibDem:
His policies are, frankly, a bit on the vague said. One is “tackling ineqaulity and poverty” by sharing booming Cambridge’s growth across the region – how isn’t clear – and by demanding better funding from the Tory government. Another is to “take action on transport”, where his policy is as follows:
“Kevin will ensure key road and rail transport projects get the go ahead like new stations at Fulborn, Addenbrookes, Wisbech and Soham and the A10 and A47 road improvements.”
That sentence literally his entire transport policy.
But Price is promising to invest £100m in affordable housing, including £70m in new council homes in Cambridge. And he recently tweeted this picture of him in a tshirt bearing a version of my slogan, so for that alone he’d probably get the CityMetric vote:
If Labour is campaigning on what looks a lot like its national policy platform, the same goes double for the LibDems. Their candidate is Rod Cantrill, a councillor for the Newnham area of Cambridge.
Here’s the top item on his website:
Other policies include a local living rent and asking people what they think of the idea of Cambridge Connect’s proposal for a Cambridge light rail network:
Click to expand. You know you want to.
But note that he is only asking what they think: he has not gone so far as to promise to build it.
Incidentally, Cantrill, like Price, is claiming to be the only one who can possibly beat Palmer. In February his website excitedly pointed out that bookmakers’ Ladbrokes had him at 5/2, compared to 16/1 for the Labour man. Palmer was runaway favourite at 2/5.
And the rest
There are four other candidates in the race, presumably in an attempt to drive me mad. In alphabetical order:
- Paul Bullen (UKIP) – Thinks the mayoralty is stupid, but since we’re getting it anyway has promised to shrink the county council instead. Policies include incremental road improvements and new homes for local people.
- Peter Dawe (independent) – Entrepreneur. Promises to consult the electorate regularly on his major policies, which sounds like hell to me. Despite the fact there is no deputy mayor job, he has a running mate in the form of Mark Ringer, director of The Willow Festival. Also promising lots of policies (“7. Electric ‘pods’“). Read more here, if you must.
- Stephen Goldspink (English Democrats) – Former Peterborough councillor. Promises to “resist attempts to demonise the motor car”, and to invite Donald Trump on a state visit. Not our sort of chap.
- Julie Howell (Green) – A parish councillor in Peterborough. Likes cycling, green spaces, council housing. Has a 36 page manifesto if you want to know more.
Why I’ve just spent an hour reading about these people who have no chance of being elected mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough is a mystery for the ages.
Anyway. That’s the last of our mayoral profiles. I’ll be liveblogging on Thursday and Friday as the results come in. May god have mercy on our souls.