Will Cambridge be the hardest seat to win in parliament in 2015?

11 January 2015

Here in Cambridge’s Queen Edith’s ward, we consider ourselves to be very much part of the city, so it’s strange that the parliamentary boundary of the Cambridge constituency rather oddly puts us outside of the city. Unsurprisingly, folks round here tend to be just as interested (if not more) in the parliamentary elections for Cambridge as they do in those for our own South Cambridgeshire constituency. I’ll discuss the forthcoming election in South Cambridgeshire on the Queen Edith’s Online blog nearer the time, but I find the city’s election to be too interesting to ignore. Here goes, then.

Most people think that Cambridge was a really tight race in 2010, especially compared to a more rural constituency like South Cambridgeshire, which is dismissed by some as a foregone conclusion. In fact, over 13.5% of the vote separated first and second place in Cambridge …while a slightly smaller 13.3% separated the first and second place in South Cambridgeshire! However, this is unlikely to be repeated in 2015: at the time of writing, the bookies are hardly able to separate the leading candidates in Cambridge, whereas the Lib Dems’ Sebastian Kindersley is a more distant second favourite behind the Conservatives’ Heidi Allen in South Cambridgeshire.

But it’s not just the potential closeness of the first two which makes Cambridge so exciting. In the 2010 election, the narrowest gap in any UK constituency between 1st and 4th position was 12.7%, and the narrowest gap between 1st and 5th position was 26.3%. In England the figures were 14.4% and 27%. I think it would be quite a surprise if Cambridge didn’t challenge the closeness of those gaps this time around.

Let’s remind ourselves of what happened in 2010:

Party Candidate Votes % change
Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert 19,621 39.1 -5.6
Conservative Nick Hillman 12,829 25.6 +8.3
Labour Daniel Zeichner 12,174 24.3 -9.7
Green Tony Juniper 3,804 7.6 +4.7
UKIP Peter Burkinshaw 1,195 2.4 +1.0
Cambridge Socialists Martin Booth 362 0.7 N/A
Independent Old Holborn 145 0.3 N/A
Majority 6,792 13.5
Turnout 50,130 65.0 +6.1

Now, I’m not suggesting that the share of votes in Cambridge will follow national trends; Julian Huppert is way more popular in the city than his party is nationally. However, poll-watchers can’t fail to notice that the order in which the top five candidates finished last time is the exact opposite to how their national parties’ polling has been changing since then. In other words, if the parties’ fortunes mirror national trends, you’d expect the biggest increase for UKIP and the biggest decrease for the Lib Dems. It’s therefore quite likely that the range of vote shares between the candidates will be smaller in 2015.

In my opinion, the best indication of the competitiveness of our parliamentary elections is how low the winning candidate’s vote share is. That title was taken in 2010 by Simon Wright in Norwich South with just 29.4%. So what would happen in Cambridge if UKIP’s vote made it to 5-10%, the Greens hit 10% and Labour’s vote made it to 25-30%? All of these could be within those parties’ sights. We’d probably see Cambridge’s next MP having the lowest vote share of any in the country, and therefore Cambridge could lay a claim to having been the hardest seat to win in parliament.

We’d also see a gap between the winner and the fifth-placed candidate of a little over 20%. Remember, the narrowest gap between 1st and 5th position anywhere in 2010 was 26.3%. Will any other constituency have its votes spread as widely across the parties as Cambridge?

To find out more about the candidates, here are the details of those who have been announced so far:

Julian Huppert MP (Liberal Democrat) – WebsiteTwitter
Chamali Fernando (Conservative) – WebsiteTwitter
Patrick O’Flynn (UKIP) – WebsiteTwitter
Rupert Read (Green) – WebsiteTwitter
Daniel Zeichner (Labour) – WebsiteTwitter


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