Jamie Dalzell is an engaging character. His Twitter profile confirms it.
“Committed liberal and ale enthusiast, counting beans for a living,” he proclaims.
And yesterday he was, of course, in Cottenham, tweeting that it has “always been an ambition to canvass the UK’s longest High Street!”.
Unfortunately for many who actually live in Cottenham they might have preferred there were less canvassers out and about as the village became a microcosm for the proposed Cambridge congestion charge.
A by election for South Cambridgeshire District Council, prompted by the death of Cllr Dr John Loveluck who had only been elected to the council last May, became a congestion charge battleground.
Conservatives, with their political antennae sniffing widespread hostility to the congestion charge, believed they could win back the seat they had lost in 2018.
It didn’t work out quite the way they hoped as Eileen Wilson retained the seat for the Liberal Democrats, albeit it in the face of a swing to Conservatives on a day where the turnout was 39.33 per cent.
Here’s the result:
Fisher, Oliver (Green) 107
Hingston, Thomas Mark (Labour) 373
Morris, Francis Joseph (Conservative) 678
Pilsworth, Joanne Katherine (Independent) 52
Wilson, Eileen Margaret (Liberal Democrat) 864
Political analyst Phil Rodgers of Cambridge tweeted: “Compared to the result last time (counting the highest vote for each party), the Lib Dems were down 21% and the Conservatives were up 12%, a swing of 17%”.
Those are the basic facts of the poll, but the campaign had been mired in controversy with Conservatives across the county anxious to reflect the outcome for Cottenham in terms not of any particular local issue but exclusively that of the congestion charge.
Typical of those looking for political capital was Cllr Anna Bailey, leader of Tory controlled East Cambridgeshire District Council, who has been outspoken in her criticism of the congestion charge.
Earlier this week her sharply refined nostrils quickly picked up on a Labour resignation at Cambridgeshire County Council.
When a tweet backfires
“Labour resignation – are the wheels falling off the Labour love for the Cambridge CONgestion Charge?,” she tweeted, unaware of course that Cllr Hilary Cox Condron has resigned her county council seat for personal reasons.
The county Labour Party explained that “after a recent bereavement, our friend and colleague Hilary has made the choice to prioritise her mental health and take a break from politics. We fully support her in this personal decision.
“Balancing the role of an elected politician with work and family commitments is a difficult task.
“As elected councillors, we need to be more open and honest about the impact being in politics can have on mental health and our work-life balance. We also need to think more about the impact abusive communications and behaviour in politics has on some of our elected representatives who experience it, and all try to be kinder in politics.”
But back to Cottenham and at least one resident felt all political parties were overplaying their hand and intruding too much.
‘Harry Potter’ style leafletting
“I have found it extremely intrusive today,” said one. “The first leaflet through the letterbox woke me up at 7am morning and they have been coming Harry Potter style all day.
“I work from home teaching online and have been interrupted several times (not that I answered the door). I have just had another session this evening and the door has gone again!
“I wouldn’t mind but my postal vote went off 10 days ago so nothing they said would have changed my mind.”
Once the votes were counted, however, and the Lib Dem candidate confirmed as the winner it was to Cllr Pippa Heylings, who is also Lib Dem Parliamentary candidate, to reflect on a “much-deserved by-election win”.
She said: “The results shows the huge respect with which the community holds Eileen, and this is very much a result of her hard work previously as a district councillor between 2018 and 2022.
“We are delighted that she is part of the Lib Dem council group again at South Cambs.
She added: “There is definitely no sense of entitlement in the Lib Dems, and we were listening very hard on the doorstep to all the issues you are raising.”
Tory candidate Frank Morris had made no bones about it that his campaign was based on opposition to the congestion charge.
‘Travesty of a tax’
“The Conservative party is the only party which unequivocally is against this travesty of a tax,” he said.
“The tax will not only harm many elderly and less well-off, but also make lives even more difficult for time-poor families who must use cars to make family lives sustainable across education, health, leisure, and work pressures.
“No number of buses would scratch the surface of the unmet needs of these families.”
It fell to a Fenland Tory, in this instance Cllr Steve Tierney of Wisbech, to express his party’s regret at not winning the Cottenham seat.
“Sadly, as you can see, while the swing is not bad, its nowhere near enough to stop them,” he posted to an anti-congestion charge social media group.
“With Labs and Libs polling 60% ish together, Congestion Charge isn’t unpopular enough to unseat them in by-elections. So, they aren’t scared. So, sadly, they won’t stop.”
A frequent campaigner in the by election was MP Anthony Browne.
“Remember: a vote for the Lib Dems or Labour is a vote for the hated congestion charge,” he said.
“We are the only party campaigning against the congestion charge. The Lib Dems are so embarrassed of their own policies they don’t dare mention them in their leaflets.”
Describing one of his visits this week he claimed to have got “an amazingly warm reception in a rainy Cottenham.
Non Tories ‘outraged’ says MP
“People who have never voted Conservative before are coming our way because they are so outraged by the Lib Dem and Labour plans for the congestion charge, taxing ordinary drivers for going into Cambridge.
“Democracy only works if you use your vote to send a message, and this is a local election about local policies. If you don’t like the congestion charge, there is only one party against it: the Conservatives.”
Here’s from another visit.
“Residents are furious with the Lib Dems and Labour for imposing the much-hated £5 congestion charge for driving into Cambridge.
“If you hate the congestion charge, Conservatives are the only party opposing it, and this could be your only chance to vote against it, because the Lib Dems are rejecting our calls for a referendum on it.”
However, he did manage to pick up on a couple of other issues, that of housing and the council’s experimental four-day week.
“The Lib Dems are building 57,000 houses, nearly twice what the national Government thinks is needed, despite the fact they know it will destroy our local environment, lead to massive water shortages and increase disgusting sewage discharges,” he said.
“The Lib Dems are funded by property developers.”
He added: “The Lib Dems have cut the working week of their council officers to 4 days, while keeping them on full pay – the equivalent of a 25% pay rise.
“If you can’t get hold of anyone at the council, you know why. They are imposing the biggest council tax rise they are legally allowed to do, despite the cost-of-living crisis.”
Gracious in defeat
Cottenham and Rampton Labour Party accepted defeat with due grace.
Their post-election statement said: “That’s by election day over. Congratulations to Eileen Wilson for being elected councillor.
“Thank you to everyone who voted Labour, delivered leaflets, offered us lemonade and loo breaks, took a poster.
“Labour’s vote share went up significantly. Well done to Tom Hingston for a fantastic campaign.”
Jo Pilsworth, the independent candidate, had also fought on the congestion charge issue.
“It will penalise people who have to drive into Cambridge from the villages,” she said.
“Bus services have a long way to go to even start to be convenient. The bus through Cottenham is one of the routes where funding is uncertain.”
She also campaigned to “keep our villages as villages, and not have them consumed as developers expand across Cambridge’s green belt”.
And she wanted “a return to local politicians who actually listen to their electorate.
“Both the existing Lib Dem district councillor and Neil Gough, the county councillor have stated they are in favour of the congestion charge, by voting along party lines, even though a poll indicated 89% against the idea”.
And so to Dave!
Councillor Dave Baigent is the Labour councillor who has become the unofficial ‘spokesperson’ for the pro congestion charge movement being considered by the Greater Cambridge Partnership.
He has long supported the Greater Cambridge Partnership’s public consultation on its plans to improve the bus network and introduce a potential congestion charge.
He believes the proposals are “last bus in town” to bring improvements.
He said: “No government is going to throw another £500 million at Cambridge. If we fail to achieve anything, they will take back what has not been used.”
Tweeting today he believes the Conservatives “got confused by a mass movement against STZ ( Sustainable Travel Zone”.
He said the Greater Cambridge Partnership consultation” was actually about buses.
“The result in Cottenham shows that the anti-congestion Tory party do not have the majority they claim.”
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