ELECTION 2021: Family bereavement overshadows first day of campaign

Aidan Van de Weyer (left) gets his 2021 campaign under way

Aidan Van de Weyer (left) gets his 2021 campaign under way in Huntingdonshire today to become the Lib Dem Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough. - Credit: Lib Dems

With 54 days to go before Cambridgeshire and Peterborough votes for its £75,000 a year mayor, campaigning began today but tinged with sadness. 

Those on the campaign trail included the current mayor, Conservative James Palmer, and his Liberal Democrat challenger Aidan Van de Weyer.  

Labour’s Nik Johnson was, sadly, absent – he was travelling north to attend the funeral in Newcastle on Tuesday of his father.  

His aides tell me that “Nik was very close to his dad; despite being a doctor used to death, he has been hit very hard by the loss”. 

Dr Johnson has been on zoom hustings in the past week and will launch his campaign, officially, when he returns to Cambridgeshire next week.  

Mayor James Palmer

Mayor James Palmer out campaigning in Peterborough - Credit: Conservatives

In a social media post Dr Johnson wrote that “as the Labour mayoral candidate for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough I’ve got a lot to say”. 

Cllr Van de Weyer, deputy leader of South Cambridgeshire District Council, tweeted a photo of himself and colleagues.

Dr Nik Johnson, Labour candidate for mayor

Dr Nik Johnson, Labour candidate for mayor - Credit: Labour

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“Really good to be able to get out talking to voters today,” he tweeted. 

“In between hail storms, I went to Northstowe with Firouz Thompson and St Neots with Geoff Seeff.” 

Mayor Palmer tweeted that he had “almost got blown away in Peterborough today but it was good to be able to get out on the campaign trail!”. 

As in 2017, the supplementary vote system will be used to elect the mayor for a four-year term of office, which means an eliminating around ahead of the final head-to-head. 

The Greens and Independents are yet to announce candidates but in the first round of voting four years ago, 20 per cent of the votes went to the UKIP, Green, Independent and English Democrat candidates.  

In 2017, Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority (CAPCA) enjoyed the highest turnout of all the mayoral elections, with 33 per cent of the electorate turning out to vote. 

Mayor Palmer had a decisive victory, picking up 76,064 in the final vote against his Lib Dem opponent Rod Cantrill with 47,026 votes. In percentage terms it provided Mayor Palmer with 56.9 per cent, and Mr Cantrill with 43.1 per cent.  

The mayoralty election coincides, again, with the county elections, where Conservatives, currently, have a comfortable majority; they have 34 county seats, with Libs Dems 16, Labour six and four independents.  

But much has happened since 2017, particularly for the fortunes of the Liberal Democrats.  

In a seismic shift, they won control of South Cambridgeshire in 2018, where the number of seats had been reduced by boundary changes. 

There are 45 members of the district council and the Lib Dems are firmly in control. 

The current composition of the council is: 28 Liberal Democrat; 11 Conservative; 2 Independent; 2 Labour and 2 vacancies. 

In 2019, momentum switched to East Cambridgeshire where Lib Dems won 11 seats from the Conservatives and one from an independent. 

A boundary review here had reduced the number of councillors from 39 to 28; prior to the election, the Tories had 35 seats, Lib Dems three and one independent.  

Following the election, the Conservative group was left with 15 of the 28 seats and The Lib Dems two behind with 13. 

And this year James Palmer may well find less reverence, possibly, for his cause in Fenland.  

Although MP Steve Barclay continued to streak well ahead of his opponents in the general election, the 2019 local elections offered a ray of hope to challenge the Tories as independents gained a strong foothold.  

Reflecting that change, the re-emergence of former UKIP candidate Daniel Divine, who stood as an independent in Chatteris, managed to squeeze out long serving Tory councillor Florrie Newell.  

2017 result for mayor 

2017 result for mayor - Credit: Graphic

Huntingdon is also a challenging proposition for the Conservatives who hold 28 of the 52 seats on the district council. Independents remain the main challenger and there are two vacancies.  

Ultimately it may come down to how the cities – Peterborough and Cambridge – vote.  

And as the campaign progresses, we will return to that issue.  

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been confirmed as one of the major political leaders planning a visit to support their candidate in Cambridgeshire.