Election: It would be senseless to swap a local champion for an identikit Labourite

Elsa Maishman 5 May 2015

TCS is giving campaigners for the parties most likely to win the parliamentary seat in Cambridge a chance to make a last pitch to students. For the Labour piece, go here, and for the Greens, check here.

“Thou shalt not sit with statisticians”, W.H. Auden once declared. The Labour Party in Cambridge would do well, I think, to take his advice. Recently, they’ve been bandying around a lot of statistics: Julian Huppert voted with the Conservatives in Parliament approximately 80% of the time, we hear, or even 97%. The latter figure came, by the way, from the execrable HuppertCheck website (run, of course, by a Labour activist), and refers not to votes with the Tories, but with the majority of Lib Dem MPs. For example, Lib Dem MPs like Julian were whipped, together with Labour, in a vote to ameliorate the Bedroom Tax (which Labour introduced, but let’s not go there…), and the Conservatives overwhelmingly opposed it. Julian, with most Lib Dem and Labour MPs, voted for same-sex marriage, too, while a majority of Tories opposed.

Yet according to HuppertCheck, both votes count in the 97% category of quisling betrayals against voters. The misleading figure has since been removed from the website, but even so – let’s consign ‘Huppert Check’ to the dustbin of history, and unpack the other figure a bit. Yes, Julian did vote with the Tories that many times. However, most of them were meaningless, and frankly quite silly. For example, the rules say that the government has to have a vote in order to levy income tax – any income tax – and the Opposition always votes against. There are also Opposition Days, where the Opposition tables motions deliberately phrased to embarrass the government, and which aren’t binding in any case. There’s a lot of procedural stuff, too. Not all votes are equal. When Julian voted against the tuition fee increase, against the wars in Iraq and Syria, and against the Health Bill becoming law, these rebellions were far more significant than most of his votes with the Government.

And also – heaven forbid – some of the things the government did were good. Voting with the Tories to scrap ID cards, to ring-fence international aid, to end child detention: these aren’t things to be ashamed of. Yes, Julian voted for Osborne’s budget which cut income tax for the rich, but only because it gave a massive tax break to low earners. The Lib Dem manifesto was, and is, crammed full of radical policies, some of which we delivered, and some of which we didn’t. If you think the compromise was too much, fair enough. But don’t make your decision based on a scary number. All in all, I refuse to play the Labour Party’s game. They can keep their dry reductionistic calculus, because he does so much more as an MP than filing through a lobby when a division bell rings. Julian successfully lobbied the government to stop cuts to Disabled Student Allowance, to ban revenge porn, and to give a funding boost to local schools. He’s a local champion. Replacing him with a monochrome Labour apparatchik would not be a good idea