Students back Labour in exclusive poll as local campaign gets dirty

Colm Murphy 23 April 2015

Election fever has gripped Cambridge, with viral posters, defamation claims between candidates and a visit from Ed Miliband making the headlines. An election survey conducted by The Cambridge Student suggests Labour may well be presenting a serious threat to incumbent Julian Huppert among Cambridge students. As such, Cantab voters could prove decisive in this contest.

However, a recent poll gave the Liberal Democrats’ candidate Julian Huppert a nine-point lead over his Labour rival in Cambridge. The poll, conducted by Lord Ashcroft in March 2015, placed the Liberal Democrats on 40%, the Labour Party on 31% and the Conservatives on 17%. The Green Party and UKIP polled at 9% and 3% respectively. Yet, recent events may have since significantly altered the political landscape. 

On 17 April, the Conservatives’ Chamali Fernando filed a defamation suit against her Lib Dem opponent, as reported in Varsity, following his comments in response to the recent mental illness wristband controversy. At a hustings on Monday 13 April, Cambridge blogger Richard Taylor tweeted that Fernando had suggested that those suffering from poor mental health ought to wear wristbands, an allegation Huppert later repeated. 

Chamali Fernando insists she merely touted it as an option. Her comments were condemned by Nick Clegg, Deputy PM, and Andy Burnham, shadow health secretary as well as the Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA), who wanted to “emphasise that they do not in any way refl ect the views of CUCA or of the Conservative Party.”  An online petition was started against Fernando, calling for her to withdraw her candidacy, and she deleted her Twitter account after receiving death threats. Should Fernando’s legal suit prove successful, there is a risk that the election result would be declared void.

Patrick O’Flynn, the UKIP candidate was also under protest this week by Stand Up To UKIP. The campaigners stood outside a UKIP event held at Arbury Community Centre on Friday 17 April. UKIP MP Douglas Carswell was in attendance alongside former Tory leader of Cambridgeshire County Council, Nick Clarke, who has recently defected to UKIP, as well as 100 supporters. Flynn declared at the event that “UKIP is now on the political map in Cambridge.”

The Cambridge Universities Labour Club (CULC) meanwhile hit the headlines when its Katie Hopkins poster went viral. The joke poster featured an image of the controversial broadcaster and journalist alongside a promise to hold her to her now infamous tweet regarding Ed Miliband: “If this man becomes Prime Minister I will leave the UK. This man is not Great Britain. This is Russell Brand in a chuffing suit. #Battle4Number10”.

Tom Wilson, Campaigns Officer of CULC told The Cambridge Student: “Katie Hopkins has long been a spiteful, divisive figure. This is us having a bit of fun to convey a more important message about the kind of country we want to build.”

Labour activists did come in for criticism however, when James Baillie, a Cambridge University student, argued that the website HuppertCheck was misleading. Baillie demonstrates that Tom Yates, the blog’s author and Labour Party member, made a key methodological mistake in compiling one graph, by relying on rebellion figures from the Public Whip site which do not provide an accurate representation of an individual MP’s vote.  Yates has accepted “some of [the] critique” and agreed to temporarily remove the page. 

Huppert’s campaign has not survived unscathed either. Cambridge residents who received a Huppert campaign leaflet were quick to notice a lack of reference to the Liberal Democrat Party. Instead of a Lib Dem logo, the front page features a prominent black and white rosette with the words “Strong independent voice” written upon it. Huppert had previously been left red-faced when another campaign leaflet misspelt “failed” as “failied” in the title.

Meanwhile Owen Jones, Guardian columnist and political campaigner, addressed CULC on Monday, commenting on Twitter that he was “particularly proud to be joining CULC” for the talk at Lady Mitchell Hall in light of the poster campaign. Jones’ talk proved highly popular, with the venue full to capacity, and Daniel Zeichner’s campaign received a welcome boost when Jones publicly endorsed him.

Also visiting Cambridge this week was Labour leader Ed Miliband. Accompanied by Andy Burnham, Miliband announced a £150 million package to help cut waiting times for cancer test results to just one week. He also pledged more funds for cancer testing in GP surgeries.