Who will be elected mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough?

Another generic Cambridge pic. Image: Getty.

There are two things that are weird about the Cambridgeshire & Peterborough mayoralty, which like five other regions holds its first election this Thursday.

One is that it’s a foregone conclusion – but not for Labour. The region’s demographics mean that it’s all but certain to return Conservative James Palmer as its first mayor.

It’s not impossible, in fact, that he’ll be elected on the first round. In 2015, according to Professor John Curtice, 45.6 per cent of the county’s voters went Tory (Labour were in second with 21.6 per cent). Throw in the swing to the Tories, and low turnout, and it’s entirely plausible Palmer will get over 50 per cent of first preferences, thus eliminating the need for the instant run-off and saving returning officers some time.

The region

All this is largely explained by the second weird thing about the region: it’s not a metropolitan area at all. Rather, it’s a county, of around 850,000 people, with a medium sized city at either end: Cambridge (c130,000 people) in the south east, and Peterborough (c190,000) in the north west. Those two cities contain a significant number of Labour voters; but a majority of the country’s population will live in safe Tory rural areas.

The bustling metropolis.

It is, in other words, not a city region. It’s not even a proper historic county: it’s actually two, Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire, plus a sliver of Northamptonshire around Peterborough. So why on earth is it getting a metro mayor?

At risk of getting circular, the answer, I fear, takes us back to where we came in: it’s getting a mayor because it’s choice is likely to be a Tory.

When George Osborne first came up with the bright idea of devolving powers to metro mayors, a barrier within the Conservative party was that the big cities at the top of the list were all highly likely to elect Labour candidates. To sweeten this pill, combined authorities in largely Tory shires were discussed too: a Greater Lincolnshire deal was on the cards, while demands for a Yorkshire-wide mayor helped prevent city deals in Leeds and Sheffield.

The Cambs & Peterborough deal was the only one to actually make it through the process. And even that didn’t survive unscathed: at one point it was the western half of a wider Anglia deal which also included Norfolk and Suffolk, and which fell to bits because Cambridgeshire is more worried about links with London than it is about links with Norwich.

Anyway: the point is that the will likely elect a Tory mayor because it’s a Tory area, and the fact it’s a Tory area is the reason it’s being given the chance to elect a mayor. This is a matter of some irritation to people in very much not Tory Cambridge...

...but there are no doubt Tories on the Wirral who don’t want to be part of the Liverpool City Region for basically the same reason, and that didn’t stop us writing about that one, so let’s look at the candidates.

The frontrunner

Conservative James Palmer is currently leader of East Cambridgeshire District Council, a region of fenland so rural that its biggest metropolis is Ely (population: 20,000).

He is, as discussed above, almost certain to win. So let’s take a look at his priorities, using some awkward pictures from his website:

Second from the left, looking like an overworked DCI from “Line of Duty”.

A new university, to improve educational opportunities and attract businesses to downtown Peterborough!

Not pictured: investment in apprenticeships, plans to improve the city’s transport links eastwards towards Cambridge and East Anglia.

On the right, wishing he’d worn his other suit.

A more open planning system! A diversified construction industry! A lot of guff about how great the government’s housing policies are!

(To be fair to Palmer, his position on changing the boundaries of the green belt which constrains the region’s growth is “only in exceptional circumstances” rather than “never”, which actually counts as radical in this housing market. He also talks about encouraging housing associations and councils to build more, and bringing forward “Community Land Trusts”, in which new affordable homes are owned by the community. For all my snark, this isn’t bad stuff.)

It’s okay, James, I never know what to do with my hands either.

This bit’s all about east-west links (the north-south ones to London and the north are actually pretty good): better roads and possibly new railway lines towards Bedford and Oxford.

To do any of this, though, he has to beat six other candidates.

The challengers

Labour’s man is Kevin Price, the deputy leader of Cambridge council, whose website is currently doing a fairly convincing impression of a LibDem:

His policies are, frankly, a bit on the vague said. One is “tackling ineqaulity and poverty” by sharing booming Cambridge’s growth across the region – how isn’t clear – and by demanding better funding from the Tory government. Another is to “take action on transport”, where his policy is as follows:

“Kevin will ensure key road and rail transport projects get the go ahead like new stations at Fulborn, Addenbrookes, Wisbech and Soham and the A10 and A47 road improvements.”

That sentence literally his entire transport policy.

But Price is promising to invest £100m in affordable housing, including £70m in new council homes in Cambridge. And he recently tweeted this picture of him in a tshirt bearing a version of my slogan, so for that alone he’d probably get the CityMetric vote:

If Labour is campaigning on what looks a lot like its national policy platform, the same goes double for the LibDems. Their candidate is Rod Cantrill, a councillor for the Newnham area of Cambridge.

Here’s the top item on his website:

Other policies include a local living rent and asking people what they think of the idea of Cambridge Connect’s proposal for a Cambridge light rail network:

Click to expand. You know you want to.

But note that he is only asking what they think: he has not gone so far as to promise to build it.

Incidentally, Cantrill, like Price, is claiming to be the only one who can possibly beat Palmer. In February his website excitedly pointed out that bookmakers’ Ladbrokes had him at 5/2, compared to 16/1 for the Labour man. Palmer was runaway favourite at 2/5.

And the rest

There are four other candidates in the race, presumably in an attempt to drive me mad. In alphabetical order:

  • Paul Bullen (UKIP) – Thinks the mayoralty is stupid, but since we’re getting it anyway has promised to shrink the county council instead. Policies include incremental road improvements and new homes for local people.
  • Peter Dawe (independent) – Entrepreneur. Promises to consult the electorate regularly on his major policies, which sounds like hell to me. Despite the fact there is no deputy mayor job, he has a running mate in the form of Mark Ringer, director of The Willow Festival. Also promising lots of policies (“7. Electric ‘pods’“). Read more here, if you must.
  • Stephen Goldspink (English Democrats) – Former Peterborough councillor. Promises to “resist attempts to demonise the motor car”, and to invite Donald Trump on a state visit. Not our sort of chap.
  • Julie Howell (Green) – A parish councillor in Peterborough. Likes cycling, green spaces, council housing. Has a 36 page manifesto if you want to know more.

Why I’ve just spent an hour reading about these people who have no chance of being elected mayor of Cambridgeshire & Peterborough is a mystery for the ages.


Anyway. That’s the last of our mayoral profiles. I’ll be liveblogging on Thursday and Friday as the results come in. May god have mercy on our souls.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.


So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?


And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.