ELECTION DAY: The Tab meets candidates for Cambridge
If you still haven’t decided, you’d better hurry up
Well today is the day. After months of campaigning, spin, accusations of media bias, TV debates (or lack thereof) and character assassination, voting day is upon us. Last year, Labour only won Cambridge by 599 votes (1.2%), so our votes as Cambridge students count more than ever in this hotly contested constituency.
After Saturday’s hustings at The Union, the Tab spoke to four of the Cambridge candidates: Daniel Zeichner (Labour), Julian Huppert (Lib Dem), John Hayward (Tory) and Stuart Tuckwood (Green). Though the polls are saying that Zeichner is set to get around 45% of the votes and Huppert only 36%, as we’ve seen from Brexit, polls can be misleading.
There was an odd atmosphere in the chamber during the hustings, with only enough time for a few floor questions and quite a lot of arguing between panellists. It’s clear that tensions between Zeichner and Huppert are at an all-time high – Zeichner could be losing his seat after just two years in the job, while Huppert only just lost out in 2015. There was a real sense that this is a swing seat, and the candidates are fighting hard for votes.
Daniel Zeichner (Labour)
Zeicher has been the Cambridge MP for only 2 years, studied history at King’s college, and has worked in politics for much of his career. He was in a hurry to leave after the Hustings, so we only got a few minutes to talk to him, but we still managed to get some questions in. The interview was conducted standing up.
The first time I met Zeichner was while he was campaigning on the Sidgewick site. I asked him a question about mansion tax and he asked me if I was voting in Cambridge. When I said no he said that he thought it was a ‘post-election question’ and moved on. When I brought this up, Zeichner was clearly taken aback: “I certainly don’t recollect every conversation – I’ve had many of thousands. All I will say is that the General Election campaign – that’s a time when people are contesting for votes – so there’s lots and lots of time outside of elections for really detailed discussions”.
Over the last few weeks, Corbyn has changed his mind on a number of issues, including Trident and military expenditure. Would you say that Corbyn is increasingly trying to appease voters as opposed to standing by his principles? “Democratic political parties aren’t run by a presidential person on top like Theresa May… Jeremy genuinely believes in party democracy… He will implement the decisions that the party has come to”.
It is no secret that Zeichner along with many other Labour MPs didn’t support Corbyn in either of the party leadership elections, and that his success in Labour was largely down to a large influx of new, low-membership-fee members. Do you think that Labour can still be called democratic? Zeichner asked if I thought that “Macron was democratically elected” in France, going on to cite the democratic model of American parties, concluding that was Labour was trying to do was “open politics out because it had become, in many people’s views, very narrow… This raises sometimes some tensions”. However, he insisted that this “new politics” was far better than the “May-bot”.
Before he had to leave, we managed to ask Zeichner about anti-semitism in Labour. Famously in a 2010 debate at the Union Society, Zeichner performed a Nazi salute as part of an attack on David Cameron for “selling his soul for Brexit”. Zeichner insisted that the Conservative candidate who was in the audience “thought it was absolutely perfectly legitimate debating tactic and we won the debate”. However, in retrospect “I wish I hadn’t done it”.
And I suppose this raises questions about antisemitism in Labour? “Well, antisemitism in society… The media is very hostile to Labour and Jeremy Corbyn. Now I don’t dispute that there is a problem with antisemitism and racism right across our society, but I do wonder why it is so focused on one particular political party, when actually I would say it is sadly all to prevalent across society.”
Before he had to leave, I asked how he felt it was all going. “I am perfectly satisfied with the way the election is going so we’ll have to see what happens on Thursday.”
Julian Huppert (Liberal Democrat)
Huppert was MP for Cambridge from 2010 to 2015 before losing the seat to Zeichner. The Liberal-Tory coalition during which he was an MP was one of the most damaging eras for the Liberal Democrats, not least because of Nick Clegg’s U-turn on tuition fees (probably the main reason Zeichner won in 2015). Huppert explained how “I was an undergrad here at Cambridge when tuition fees were introduced” and that, while here, he “led several of the protests against them… I’ve been opposed to tuition fees my entire adult life”. He was keen to emphasise that Labour voted in tuition fees.
During the hustings, Huppert made a big thing of public support for him from the National Union of Students (the NUS). After last year’s disaffiliation campaign here in Cambridge, antisemitism in the NUS is a big concern for students here.
Huppert is openly anti-Israel, explaining that criticising Israel is “absolutely fine” while criticising Judaism is “absolutely not”. He told how “I’m an atheist humanist, but I come from a Jewish background”.
His views on Brexit are similarly strong: “Personally, I’d withdraw from article 50 and get on with it”. When asked whether his anti-Brexit stance was to deny the people of their decision, Huppert insisted that “people won’t want to set up businesses here” and that “we are much better off with immigrants”.
Conversation turned to the Tories and whether they had any chance of a resurgence in Cambridge. Huppert told that there is “no chance the Tories will win” here, and that Ladbrokes is offering “something like 20:1” joking that I should place a bet if I think they have a chance. He explained that he had spoken to people all over Cambridge who were traditionally Tory, Labour or non-voters who were going to vote for him today.
When Trump came up, Huppert explained that “I think Trump is an utter disgrace”. Though he recognised that his choice to leave the Paris Climate Agreement was bad, “If anything, I would say Paris didn’t go far enough”. Huppert believes that “we need to get zero carbon Britain by 2050… We don’t have time to mess around”.
Talking about the shortage of houses in Cambridge, Huppert slipped in that he planned to build a new Garden City in order to make up for the enormous housing deficit here in Cambridge. Huppert couldn’t cite any specific numbers as to the cost of such a project, instead citing a collaborative effort between the state and private property developers to build 300,000 new homes. I asked him the cost of such a project twice but we didn’t get to a number.
Even if Huppert wins Cambridge and the Lib Dems manage to reclaim a few more seats, they will still be a minority party for the foreseeable future. Huppert believes that “you can make a change as a minority party”.
Just before the interview ended, I asked Huppert about rumours that he had been kicked out of Christ’s college buttery by the senior tutor. He looked confused and insisted that he couldn’t recall it.
John Hayward (Conservative)
Hayward is a doctor of genetics and has held down a career in international development for most of his life. He founded an adult education institute in a former Soviet republic and has worked with the Jubilee Centre, a social reform charity in Cambridge.
He currently holds only 16% of the poll in Cambridge, however he insists that the Tories do have a chance of winning this constituency, possibly gaining up to 50% of the vote. “I am expecting to win”.
During the hustings, he cited Ronald Regan as a “freedom fighter”. When I chased this up, he argued that “he and Margaret Thatcher worked in a unique way with Gorbachev”. He believes that, as a result “the world is a better place”.
This led to a discussion on defence. He explained how the “first duty of government is to protect its people… to unilaterally disarm would be to invite leaders to exploit that throwing away of national security”. He insists that “Corbyn is a threat to national security”.
Talking about Trident, Hayward sees the “need to renew and upgrade nuclear systems”, however defence reform cannot just surround nuclear programmes. He sees the need to commit “to putting record amounts into equipment and into the armed forces going forwards”.
In his opinion, the Labour party as it stands as “an existential threat to our way of life”. He told me that“my friends in the former Soviet Union cannot believe that we are thinking of putting” someone like Corbyn in power.
This election offers a choice between “a far-left and a centre” and “the centre is the safest position to be in”, and in Cambridge, Hayward sees himself as the only candidate who can deliver a “progressive, social justice agenda”.
Stuart Tuckwood (Green)
Tuckwood is an NHS nurse with a passion of protecting the UK’s health service, cutting carbon emissions in Cambridge and making refugees welcome. He is the youngest of the candidates and holds the lowest poll share in Cambridge (only 2%).
During the hustings, Tuckwood spoke about the arms trade in the UK. When I asked him for more details, he argued that “the very first element of foreign policy is not making conflict worse” – that “we should be stepping back from promoting the trade of weapons”, particularly to countries with “poor human rights records” like Columbia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
He recognises that cutting the UK arms industry could have an impact on the jobs market, however, he argued that growing the renewable energy sector could make up for any jobs lost.
Citing the fact that there is nearly no chance of a Green victory in Cambridge, I asked what the Green party and he as a candidate can actually do. He believes that smaller parties can certainly “influence the debate”. The Cambridge Greens hold numerous events and discussion groups, so it’s “not necessarily about what you achieve politically”. Voting Green is not a “wasted vote”.
Tuckwood insisted that “I’m not done in politics after this” and that “I want to change things for people”. He sees politics as needing more “people who are in it for the right reasons”. He thinks tribalism between Labour and the Lib Dems in Cambridge “isn’t very good” and that “none of the parties have the realistic ambition to change environmental issues in time”.
So that’s that! Well done if you made it through all that (I wouldn’t have). You have until 10pm today, so get to a polling station and get voting.
With thanks to Freddie Dyke for all photographs taken inside the Union Society chamber.