Cambridge MP Daniel Zeichner (left) and Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry share a laugh on the campaign trailLouis Ashworth

Shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry arrived in Cambridge to canvass on Saturday, as parliamentary candidates began canvassing on the first weekend in the build-up to June’s snap election.

Thornberry is the first of many ‘big beasts’ likely to arrive in the Cambridge constituency in the coming weeks, in what is expected to be tightly contested fight between the incumbent Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats.

Mountain View

Snap election What does it mean for Cambridge?

The parliamentary vote now coincides with two other major local elections taking place in May – for seats on the county council, and voting for the inaugural Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayoral election. As a result, party groups are already highly active in the city.

In the early afternoon, bookies’ favourite Julian Huppert – the Lib Dem candidate and former Cambridge MP, who was ousted by Labour’s Daniel Zeichner in 2015 – knocked on doors in Newnham Ward, in the west of the city. He was joined by Baroness Kate Parminter, who is deputy leader of the Lib Dems in the House of Lords, and London Assembly Member Caroline Pidgeon.

Newnham Ward is expected to carry a strong Lib Dem vote. Adams Road, which runs alongside Trinity College playing field, is already lined with the party’s bright orange placards. Varsity spoke to Huppert as he canvassed along Wilberforce Road and Madingley Road.

Julian Huppert canvassing on Madingley RoadLouis Ashworth

He said that the response to canvassing had been “really encouraging”, and that many people on the doorsteps had expressed disappointment with the actions of the Conservative and Labour parties over issues like Brexit.

Huppert said people who “didn’t get involved in the run up to the Brexit vote”, who were now becoming more engaged, and that many voters who hadn’t supported him in 2015 said that they would now. Reflecting on the last election’s narrow result – with Zeichner winning by just 599 votes – he described the student vote as “incredibly important”, and said that he felt his record on voting against tuition fees put him in good stead with students.

Two Madingley Road residents, Ian and Sue Collins, spoke of their strong support for the Lib Dems. Sue said she believed that Huppert would provide the best leadership on local issues like transport and housing, but Ian said that his emphasis was more on the national picture, where he believes the Lib Dems have the most coherent policy on reversing the effects of Brexit.

On the boundaries of Castle Ward, near Churchill College, Huppert spoke about the wider base he hopes to reach out to during this election campaign. As well as core Lib Dem supporters, he hoped to reach out to disaffected Labour voters, and Conservative voters who backed Remain in last year’s Brexit referendum.

Liberal Democrat campaigners on Storey’s Way Louis Ashworth

Later in the afternoon, Thornberry and Zeichner gathered with Labour activists to canvass along Mill Road, in the central ward of Romsey. After several photos ops with Thornberry, who has a high media profile following multiple television appearances, they set off knocking on doors.

Labour’s candidate for the first Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Mayoral election, Councillor Kevin Price, dismissed the idea that an escalation in the national debate could damage his local campaign. Cllr Price, who is a college porter at Clare College in addition to his work as housing executive for Cambridge City Council, found himself on the other side of the doors as canvassing intensified ahead of Polling Day on 4th May.

“General election or no general election, the main issues I’m hearing about haven’t changed,” he said. “My campaign has carried on as it was and my main concerns are still housing, transport, and jobs. The biggest problem I keep hearing about on the doorstep is inadequate housing.”

Zeichner showed up on his bikeLouis Ashworth

On the contrary, the veteran activist claimed that engagement in the Mayoral contest is greater than ever. “What Theresa May’s surprise announcement did was raise awareness of elections. There were some people in Cambridge who did not know what the Mayoral election was about and this has generated more interest,” Cllr Price explained.

He hesitated, however, in addressing the key dilemma facing students at Clare: would they be best served by Cllr Price in the Town Hall or in the Porters’ Lodge? “I obviously couldn’t stay on as a porter if I win, but if I don’t get elected as mayor, I’ll keep my job,” he said.

Varsity joined the Labour canvassers as the moved from the Co-Op at the end of Catharine Street, down to Brookfields Hospital. Along the way, they distributed leaflets and spoke to voters on doorsteps.

A Thornberry in the wild

To hear our full interview with Shadow Foreign Minister Emily Thornberry, covering elections, Corbyn and North Korea, tune in to The Sunday Review with Varsity, next Sunday at 1pm.

Asked about whether Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election had taken her by surprise, Thornberry told Varsity she “couldn’t believe it”.

“There I was, silly me,” she said, “I thought that what with her being a vicar’s daughter and all, when she said she wasn’t going to have a surprise election, and she said it eleven times, that we could believe her.”

Nonetheless, she welcomed the challenge of the upcoming general election, saying that Lib Dem leaders were “without a plan”, and that Labour would provide a “straightforward approach”.

Zeichner dismissed any discussion of a ‘progressive alliance’ with the Lib Dems. The concept of such an arrangement – in which left-leaning parties withdraw candidates from some seats to provide a single candidate to oppose the Conservatives – has been extensively discussed recently. He said that the Lib Dems “can’t be trusted”, having “propped up the Tories” in the coalition government. He said he would consider a “progressive alliance with progressive people, not with Liberal Democrats”.

Labour canvassers speak to Mill Road residents on the doorstepsLouis Ashworth

He was damning of the Lib Dems’ record, saying that Huppert “was walking through the lobbies with the people who introduced the bedroom tax, the people who tripled tuition fees.”

Though many doors were not answered, the campaigners had long conversations with several potential voters over issues ranging from local housing to North Korea. At one point, a BMW X5 driver slowed down across the road from the canvassers.

“Vote Tory!” yelled its driver.

General election canvassing is likely to become more intense after the county council and mayoral elections on the 4th May. After 2015’s tight contest, both leading local parties will be pulling out all the stops to secure the city’s parliamentary seat