Are Suffolk's rural Tories taking votes for granted in this year's election?
PUBLISHED: 05:30 28 February 2019
This year's local council elections in Suffolk are just over a couple of months away - and I'm starting think they could be much more interesting than I had expected just a few weeks ago.
On the face of it the results are fairly predictable. In the rural districts – East Suffolk, West Suffolk, Mid Suffolk and Babergh – the Tories will probably retain power while in Ipswich where only a third of the seats are up for election it is mathematically impossible for Labour to lose (unless there is suddenly a stream of unexpected by-elections).
However things have changed quite significantly over the last few weeks, and I’m not sure the Conservatives can be quite so confident (some might say complacent) about their chances of success in May’s elections.
I’m not sure they will lose control of the rural districts – but there’s a serious chance that the Tories won’t do as well as they expect as voters punish them for being perceived as being out of touch and arrogant.
Suffolk Coastal is the area in the county where this could be most graphically illustrated come the elections – the district is being merged with Waveney to form East Suffolk Council but the behaviour of its leading councillors has left a nasty taste in many mouths over the last few weeks.
The main concern among many Conservatives from across the county is Suffolk Coastal’s decision to spend £15,000 of council tax payers’ money on an event to mark the end of the organisation after four and a half decades.
I know the organisers don’t like describing it as a party, preferring to call it a “celebration” of the district. The word I’ve heard many people use is a “junket”. And they’re not happy about it.
I’ve spoken to many senior Conservatives in Suffolk who have been sent invitations to the event at Snape Maltings who have gleefully told me that they’ve got prior engagements.
And I understand the whole idea has really irritated many of the Conservatives from Waveney who are used to scrapping with opposition Labour, Green and Liberal Democrat councillors at every turn.
One north Suffolk Tory told me: “I’m afraid this party is just symptomatic of the arrogance of some of the leaders of Suffolk Coastal. They don’t have a clue what it’s like to face a real opposition week after week. They’re in for a shock after May!”
They could also find things tougher in some of their heartlands after the council’s perceived failings in dealing with arguably the largest issue it is facing. The proposed Sizewell C project.
I was at last Saturday’s meeting in Theberton church about the Sizewell C plans. Conservatives from Suffolk County Council were there and made it clear they understood the concerns of the people in the room.
Suffolk Coastal councillor Michael Gower, who represents villages to the north of the proposed site, robustly outlined his concerns – but he is not a cabinet member at the authority and some people have been left with the feeling that it has been too keen to avoid offending EDF, even if it means overlooking the wishes of its voters.
But to be fair it isn’t just Suffolk Coastal where there are issues.
Mid Suffolk and Babergh have produced council tax-funded leaflets extolling their services which look like party political leaflets on behalf of the current organisation.
I have nothing against council literature per se – The Angle is produced by Ipswich Council several times a year and has been done so by both Labour and Tory-led administrations – but to only produce a leaflet just before an election really does invite accusations of political bias.
Overall, though, I do suspect that this year’s local elections will essentially be unremarkable – the most significant thing about them could be the low turnout.
With national political parties being at an all-time low in many people’s eyes (I’ve had more than one person asking me how come the country has ended up with the worst prime minister ever at the same time as the worst leader of the opposition ever!) I don’t expect queues at the polling stations come May 2.
What I do hope for when the elections do come around is that people vote for people who will do a good job as a councillor. Local councils won’t be involved in EU negotiations (whether we’re in or out), they won’t be doing trade deals with Venezuela, and they won’t be deciding what happens to former ISIS members who want to return to the UK – but they do impact your life every day.