Coastal district set to elect Suffolk’s first woman MP
THAT SUFFOLK Coastal is highly unlikely to elect anyone other than Therese Coffey on May 5 is to cast no slight against the other four candidates.
But as Miss Coffey is standing for the Conservatives, you’ll not find anyone willing to offer any odds against the Tories.
Suffolk Coastal is a solid Conservative seat. It has been represented for the past 27 years by John Gummer – who for four years before that was MP for the old Eye division, which was scrapped when Coastal was created.
Mr Gummer was highly respected – indeed the Liberal Democrat candidate this time Daisy Cooper wryly complimented him as a “good constituency MP for a rotten party’’.
The former chairman of the Conservative Party and Environment Secretary in John Major’s government is stepping down at the age of 70, and Miss Coffey was paid the ultimate accolade by Tories in the constituency when they selected her on the first ballot with 66% of the vote from a shortlist of six.
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Ms Coffey, who is renting a house near Saxmundham until the election, says: “I have found a variety of concerns on the doorstep, including the housing development at Martlesham Heath, the proposed academy for Felixstowe, the new health centre for Reydon which will mean the closure of the GP surgery in Southwold, worry at the move from three-tier to two-tier education, and coastal erosion.
“But above all, the state of the economy is deeply troubling for constituents, who are looking for change because they think that will be the best way forward.
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“One of the biggest challenges facing a new Tory government will be its policy on localism. If ministers want to move to a system of local budgets, they must trust communities to spend the money wisely rather than direct policy from the centre.
“Broadband should be no problem here because BT are one of the mainstays of the constituency’s economy. We must encourage aspiration and provide services and jobs for young people to encourage them not to move away, and that means we must have a fast, reliable broadband connection.”
Labour finished second behind John Gummer in 2005, but its highly personable young candidate Adam Leeder will be doing well if he repeats that feat.
A researcher for Ipswich MP Chris Mole, Mr Leeder says the constituency needs high-value jobs as well as new-build homes which are affordable. The average wage in the constituency is the same as Ipswich, but the prices are much higher.
“We must end the relief second homeowners get on their council tax bills. Currently, they pay 90% but that should rise to 100% and the extra 10% ring fenced to go towards the provision of starter and affordable homes.
“Those new homes should be spread out across the constituency rather than concentrated on one location. I am not anti development, but it is tempting to put all the new homes on the green fields around Felixstowe rather than being built elsewhere.
“We are in a wonderful position to encourage renewable energy such as off-shore wind farms in the North Sea. But we cannot get all our energy needs from renewables which is why I support the construction of the Sizewell C and D nuclear plants.
“I am a passionate supporter of the Government’s Sure Start investment. The Tories are proposing a budget shift, which can only mean that the scheme will be downsized. One in five could close, yet in Felixstowe South, Sure Start is essential for working parents.”
Mr Leeder says: “I’m keen to encourage the construction of the Beccles Loop which will enable an hourly passenger train service to operate between Ipswich and Lowestoft. High quality, sustainable public transport is essential in a constituency like Coastal and I am keen to see funding accesses from the transport innovation fund.”
In Daisy Cooper, the Liberal Democrats have picked a good communicator who is determined to finish at least second and if she doesn’t win, would like to have another stab next time. “I am different because never before have the Labour or Liberal Democrat parties had candidates prepared to hang around if they lose and fight the following election.
“I am sure that a lot of disaffected Labour voters who cannot stomach voting Conservative will switch to the Liberal Democrats. There are also Tories who do not like the direction in which Cameron is leading them.
“We are in with a chance.
“Felixstowe has been a strong area for Labour but this time, we will squeeze them and fight hard to convince people that there is no future with Labour.
“Halesworth and Southwold may be in the constituency, but they lie within the council area of Waveney. The people in the two towns have fallen between the cracks and I am sure that they appreciate the opportunity being offered by the Liberal Democrats.
“In addition, there are a lot of environmentalists living around Yoxford who will be pleased with our policies.”
Miss Cooper thinks it is sad to see all the second homes in Suffolk Coastal, many of which are vacant for most of the year. “What is needed are sustainable homes for young families.
“We need sustainable transport and that must be adapted to where people want to go at a time they want to go. Most people in the constituency cannot reach Ipswich Hospital by bus. If a person from Bawdsey is taken to Papworth, it would take at least five hours and involves seven or eight changes of bus.
“Elderly spouses cannot get by public transport to Ipswich Hospital because public transport is just not good enough. There is no opportunity for young people to get into Ipswich and return in the evening by public transport.
“Liberal Democrat policy is to invest heavily in trains and to open up new routes. I always travel to the constituency by rail.”
She says she has been “shocked” at the out of hours medical services in the constituency. “People in Suffolk are being isolated from medical care – the best treatment in the world is no treatment if you can’t access it.”
Miss Cooper says: “People in Suffolk Coastal have voted for John Gummer on the basis of his environmental credentials but he is at odds with the rest of his party. Labour is no better – emissions have gone up, they support nuclear energy, and have not invested in renewable energy.
“John Gummer was pro-Europe and against his party – people voted for him on that basis and they will now turn to the Liberal Democrats.”
For the UK Independence Party, withdrawal from the European Union is the quickest and best way to pay off Britain’s debt. Professor Stephen Bush says membership of the EU costs British taxpayers billions of pounds a year which would be better directed at improving the public services.
“It is nonsense to suggest that a vote for UKIP would give Britain a Labour government. No Prime Minister can change our relationship with the EU in any material way,” says Professor Bush.
“I am picking up more support from Labour voters than Conservatives, which is a surprise.
“People are being put off by the increasingly presidential style election – Nick Clegg is seen by voters as charismatic, David Cameron is fluffy and insubstantial, while Gordon Brown looks tired.
“If the people of Suffolk Coastal elect me, they will get a genuinely different voice.”
The Green Party has fielded Rachel Fulcher as its candidate. At the last General Election, the Greens polled 1,755 votes, or 3.3% of those who voted.
Who finishes second may be determined by the Greens and UK Independence Party. It’s generally acknowledged that the Greens are more likely to attract votes from Labour and the Liberal Democrats, while UKIP traditionally take more voters from the Tories, notwithstanding Professor Bush’s finding of Labour support going to him.
Minor boundary changes in the Halesworth area are unlikely to make any difference to the outcome. Don’t be surprised if Ms Coffey wins more than 50% of the vote, a feat achieved by Mr Gummer in 1983, 1987, and 1992.