Colchester prediction a tonic for Tories

ONE down, two to go - that's the verdict of the opinion pollsters on the marginal seats in Suffolk and north Essex as the Conservatives creep closer to forming a Government.

ONE down, two to go - that's the verdict of the opinion pollsters on the marginal seats in Suffolk and north Essex as the Conservatives creep closer to forming a Government.

I've warned over-confident Tories, who look at Labour's meltdown and the Liberal Democrats' dismal display under leader Sir Menzies Campbell, that they need to gain Colchester, Ipswich and Waveney if they are to win the election.

Following the Tory surge in the polls, Colchester is now being predicted as a Conservative gain from the Liberal Democrats by Electoral Calculus, which aggregates all opinion polls and extrapolates the data across individual parliamentary seats.

According to Electoral Calculus, Colchester - which loses Stanway under boundary changes at the next election - will fall to the Tories by a majority of a few hundred. But at the moment, Labour is clinging on to Ipswich and Waveney.

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The polling organisation, however, takes no account of any local or regional variations, such as the David Cameron effect in the south of England and continuing hostility to the Tories in northern urban areas and Scotland.

Anyway, the trend in the polls is a swing to the Conservatives, who now seem on course - in addition to gaining Colchester - to pick up the iconic constituencies of Basildon in Essex and Birmingham Edgbaston and a raft of seats in Hampshire, the West Country and London.

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The current prediction is that the Conservatives will be the largest party after the next election, but 19 seats short of a majority, with 305 seats. The Tories would gain 107 constituencies, with Labour gaining three and losing 74, the Lib Dems down 38, and Welsh Nationalists up two.

Importantly for Labour and the Lib Dems, this calculation does not take into consideration the impact of the new constituency boundaries, which are expected to give the Conservatives a boost, particularly in London.

Of course, a lot can happen in the next three or four years. Labour will have a new leader, who may or may not be more popular than Tony Blair. The Conservatives will have to start saying something about policy and the Lib Dems will have to find a miracle or two.

And if it looks like a hung parliament is on the cards, former Tories who previously switched to the Lib Dems but who now don't want another Labour government, could return to their natural home, sending Cameron over the top with an overall majority.

On the other hand . . .

WHEN a Conservative MP calls for a boycott of English strawberries and the fruit is promptly defended by Labour, then you know the political world has been turned upside down.

Tory agriculture spokesman Bill Wiggin (MP for Leominster in Herefordshire) caused a furore when he described polytunnels, used to grow strawberries all year round, as a blight on the landscape. He said the plastic coverings also posed a threat to local property prices because they replaced a view of green fields with shiny plastic.

“I have not eaten a strawberry for about four years now and, as far as I'm concerned, anyone eating strawberries out of season is encouraging the blight of polytunnels on the landscape,” he added rather huffily.

Quick to the defence of English strawberries in true World Cup fashion waving the flag of St George comes Labour's Paddy Tipping, who represents the Nottinghamshire division of Sherwood. In an Early Day Motion which has attracted a number of Labour signatures, he looks forward “to a successful season for English strawberry producers”. He added: “Polytunnels can reduce the amount of fertiliser applied” and called on Mr Wiggin to “speak up for home-grown produce rather than aiding the import of foreign strawberries.”

David “Call me Dave” Cameron has a lot to answer for if the Tories are dumping on one of the greatest of all English agricultural products.

A LABOUR MP wants a architectural competition to be held to redesign the House of Commons chamber. Graham Allen (Nottingham North) said architects and architectural students could help build a chamber “more conducive to genuine debate, rather than posturing and shouting from a sedentary position”.

The few MPs who could be bothered to turn up to questions to the Commons Commission in the chamber on Monday barracked his suggestion - as Mr Allen cogently put it, the boo boys and girls helped “make his argument”' for change.

The Commons chamber is adversarial in nature - its floor width separating the two front benches being calculated at just over two swords' lengths to stop members slaughtering each other - and they sit facing each other, all the better for jeering. And there are not enough seats for every MP, nearly 200 having to stand on the odd occasion when they all decide to grace the chamber with an appearance.

KEEP Britain Tidy campaign commissioned a World Cup survey asking people in regions across England if they were proud of their nationality. London came top with 100% of people in the capital saying they were proud to be English. Bottom - the East of England, with just 87.7%. Shame on the lot of you.

NINE peers have joined the race for the Speakership of the House of Lords. Candidates for the new £101,668 post of Lord Speaker - the replacement for the Lord Chancellor - includes three Conservatives, two Labour, two Crossbenchers, one Liberal Democrat and one non-affiliated peer.

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