Election 2013: Slim majority and split opposition may benefit Tories

Party agents and candidates examine results during the county council elections. Will a fractured op

Party agents and candidates examine results during the county council elections. Will a fractured opposition play into the hands of the Conservatives? - Credit: Archant

THE rise of the UK Independence Party was the big story of the county council election of 2013 – but all parties have much to learn from the polls.

While UKIP got most of the headlines, in numerical terms the biggest victor in Suffolk was Labour, which increased its councillors from four to 15 – an increase of 11.

However, it was starting from a very low base, and did not even restore its position to the 2005 election when it won 22 seats.

What is particularly significant is that it did not win any seats away from its heartlands in Ipswich and Lowestoft.

In 2005, it took seats in Bury St Edmunds, Beccles and Haverhill, and when it was running the county before 2005 it held seats in Stowmarket, Sudbury, Felixstowe and Leiston.

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From a parliamentary point of view it need not be too worried – realistically it is not going to win any Westminster seats apart from Ipswich and Waveney – but its failure to break out of its heartland does raise questions over its ability to portray itself as One Nation Labour.

The Conservatives will be concerned at the loss of seats to UKIP and the comparatively modest majority they now have.

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They probably lost Stowmarket South because of the row over the reorganisation of schools in the area.

The loss of seats in Forest Heath is probably linked to concerns about the increasing numbers of migrant workers in the Fens and Breckland.

And while the Conservatives lick their wounds in Suffolk, many of their supporters are likely to look over the county border at Norfolk where the Tory majority was wiped out altogether.

However, the Tories won only one seat in Ipswich, one in Bury St Edmunds, and none at all in Lowestoft – suggesting they have difficulty in getting the urban vote out.

Council leader Mark Bee is expected to look at ways of involving urban councillors – nearly a third of the county’s seats are in its three largest towns.

UKIP won eight seats – bringing their total representation up to nine. However it is not clear that there was any consistent factor across their election victories.

It will be interesting to see how a relatively large group on the county council behaves when it comes to discussing detailed council policies.

The Liberal Democrats saw their number of seats fall from 11 to seven – but none of their candidates who was seeking re-election failed. The seats they lost were those where sitting candidates stood down – however, only one new Lib Dem, Dave Busby, was elected.

This suggests that once elected, Lib Dem councillors build up a strong personal vote which can trump any national problems their party might have.

The same could be said of the Green Party’s councillors. Mark Ereira topped the poll in Bury’s Tower Division while Andrew Stringer won well over half the votes in his Upper Gipping division.

The election also saw the election of a third independent councillor, David Nettleton, who will join Trevor Beckwith and Richard Kemp.

This fractured opposition will be a major bonus for council leader Mark Bee. He may not have a large majority – but he will be aware that many of the opposition councillors will dislike each others policies more than they dislike his!

It is difficult to imagine UKIP and Labour working together to oppose the Tories – and while in the last council each of the independents linked up with different groups for administrative purposes, it is difficult to imagine a coherent opposition emerging.

So from a party management point of view, Mr Bee probably has the best of both worlds – a small majority means his group will have to know the meaning of strong discipline but a fractured opposition means they will probably get all their policies through with little difficulty.

Who said the Tories lost out?

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