Election 2013: Where could Labour make gains, and which areas are Tory strongholds? We look at the election battlefield

Beccles church and Market Place

Beccles church and Market Place

WITH this year’s county council elections just days away, local government correspondent Paul Geater looks at the battlefield seats – where control of Suffolk could be won . . . or lost.

; St Peter and St Paul Church in Lavenham

; St Peter and St Paul Church in Lavenham - Credit: Archant

Most seats in Suffolk are likely to remain unchanged in this year’s county council election – that’s what happens in most elections.

The Abbey Gate, entrance to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds

The Abbey Gate, entrance to the Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds - Credit: Archant

And some which changed hands surprisingly in 2009 – especially those which Labour lost in Ipswich and Lowestoft – are expected to revert to type in Thursday’s election.

Village Pump in Market Street, Mildenhal

Village Pump in Market Street, Mildenhal

But there are some seats that will help determine the overall colour of the county council – and will decide who controls the levers of power.

Key battlegrounds revealed

Key battlegrounds revealed

With just days to go, all parties are talking up their chances of winning a major victory. It is sometimes difficult to work out whether these claims are built on blind optimism, detailed experience of the electorate . . . or good, old-fashioned electoral kidology.

Two Conservative strategists I’ve spoken to have varied widely in their prediction – one told me he expects to win 44 seats (giving a majority of 13 in the 75-seat council chamber) while the other said he’d take a five-seat majority with glee.

Labour campaigners also vary greatly in their expectations.

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They expect to do very well in Ipswich, hoping to win 10 of the 13 seats on offer, and in the heart of Lowestoft.

However, beyond the two large towns their expectations vary, depending on who you speak to. Some Labour activists point to their success between 1993 and 2001 in places like Stowmarket, Leiston, Sudbury and Felixstowe.

However others are concerned that their very poor result in 2009 could make it difficult to break out of their traditional heartlands.

In particular the electoral landscape of Bury St Edmunds has changed with the Liberal Democrats, independents and Greens challenging Labour for the anti-Conservative vote.

The Lib Dems are worried about the impact of the national coalition on their local vote – but are confident that their well-known candidates will be able to exploit their personal vote.

And, while the Greens accept they are unlikely to win more than a handful of seats, they are hoping for gains in a few targeted areas.

Today we look at those seats with a special interest this time around – one in each of the districts and boroughs around the county where the election could be won – or lost.

St Margaret’s and Westgate, Ipswich

LIB Dem Inga Lockington has been a member of the county council for 12 years, and has represented one of the two seats in this division for eight.

Her strong personal vote has helped her consolidate her hold on the seat – and a split in the opposition makes her favourite to hold one of the seats.

The two-member division is made up of the Lib Dem St Margaret’s Ward, the Labour Westgate Ward, and half the Conservative Castle Hill Ward on the borough council – so all three major parties see this seat as winnable.

Also the Greens see this as one of their better prospects in Ipswich, although they are not as strong here as they are in some other parts of Suffolk.

A close battle is guaranteed here, but Lib Dem Cathy French can count on support from party members across the town – they aren’t going to waste their time in any other division in Ipswich – and that makes her a slight favourite.

Tower, St Edmundsbury

FORMER Labour parliamentary candidate Mark Ereira-Guyer caused one of the sensations of the last election by winning one of the two seats here for the Green Party in 2009.

Surprisingly, he has no running mate in this two-seat division, although he is working with independent David Nettleton.

The Tories de-selected sitting county councillor Stefan Oliver, and although this appears to be naturally good territory for them, there is a feisty battle under way here, as Conservatives Robert Everitt and Patsy Warby attempt to win both seats.

Labour did win a seat in Tower in 2005, so cannot be discounted in a fascinating battle likely to be dominated by the candidates’ personalities as much as the policies of their parties.

Beccles, Waveney

THERE are two seats up for grabs in this division.

One is held by Conservative council leader Mark Bee.

It would be astonishing if he was not returned.

But in 2005 the division was shared between Labour and the Conservatives – and this time there is a very strong Green challenge led by Graham Elliott, who already represents part of the town on Waveney council.

There is one UKIP candidate here, and there are two Lib Dems.

The division is made up of three Waveney council wards – and the opposition to the Conservatives could be split.

In one ward the Greens are very strong, but in the other traditional Labour has retained its attraction for the voters.

The battle for the second seat appears to be between sitting Conservative Chris Punt, the two Greens, and two Labour candidates – and a split opposition could be good news for a Tory candidate who is quite popular in the town.

Cosford, Babergh

THIS should be a rock solid Conservative seat – since it was created eight years ago it has been held by former council leader and outgoing council chairman Jeremy Pembroke, but he is not standing for re-election this time.

It includes the picture-postcard communities of Bildeston, Lavenham, and Kersey, whose prosperity makes it look like a shoo-in for new Conservative candidate Jenny Antill.

Lib Dem Duncan Read pulled out after being nominated, giving a free run to Green candidate Robert Lindsay, who did very well in the Babergh election for Bildeston two years ago and has worked hard in the area since then.

Labour’s Tony Bavington is a well-known political figure – but he will do well to make any impression in this poll.

Martlesham, Suffolk Coastal

IF the Lib Dems are going to win any seats on the county council that they don’t already hold, this could be the place.

Former county councillor John Kelso has twice been beaten by Conservative former chairman Patricia O’Brien and he’s trying again to win the seat.

It looks like a straight fight in a very marginal seat, although Mrs O’Brien will be relieved that – as in the rest of the Felixstowe peninsula – there is no UKIP involvement.

Mr Kelso probably has more to worry about with the intervention of Labour and the Greens – but they are unlikely to be pressing to win this seat.

Mildenhall, Forest Heath

THE Conservatives look pretty well entrenched throughout the Forest Heath district, if there is any challenge to their control of this party of the county it could come from UKIP.

In 2009 UKIP came second in three of the five seats in the district, and the closest call was in Mildenhall where they were just over 300 votes behind the Conservatives.

The Tories have changed candidate here for this election, so no one can point to their previous success on the county council.

It would be a bad result for the Tories to lose this seat, but after UKIP leader Nigel Farage visited the area to drum up support last month, all the parties are putting a great amount of effort in.

Stowmarket North and Stowupland, Mid Suffolk

EDUCATION, education, and education are set to dominate the battle in Stowmarket – a town with two separate seats on the county council.

The same issues dominate both.

A simple look at the results in 2009 suggests that the Conservatives should be comfortable in both – and Labour has no chance.

But go back to 2005 and the story is very different. Then, the Tories only scraped through in both seats and Labour (which had held Stowmarket before then) was in a strong second place.

Now there is major controversy about the Conservative council’s decision to close middle schools, UKIP is nibbling away at the Tory vote, and Labour thinks it can win both these seats.

It is seats like the two in Stowmarket that Labour has to win if it is to achieve its aim of winning more than 30 councillors on Thursday.

For full election round up, and results as they come in, see our election spage - click on the icon in the panel to the right of this page.

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