Have political shocks come too late for this year's elections?

Election count in Ipswich

This year's election counts may be more than a week away - but many have already voted. - Credit: Brittany Woodman

We are now a week away from the official polling day in this year's elections - but it has been the strangest campaign I can ever remember.

For a start in large parts of Suffolk - especially Ipswich - it is quite possible that half the votes have already been cast. In Ipswich almost 36% of voters have applied for postal votes which were sent out at the end of last week. 

Given that most postal voters send their votes straight back, that they are more motivated to vote because they've already taken the trouble to apply for a postal vote, and that overall turnout in local elections is generally less than 50%, it is a fair assumption that half of the total votes in this year's election will already be in.

But that is only one aspect of this year's vote that makes it unusual. The effects of national politics, and especially the country's reaction to the pandemic, is going to have a major influence.

I've been talking to some long-standing political workers who tell me they've noticed a significant change in voting habits - particularly in Ipswich.

Conservative volunteers say the party's message is getting out much better in traditional Labour areas of the town than it is in their own heartlands - I've heard it said they're doing well with "Chantry Man" and put that down to Ipswich MP Tom Hunt.

While former stalwarts of the party from the business and professional ranks in the town can be a bit sniffy about Mr Hunt and what they call his "populist agenda" he does seem to be cutting through in some traditional Labour areas like Chantry, Gainsborough and Whitton - results there could be very interesting.

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And I suspect Mr Hunt and his team will not be losing any sleep about that!

The election campaign has been bowled a bit of a googly this last week with all the revelations that have come out alleging sleaze at the heart of the government affecting past and current Prime Ministers.

I don't think the Greensill Affair will have any effect whatsoever. Many voters just don't understand what it's all about and don't really worry about what a former PM does.

I suspect many also dismiss the Dyson affair - the country was in a crisis, the government was thrashing around trying to get new ventilators from anywhere it could. And if some corners were cut, so be it.

The business over the cost of redecorating the Downing Street flat is seen as more serious by more people - and questions about where the money came from are very intriguing. But is it enough to threaten Mr Johnson's Premiership? I'm not sure.

He is one of these fortunate politicians that seem to be coated in Teflon - rather like Bill Clinton or, to some extent, Donald Trump.

Whatever he is perceived to have done, the mess doesn't stick. People seem to be prepared to shrug it off with a "Boris will be Boris" attitude.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson seems to be able to retain public support in a crisis. - Credit: PA

But that could change with the comments he is alleged to have made about bodies piling up at the start of the second lockdown last autumn.

Mr Johnson firmly denies he made the comments. But leading political journalists from the BBC, ITN and a number of newspapers including several that support the Tories have been told by more than one person who claims to have been present that he did make those comments.

While I can understand the frustration that may make someone make such an insensitive comment at a moment of extreme stress, it does sound extremely crass and this is the kind of issue that could cut through to some of his supporters - so it is probably the most dangerous allegation of all.

On the plus side for Mr Johnson and his supporters, the news has only really started bubbling this week - by which time many people will have already voted in May's elections. There is nothing they can do to change their vote once it has been posted.

One last thing - I have seen a great deal of misinformation about postal votes over the last few days. I even saw one former county councillor saying they should only be used by those who cannot get to polling stations and that their cost was too high for everyone to use them.

That is totally untrue - anyone can apply for a postal vote. The cost of running a Covid-secure polling station for people is considerable - and that is why politicians from all parties as well as returning officers have been busy trying to persuade as many people as possible to apply for postal votes.

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