Focus on Maldon & Chelmsford East

Julliette Maxam looks at the campaign in the safe Conservative territory of Maldon and Chelmsford EastTHE LAST general election count in the Maldon and Chelmsford East constituency was a very civilized and sedate affair.

Julliette Maxam looks at the campaign in the safe Conservative territory of Maldon and Chelmsford East

THE LAST general election count in the Maldon and Chelmsford East constituency was a very civilized and sedate affair. There were no re-counts, no surprises and the tellers even had time for a sandwich break.

Maldon and East Chelmsford is one of the safest Tory seats in the country, but nevertheless the Labour party managed to chip away at the sitting MP, John Whittingdale's majority in the 2001 election, slashing it by over 1,500 votes.

A largely traditional rural constituency, it includes the marshlands of the Dengie peninsula and the well-to-do villages of Great and Little Baddow, Danbury and Galleywood, to the east of Chelmsford. The majority of constituents live in small villages.

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The historic towns of Maldon and Burnham-on-Crouch maintain their connection with the rivers that spawned them, with the world renowned Maldon Sea Salt company on the edge of the Blackwater and Burnham's famous royal yacht clubs on the Crouch, once a haunt of former Conservative prime minister Ted Heath.

During the holiday season the population is boosted as visitors flock to the area's caravan parks to enjoy a riverside break and perhaps indulge in a spot of sailing or fishing.

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To the south of the constituency is the new town of South Woodham Ferrers, but in recent years Maldon and Heybridge have seen much development, with new housing estates, roads, shops and leisure facilities springing up.

It is a prosperous district, supported by marine, food, leisure and electronic industries. Bradwell nuclear power plant, which dominates the River Crouch, is currently being decommissioned, but the area could still contribute to the electricity grid if proposals for a windfarm on windy Dengie farmland go ahead.

Previous MPs have included Lord Wakeham, a member of Margaret Thatcher's cabinet, whose first wife was killed in the IRA Brighton bomb attack, and the notorious Tom Driberg, a Socialist infamous for his many homosexual affairs who was later revealed as a KGB spy.

John Whittingdale, Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, has represented the area since 1992, when he was elected as MP for South Colchester and Maldon.

Boundary changes created the new and more unified Maldon and East Chelmsford seat in time for the 1997 election, when Mr Whittingdale, 45, was elected with a majority of 10,039. His majority was reduced to 8,462 at the last election.

Before he became an MP, Mr Whittingdale, a father-of-two, worked for Margaret Thatcher as political secretary while she was Prime Minister and as private secretary afterwards. Their close relationship brought her to the constituency on several occasions. He was awarded an OBE in her resignation honours list.

He has held a number of shadow cabinet positions including trade and industry and agriculture.

In this election, Mr Whittingdale, who is married to an NHS nurse practitioner, is focussing on key local issues as well as the Conservatives' core policies.

Among what he considers to be the main issues in the constituency is the proposed wind farm. "I have said this must be up to local people to decide and I will fight any attempt by the Government to impose it against their wishes," said Mr Whittingdale.

Other issues he is preparing to discuss on the doorstep are:

The threat to countryside from planned housing development in Essex, together with pressure that it will put on local infrastructure and services.

Transport – both the quality of road and rail services for commuters to London, together with the burdens on motorists combined with poor local public transport.

Pressure on local primary and secondary schools, which he claims is severely reducing parental choice.

Deteriorating state of sea defences leading to a risk of flooding.

Commenting on law and order, Mr Whittingdale said: "Insufficient police numbers is leading to a feeling of abandonment among those living in rural areas and is hampering action to clamp down on petty crime and thuggish behaviour in our towns."

Mr Whittingdale added: "I will also be campaigning on the core issues of lower taxes, more police, controlled immigration, school discipline, clean hospitals, opposition to any further loss of sovereignty to Brussels and to take back powers to the UK parliament."

Labour candidate Sue Tibballs, is a professional campaigner, researcher and writer, who has lived and worked in Maldon and got married Heybridge. She is an associate of DEMOS independent think tank and chair of the Fawcett equality campaign and a former campaign manager at Body Shop International. She is fighting the election on both a national and local ticket.

She claims nationally the Labour Government has achieved a "huge amount" in the last eight years, which has had direct benefits for the people of Maldon and East Chelmsford, but she accuses the local Conservatives of "holding back the constituency".

Ms Tibballs, 38, has statistics at her fingertips to show there are more jobs, new businesses, teachers, police officers, doctors and nurses in the area since Labour came to power. In addition she has discovered over 3,000 pensioners in the constituency are benefiting from the pensioner credit.

Local issues on her campaign sheet include the proposed wind farm, local transport, low-cost housing and the closure of the Marine Lake.

The mother-of-two said: "This constituency is changing fast – the local population is growing, particularly the under 12 and over 55 age groups.

"The economic infrastructure is diversifying – income from tourism, for example, has almost trebled in five years. But while change brings opportunities, it also brings new challenges too.

"This area badly needs a coherent housing strategy to include provision of affordable housing. There is an urgent need for more leisure facilities for young people, and better access to further education and training.

"Local energy is a big issue with Bradwell power station shut down, and now a wind farm being proposed next door. The train line to Burnham is under threat.

"But local Tories are not responding. They haven't even managed to secure the future of the Marine Park bathing pool. This is a very local issue but it goes deep with people and it says a lot about local politicians.

"How can you defend shutting down a unique and much-loved leisure resources in a town when there is already a lack of recreational facilities? This is not about health and safety. This is about vision, effort and the will to get things done."

She added: "Maldon and East Chelmsford needs new life in its local politics. We need the political leadership and determination to get to grip with local challenges, and ensure that the whole of this constituency prospers. There is already evidence that parts of this constituency, particularly parts of the Dengie peninsula, are being left behind.

"If elected, I would bring new energy and new ideas to local politics. Get to grips with the issues facing us, make sure our voice is heard at the national level, and that we access all available resources. Labour is in a strong second place here. We can win."

Former Chelmsford Borough councillor Matt Lambert, is the Liberal Democrat candidate in Maldon and East Chelmsford. Now a senior executive in the IT industry, he has previously managed a number of successful small companies. He is married with three children.

He is a lifelong member of the Liberal Democrats and started his career working as a researcher for Liberal Democrat MPs.

He said: "I am very proud to have been selected to represent the Liberal Democrats as their prospective candidate in Maldon and East Chelmsford at the next general election.

"I believe that only the Liberal Democrats offer a positive agenda for Britain which will create more fairness in our country and restore trust in government."

He added: "Key priorities at this election will be putting the needs of elderly people first, with free personal care for the elderly. We would also provide an extra £100 per month for the over 75s.

"The youngest in our society also require greater political attention with more money to reduce class sizes in primary schools.

"We will abolish the unfair council tax and replace it with a local income tax that will see the average family pay £450 less and mean that 6 million pensioners will pay no local tax at all.

"Other key priorities will be speeding up patient treatment in the NHS, putting 10,000 more police on our streets and scrapping student top up fees.

"These promises are fully costed and many of these proposals have already been delivered by Liberal Democrats in Government in Scotland. We are putting forward a credible and affordable programme that offers real solutions to the problems facing people in Maldon and Chelmsford East."

On a local level, Mr Lambert said: "One issue of great concern to everybody is the whole issue about development, where the houses the Government is telling us to build might be placed.

"Our view is they should full assess all brown belt sites. Any new developments must be in sustainable areas close to existing local infrastructure rather than concreting over the greenbelt."

Pensioner Jesse Pryke is fighting the seat for the UK Independence Party. He is taking the UKIP's anti Europe message to Maldon and East Chelmsford.

"My party believes that Britain should withdraw from the European Union (EU). This would liberate some £30 billion per annum, which could be better spent here at home, for example on the NHS, schools, and better pensions - our manifesto promises pensioners an increase of £25 per week.

"Britain should be governed by our elected Parliament at Westminster, freeing us from the burdens of endless EU regulation and interference in how we run our country.

"On the domestic front, we would abolish regional assemblies and take back control of our borders so that we can tackle the immigration and asylum issues, by introducing firm but fair rules," said Mr Pryke, a retired builder who has five children.


General Election 2001

*J Whittingdale (Con) 21,719; R Kennedy (Lab) 13,257; J Jackson (LD) 7,002; G Harris (UKIP) 1,135; W. Schwarz (Green) 987. Con maj 8,462. No change. Turnout 63.73%. Electorate 69,201. Swing 0.4% Con to Lab

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