Council success for Green Party won't give Tories sleepless nights!
- Credit: RACHEL EDGE
I don't normally get over-excited by a council by-election, but last week's double election in the Aldeburgh and Leiston ward was one of the most interesting we have seen for many years.
And the result was eye-opening, especially in the context of it being home to the existing nuclear power stations and the proposed Sizewell C that may join them in the future.
Two of the three seats in this ward were up for grabs. Going into the election all three were held by the Conservatives.
The background is that despite all the controversy that built up before the construction of Sizewell B in the late 1980s, the Leiston area itself has been pretty strongly pro-nuclear.
The local people appreciated the jobs the power stations brought and the money their employees brought to the local economy. They weren't seen as blots on the landscape, indeed the Sizewell B dome is now a well-known local landmark.
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Both main parties in the area have been broadly supportive of the nuclear power plants in the past.
The Conservatives have seen them as wealth generators and local Labour politics, while rather more split on the overall principle, has often been led by trades unions who acknowledge their important role in job creation.
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Now the Conservative-dominated East Suffolk Council is desperately trying to take a neutral stance on Sizewell C . . . but the mood in the immediate area has shifted significantly.
People who have been supportive of Sizewell A and B are now firmly opposed to Sizewell C. This is largely because of the threat it poses to the local environment.
I've spoken to some who see the East Suffolk Council neutrality on the issue as being the authority "looking for a reason to back the power station" and did want to send a shot across its bows.
I won't repeat my arguments here - but there has been a really major change in attitudes among residents since Sizewell B neared completion 30 years ago over the plans that many people see will lead to the destruction of the nationally-important Eastbridge marshes.
However, I don't really think the victory of a Green Party candidate (and with his fellow party member falling just two votes short) will have local MP and cabinet minister Dr Therese Coffey quaking in her boots.
From what I understand, there was a great deal of cross-voting in this two-seat election. Many voters didn't go along traditional party lines and voted for candidates from different groups.
Also the Sizewell issue prompted many voters who would not subscribe to the Greens' national politics to lend them their vote for this council election. Come the next general election and they will return "home."
However, if I were a betting man, I'd put my dosh on the Greens taking all three seats in the next council elections in the seat in May 2023. They can now claim to be the only party capable of beating the Tories here - and there was a reasonable Labour vote to be squeezed.
And it is very difficult to dislodge a Green councillor once they have been elected - ask the Tories about that in Beccles, Lavenham, and Mendlesham!
As I said, I don't see the result causing Dr Coffey any sleepless nights, and I don't really see it having any impact on the government which will still have the final say on whether Sizewell C gets the go-ahead.
I don't think the government could give a fig for the environment of the Suffolk coast. If it decides it wants to go ahead with Sizewell C it will just be seen as collateral damage.
But I do have serious doubts about whether the project can go ahead because it is not economically viable.
There is no way that EDF can make the sums add up without billions of pounds of government aid.
The government is also past the point of no return with two other massive infrastructure projects - HS2 and the Hinkley Point power station - and Boris Johnson does like shiny hi-tech projects.
But Chancellor Rishi Sunak is starting to raise serious concerns about the level of debt - and is believed to be trying to rein in public spending.
And many MPs would like to see what public spending there is concentrated on the "Red Wall" seats in the north of England - not an attractive area on the East Anglian coast where unemployment levels are pretty low and where there is already an energy boom from service offshore wind farms.
So in my view it's 50-50 whether the government eventually gives the Green Light to Sizewell C. Last week's election was an interesting diversion and an excuse to look again at the issue - but ultimately it will be Rishi Sunak's economics and not the election of a few more Green councillors that will finally influence the government's decision.