Will national politics intrude on the elections in Ipswich and Colchester?
- Credit: Archant
Easter has come and gone and suddenly we are caught up in the election season (well, those of us lucky enough to live in Ipswich or Colchester are).
And for the first time in four years we actually have a fairly low-key election season. There are only the two boroughs in this area where there are elections – and there are no distractions from general elections, an EU referendum, or a police and crime commissioner election.
That doesn’t make it boring – although it does mean that few people will be paying much attention to elections in this part of the world.
The battles will be concentrated on the London boroughs where Labour thinks it will do well and in the cities of the north and midlands where Labour politicians are rather more apprehensive.
But even in this part of the world there are some interesting sub-plots flowing beneath the surface.
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Let’s start with Ipswich – a town whose politics I have been covering for more than a quarter of a century and where Labour appears to be as entrenched in power as I can remember.
Apart from the Liberal Democrat outcrop of St Margaret’s Ward this is a town that is traditionally split down the middle between Labour and Tory in general elections – although the formidable Labour machine makes it far better at picking up council votes where they matter than their main opponents.
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It is inconceivable that Labour could lose power at Grafton House in this election. In a very, very good year for the Tories the maximum number of seats they could gain would be four of the 16 up for grabs – and I’m not convinced this is going to be a very, very good year for the Tories in local government in Suffolk!
Nationally, Labour has its problems and the Tories have had a very good month.
The Russian nerve agent attack has given Theresa May the chance to look strong on the world stage and the anti-Semitism row has almost certainly damaged Jeremy Corbyn’s standing with floating voters – even if his biggest fans do dismiss it as a smear campaign.
But Ipswich Labour Party is fighting a very “local” campaign based on its record of running the borough council – especially its house-building programme and its efforts to protect other services from the threat of cuts.
Leading Labour figures including MP Sandy Martin and borough council leader David Ellesmere insist there is no backlash against the national party leadership.
I take their point to some extent. During the 1980s, when Labour was deeply unpopular nationally and seen to be involved in some serious infighting, Ipswich Labour Party managed to hang on to power at Civic Centre (as it then was) with comparative ease.
Its local elections were based on local issues. It was seen as the party of Ken Weetch, Jamie Cann, John Mowles and Doug Grimwood – not the party of Tony Benn, Michael Foot, Neil Kinnock and Denis Healey.
In this election there has been one parliamentary visit so far – but Lord Kennedy’s trip on Monday was more about doing a couple of hours of door-knocking before he went to watch his Millwall team at Portman Road.
I know Labour activists were glad to get the help – but I’m not convinced it will have been seen as a game-changing visit so far as the election is concerned.
I must admit I don’t know the electoral dynamics of Colchester as well as I know those in Ipswich – but the election here does look interesting for different reasons.
The Tories are the largest party on Colchester council, but they are in opposition to a Lib/Lab coalition – with the Liberal Democrats holding marginally more seats than their pact partners.
The Conservatives have to gain three seats to take control of the borough. That’s quite a tough task – but it’s not out of the question.
It will also be interesting to see what happens to the Labour/Liberal Democrat dynamic. In last year’s general election one of the more surprising results in the region was Labour pushing former Liberal Democrat MP Sir Bob Russell into third place in the seat.
Will Labour be able to capitalise on that and finish second in Colchester? Will that give them enough seats to claim the leadership of the council (with the Lib-Dems as a junior partner)? Or will the Tories just squeeze the votes they need from the new homeowners in the town to take control?
There’s much to play for in the May elections this year.