Ipswich: Battleground is set for local elections

IPSWICH is the only local authority in Suffolk to be holding elections this year – but the campaign in the town is giving politicians the chance to sharpen their arguments for forthcoming polls.

Labour are in power at the borough council, and it would be a major upset if their administration came under threat this year.

In fact most observers expect Labour to increase its grip on power at the council offices in Grafton House as the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats defend seats they won when they were riding high in the polls in 2008.

What makes the election especially interesting for political observers is that the Labour administration at the borough passed a budget that very much echoes the national party’s policy of job creation and spending to create growth.

By making administrative savings and dipping into reserves the council has been able to put money aside to build new council homes and help people find jobs and support students.

This “growth agenda” has attracted the attention of national politicians and has persuaded shadow chancellor Ed Balls to visit the town to join the campaign – although more cynical observers had suggested this had more to do with the fact Ipswich was en route from London to Norwich where was off to see the Canaries getting thrashed by Manchester City!

The Conservatives in Ipswich say the “growth budget” will do little for the town. There will be no council tax rise this year, but they insist that the money used in Labour’s budget should have gone back to households in the form of a reduction in council tax bills.

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Labour have brought in some high profile visitors – as well as Mr Balls their campaign has also been boosted by shadow housing minister Jack Dromey and MEP Richard Howitt.

Meanwhile Tory MPs Ben Gummer and Dr Dan Poulter have joined their party’s efforts in their own parts of the borough – but there have been no government ministers visiting the town.

BATTLEGROUND WARDS:

Many of the wards in Ipswich are seen as safe for one party or the other, but there are some which are currently shared between the parties where the balance could shift.

Stoke Park:

Until last May all three seats in this ward were held by the Conservatives, but Labour won here last time around and are hoping to repeat the result this time.

Both Labour and the Conservatives are fighting hard in a ward which often follows the trend of the rest of the town when the votes are counted.

St John’s:

Labour currently hold two of the three seats in this ward, and will be hoping to claim a full house by taking the last Conservative-held seat in the ward.

Former Tory transport spokeswoman Tanya Maclure is not seeking re-election and this is another ward that where the two largest parties are battling hard.

Rushmere:

Labour’s Alasdair Ross broke the Conservative stranglehold on this seat in 2008 in an election result that went against the general trend.

The Conservatives see this ward as being their best hope of a shock gain.

St Margaret’s:

In recent years this has been a very close fought ward between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, and that seems likely again this year.

Former LibDem leader Andrew Cann is seeking to return to the borough and is fighting former councillor Stephen Ion.

Over the last few years this seat has gone to a recount, and that could well happen again this time.

Alexandra:

This was a Liberal Democrat stronghold for many years until last May when former mayor Jane Chambers was heavily defeated by Labour.

This time Labour hopes to repeat this performance.

Holywells:

The Conservatives hold all the seats in this ward but last year former council leader Liz Harsant faced a recount before holding on.

That has encouraged Labour to believe that, in a good year for the party, they could win the seat.

COUNCIL leader David Ellesmere is defending his safe Labour seat in Gipping ward in this election – but has been joining his party colleagues across the town.

He said: “We are getting a very good reception from voters. There is a great deal of unhappiness about the way the government is running things and the budget has been very unpopular.

“People like what we are doing – the like the fact that we have frozen council tax but are still able to safeguard frontline services, build new council houses and come up with a jobs strategy.”

Opposition leader John Carnall is defending his safe Bixley seat in the election, and accepts the Conservatives are facing an uphill task.

He said: “Some people are upset about the budget. But there is an appreciation of the work of the former Conservative-led administration in cutting council tax bills in previous years.

“We are putting up a strong challenge in key seats and we will see what happens on Thursday.”

Liberal Democrat Andrew Cann is hoping to return to the borough after not standing in last year’s elections.

He has been pleased by the reaction to his campaign in St Margaret’s: “We are getting a warm response from voters and the party’s message is getting across well.

“We are not saying we will win, but we are pleased with the way the campaign is going.”

IPSWICH council has 48 seats, each with three members. One councillor from each ward is up for election in 15 wards, but in Bixley there are two vacancies because of the death of Conservative Russell Harsant in January.

There is also a by-election for the county council seat in Bixley.

The current state of the parties at the borough is: Labour 28, Conservative 14, Liberal Democrat 5, Vacant 1.

Counting is overnight on Thursday/Friday.