Greens make headlines - but in Suffolk little changed in the elections!
- Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown
Political geeks have been feasting on this year's mega local election results over the last week - but so far in Suffolk the story of 2021 is that nothing has changed.
The success of the Green Party in trebling its representation on Suffolk County Council - becoming the strongest county group in the country - is certainly eye-catching.
But the nature of opposition parties in Suffolk means it is probably reaching its high-water mark and it is difficult to see it seriously threatening the Tory majority in the future.
Labour has been confined to Ipswich on the county council. But we've seen that before. In 2009 it was left with four Ipswich seats on the county council. This year it's been left with five.
I have to say I struggle to see the point of the Liberal Democrats as a political force in Suffolk. The problem is the party has no identity here. There are some really fine, community-based councillors like Caroline Page, Inga Lockington, and Penny Otton.
But no one is under any illusion that they are elected because of their political label. They are elected because they are highly-effective local councillors who work very hard for the communities they represent.
And that is the problem the opposition parties have in Suffolk, is that while there is a single right-of-centre grouping, since the demise of UKIP, there is a fractured opposition all struggling to take votes off each other.
In East Suffolk the main effect of the Liberal Democrat intervention was to hand the Conservatives victories in Bungay and Wickham Market where they split the vote and prevented Green Party wins.
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If you look at the other seats where there were close votes, in most you will find the opposition parties fighting among themselves.
Conservative group leader Matthew Hicks has every right to feel pleased with himself. He took over a group that had done very well in 2017 and most people felt was at the peak of it success - and managed to win three more seats.
These were mainly in Ipswich where the party targeted, and won, divisions that they usually felt were beyond them - Gainsborough, Chantry and both seats in the Whitton and Whitehouse Division.
That could change the party's dynamic in council meetings - well-known borough councillors and political figures are now on the county and it's difficult to imagine them sitting quietly on the backbenches and not making their voices heard!
One thing that is absolutely clear is that Labour is now irrelevant outside Ipswich and Lowestoft when you look at the electoral map of Suffolk.
Apart from a freakish result in 2017 - when a Tory split and a popular local candidate handed the Sudbury seat to Labour - the party hasn't won a county council seat outside Suffolk's two largest towns since 2005.
On the district councils its representation is very sparse - and really a total irrelevance to the decision making process.
The Green Party in Suffolk was hugely successful - and could have done even better if its vote hadn't been split in Wickham and Bungay. Next time I'm sure it's members and those from the Lib Dems will be look at how standing aside (however informally) was able to allow the two parties to win the Stowmarket seats.
But it's still confined to certain areas - in large parts of the county it hasn't really made an impact. They didn't put up a candidate in the Leiston and Aldeburgh seat which is the home of Sizewell. That might have split the vote - but the Greens might have been able to attract votes here that Labour could not.
In places like Leiston Labour is still the home of the union vote - and trades unions are supporting the jobs that would come with Sizewell C. How are those opposed to the development supposed to register their concern on its back doorstep?
And of course while the Green Party is becoming an increasingly important voice in rural areas in council elections, when it comes to parliamentary elections it really is an irrelevance in Suffolk.
But then all political parties are really - the county consists basically of six safe Conservative seats and one marginal seat fought over between Labour and the Tories.
In a different national political atmosphere Waveney might become marginal again - but I'm sure Peter Aldous doesn't have nightmares about his 18,000 majority.
But who comes a distant second in all these rural seats? It's Labour. That's probably because of all the national publicity of the two main parties - combined with the fact that the smaller parties know there's no point in flogging themselves to death on a pointless parliamentary quest when they can actually make an impact on their local authorities.