Politicians limbering up for election campaigns ahead

Harriet Harman with Bill Knowles and Sandy Martin at a meeting of the Ipswich Labour Party

Harriet Harman with Bill Knowles and Sandy Martin at a meeting of the Ipswich Labour Party - Credit: Archant

We are now less than 18 months from the next general election, and the political parties are really trying to flex their muscles.

What this means in Suffolk is that the Tories and Labour are preparing to throw everything into the battles for Ipswich and Waveney. . . and the other five constituencies will be left to their own devices.

In Essex the battle will be concentrated in the south of the county – both Labour and the Tories realise there’s not much point in spending too much effort in fighting Sir Bob Colchester, sorry Russell.

That’s why we had Harriet Harman in Ipswich the other night putting fire into the belly of party loyalists (although she bridled slightly at the suggestion that they needed fire in the belly!) and Chancellor George Osborne made the trek to Lowestoft.

Of course there are European elections next May, but the vast majority of voters (wrongly) think they don’t matter.

They’re either used as a giant opinion poll before the election that really matters a year later – or used as a protest vote which is why UKIP always does well in them.

No-one expects UKIP to win a single seat at Westminster – and in my experience their local council representatives are more like old-style independents than a bunch of Euro-haters – but for some reason they always seem to do well in Euro-elections.

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Ms Harman’s visit to Ipswich brought out Labour activists from across the county and she spoke to me about familiar party policies

“There are signs of a slight recovery, but it is coming three years later than it should have started. Most people’s wages are still not going up anywhere near as fast as prices and they are feeling worse off.”

She said people supported Labour policies such as freezing energy prices and increasing free childcare for families.

I’m sure party loyalists are keen on them – but Labour needs to be sure its policies are popular and (more importantly) credible with the general population before floating voters return in their droves.

Similarly the Tories will be getting some credit from voters for the improvement in their economy – but the antics of some of their MPs and activists supporting nutty ideas like extending VAT won’t do them any favours.

A pamphlet from the “Free Enterprise Group” of Tory MPs, that Ben Gummer, Matt Hancock and Therese Coffey are supporters of, has raised the idea of extending VAT.

But Mr Gummer was quick to point out that was only one MP’s idea – and that it does not have widespread support in the group of the party.

“We don’t all have to think the same thing!” he told me.

Maybe not – but his Labour opponent David Ellesmere isn’t likely to let him forget the pamphlet!