Region goes to the polls

By GRAHAM DINESPolitical EditorNEARLY a million voters across Suffolk and north Essex will be entitled to vote today in elections to 13 district councils - the biggest test for the political parties since the General Election.

By GRAHAM DINES

Political Editor

NEARLY a million voters across Suffolk and north Essex will be entitled to vote today in elections to 13 district councils - the biggest test for the political parties since the General Election.

Despite the Conservatives nationally playing down expectations of major gains, Tory activists across our region are quietly confident of taking control of Braintree from Labour, regaining St Edmundsbury from a Labour-led rainbow alliance, and possibly Mid Suffolk and Chelmsford from minority Liberal Democrat administrations.


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The Liberal Democrats are hoping the chaotic state of the Labour Party in Colchester will give them outright control of the borough and the party has been pouring activists into Chelmsford to try to stem an upsurge in Tory support in the Essex county town.

One third of councillors will be up for election in Ipswich, Waveney and Colchester, while all-out contests are taking place in Chelmsford, Maldon, Uttlesford, Tendring, Babergh, Forest Heath, St Edmundsbury, Mid Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal.

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When the all-out councils were last contested in 1999, the Tories thrashed their opponents in Forest Heath and Suffolk Coastal, and will now be hoping to hold on to those gains.

But in Forest Heath, a group of dissident former Tories has founded the West Suffolk Independence Alliance Party and is hoping to dent the Tory majority.

Despite hoping to make major gains nationally at the expense of both Labour and the Tories, Liberal Democrat ambitions in the region seem confined to Ipswich, Babergh, Mid Suffolk, Waveney, Colchester and Chelmsford. The party is fielding no candidates at all in Maldon and they are thin on the ground in St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath.

The Greens are making a strong pitch in Braintree - their East of England power base - and Mid Suffolk, while the UK Independence Party's foray into council elections has thrown up a smattering of candidates across the two counties.

St Edmundsbury's election this time is a total postal ballot, one of a number of experiments with different forms of voting supported by the Government to discourage voter apathy.

No traditionally polling stations will be open today in borough and electors have until 7pm to post late postal votes in two reception centres in Haverhill and Bury St Edmunds.

A different experiment is taking place in Ipswich. Voters were able to register to vote by text message, interactive phone, or on the Internet, with officials hoping this fits in with the lifestyles of a younger generation disengaged from the normal political process.

Elections are being held in 308 English councils outside London, 32 Scottish authorities, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly.

Polling stations open today at 8am and close at 9pm. The results will start coming through around 10.15pm, with all counts being over by 1pm.

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