South Suffolk LibDems fail to exploit split in the Tory Party

Tim Yeo at his election count in 2010.

Tim Yeo at his election count in 2010.

With all the shenanigans going on in the South Suffolk Conservative Association there is one group of people who should be rubbing their hands with delight.

That’s the main opposition group in the constituency at the last two general elections. However, the silence from the constituency’s Liberal Democrats has been deafening.

Of course this is mainly because the party hasn’t yet bothered to select a candidate and is, apparently, doing nothing to campaign for the next general election.

They might have reasonable support in the seat, but what are they doing to stop more Tory celebrations in 2015?

Which just about sums up the plight of the LibDems across Suffolk. There hasn’t been a Liberal MP in the county since the early 1950s and while the party has won parliamentary seats in Essex, Cambridgeshire and Norfolk, its Suffolk activists seem quite prepared to concentrate on council elections and just select a token candidate a few months before a general election.

The Lib Dems managed to finish second in South Suffolk with minimum campaigning in both 2005 and 2010. Had they had a candidate prepared to put in the effort over more than a single general election campaign, I suspect the seat could have been vulnerable last time and would certainly be ripe for picking in 2015.

Look at the party’s candidate in 2001, Tessa Munt. Within months of fighting that election she put up a strong fight in the Ipswich by-election.

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Why didn’t the South Suffolk LibDems turn around and ask her to fight their seat again the day after the by-election?

She moved to Wells in Somerset and fought that seat in 2005, finishing a respectable second.

What happened at the last general election? She won the seat and is now a highly-regarded LibDem MP.

In 1992 and 1997 Norman Lamb chipped away at the Conservative majority in North Norfolk, a seat where the LibDems had no real history. Both times his next campaign started the day after his defeat.

In 2001 he won the seat by a small majority, and has increased his majority ever since.

He is now a middle-ranking minister and remains personally popular in his constituency. What is strange is that LibDems in Suffolk don’t feel the need to select candidates in any seats even after Labour – which finished third in the rural seats in the county – has started choosing its standard-bearers.

Jane Basham is making her presence felt in South Suffolk, Russell Whiting has been putting himself about in Suffolk Coastal, and Jack Abbott has just been chosen for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

None can realistically expect to win those seats – but at least they’re in place.