Suffolk: Parties battling it out for every vote as elections near

Suffolk County Council meeting at Endeavour House

Suffolk County Council meeting at Endeavour House

With the election for county councillor next Thursday, parties are increasing the tempo of their campaigns in an attempt to get their supporters to the polls. Local government reporter PAUL GEATER assesses where they stand – and how the battles are shaping up

THIS year’s election for a new county council in Suffolk is one of the most unpredictable contests ever – it is very difficult to draw many clues from previous contests..

The 75 seats on the county council are unchanged from the last poll in 2009 – but the circumstances of that election were very different.

Four years ago we were near the start of the recession. There was an unpopular Labour government in power – and the voters were keen to take out their anger on them.

In Suffolk only four Labour councillors were elected – all in Ipswich – and the Conservatives took 55 of the 75 seats.

Even the most optimistic Tories accept that result won’t be repeated this time!

The current council seats were first contested in the 2005 election which again the Tories won, but with a far smaller majority. However, it is difficult to use that result as a template this time around because the county elections were held on general election day and that inflated the turnout significantly.

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There has been some analysis done using the most recent county-wide election results, the borough and district elections of 2011. If those results were repeated it would show Labour recovering well in Ipswich and Lowestoft – but failing to make much of an impact outside the county’s two largest towns. Labour would end up with 16 seats in the county.

However party strategists feel Labour’s position has improved since 2011, and are hoping to win many more seats than this – they believe a five per cent swing from 2011 will give them at least 24 seats.

And Labour believes that special circumstances could give them victory in some seats that might appear beyond them – especially in the Stowmarket area, where the reorganisation of schools is a hot topic.

Labour is also hoping to reverse defeats in Haverhill and Sudbury.

The mood among Conservatives is not so easy to gauge.

Both leader Mark Bee and his new deputy Lisa Chambers are distinctly upbeat.

They say the message they are getting from across the county is that voters like their pledge of a four-year council tax freeze and they feel that the party’s policies are generally supported.

However some of their teams are, privately, not so confident.

One senior Conservative has admitted he would be “delighted” with a five-seat majority at Endeavour House, and many party members are very concerned about the impact of UKIP candidates on the election.

It is thought that UKIP could challenge the Conservatives in some of their “safest” seats.

In 2009 the anti-EU party was especially strong in Forest Heath, parts of south Suffolk, and in Waveney where it won its only county council seat.

The Liberal Democrats formed the official opposition at Endeavour House after 2009 – and are fighting very much on their local record.

Many of their sitting councillors have strong local reputations and are known for fighting for their communities – but given their national position they will do well to pick up any further seats and could struggle to hold on to those where sitting members are not seeking re-election.

Green candidates are optimistic about increasing their representation on the council.

Two were elected in 2009, largely on the basis of strong personal votes, and they will be hoping to build on this success.

The Greens are also happy to work with like-minded independents.

They showed this by working with former Labour councillor Trevor Beckwith, who was elected as an independent in Bury.

They do not “whip” councillors, effectively giving them a free vote on every issue.

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