Surge for Lib Dems could cause problems for Tim Yeo

THE Suffolk district of Babergh is an enigma. It is one of those rare areas where independents are found in substantial numbers on the district council because local people who do not believe party politics has any place in civic affairs.

This somewhat outmoded view means that rural Babergh bucks the Suffolk trend and is not dominated by Conservatives in the council chamber

The whole of Babergh falls within the Suffolk South parliamentary constituency, which also includes a small area of St Edmundsbury. It stretches from Pinewood and Sproughton on the outskirts of Ipswich to the River Stour and includes chocolate box villages and economically sound and upscale market and former wool towns including Long Melford, Lavenham, Stratford St Mary, Preston St Mary, East Bergholt, Bildeston and the Shotley peninsula as well as the four largest centres of population at Sudbury, Great Cornard, Brantham and Hadleigh.

Babergh covers large areas of the former counties of West Suffolk and East Suffolk. It was in 1945 that the former Sudbury constituency, then wholly within West Suffolk, had a brief flirtation with Labour. Lt-Colonel R Hamilton was elected, with a majority of 247 but when boundary changes created the unwieldy Sudbury and Woodbridge constituency, a Tory was returned and it has been firmly in the blue camp ever since.

In 1983, Tim Yeo was chosen by the Tories as their candidate, and he has been the MP ever since. As a result of 1997 boundary changes - which despatched Haverhill into the new Suffolk West seat - Mr Yeo’s majority has not been as formidable as it probably should have been, given the demography of the seat, and in 2005, he was re-elected by 6.606 votes with a swing of 1.5% from the Conservatives to the Liberal Democrats.

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This was partly due to the above average showing of the UK Independence Party, whose candidate saved his deposit.

UKIP believes that Suffolk South is a constituency in which it can build up a solid springboard for future victory, and has selected its deputy national leader and East region Member of the European Parliament David Campbell Bannerman as its standard bearer.

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Mr Yeo says strong national issues such as the deficit and how to get out of it is the overriding issue on the doorsetp.

“We are fortunate in South Suffolk that there is no large scale unemployment, but people are worried not only for themselves but for their children and the effect it will have on them,” says Mr Yeo.

“Of the local concerns, a lot of people are unhappy at the decision to close Clare and Stoke-by-Nayland middle schools and there is continuing uncertainty over Walnuttree Hospital in Sudbury.

“The rail service is good on paper but is patchy to say the least in its operation. But it’s unfair to always blame National Express East Anglia because many of the problems are down to infrastructure deficiencies which are the responsibility of Network Rail.

“I shall continue campaigning for improvements to the A12 and for the construction of a Sudbury by-pass, and I am supporting campaigns to put proposed new electricity pylons underground.”

Mr Yeo appeals to anti-Europeans not to be self-indulgent by voting for UKIP. “In the event of a hung parliament, the Tories will have to demonstrate that they received more votes than other parties in order to form a government.”

He got into some bother with the county council when he used parliamentary privilege to decry the behaviour of adoption staff to both parents and children. “I have received more mail on this issue than any other since becoming an MP and 99% of it is supportive of the stand I took.”

The head of geography at Great Cornard upper school Nigel Bennett is the Liberal Democrat choice. Mayor of Sudbury in 2002-3 and 2006-7, he has lived in the constituency for 20 years.

Mr Bennett’s chances of causing an upset have increased dramatically since Nick Clegg’s outstanding performance in the first of the televised leaders’ debates. The Labour vote in the constituency is there to be squeezed and if Mr Bennett he can entice Labour supporters to back him, and the UK Independence Party keeps its vote up in the constituency, then the result in Suffolk South could be interesting to say the least.

“There were 11,000 Labour votes in 2005, but in the Suffolk county council elections last year in the constituency, Labour polled just 9%. Labour has no county or district councillors and its vote is there to be squeezed.

“If we can persuade Labour voters that the only way to defeat Tim Yeo is to vote Liberal Democrat, then we are in with more than a shout than the Tories realise. There will be a lot of surprises and unusual results at this election and Suffolk South should not be ruled out.

“People talk on the doorstep about change. And they know that the Tories do not represent change.

“The Internet and social networking sites may have an interesting effect on the outcome. Politicians ignore them at what could be considerable cost.”

Mr Bennett says the main issue nationally is cleaning up politics. “There is still huge resentment over the MPs’ allowances scandal.

“The economy is important – people worry about where the spending cuts will come and realise that cutting too soon, as the Tories are pledged to do, will plunge the UK back into recession.

“People want to know how we can reduce the deficit and at the same time protect front line services.

“Locally, health is an issue. Sudbury is still waiting for the promised replacement of Walnuttree Hospital, which could be jeopardised in a spending review.

“The middle schools fiasco still upsets parents – we need new school buildings but to kill off Clare and Stoke-by-Nayland middle schools is not supported by parents and many could withhold their vote from the Tories.”

Emma Bishton for Labour is the first to acknowledge the size of the task she faces. “Labour finished third last time and I know we have an uphill battle but there are votes to be gained for Labour in the constituency.

“In Sudbury and Cornard, the turnout last time was low and I am aiming to ensure these areas are there for us this time. I think we will be able to woo back people who switched to the Liberal Democrats by pointing out how much worse off they will be if the Tories are elected.

“We need to get across that Labour will protect public services, the Tories won’t, and the Lib Dems will never be in a position to carry out all their lofty policy proposals.

“On health in particular, I am reminding Suffolk South voters just how much money Labour has pumped into the NHS and that a Tory government would threaten services. The two week cancer pledge has been welcomed by voters, but the Conservatives look set to renege on it.

“I work for the NHS and have seen the difference that a Labour government makes. We are taking great strides in public health planning - the stop smoking initiative has been well received as we explain that not only would giving up cigarettes save their lives but would also add to their quality of life.

“The advances in medicine have made the switch to regional centres of excellence a sensible step - patients will welcome that they are being treated at the best possible regional hospital with all the latest equipment which will give them the best possible outcome.”

As a former governor of Pot Kiln primary schools and the mother of an eight-year-old child, she is keen to see educational standards improve across the county. “I am not against the move to two-tier schools instead of the middle school system, but the way the county council set about consulting the public gave the impression that it was a done deal.

“It is taking a long time for Britain to take on board green policies but now it is very much part of the mainstream agenda. I think everyone wants a sustainable environment and local food production - we must bring an end to all the miles clocked up by distribution, storage and redistribution . I support shop local campaigns and I also favour organic produce.

“The threat to the Stour Valley and its communities in the constituency by the Twinstead pylons greatly concerns me. Consultation has been limited to overground routes with no thought being given to putting the power lines below ground.

“We have to remember that people in London and the south east need the energy supplies, but we should be encouraging people to save electricity which would be good for their purses and good for the environment

David Campbell Bannerman, who is related to a former Liberal Party Prime Minister, is out to “nail the lie that UKIP is a single issue party.

“We have 17 detailed policy papers, including defence in which we promise a 40% increase in spending which would be good for jobs and UK-based manufacturing.

“On hunting with hounds, we would hold county referendums on whether the ban should remain, and as we believe in county units, we would hold polls to elect health and police chiefs.

“Our role this time is to put down a manifesto for radical True Change, which David Cameron does not - he is a social democrat, and has long departed from the traditional tenets of the Conservative Party. He is prepared to slash defence spending without a second thought. If the Tories win, the public will soon see just how brittle David Cameron really is.”

Mr Campbell Bannerman says: “We will come of age at this election with a manifesto full of policies. We would be the only party to truly back our troops to the extent they deserve. We will cut bureaucracy and political correctness.

“The public sector has increased by 2m to 8m since Labour came into power. We aspire to have the public sector at the same level as under the Tories in 1990 - we will transfer jobs out of the public sector.”

Mr Yeo remains favourite to win but will he hoping that the Clegg bubble bursts before polling day.

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