This rural-urban mixture is Conservative to the core

IF one word can be used to describe this sprawling constituency it is disparate. Suffolk Central & Ipswich North stretches from Christchurch Park in the middle of Ipswich right up to the Norfolk border at Hoxne and takes in Eye, Debenham, Great Blakenham, Bramford, Wickham Market and Kesgrave.

But despite the large rural nature of the constituency, it is officially classified as urban because 60% of the voters live in either Ipswich and Kesgrave or market towns and, as a consequence, it shares many of the same problems as purely urban seats, notably housing and employment.

Since 1983, the seat has been the fiefdom of Michael Lord – now Sir Michael – a one-time Maastrict rebel who has been a deputy speaker of the House of Commons since 1997.

He has not been the most visible of MPs and one of his characteristics has been that he likes to do his constituency case work with the minimum of fuss and away from the media spotlight.

Now Sir Michael has decided to call it a day and is not seeking re-election this time. The Tory baton has been passed to Dr Dan Poulter, a gynaecologist, who won the Conservative nomination at an open primary last November.

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Dr Poulter is defending a majority of 7,856 and it would take a swing to Labour of nearly 8% for him to lose. But given the opinion polls, he may well achieve more than 50% of the total, with the main contest being that for second place between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Interest will also centre on Andrew Stringer, the popular and vocal county and district councillor who will be standing for the Greens. Should he save his deposit, he will have attracted votes from traditional Labour and Lib Dem supporters, which again should help give Dr Poulter a healthy majority.

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The UK Independence Party is in little evidence, but the Conservatives will be wary.

Labour has gone for one of its rising stars from outside the area to tackle the huge Tory mountain. Bhavna Joshi was selected in October 2007 and says it is a “daunting” constituency because of its size and the fact that it lacks within its boundaries an identifiable shopping centre.

“This will be a challenging election, because the media hype over MPs’ expenses has turned the electorate anti-politician,” says Ms Joshi. “If MPs received the same salaries as equivalent public sector employees, such as headteachers, there would be no need for expenses claims.

“The economy, lack of affordable housing, transport in rural areas and renewable energy are issues on the doorstep.

“We must defend Sure Start from the threat of Tory cuts. We have four Sure Start centres in the constituency – two in north Ipswich and one each in Eye and Debenham.

“They are popular with parents who before had no access to affordable child care and I am finding that people who were once wavering away from Labour, will positively vote for us because of Sure Start.

“I am supporting the campaign to save middle schools, which provide a sense of community and stability. Parents think they were not properly consulted and one effect of bussing children to school is that they miss out on after-school activities because they can’t get home.”

Dr Poulter says that despite the anti-politics mood in the country, people like the fact that he has a “real job” and that he is not a political insider.

“When voters find out I am doctor, they engage in conversation and almost everyone is appalled at the run-down of Ipswich Hospital.

“Removing frontline services from Ipswich and scaling it back to a cottage hospital is an appalling indictment of what the Government and the East of England Health Authority think of the town.

“We must not give up and should push for more specialities to be provided at Ipswich.

“I support Hartismere Hospital at Eye, which is important to High Suffolk, and want GP out-of-hours services improved. People are packing accident and emergency departments because they do not know where to go for out-of-hours treatment.

“We must support the rural community and keep more young people living and working in the constituency.

“Immigration is an issue, especially in the north Ipswich area,” says Dr Poulter. “Migrant workers are the bedrock of the NHS, and without doctors and nurses from overseas, it would collapse. But we should have a points system which allows essential workers into the country rather than a general “everyone in”.

Andrew Aalders-Dunthorne, who stood in Norwich South at the last three General Elections, will be the Liberal Democrat candidate. Aged 40 and married with two children, he is deputy head of a Great Yarmouth primary school, and lives in Fressingfield.

Born in Norwich but has moved to the constituency, he served as a lieutenant in the Territorial Army and firmly believes that a person should live locally if they want to stand for Parliament.

“An MP should live and breathe his constituency and should be a community advocate. I stood in the Suffolk county council division of Hoxne & Eye last June and am enjoying campaigning in this lovely constituency.”

Mr Aalders-Dunthorne is anxious about the state of the country and admits the Tories have resonated with voters over broken society. Constituencies see a lack of bus services and post office closures as the gradual erosion of community.

“We are recruiting quite a few young people in Kesgrave and Earl Soham, which is encouraging. I have not detected much in the way of a huge green vote and I oppose that ‘thou shalt’ mantra of green lobbyists.

“I favour education and encouragement for people to recycle and go green, especially in the current economic climate.

“I am opposed to an incinerator at Eye airfield and the council proposal for a super-size incinerator at Great Blakenham.”

He does not support nuclear power and the C and D plants at Sizewell because nuclear energy is not green. “I worry over storage of nuclear waste although recognise the employment potential. I back big expansion of wind farms.

“I am very concerned at the threat to public services posed by the Tories after the election if they win. I back investment in education but believe some of it has been wasted because of the constant interference in schools by central government.”

Andrew Stringer is the Green Party’s best-known figure in Suffolk and the county councillor, who is contesting the General Election, said: “I think we are incredibly well placed to attract people who are fed up with the top-down approach of the main parties.

“The old days of complacency among voters have gone. Thanks to MPs’ expenses, most voters think that politicians are a lazy, corrupt, do-nothing bunch.

“Rural areas are being heavily penalised by the hike in petrol yet we need to promote the use of small, fuel efficient cars.

“We need to improve the quality of life for rural dwellers by ensuring policies are promoted to give support for local shops, post offices, and pubs. We want to keep the post office in national ownership.”

The New Party’s only candidate at this election is Richard Vass, who says he has not found a single person admitting they will vote Labour. “About 80% of those who say they are Conservatives do not really want to back the Tories and are looking at us with interest.

“The Tories have flown in a young, inexperienced candidate and expect people to vote for him just like that. I’m not sure that’s going to happen.

“There is an overwhelming desire for honesty, but they are not getting it from other candidates. Policies are not being discussed by the main parties – it is all about the television debates and the X-factor personality of the three leaders.”

He added: “This week’s damning report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, taking the parties to task for not being honest over spending cuts, is a timely intervention in the campaign. We need a cull of the public sector – it is grossly overweight.’’

Roy Philpot, who is the UKIP candidate, said he wanted to protect British interests and the rights of British citizens.

“We need British jobs for British workers. We must cut mass immigration with a fair policy and be strong on law and order for those communities that need our help. I support a fair and decent state pension for all.’’

Despite the diverse nature of this constituency, there are enough Tory-voting areas in north Ipswich and throughout the rural areas to ensure Dr Poulter is returned as its MP.

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