Tories under pressure in local elections

NOMINATIONS close next month for local elections for all district councils in Suffolk and Essex, and the Conservatives are facing huge problems in seven areas.

By Graham Dines

NOMINATIONS close next month for local elections for all district councils in Suffolk and Essex, and the Conservatives are facing huge problems in seven areas.

With the Tories storming ahead in the opinion polls, Labour nationally is likely to be on the back foot, as voters show their opposition to Tony Blair's Government. A strong showing by the Conservatives will be a huge boost for David Cameron as he prepares for the challenge of Chancellor Gordon Brown becoming Prime Minister.

But in parts of the region, Tory celebrations may be muted or even non-existent. The elections in all of Suffolk except Ipswich are being overshadowed by the row over the future of the county's 40 middle schools, with parents threatening to use the district elections as a referendum on the issue, even though the decision is being made by the county council.


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The county will vote tomorrow on whether to proceed with the plans, and hundreds of protesters are expected to stage a rally outside the authority's Ipswich headquarters before the meeting.

Most Labour and Liberal Democrat county councillors are likely to vote against the schools' reorganisation, and a number of Tories have also expressed doubts over the plans. If the county votes to scrap middle schools, opposition parties are expected to campaign on the issue, putting a number of Tory councillors in jeopardy.

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Districts affected by the middle schools decision are Babergh, Waveney, Suffolk Coastal, Mid Suffolk, Forest Heath and St Edmundsbury.

In Essex, the Tory Party's decision to suspend a number of Tendring district councillors - including council leader Terry Allen - means they will not be able to defend their seats in May as Tories. If any of the suspended councillors stand for re-election against official Conservative candidates, they will be expelled from the party.

One leading party member described the warfare in Tendring - which includes Frinton, Harwich, Clacton-on-Sea, Walton-on-Naze and Thorpe-le-Soken - as a “complete mess” with the possibility that a split in the Tory vote preventing the party from taking outright control of the authority.

Nominations for the May 3 elections opened this week and close on April 4. All council seats have to be filled in Chelmsford, Uttlesford, Maldon, Braintree, Tendring, Forest Heath, St Edmundsbury, Babergh, Mid Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal, while a third of council seats are being contested in Waveney, Ipswich, and Colchester.

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