All you need to know about this year’s council elections in Suffolk
- Credit: Gregg Brown
This is a big year for elections. There could still be a General Election and/or a second referendum on the UK’s future in the EU plus, on May 2, will be going to the polls to elect new councils.
All district and borough councils will be hosting elections this year – along with some parish and town councils – but the format of the elections varies according to district, as explained below.
In Suffolk two new super-districts are being contested for the first time: East Suffolk (a merger of Waveney and Suffolk Coastal) and West Suffolk (a merger of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath).
Mid Suffolk and Babergh could have merged for these elections, but backbench councillors in south Suffolk fought a doughty rearguard action against the proposal so they remain separate authorities sharing the same administration. This means there will be separate elections but their votes will be counted at the same place after the election.
The new structure plus the fact two other districts have candidates fighting on new ward boundaries makes predicting the results more challenging than ever – meaning it could be a very interesting election season.
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What’s up for election:
East Suffolk – full council election
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This is the new council formed by a merger of Waveney and Suffolk Coastal. It will cover the entire coastal area of Suffolk from the villages north of Lowestoft to Landguard Point in Felixstowe.
There will be 55 councillors in one, two or three councillor wards. Its main offices will be at Lowestoft and Melton.
Potentially this could be the most interesting election this year. In the past Labour has done well in Waveney when there has been a Conservative government.
The Conservatives have almost always managed to keep a grip on Suffolk Coastal – the only time they lost power was between 1995-99 when Tony Blair’s Labour Party and strong LibDem performances swept the struggling Tories aside across almost the entire country.
Labour is not popular enough nationally, and the LibDems are not strong enough, to suggest they will get a large enough vote to topple the Tories in East Suffolk – but the result here could be tighter than in other parts of the county.
West Suffolk – full council election
New council formed by a merger of St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath councils – stretching from Mildenhall and Brandon to Haverhill.
It will have 64 councillors in one, two or three councillor wards. Its head office will be at West Suffolk House in Bury St Edmunds.
The Tories have always dominated politics in St Edmundsbury and Forest Heath (apart from 1995-9) and there is little to suggest that dominance will be challenged this time around.
There is a subtle difference between the creation of East and West Suffolk councils. In the east Waveney and Suffolk Coastal are similar-sized authorities in terms of electorate.
In the west St Edmundsbury is much larger than Forest Heath in these terms (although the actual population of Forest Heath is much higher than the electorate because of the large number of US service personnel and their dependents at the two bases there).
Mid Suffolk – full council election
The council will remain as at present – but will have 34 councillors in one or two-councillor wards.
It is currently Conservative-controlled and it is difficult to see the overall direction of the council change in this year’s elections.
However what is interesting about this district is the strength of the Green Party which has emerged as the principal opposition – and it would not be any surprise to political observers if it continued to grow in strength over the next few years in this part of the county.
Babergh – full council election
The council will remain as at present – but will have 32 councillors in one, two or three-councillors wards. Babergh and Mid Suffolk will share a joint administration based at Endeavour House in Ipswich with satellite offices in Sudbury and Stowmarket.
Until the last election, Babergh was always an old-style council where no party had a majority and it was run on a consensus basis with a significant number of Independent councillors as well as those standing under party banners.
While the Tories did win a majority in 2015, that hasn’t stopped many councillors behaving as if they can carry on thinking independently from their party colleagues.
A significant rebellion thwarted plans for a merger with Mid Suffolk – and led to the resignation of their council leader.
Ipswich – third of seats up for election
A third of the council will be up for election here. Unlike other Suffolk councils which have all-out elections, this means that the Labour administration is certain to retain control because it already holds 34 of the 48 seats and is defending nine in the election, making it a mathematical impossibility for it to lose power . . . unless there is a by-election called. Even then, opposition parties are extremely unlikely to win all the seats up for election in a single year.
The last time these seats were up for grabs was very good for the Conservatives – the local elections were held on general election day so the turnout was considerably higher than normal.
It would not be at all surprising if Labour took some seats from the Tories this time around – although the Conservatives in the town do have a new parliamentary hopeful in place and they will be keen to do all they can to ensure Tom Hunt’s first taste of the town’s local council elections is not too disappointing.