Why Ipswich is so important for politicians in election year

David Cameron at Ransomes Jacobsen

David Cameron at Ransomes Jacobsen - Credit: Archant

David Cameron’s decision to come to Ipswich to launch his party’s employment policy in the run-up to the General Election campaign was a huge coup for sitting MP Ben Gummer.

It does seem to show that the prime minister believes the Conservative MP’s claim that his party needs to win Ipswich if it is to have a majority in the next House of Commons.

And it can also be seen as a personal endorsement of Mr Gummer – he’s clearly an MP Mr Cameron doesn’t want to lose.

The prime minister has now been to Ipswich three times since coming to power. On the first occasion he brought his whole cabinet here (okay, so they met in a secure room at Adastral Park, but that’s almost Ipswich!).

The seat does, of course, have the huge advantage of only being about an hour and a half from Downing Street – and he was able to combine his trip to Ipswich with a run up the A140 to Norwich.

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However, that hasn’t always persuaded prime ministers to venture to this marginal seat.

Mrs Thatcher famously visited east Suffolk in 1979 when she cuddled a calf in John Gummer’s first election in Eye but the only time she visited Ipswich was during the 1987 election campaign.

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Maybe she should have come more – that was the only time the Tories won in Ipswich during their 18-year administration.

John Major passed through Ipswich on his way to a meeting in Felixstowe in the mid-1990s, but did not visit the town itself.

Tony Blair visited once as prime minister in 2002 – but Gordon Brown was the most frequent visitor, coming three times in 2009 and 2010 in an attempt to boost Chris Mole’s re-election bid.

Mr Cameron’s visit this week might still not be the last before the election – I would not rule out the possibility of him dropping in again shortly before polling day.

The Tories see him as a clear electoral asset and may well deploy him on the streets of the town (or at least at a school) in a bid to attract more votes.

All that is good news for Mr Gummer. It would put the seat in the public eye, and tell voters that he is someone the PM wants back in the House at any cost.

Of course it will be interesting to see how Labour reacts.

The last time Mr Cameron came to Ipswich he was followed a few weeks later by Ed Miliband who did a very effective walkabout, the leader of the opposition is not such a security risk – it was a shame for Labour that the visit was overshadowed a few hours later by the death of Lady Thatcher.

I suspect that the Labour spin doctors are already planning a visit, or visits, to the town in the run-up to the election. Ipswich is rapidly being seen as a seat neither major party can even think about losing in May’s general election.

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