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Election 2017: Will this year’s election really be about Brexit in Suffolk and Essex seats?

PUBLISHED: 06:00 20 April 2017 | UPDATED: 12:55 24 April 2017

Suffolk Tory MPs backed Remain - but their Brexit-voting constituents are unlikely to punish them for that.

Suffolk Tory MPs backed Remain - but their Brexit-voting constituents are unlikely to punish them for that.

Political analysts in London and in the major cities of the Midlands and the North of England are already describing the 2017 poll as the “Brexit Election” – but in this part of the world it is likely to be about many other issues, writes Paul Geater.

General Election 2017 logoGeneral Election 2017 logo

I’m not convinced that most voters in Suffolk and North Essex will be looking back over their shoulders to last year’s referendum when they cast their vote on June 8.

Last year this part of the world voted firmly for Brexit. Across Suffolk and Essex every constituency voted in favour of leaving the European Union by more than the national average.

But in Suffolk every MP backed the Remain side. So will the county’s MPs be in trouble with their constituents over this?

The simple answer is no.

There are some political activists on both sides who are still fighting the referendum on Twitter – but most have moved on and have accepted the result with good grace from whichever side they approach it.

There are some political observers who are still very sore at the result and want to punish anyone who voted Brexit – and they may give the LibDems a bit of a bounce.

But there are nowhere near enough of them to influence the election in this part of the world.

And what is significant is that those Conservative MPs from Suffolk who campaigned so fiercely for Remain in June last year very quickly turned round and supported the Brexit decision – saying they accepted the electorate’s decision.

Given that all their constituencies rejected their advice, that was probably a wise choice.

But it means they have all retained the support of their local organisations and should have no difficulty in getting volunteers to campaign for them.

None of Suffolk’s MPs have turned into pro-remain activists in the style of Anna Soubry or Kenneth Clarke. All have accepted the result and say they are determined to make it work for the country.

Of course three of them – Ben Gummer, Matt Hancock, and Therese Coffey – are ministers and Jo Churchill is Parliamentary Private Secretary to Defence Secretary Sir Michael Fallon. So they have to accept the government position anyway.

But even backbenchers Dan Poulter, Peter Aldous, and James Cartlidge are determined to make Brexit work for their constituents and the country.

Dr Poulter has taken an independent line of some aspects of government policy, but this has focussed on its health policies – in which he is something of an expert – rather than Europe.

Most north Essex MPs backed Brexit so for them it is not difficult to support the government’s policy of negotiating withdrawal.

Of course the battle across Suffolk and north Essex will be focussed on the seats of Ipswich and Waveney which Labour have won in the past, on Colchester where the LibDems will be hoping to stage a comeback, and on Clacton where the Conservatives will be expecting to win back a seat lost to UKIP in 2014.

However the opposition parties have a mountain to climb – this year’s General Election does look like a repeat of the 1983 election in which it was clear from day one that the Conservatives would be re-elected. There’s not Ken Weetch in Ipswich, though!

It’s difficult to see Labour winning back seats like Ipswich and Waveney – in this region much of their effort will be concentrated on holding their seats in Norwich South and Cambridge.

There may be occasional significant visits, especially to Ipswich where cabinet minister Ben Gummer is defending a 3,733 majority, but this area will not be seen as a major battleground by any of the political parties.

The Labour Party is understood to be looking at a national strategy of defending the 232 seats it held in 2015 rather than seeking to win too many more.

And the LibDems will be concentrating on winning back seats it lost in Remain areas of the country. That means if Sir Bob Russell decides to have another go at Colchester he could get a lot of support – but if not most of their effort will be concentrated on winning back Cambridge which looks like their best prospect of a gain.

The Conservatives I have spoken to are all telling me that they are not complacent about the election. Whether their volunteers on the ground who can read all the opinion polls feel the same urge to avoid complacency is unclear. But I don’t expect them to be talking too much about Brexit.

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