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It’s difficult to see beyond a Tory victory in Suffolk’s county council election

PUBLISHED: 06:00 13 April 2017 | UPDATED: 08:45 13 April 2017

County council Conservatives at the start of their campaign. Picture: PAUL GEATER

County council Conservatives at the start of their campaign. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Archant

After my stunning success in predicting last year’s big polls (I put money on a remain victory in the referendum and was sure Hillary Clinton would win the presidency) I was determined to give up my crystal ball. Writes Paul Geater

The Suffolk County Council Labour group may grow - but is unlikely to be challenging to form an administration at Endeavour House.The Suffolk County Council Labour group may grow - but is unlikely to be challenging to form an administration at Endeavour House.

But as I’ve gone through the runners and riders for this year’s county council elections, I’ve found old habits die hard – and it has not been possible to ignore looking at who is likely to take the seats.

And given the national polls, local factors, and the votes last time the seats were fought in 2013, I’ve come to the conclusion that there is no realistic alternative to the Tories retaining power in Suffolk – probably with an increased majority.

There are several reasons for this, but the main one is the implosion that has happened at UKIP over the last 12 months.

Nationally the party appears to be shambolic. Several of its leading members: MP Douglas Carswell, former leader (briefly) Diane James, former MP Mark Reckless, and MEP Steven Woolfe have left over the last six months.

Local elections 2017Local elections 2017

Locally there appear to be tensions in Waveney where group leader Bill Mountford was not re-selected for South Lowestoft and has decided to run as an Independent against two official candidates in the two-councillor division.

Waveney UKIP denies it is split – but when your group leader stands against official candidates that is certainly the impression created.

As UKIP had a majority of less than 100 in South Lowestoft four years ago, it is difficult to see them winning any seats at all this time. Labour were snapping at their heels and are expected to gain two seats here.

Bert Poole is the only sitting UKIP councillor from Waveney fighting under the party’s banner. There is a chance he could hold on in Oulton – but I expect the party’s vote to fall. Labour holds the other seat in the division and will be fighting hard to make another gain here.

Elsewhere in the county, UKIP could struggle to retain the protest votes it won last time after the referendum result. I expect the Tories to overturn the one-vote UKIP majority in Stowmarket South and to win back the Brandon and Newmarket seats they lost in Forest Heath.

Haverhill is an interesting situation – the sitting UKIP councillors from the town are highly regarded, but only one of the three councillors are seeking re-election.

The party only has two candidates fighting the town’s three seats. Sitting councillor Julian Flood might see his local recognition carry him to victory – but he could be his party’s only representative at Endeavour House.

One of the most interesting battles in Ipswich will be in the two-member Whitehouse and Whitton division, currently held by UKIP and Labour.

I can’t see UKIP holding on here, but Labour cannot be confident of winning both seats because of the strength of the Tories in the area. It could be a rare seat that splits one Labour, one Tory.

There is a general belief that the LibDems will do better than they did last time. That may be true but there isn’t a great scope for them to improve in Suffolk because all their sitting councillors held on in 2013.

They have recently won back the Hadleigh seat they lost in 2013 in a by-election, and the only other seat they may win back is the second St Margaret’s and Westgate seat they lost to Labour in Ipswich.

I can’t see many surprises in rural seats with the possible exception of Cosford (the Lavenham area). Here there is a well-known Green candidate standing against a new Conservative – with UKIP putting up a candidate for the first time in the division.

I have a sneaky feeling that the Greens could surprise a few people here.

Lastly in Bury St Edmunds there are going to be all kinds of fun and games, particularly in Tower division where a cocktail of personality politics and tactical nominating by the Tories has fired a very sparky contest.

My back of an envelope calculation is that after the elections the Conservatives will end up with 43 seats (seven gains, one loss), with Labour ending up with 17 seats (three gains, one loss).

I think the LibDems will end up with nine seats (one gain), the Greens with three (one gain), the independents with two councillors and a single UKIP member.

That would give the Tories a comfortable majority at Endeavour House – with a less fractured opposition.

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