Bury battle under the spotlight

BACK in 1997, the Bury seat had a national claim to fame. It was the highest seat on Labour's hitlist that the party failed to capture.New boy David Ruffley held the seat with a majority of just 368 - but in 2001 he saw this rise substantially to more than 2,500.

BACK in 1997, the Bury seat had a national claim to fame. It was the highest seat on Labour's hitlist that the party failed to capture.

New boy David Ruffley held the seat with a majority of just 368 - but in 2001 he saw this rise substantially to more than 2,500.

Bury is a seat that can be misleading - the cathedral town is at the extreme west of the constituency which extends east beyond Stowmarket to Needham Market.

Although most of the population is in the large towns of Bury and Stowmarket themselves, it also includes a wide area of Suffolk countryside extending as far north as the Norfolk border.

Labour is strongest in the larger towns, but the prosperous nature of the constituency - especially in the attractive villages dotted around the area - means that it looks like natural Tory territory.

The eastern end of the constituency, particularly Stowmarket and Needham Market, tends to look towards Ipswich as the regional centre.

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In 1997 there was a substantial vote for the Liberal Democrats who finished in a strong third plase - but this largely collapsed to below 7,000 in 2001 as it was squeezed between Labour and the Conservatives.

The Tories agree with the Lib Dems that the party could be about to show signs of a revival in the constituency.

And that could be good news for both those parties - because Labour has been targetting “soft” Liberal Democrat voters in a bid to keep out the Conservatives.

However while a strengthening of the Liberal Democrats could be good news for the Tories, the intervention of a UKIP campaign could be bad news for the party if UKIP comes anywhere near repeating its strong showing in last year's European elections.

All the parties in the election are maintaining they are performing strongly this time - and local issues seem to be at the forefront of their campaigns.

David Ruffley, Conservative.

Mr Ruffley won the seat in 1997, and is a rare breed in the House of Commons - a Tory who has never sat on the government benches!

In the last parliament he was a junior opposition whip - and this time his campaign is focussing on local issues.

He said: “In my main election address there is no mention of immigration or asylum - I have concentrated on my work on local issues.

“I think these days people more than ever take into account the candidate before they cast their vote.”

He said key issues he had been working on included the state of the East Anglian Ambulance Trust, pressing for improvements to the A14 between Stowmarket and Bury St Edmunds, and working to ensure that new developments did not damage the relationship between communities.

He said: “One proposal has been to build new homes between Stowmarket and Onehouse which would effectively mean Onehouse would just become a suburb.

Dave Monaghan, Labour.

Union official Mr Monaghan is hoping to overturn the Conservative majority and become the first-ever Labour MP in this seat.

He says he is delighted by the response he is finding on the doorsteps in the constituency.

“People are telling us that they understand the value of a Labour MP working with a Labour government to get things done in the constituency.

“One of the strengths in the 2001 Labour campaign was that it attracted many Liberal Democrats who did not want a Conservative MP.

“I really think we can build on that this time and I really hope to go on to win,” he said.

Mr Monaghan said he and his workers had found a great deal of concern about the current Conservative leadership winning the election.

“Many people remember 1992 and how we felt on that night. We are finding a lot of voters say they don't want to see Michael Howard being given another chance - and in this constituency the way to do that is to vote Labour.”

David Chappell, Liberal Democrat.

Mr Chappell's task is to revive a party that has suffered at the polls in the last two general elections - although its performances in local elections has offered much more encouragement for supporters.

In 2001 its vote slipped significantly - but Mr Chappell prefers to point out his party's success in local elections.

He said: “Over the last few years elections in this area have really been a two-horse race between the Conservatives and ourselves.

“Labour has not done anything in this area, and isn't even putting up a candidate in the Moreton Hall division of Bury in the county council elections.”

Mr Chappell said his party's strong local record of campaigning throughout the constituency would bring him success.

“We are very strong in the Mid Suffolk area in the Bosmere area and in Stowmarket - and we are poised to make a big breakthrough, especially if UKIP takes votes away from the Conservatives,” he said.

John Howlett, UKIP.

Dr Howlett is having a second attempt at winning the Bury St Edmunds seat after standing in 2001.

He is not making any claims about a sensational victory, but hopes to have an impact during the campaign.

He said: “Some people are telling me that voted for us in the European elections but are now going back to their normal party.

“But we are picking up votes from across the area - and not just from the Conservatives.”

Graham Manning, Green.

Mr Manning is hoping that his party's environmental message will go down well.

His agent John Matthissen said there had been interest from people who were keen to help during the election campaign.

He said: “There is a significant proportion of the population who are worried about climate change - and their concerns are not being addressed by the other parties.”

Bury St Edmunds result 2001

David Ruffley (Con) 21,850

Mark Ereira (Lab) 19,347

Richard Williams (LD) 6,998

John Howlett (UKIP) 831

Mike Brundle (Ind) 651

Michael Benwell (Soc Lab) 580.