Central Suffolk up for grabs

EVERYONE you speak seems to agree about one point with the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat - its composition is very unusual.There are two basic types of constituency - all urban and rural.

EVERYONE you speak seems to agree about one point with the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich seat - its composition is very unusual.

There are two basic types of constituency - all urban and rural.

Urban seats, like Ipswich, are concentrated collections of voters. Rural seats tend to be a collection of small to medium-sized towns, villages, farms and fields.

Central Suffolk is a rarity - it's a genuine mixture of the urban and rural.

About two thirds of the electorate are real townies - they live within five miles of Ipswich Cornhill on the housing estates of Whitton, Whitehouse, Castle Hill, Claydon, Kesgrave, and Rushmere.

The rest of the constituents are dotted around in villages and very small towns - the largest of which are Framlingham and Eye.

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It's a constituency that has been Conservative since it was first formed in 1983, and although Sir Michael Lord's majority has slipped in the last two general elections - which followed a re-drawing of the boundaries - it still looks like safe Tory territory.

Issues raised by the candidates range from the future of the Broomhill swimming pool in Ipswich through to the proposed Snoasis development at Great Blakenham and the plans for a wind turbine farm at Parham near Framlingham.

The A140 runs through the constituency, and its future is a key issue for many voters.

But there are complexities for any MP representing the seat - for a start he (and all the candidates are male) will have to deal with three separate councils, Ipswich, Mid Suffolk and Suffolk Coastal.

And while agriculture and rural issues are undboubtedly important in the “High Suffolk” area of the constituency - they are an irrelevance to the majority of the population who live in greater Ipswich.

So trying to strike the right balance between the different parts of the constituency is a challenge for all the candidates.

Sir Michael Lord, Conservative.

Sir Michael has been MP for Central Suffolk since 1983, and is now a real elder statesman of the House of Commons.

In the last two parliaments he has been a deputy speaker - which means that he does not take part in the normal rough-and-tumble of parliamentary life.

But at election time Sir Michael can still mix it with the rest of the candidates - and said the character of Tony Blair was a big issue on the doorsteps.

He said: “We're hearing a lot of people saying how they can't stand Mr Blair and how they can't trust him.

“There is also a lot of concern about health - MRSA at Ipswich Hospital has concerned a lot of voters - and the asylum issue is also coming up quite a lot around the constituency.”

Sir Michael said there were also very local issues which were concerning people - the state of the A140, Snoasis proposals at Great Blakenham, and the proposed wind farm at Parham near Framlingham.

Neil Macdonald, Labour.

Labour has finished second in this seat in the last two general elections - and would like to overturn the Conservative majority of 3,500.

Mr Macdonald is an Ipswich borough councillor - and has made no secret of the fact that he has concentrated his campaign at the southern end of the constituency.

He has also found that “public service” issues like health and education have been coming across as key issues among the voters.

And like Sir Michael, he's found people raising the party leaders on the doorsteps.

“We're finding a lot of people who claim to be disenchanted Conservatives say they don't like what they're seeing of Michael Howard.

“We are finding people like what Labour are talking about and do like the fact that we've seen eight years of solid economic improvements - it is something to offer the electorate,” he said.

Andrew Houseley, Liberal Democrat.

Between 1983, when Central Suffolk first appeared on the electoral map, and 1992 the Liberal Democrats and their predecessors, the Alliance, regularly finished second in this seat.

Since then the boundaries have shifted east rather, and in the last two elections a strengthened Labour Party has edged out the Lib Dems.

In 2001, the Lib Dems saw their vote slide to little more than 7,500 - and Andrew Houseley is determined to reverse this.

He said: “What the last two elections have shown us is that Labour cannot win in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.

“There is a growing number of people who don't like the other parties' leaders.

“I've come across Labour supporters who don't like the fact that Tony Blair seems to be so close to George Bush.

“And there are Conservatives worried that Michael Howard is too extreme with his talk about immigration. We are picking up votes from both of them.”

Professor Martin Wolfe, Green.

Green issues have attracted attention, especially from young people, and Professor Wolfe is hoping they will support his call for action.

He said: “We have to take a much tougher line on managing climate change than the current government which is caving in on road building and air travel and failing in its CO2 targets.

“Investment now in energy efficiency, Combined Heat and Power systems, and wind power are much better than nuclear power with its huge unseen costs and terrorist risks. "

John West UKIP.

Mr West believes that the subject of Europe is the great hidden issue of the campaign so far.

He said: “People don't realise that whatever people say, MPs cannot do very much because so many laws come from Europe now.

“About 70 per cent of our laws come directly from Brussels, and when people hear that they're coming across to UKIP - the only party that is pledging complete withdrawal from the European Union.”

2001 Result:

Sir Michael Lord (Con) 20,924

Carole Jones (Lab) 17,455

Ann Elvin (LD) 7,593

Jonathan Wright (UKIP) 1,132