Election 2017: Are things on the up? Or is it just an illusion fed by a growth of false hope?
- Credit: Archant
One of the great themes of any general election campaign is how people feel about things. Are they optimistic or pessimistic about the future?
Do voters want to change the system because they are so worried – or do they feel that things are probably going in the right direction for them and are worried about changing course?
In 2015 it was the latter, certainly in the key marginal seats in this region. What will the feeling be among the voters five weeks from today?
In Ipswich there seems to be a perception that things are improving. We’ve seen good developments in the town centre and things are continuing to happen on the Waterfront. Not fast enough for most people – but certainly they’re going in the right direction.
And people seem to be responding. There are more restaurants and cafes in the town centre – and they do seem to be pretty busy much of the time. People are eating or drinking out more than they used to.
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The opening of the Empire Cinema has given film fans more screens to watch films on in the town centre. I’m not sure it’s extended choice that much because many of the films are also on at Cineworld.
And I’m not sure Empire’s arrival is going to threaten the existing cinema as much as some people thought. I was at Cineworld (I have an Unlimited Card) at the weekend and it seemed as busy as ever. I hear Empire is busy too. It seems as if more people are going to see films.
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The Labour-run borough council is showing it is optimistic about the future. It is about to start building a new multi-storey car park in Crown Street and is making plans for another one in the Princes Street/West End Road area.
It is buying property for development – the old sugar beet site, the old St Peter’s Warehouse site on the Waterfront and potential new offices.
And it is also building new council houses that not only provide more affordable homes for families who would otherwise struggle to find anywhere to live, but also provide a guaranteed income to the authority’s housing revenue account into the future.
Meanwhile we’re seeing more investment in retail and leisure projects outside the town centre.
The Anglia Retail Park on Bury Road opposite the Asda Superstore has been something of a White Elephant for years.
The only reason most people went there over recent years was for the huge B&Q – and then most customers only went to a small area of the store.
Its closure last year looked like dreadful news for that part of the town – but it’s turned out to be just what the park needed.
Now the park is being transformed with the new Bounce trampoline centre and a number of new stores due to open over the next couple of months: The Range, Go Outdoors, Dunelm, and B&M.
There have been some adverse comments about this – especially the news that the town is getting a fourth B&M store which sells discount homewares and some food.
It’s all a question of supply and demand, of course, but the north west of Ipswich has been starved of major retail names on its retail park in comparison with Copdock Mill or Ransomes Europark.
There has been some sneering about B&M from people who clearly live outside the area. Okay so you won’t pick up a £25,000 shepherd’s hut for your garden there – but if you need some basic gardening equipment or new inexpensive cushions it will be very useful!
And these companies investing in the park clearly feel that the town is worth putting their money into.
Of course there is another side to the argument – and people visiting last weekend’s May Day Festival in Alexandra Park will have heard John McDonnell warning that another five years of Conservative government will leave more people worse off.
Most of those at the festival clearly agreed with him and many will be taking that message on to the doorsteps of the marginal seat over the next five weeks.
Will they be able to convince the floating voters who are debating whether to try the new Wagamama or Coast to Coast for lunch during their next trip to the town centre that things are so bad they should change course?
It could be a tough ask – to win the election, Labour needs to persuade these floating voters that they have a better future to offer them than more of the same.
They have the organisation to get out on the doorsteps – but their volunteers will have to be very persuasive!