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Election 2019 campaign starts: Which Suffolk and Essex seats should you watch?

PUBLISHED: 05:30 31 October 2019

Sandy Martin is congratulated by Ben Gummer in 2017 - but he faces a tough battle to hold on to his seat in December. 
Picture by ASHLEY PICKERING

Sandy Martin is congratulated by Ben Gummer in 2017 - but he faces a tough battle to hold on to his seat in December. Picture by ASHLEY PICKERING

Copyright Ashley Pickering

So we've finally got a decision and we are going for a General Election on December 12 - the first case of Jingle Polls since the 1920s!

MPs gather for questions in the House of Commons. Most of our MPs are expected to return in December, but the new shape of the House is a very open question. Picture: House of Commons/PA WireMPs gather for questions in the House of Commons. Most of our MPs are expected to return in December, but the new shape of the House is a very open question. Picture: House of Commons/PA Wire

For me it is the eighth General Election whose coverage I have organised. Each one has been billed at the start as "the most important ever" - but this time it really does feel like a watershed.

I'm not at all convinced, however, that the result will be any clearer than we got in 2017 - although we shall have to see how the campaign pans out and I can see a scenario in which the Tories end up with a large enough majority to push Mr Johnson's deal through the House of Commons.

I really cannot see how Labour, shorn of the dominance it held in Scotland until 2015, can form a majority government.

Locally the only seat I really see in play is Ipswich, which has always been a marginal and regularly swaps between Labour and Conservative MPs.

Sandy Martin surprised many (including me) when he won Ipswich from Ben Gummer two and a half years ago. I think he is facing a really tough battle to hang on to a seat with a strong leave vote against Conservative Tom Hunt who will be pushing the Brexit message throughout the campaign.

Of course two years ago the campaign was supposed to be all about Brexit. But Labour moved it on to other subjects and ended up denying Theresa May an overall majority - introducing two years of torpor into government.

But despite what some of their leading members may say and think, Labour did not win the 2017 election. They were up against the most incompetent election campaign this country has seen since Michael Foot's effort in 1983, and still they could not beat the Tories.

They are going into this election with essentially the same team up against a Tory leader who is full of faults that a decent opposition could expose - but Mr Johnson is someone who manages to give the impression that he enjoys campaigning, unlike his standoffish predecessor.

Ipswich is the only seat where I really expect a meaningful contest in the area this time around.

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Between 1997 and 2010 Labour's Bob Blizzard held Waveney at the other end of Suffolk, but I really don't see Tory Peter Aldous coming under great threat there this year.

Labour has put up Sonia Barker as its candidate again this year. In 2017 Ms Barker achieved the unenviable double of losing two elections (for her county council seat as well as the parliamentary seat) in a single campaign!

Waveney is a very pro-Brexit seat and the only way Labour could stand a chance here would be if the Brexit Party scooped up a significant number of Tory votes. I don't think that will happen - the Brexit Party was a shooting star that faded almost as soon as it appeared in the political atmosphere.

The only place the Brexit Party could make a real impact is in Giles Watling's Clacton seat - the seat won for UKIP by former Tory Douglas Carswell in 2014. I still think it's a longshot for them - but if they can't do anything here, they really are a busted flush.

Colchester is another seat that we always look at with interest. It was held by Liberal Democrat Sir Bob Russell from 1997 to 2015 - but in 2017 his attempt to return to Parliament fell flat when he was beaten into third place by Labour.

With students heading home from the University of Essex just days before the election and the resurgence in the LibDems, I think that party could put in a better show this time around. But with two strong parties battling for the "Remain" vote in the town, I can't see Tory MP Will Quince being seriously worried.

The Tories are well settled in every other seat in our area - and there is nothing to suggest that any of them might be in trouble in December.

But (and it is a big but) that is just the position we are facing today at the start of a six-week election campaign. In 2017 the picture changed dramatically as Labour managed to pull the election narrative away from Brexit on to other issues which were better for them

I don't think Boris Johnson's election team will allow that to happen again - but it could.

And there is the chance of a real pivot in electoral loyalties away from the Tory/Labour divide we have seen since the start of the last century to a Leave/Remain axis.

That could leave many Conservative Remain-leaning seats in the south vulnerable to the Liberal Democrats while the Tories could pick up many traditional Labour votes in Leave-leaning parts of the Midlands and North of England.

Or it could be that all of us political experts are wrong and voters just behave as they always have and produce a result no one had foreseen. There will be twists in the campaign and anyone who makes firm predictions now is a real fool. Let the action begin!

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