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Hopefuls prepare for by-election

PUBLISHED: 16:00 16 October 2001 | UPDATED: 10:40 03 March 2010

SUFFOLK hasn't seen a by-election since December 1963, and the last time it happened in Ipswich was when Richard Stokes died in 1955.

Things have changed dramatically since then, and party workers in the town will have to prepare to become the centre of political interest for a few weeks at least.

SUFFOLK hasn't seen a by-election since December 1963, and the last time it happened in Ipswich was when Richard Stokes died in 1955.

Things have changed dramatically since then, and party workers in the town will have to prepare to become the centre of political interest for a few weeks at least.

Ipswich is now generally seen as a safe Labour seat – and party bosses won't risk a candidate who can't shine in the national spotlight.

Back in the 1980s, a selection of poor locally-chosen by-election candidates crumbling under pressure persuaded Labour bosses to change the selection procedure.

In any by-election now, the shortlist is prepared by Labour headquarters in London.

Local soundings are taken, and there are always one or two local candidates on that shortlist – but the list itself is not chosen by local officials.

All local party members are then given the chance to select the actual candidate in a one-member, one-vote election.

There have been claims that this selection procedure can be manipulated, and it is also used if a sitting MP pulls out once a general election has been called.

It was used to ensure the selection of Tory defector Shaun Woodward as Labour candidate – and then MP – for St. Helen's South.

With that in mind, the Labour candidate could come from anywhere in the country.

But two Labour MPs from south Essex lost their seats in June's general election and could look at Ipswich as a quick route back to the House of Commons.

Eileen Gordon saw her 650-vote majority overturned in Romford. She was first elected in the Labour landslide of 1997 and would like a return ticket to the House of Commons.

But at 55 years old, she might be considered rather old to be the party's standard bearer in the national spotlight.

Keith Darvill lost Upminster to the Conservatives after four years in the House of Commons.

Ipswich would also provide him with a quick return to the House – but he is not expected to become ministerial material.

Another former MP looking to make a quick return is former junior law officer David Lock who lost his Wyre Forest seat to retired hospital consultant Richard Taylor in the sensation of the night in June's general election.

Possible local candidates include former Euro-MP David Thomas, who is now on the executive committee of Suffolk County Council.

Also in the frame are County Council leader Chris Mole, and fellow executive member Bryony Rudkin.

Another possibility who would have support in the town is Nigel Gardner, who impressed many with his campaign against John Gummer in Suffolk Coastal in June.

But behind the scenes many Labour activists with an eye on a parliamentary career will be watching Ipswich carefully over the next few weeks.

The Conservatives, too, will see Ipswich as a possible target – and will want a good result to give new leader Iain Duncan Smith a boost.

Expect the town to get a great deal of attention from senior politicians over the next few weeks.

The date for the by-election is not expected to be announced for a while – and observers are not clear whether it will happen before or after Christmas.

Whatever happens though, the new MP – whoever he or she is – will have a very tough act to follow.

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