Ipswich: Borough council election battle steps up a gear

This year's elections for the borough council will be held on the same day as the European poll.

This year's elections for the borough council will be held on the same day as the European poll. - Credit: Archant

Local politicians have put Easter behind them – and are now preparing for May’s local elections in Ipswich as well as those for the European parliament across the country.

Ipswich is the only council in Suffolk to be holding local elections this year – and the poll is later than usual because of the European contest.

Instead of being held on the first Thursday of the month (May 1) it will be held on the fourth Thursday (May 22).

Just over a third of the borough is up for election – and it is inconceivable that Labour will lose power at Grafton House.

The party has such a large majority (18 seats) that it would need to lose all 10 seats it is defending to be forced into opposition. That is not going to happen!

In fact Labour is confident of increasing its majority at the borough. Three wards – Whitton, Stoke Park, and Rushmere – are being defended by the Tories but the other two councillors there are now Labour.

In Rushmere outgoing Tory councillor Judy Terry is not re-standing, and Whitton Tory councillor – and former group leader – Chris Stewart has switched to the neighbouring Castle Hill ward that is much safer for the Conservatives.

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In Stoke Park deputy Conservative group leader Nadia Cenci is fighting a rearguard action to try to defend her seat – but Labour remains favourite to take the seat.

Labour is also targeting the Holywells ward where Conservative councillor, and local butcher, George Debman is hoping for re-election.

Two years ago the result was “too close for comfort” for fellow Conservative – and now group leader – Liz Harsant as Pam Stewart retained the seat for the party, and Labour is hopeful of capturing that seat this time.

The Liberal Democrats have not done well in Ipswich over recent years, but Inga Lockington has a strong personal vote in St Margaret’s Ward and it would be something of a surprise if she lost.

As well as the 16 seats up for election as part of the normal cycle, there is also a by-election in the Alexandra Ward after Labour councillor Harvey Crane stepped down because of work and family commitments.

If this were a “normal” election, Labour would be expecting to see its majority increase by winning Whitton, Stoke Park, Rushmere, and possibly Holywells Ward.

However the fact that the poll is taking place on the same day as the European elections has introduced a new element to the campaign that the traditional parties are struggling to assess.

What will be the impact of UKIP candidates on the Ipswich council vote.

In last year’s county council elections UKIP caused a major surprise by winning one of the two seats in the Whitehouse and Whitton division. It also came within a whisker of winning the by-election in the Whitehouse Ward on the same day.

UKIP does well in European elections. Opinion polls suggest that this year it could finish top of the national poll. And if it is going to succeed in persuading anti-European voters out in that election, it will expect their votes in the local election as well.

That could dent Labour’s hopes in Whitehouse and Whitton wards – and could also put the Tories under pressure in Castle Hill.

Last year UKIP had a string of second-place finishes in county council divisions across the town which provided a wake-up call to the traditional parties. It will be hoping for more success this year.