Labour can’t lose in Ipswich – but how many people will vote in the election?

PUBLISHED: 07:30 09 April 2019

Improvement work to the centre of Ipswich is expected to be an election issue in the town. Picture: PAUL GEATER

Improvement work to the centre of Ipswich is expected to be an election issue in the town. Picture: PAUL GEATER


Unlike other Suffolk councils where all the seats up for election this year, there are votes for only a third of those in Ipswich – and the arithmetic makes it impossible for Labour to lose power in the borough.

Former Ipswich mayor Roger Fern.  Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNFormer Ipswich mayor Roger Fern. Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

In fact, it would be rather a surprise if Labour didn’t make gains at the expense of the Conservatives – the last time these seats were contested was on General Election day 2015 when a high turnout boosted the Tory vote.

That means they are defending seven of the 16 seats that are up for election – including four where Labour have won in recent elections and one (St Margaret’s) which was taken by the Liberal Democrats in 2016 and 2018.

Three senior politicians – two former mayors and a former council leader – are stepping down from the council at these elections.

Labour, the Conservatives, and the Liberal Democrats are contesting every ward this year – and the Green Party is putting up a candidate almost everywhere. There is also a number of UKIP candidates and one independent standing.

Former Ipswich council leader Bill Knowles. Picture: ARCHANTFormer Ipswich council leader Bill Knowles. Picture: ARCHANT

Most candidates are emphasising the local nature of the council’s work – although local politicians are concerned that the Brexit crisis could influence people’s voting, possibly persuading them to stay at home.

Local issues that are likely to influence voting include proposals to reinvigorate the town centre after the controversial work on the Cornhill – and the Labour-run borough’s decision to boost its income by investing in properties both in and out of the town.

There is also a debate about the community’s response to crime, public order and general safety concerns following the murder of Tavis Spencer Aitkens last year and worry about the growth of a gang culture in the area.

However all the other parties know that Labour cannot be ousted in this election and are concentrating their message on providing a voice for their own supporters in the council chamber rather than claiming that they are going to take over the authority.


Ipswich mayor David Goldsmith. 

Picture Tom PotterFormer Ipswich mayor David Goldsmith. Picture Tom Potter

While Ipswich has traditionally been a Labour/Conservative contest, St Margaret’s has been a Liberal Democrat stronghold in council elections for 20 years. The Tories won a seat here in 2015, but Tim Lockington, husband of councillor Inga Lockington, is hoping to join his wife in the council chamber.

Twice mayor Roger Fern steps down from Ipswich council

Roger Fern is stepping down from Ipswich Council after 12 years on the authority – including two separate terms as mayor of the town.

Mr Fern, who will soon be 76, said his age was a key factor in his decision to step down – although he will continue to play an active role in the town.

He said: “If I stood again, by the time the next election comes around I will be nearly 80 and I think the time has come to pass on the baton to someone younger.”

There were to major improvements he would look back on: “When I was first on the council I represented Stoke Park and there was a really poor shopping centre there that was largely empty. Getting that demolished and replaced by the new Asda was important.

“And the work to make Ipswich a more dementia-friendly place has been very important to me and my family (his wife, Pat, has lived with dementia for many years and Mr Fern spends much of his time caring for her).”

Bill Knowles’ council service spans nearly 50 years

Bill Knowles was first elected to Ipswich Council in 1971 – and is finally standing down from the authority of which he was the first ever leader.

But he hasn’t been a councillor all that time: “I was on the council for eight years in the 1970s and then I had to give it up because of work commitments (he was a senior manager at the Co-op) and now I’ve done 12 years after I retired from work.”

He became leader of the council just a year after first being elected, and was in charge during its first years in its current form after local government reform in the early 1970s.

After turning 76, he felt this was the right time to stand down from the authority – but takes great pride in the achievements of the town over the last 50 years.

He said: “If you look at what has happened in Ipswich, which is a very well-run local authority, you can see that its community facilities have developed well over the years.”

Former mayor David Goldsmith to concentrate on county council work

Conservative David Goldsmith has been a member of the borough for 20 years and was mayor in 2009/10. He is standing down at this election although he will continue as a county councillor.

He represents the Castle Hill Ward, and said it was always his plan to stand down after winning the county council seat.

He said: “I’m nearly 78, and when I was elected to the county two years ago I said I would not be seeking another borough term – it’s time for someone younger.

“We’ve done a lot at the borough. I’m pleased to have worked on building the links with Nettuno (An Italian town that has a statue dating from 1550 that is believed to have come from Ipswich).

“I shall continue in an advisory role in the Big Lottery Committee for North West Ipswich – but I think my work on the county council will continue to keep me busy for the next few years.”

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