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Ipswich’s early Conservative selection need not mean early general election

PUBLISHED: 06:00 27 September 2018 | UPDATED: 09:16 27 September 2018

Alex Deane, Joel Charles, and Tom Hunt relax at a Conservative Quiz night in Ipswich before the selection meeting tonight. Picture: ALEX DEANE

Alex Deane, Joel Charles, and Tom Hunt relax at a Conservative Quiz night in Ipswich before the selection meeting tonight. Picture: ALEX DEANE

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Tonight Ipswich’s Conservative Association is choosing its new parliamentary candidate to fight Sandy Martin at the next general election.

One of the Tories up for selection tonight will be hoping to reverse last year's election result in Ipswich when Sandy Martin beat Ben Gummer.  Picture by ASHLEY PICKERINGOne of the Tories up for selection tonight will be hoping to reverse last year's election result in Ipswich when Sandy Martin beat Ben Gummer. Picture by ASHLEY PICKERING

When I first heard that, I felt it seemed that the election is a long time off. Does the association believed all the hype that is currently being whipped up about an autumn election?

Having thought about things and looked at previous electoral cycles, I’ve come to the conclusion that neither of these things are necessarily the case.

After the 2010 election, Labour chose David Ellesmere to fight the seat during the autumn of 2011. And Ben Gummer was chosen as Conservative candidate in 2007, two years after the previous general election.

So the Conservatives’ decision to get someone in place now isn’t that much earlier than in previous years.

What is surprising is that none of the three candidates have a really local profile – although all have connections with East Anglia in general.

Alex Deane comes from Suffolk and has been a regular visitor to the town. He did campaign for Mr Gummer – although as a keen Brexiteer he comes from a different strand of the party.

He is the only one of the candidates that I’ve met before the selection committee and the only one whose name I recognised. Whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage to him we should know very soon!

The other two candidates, Joel Charles and Tom Hunt, are from Harlow and Ely respectively – not the other side of the universe but not close enough to have made a name in the immediate Ipswich area.

But they’ve both spent the last few weeks campaigning with Ipswich Conservative activists and clearly hope this will have enabled them to make a good impression.

Because whoever is selected will have to work very hard to make their face known and to get their personality across to the people of Ipswich if they are going to win the seat for the Tories, whenever the election is held.

By going for an early selection, the Ipswich Conservative Association may have sent a subliminal signal to local Tories that they weren’t looking for someone already known in the area.

That is a bit of a pity – I can think of one or two local Tories who could have put up a good fight in a marginal seat like Ipswich.

There is nothing in itself wrong with a local candidate.

When Labour was forced to find a candidate to fight the seat when the 2017 election was called, there weren’t people from far away falling over themselves to get nominated in Ipswich and they turned to a well-known and well-respected local councillor.

The selection may have been unorthodox, but they almost fell into choosing the perfect candidate to unseat someone seen by many (including myself at the start of the campaign) as a shoe-in to retain the seat.

Whoever the Tories do select will have a tough task ahead of them to unseat someone who is widely liked by non-politicians in the town, even if they might have serious doubts about his party’s leadership.

I don’t really expect a general election to take place this autumn even next spring despite all the controversy over Brexit.

Are the politicians in Westminster really stupid enough to bring that down on themselves after all the votes we’ve had to face over the last few years?

There is quite simply no appetite out there for another general election at present. We have the two main parties who seem to be outdoing themselves in their efforts to hack off as many people as possible and if anyone were daft enough to trigger a poll the result would be totally unpredictable.

I can understand the enthusiasm for an election among some Labour leaders who see this as the only chance of getting their man in to Number 10.

There is clear evidence that peak Corbyn-mania has been reached and the Labour leader’s popularity is on the slide – that does not bode well for the party’s electoral prospects.

But out on the street Labour activists know people don’t want another election now – and might well punish a party that delivers them something they don’t want.

Meanwhile the Tories are so busy fighting each other over Brexit and what form it might take that they are in no mood to fight anyone else on the election trail.

So whoever wins the Ipswich nomination should have a few years to prepare for the big battle with Mr Martin.

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