Labour still in poll position as Ipswich voters have their say

Local election count at Corn exchange Ipswich

Local election count at Corn exchange Ipswich

Ipswich is the only Suffolk council to have widespread elections on May 5 – although the whole county will be able to vote in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections.

A total of 17 seats on the 48-seat Ipswich Borough Council are up for grabs – one in each of the 16 three-seat wards, and an extra seat in Castle Hill where former Conservative group leader Chris Stewart has resigned after moving out of Suffolk.

At present Labour has 31 seats on the council. The Conservatives have 15 and the Liberal Democrats two. Although it is mathematically possible that power could change in the elections, for that to happen Labour would have to lose six of the 11 seats it is defending – and that is highly unlikely.

Seven of the seats Labour is defending can be regarded as safe: Alexandra, Bridge, Gainsborough, Gipping, Priory Heath, Westgate and Whitehouse.

Some of them have seen other parties, particularly the Lib Dems when they were riding high, scoring good results in the past but in a mid-term election they should not cause any headaches for Labour organisers.

The Conservatives will feel the same way about Bixley and Castle Hill (where two seats are up for election).

Labour will feel more concerned about the Rushmere, Stoke Park, Whitton and St John’s wards. They are defending all those seats, but the first three were won by Conservative candidates in last year’s local election.

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However that was held on the same day as the General Election, and the ruling party in Westminster traditionally has difficulty in getting its vote in mid-term local elections.

Last year, with a much higher turnout, the Conservatives did much better than they had in previous years and it would not be surprising if their vote fell back this year.

In Rushmere the Labour candidate is the high-profile Alasdair Ross and it would a surprise to see him defeated.

In Stoke Park the Tories already hold two of the three seats and a victory here for Ben Harvey would not be such a shock.

Whitton is another ward where a higher turnout among Conservatives saw them winning a seat from Labour last year. This year Labour’s executive member Sophie Meudec is battling to hold on to her seat. She is probably favourite to hang on, but most people will be expecting a close fight.

St John’s is a ward that often produces a close result, and a ward where the Conservatives always believe they can win – but it has been some time since anyone other than Labour has won here.

It could be close, but it would be a real surprise if executive member and former council deputy leader Neil Macdonald was to lose his seat.

The Conservatives will be worried about hanging on to the seats they currently hold in Holywells and Sprites.

Holywells is, in many ways, a mirror image of St John’s Ward when it comes to local elections.

Every year I hear from Conservatives that they are worried they could come under pressure from Labour in the ward, especially from new developments nearer the Waterfront.

Every year Labour activists tell me they are pushing for a breakthrough there and they are very hopeful.

Then as the votes are counted there is a relatively narrow win for the Conservatives – but without the need for a recount. I would not be at all surprised to see that happen again.

Sprites was a seat where the Conservatives may have surprised even themselves by winning in a by-election last May.

In fact there were two seats up for election then and the Tories won one and Labour the other. So this is a really tight contest with Bob Hall defending his surprise victory.

Will he be able to defend it without the electoral boost his party got on General Election day? It’s doubtful. If Labour is going to win any seats from the Tories this is where they will be looking.

Which brings us to the most interesting seat in the town – St Margaret’s.

For years this has been seen as Lib Dem bastion which all started back in 1999 when Inga Lockington was first elected to the council.

Until Last May it had been won by the Lib Dems in every election except one (when a Tory won and then resigned within a few months).

However this time Lib Dem group leader Andrew Cann is standing down and the Conservatives are very confident they will follow up last year’s victory by winning here again.

If they are right, that will leave Mrs Lockington as the sole Lib Dem on Ipswich Borough Council.

However, that is not a certainty. St Margaret’s always attracts the highest turnout of any ward in the council and it is the only ward that the LibDems actively work during the campaign.

If they can persuade Labour voters to support them in an attempt to keep out the Tories they do stand a chance in a poll that does not fall at the same time as a general election – but it is quite a tall ask. Put a gun to my head and I’ll predict Labour will win 10 of the 17 seats up for grabs – the “safe seven” plus St John’s, Rushmere and Whitton.

The rest will go to the Tories, including two seats in Castle Hill. I suspect the Lib Dems will be unable to find enough Labour supporters willing to “lend” them their votes in St Margaret’s to keep out the Tories.

Stoke Park remains the ward that is too close to call. The Tories will be trying to win the third seat in the ward that is represented by their group leader Nadia Cenci while Labour is putting its hopes on former councillor Tracy Grant trying to return to the authority.

I have a suspicion the Tories might just scrape a victory here to dull the pain of losing Sprites. But by the time this is published I might feel differently.

If my predictions are correct that will leave the balance at the borough little changed with Labour continuing to hold 31 seats, the Conservatives up one at 16 and the Lib Dems down to just one councillor.

A full list of candidates is at https://www.ipswich.gov.uk/content/elections-thursday-5th-may-2016