Politics aside, what are the people who want to represent Ipswich really like?
When they’re not asking you for your vote, what sort of people are Ipswich’s prospective parliamentary candidates? Lynne Mortimer meets the election hopefuls.
Three of them meet me at Dance Eats, the cafe at the DanceHouse on Ipswich waterfront; one in an Ipswich pub after work and another chats on the phone. This may not change the way you vote but it’s good to know what the people behind the politics are like.
In what I hope was an impartial and even-handed manner, I asked all five candidates the same questions. Inevitably, a bit of politics crept in under the ill-fitting door of my question cupboard but, as it is my cupboard, I have thrown most of it out.
One of these five men and women will be our Member of Parliament for the next five years.
Elected MP for Ipswich in 2010, Ben arrived at DanceEats a minute or so ahead of his brother, Felix who, I imagine, was parking the car.
Ben, an historian and the possessor of a formidable intellect, listens carefully to the questions and gives thoughtful, considered answers.
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His move into politics was decided, he tells me, when, after selling a business and finishing the book he wrote about the Black Death. Taking time out, walking in the north of Scotland, it came down to a choice between academia and politics.
“It was either going back to university to teach or this (pursuing a parliamentary seat).” He could have done either, on the one hand he is a noteable academic, on the other, politics is in the genes. His father, John, Lord Deben, was one of Margaret Thatcher’s cabinet ministers. Politics won.
Asked for his perfect day, Ben immediately nominates his stag do (a drinking trip around London with friends), organised by his best man, Felix. Felix smiles a brief acknowledgement. It turns out that, after the lunch, Ben recalls little of his perfect day.
“We had a good lunch and then we had supper which I don’t remember... and then we went out clubbing which I don’t remember at all.”
Devising a perfect day now, it would be a Sunday with wife Sarah and baby son, Wilfred, walking in the Suffolk countryside, looking at medieval churches and popping in to a Suffolk pub.
His early years as a chorister styled his choice of music and without moving beyond the letter B, he lists Beethoven, Bruckner and Bach as favourites. He pauses and then admits: “But I also love, for some reason, cheesy disco and funk.”
Other answers in brief: Last holiday - in France with friends; inspirational people - teachers at school and university and Václav Havel, the Czech writer, philosopher, dissendent and statesman. “He understood why freedom was such a precious principle”; Ben couldn’t do without - his smart phone; speaking to people on the doorstep and “really listening”, he says, “changes me all the time”; To unwind - Ben will “read anything. Magazines, books, I’m mad on architecture; watching Game of Thrones with my wife, going for walks.” As for Ipswich: “I love its individuality... its unique sense of community, the way everyone knows each other.” He is ambitious for the future of the town.
Labour’s David Ellesmere is my third DanceEats assignation. It’s pouring with rain outside so we take our cups of tea upstairs and avail ourselves of the comfy chairs. He became involved in politics, he says, on a very specific event of the 1992 General Election.
“I was living and working in Brighton, after finishing university. “I wanted Labour to win and everyone was assuming they would win, and when they didn’t, it was a huge blow. Very shortly after I moved to Ipswich for work, I joined the Labour Party.
Sunday is the day David relaxes and this usually constitutes a walk in the countryside and going to a pub at lunchtime. One of my favourite walks is along the Gipping river path (sometimes with partner Carole) with the Sunday papers under my arm and then stopping at the Sproughton Wild Man.
David’s favourite band is The Men They Couldn’t Hang, a “folksy” group (I’d never heard of them). “I absolutely love Ska, it’s so lovely and uplifting. It puts a smile on my face,” he says and proves his point by playing me a few bars intro on his smart phone. As you might imagine it is this device which he names as the object he couldn’t manage without.
Nelson Mandela heads the list of people who David has found inspirational. “Given how appallingly he was treated and how black people were treated in South Africa, it would have been easy to create a new regime which sought revenge on their oppressors. He said nobody should have to go through what he went through. I have huge admiration for him.”
Talking to people on the doorstep can give David a different perspective on issues. “I think, what it does is make you focus on what is important to people.”
Other answers in brief: Last holiday: Bradford on Avon, near Bath. To unwind - “Having an evening off to watch television is a real treat. I call it ‘quality lying down on the sofa’. He likes documentaries and the box set of the US version of drama House of Cards but then reveals his guilty secret, he is pretty much addicted to You’ve Been Framed. What he most loves about Ipswich - “It’s the people that make Ipswich, it’s a fascinating place and I love the parks. We are really blessed in Ipswich with the parks.”
The mother of a toddler and a newborn baby, Liberal Democrat candidate Chika Akinwale and I did not meet face to face.
The logistics of being the mother of young children are fiendishly complicated and so, in this case, we spoke on the phone. Through the medium of telephony I judge her to be a very committed politician.
She decided to become involved in politics at university when she attended an awareness course about people with autism and attention deficit syndrome. Learning about the young people and she was hit by the injustices they face in society. “I think, perhaps, it gave me an avenue to fight for people; helping people regardless of backgrounds.” Up until then, she says, going into politics was the last thing she would have considered.
Chika pauses a moment when I inquire about her perfect day and then says: “I’m the mother of a baby and a toddler so it would have to be waking up in a relaxing environment on a sunny Caribbean island and spending time with the family on the beach, and checking out the shops and restaurants.
Dovetailing neatly into the next question, Chika compares her perfect day with “beautiful” Great Yarmouth and its glorious beaches, where she spent her last holiday.
A central part of her life that informs a number of her answers is her Christian faith and, the music she likes best is “inspirational Christian music. I love Gospel music.” She sings with her local choir, she says but”just as a hobby”.
Her list of inspirational people is the longest of all. She begins with Dr Martin Luther King for the way he campaigned for African-American civil rights. “He didn’t go about it violently. He did it with love.” She also talks of American stateswomen Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice for breaking new ground for US women. In the sphere of business Chika names Steve Jobs (Apple) and Richard Branson (Virgin) as inspirational figures.
Other answers in brief: Chika is never without her smart phone; what she loves about Ipswich? “It’s beautiful.” She says that compared with other towns and cities of a similar size Ipswich has “so much potential”. Talking to people on the doorstep - “I have had positive responses.” To unwind, Chika says she puts the children to bed and sits down to watch television or watches charismatic Christian preacher Joyce Meyer on YouTube.
For UKIP candidate Maria Vigneau, who is a bundle of energy, it was a sudden moment of realisation that drove her to become involved in politics.
She tells me about it as we sit on upstairs at Dance Eats. “It was last summer. I really never had any interest before - Question Time, the news, I never paid any attention.
“I worked in Switzerland for 10 years. There, people would vote on their phones on every issue.” Back in the UK, where she felt Brussels made the laws, Maria saw Nigel Farage on television and found him “a breath of fresh air. I thought ‘I could do something about this, I could keep Britain great’.”
As a result she phoned her nearest UKIP office and announced: “I want to be an MP.”
Maria’s perfect day would begin with a lie-in, followed by some time on the water, rowing. (She is a keen oarswoman and rows on the River Stour at Sudbury). Then shewould have lunch somewhere by the water and then go shopping... for clothes. “I like both the independents and the big high street stores. An evening in with friends and family would be the perfect end to the day.
People who have inspired Maria include the zoo owner John Aspinall for his conservation work. “He puts endangered species back into the wild” and her former boss at Roche pharmaceuticals, Chris Murray, who was, she says, “a great leader”. More personally, Maria speaks of her late mother: “She struggled financially... and suffered with depression and I struggled to get on with her. But she didn’t want me to live a repeat of her life and encouraged my education as best she could. It would have been beyond her wildest dreams that I was now standing to be an MP!”
Other answers in brief: Music - Motown and Pink Floyd; last holiday - skiiing in Italy: “You can’t live in Switzerland and not fall in love with mountains.”; couldn’t do without - her iPad; what she loves about Ipswich: “How friendly the people are. The place is the people.”; Has talking to people on the doorstep changed her mind about anything? Maria says no but she has found a lot of support on the doorsteps with people thanking her for standing. To unwind - Maria rows, reads and travels.
Green Party candidate Barry Broom suggests we meet in The Dove, a hostelry on St Helen’s Street, after work. Barry is working his full time job while on the campaign trail so he’s earned a swift half. He has also cycled here from the other side of Ipswich.
The politically pivotal moment for Barry came in 2009, when he moved back to his home town of Ipswich and exercised his franchise for the first time. It was a council election and he had two votes. “I didn’t know what I was doing. I had heard of Labour and heard of the Conservatives so I gave them one vote each.”
He then looked up the candidates on the internet to find out what they stood for and did an internet test to see which party most matched his own views and interests. It pointed him towards the Green Party.
“I started to learn more and more about people, policies and parties... and I’m still learning today.”
He muses on his perfect day. “I had a lovely day off last summer with my wife and baby son. We went to Felixstowe, it was a blistering hot day and there was nice new sand. We enjoyed a day on the beach; just family.”
The people who inspire Barry, he says, can’t all be named because they are the doctors, the nurses, the teachers and all those who support the fabric of our society by “grafting every day; people who work their backsides off.”
His last holiday, in 2013, was cycling with his wife around the Netherlands and the South of France, with all their camping gear and clothes: “Like a caravan on a bike,” says Barry.
Other answers in brief: Favourite music - He likes most genres “but I am currently listening, almost obsessively to Divine Comedy. He also mentions US rock band Fall Out Boy. Barry never goes without? “Until January, I would have said tea then I thought I might be addicted to caffeine so I stopped.” What he loves most about Ipswich? “It’s my home town.” His family is here and “it’s a real connection.” Has canvassing people changed his mind about anything? Not really but he has had some interesting conversations. Barry unwinds on his allotment. “It’s quiet. There are birds, bees, butterflies. You put your fork in the ground and it takes you away from it all.”