This year's election results - now!

A COUPLE of weeks ago I wrote in this column that I didn't think there would be any change in Suffolk's MPs at this year's general election.Since then I've been challenged about my reasoning for this comment - and been asked about other seats in East Anglia which may have interesting battles.

A COUPLE of weeks ago I wrote in this column that I didn't think there would be any change in Suffolk's MPs at this year's general election.

Since then I've been challenged about my reasoning for this comment - and been asked about other seats in East Anglia which may have interesting battles.

Today I'm putting these seats under the microscope and looking at the battle ahead. As a rule of thumb, nationally this year's election looks like being a mirror image of 1987 election.

The Conservatives are likely to win back some of their traditional seats that they lost in 1997 and 2001 - but not enough to threaten Labour's overall majority in the House of Commons.

With some inner-city Labour seats coming under threat from the Liberal Democrats, I expect the overall Labour majority to fall to about 100 from its current level of 161.

That is still a very large majority - and would give the government the ability to do almost whatever it wanted.

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Locally though, I can't see many changes. This is a seat-by-seat analysis of the forthcoming fight in this region:

IPSWICH:

ANY analysis of Suffolk seats has to start with the county town and a seat which has a reputation (somewhat undeserved) for going against the national trend.

In 1983 the seat remained Labour in the face of a Conservative landslide - but then went Tory four years later when Labour had started on its long road to recovery.

I don't see any change here this time.

The Labour majority at the last general election was 8,081 - that is a far more accurate base point than the by-election later in the year when Chris Mole was returned with a majority of 4,087 because the turnout was much lower then.

Some people believe that the boom in expensive new homes in Ipswich - around the waterfront and at Ravenswood - could make the seat easier to win for Conservative challenger Paul West.

And they point out that the Tories comfortably won the most votes in last year's local council elections.

However the building boom hasn't yet provided enough big new homes to really make an impact on voter numbers.

And the kind of people who are moving into these new homes may be wealthy incomers - but most of them will have the money to buy expensive homes because they are doing well at present.

The most important factor for them in casting their vote is likely to be the state of the economy, and most polls show that Labour is felt to be the best party to manage the economy.

I don't see the construction of expensive homes as the clincher for the Conservatives - in this election at least.

Last year's election results could also be a blessing in disguise for Labour, who have clearly failed to get their vote out over the last two years.

They are already telling voters on the doorsteps: “You can get a Tory council or government if you don't go out and vote Labour,” and they are confident the situation at Civic Centre will persuade many waverers to go back to voting for them.

The Liberal Democrat challenge in Ipswich can be discounted, at least in the parliamentary election.

The party doesn't see the seat as important - it hasn't even got around to choosing a candidate yet with the election less than three months away.

Labour's majority will be chipped away in this year's election, but I would be surprised if Chris Mole's majority was much lower than 5,000.

SOUTH SUFFOLK:

IN THEIR wildest dreams the Liberal Democrats claim this is a three-way marginal seat.

In effect it is, like most other Suffolk seats, safe Tory territory.

In 2001 Tim Yeo won this seat with the smallest winning total in Suffolk and the lowest proportionate vote of any candidate in the county.

Yet perversely his is possibly the safest seat in Suffolk.

That is because the opposition is split - this constituency could have the most interesting battle for second place between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Over the last two general elections, Labour has come second - but the LibDems are in a strong third place and are the largest single party on Babergh council.

The split is geographical - the LibDems are very strong in the east of the constituency, on the Shotley peninsula, around Capel, East Bergholt and Hadleigh.

Labour's strength lies in the west, in Great Cornard and Sudbury.

While his opposition is split like this, Mr Yeo can relax - his opponents are far too worried about who's going to come second to mount a genuine challenge to him in the seat.

SUFFOLK COASTAL:

CAN former cabinet minister John Gummer be beaten in this affluent seat which stretches from the prosperous port of Felixstowe to the posh resorts of Aldeburgh and Southwold? No.

His majority fell to just over 3,000 in 1997, but he clawed it back to 4,300 in 2001.

If Labour couldn't win the seat in these two elections, the party isn't likely to be able to change things now.

And the Conservatives are bound to point out that the Labour candidate, David Rowe, was the man behind the 18.5 percent council tax increase at County Hall two years ago.

CENTRAL SUFFOLK and NORTH IPSWICH:

LIKE Suffolk Coastal this is a safe Conservative seat that remained Tory despite the Labour landslides of the last two general elections.

Last time Conservative strategists were critical of their party's campaign here for failing to attract the urban votes in Ipswich, Kesgrave, and Rushmere.

If they address that this time around, it is difficult to imagine that this will be anything but a comfortable Tory win.

BURY ST EDMUNDS:

IN 1997 this seat was highly significant. It was the highest seat on Labour's target list that the party failed to wrestle from the Conservatives as David Ruffley won by just 368 votes.

In 2001 he boosted this to more than 2,500.

After eight years in parliament, Mr Ruffley now has a high profile in his constituency and should not have too many worries about holding on this time around.

WAVENEY:

LABOUR won this seat in 1997 for the first time and Bob Blizzard is defending the largest majority in Suffolk - 8,553.

However the Conservatives are now in power at Waveney council and are hoping to overturn this.

That won't be easy - this is another seat where Labour might find it easier to get its vote out because it can show that sitting at home allows the Tories in.

And some of the Conservatives' strongest areas - the rural areas around Halesworth and Southwold - are not in the Waveney constituency, they are in John Gummer's Suffolk Coastal.

I expect Mr Blizzard to hang on reasonably comfortably - but I would be surprised if he still had the largest majority in the county after the results are declared.

WEST SUFFOLK:

ANOTHER seat that has always been seen as safe for the Conservatives.

Their majority was reduced to 1,800 in 1997, but it was back up to 4,200 in 2001 and I can't see it coming under any pressure at all this year.

West Suffolk is my bet for the largest majority in Suffolk at the end of the election campaign.

SO, no change in Suffolk then - but which seats in East Anglia will be under threat? Where could things get interesting?

Here are a few seats to keep an eye on during the campaign:

HARWICH:

LABOUR MP Ivan Henderson won this traditionally-safe Tory seat - which includes Clacton, Frinton, and Walton - in 1997 and hung on to it with a majority of almost 2,600 in 2001.

The Tories have chosen local man Douglas Carswell - who fought Tony Blair in Sedgefield in 2001 - to try to regain the seat.

If the Conservatives are to make any real impact on the election, this is a seat they have to win.

But Mr Henderson has a good reputation as a hard-working local MP and it would be no great surprise if he hung on here.

BRAINTREE:

LABOUR'S majority of 358 here in 2001 was one of the smallest in the country, and the Conservatives are confident of regaining a seat they lost in the watershed year of 1997.

Conservative candidate Brooks Newmark will be having another attempt at unseating Labour's Alan Hurst here.

If the Conservatives can't win Braintree then they really are in deep trouble.

CAMBRIDGE:

SITTING Labour MP Anne Campbell should be as safe as houses.

She has a majority of nearly 8,600 and is widely regarded as one of the most popular and hard-working MPs in the House of Commons.

But hers is a university seat where the rows over student tuition fees and the war in Iraq are very important factors.

She resigned as a ministerial aid over the Iraq issue, so that should help her - but the Liberal Democrats were in second place in the last election, run the city council, and believe they have a real opportunity to win here.

The likely result here is too close to call - the only certainty is that the Conservatives, who held the seat until 1992, won't win.

COLCHESTER:

HELD by Liberal Democrat Bob Russell since 1997. Last time he saw his majority go up from 1,500 to 5,500.

Known as “Mr Colchester,” this seat looks safe for Mr Russell for as long as he wants - he can be sure of getting a good vote this time from students at the University of Essex.

NORWICH SOUTH:

HOME Secretary Charles Clarke is defending a majority of 8,800 over the Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats a further 1,000 behind.

But with the University of East Anglia in his constituency and the LibDems having ousted Labour from power in City Hall, some think the election result may be giving the combative Labour man sleepless nights.

To my mind his majority is too large, and the prospect of coming from third to snatch the seat is just too big for the LibDems.

NORTH NORFOLK:

LIBERAL Democrat Norman Lamb won this seat from the Conservatives in 2001 with one of the slimmest majorities in the country - 483.

The Tories are determined to win it back, but Mr Lamb has been a very effective constituency MP and has impressed colleagues from across the political spectrum with his work at Westminster.

Over the last few years, Liberal Democrats have made a habit of squeaking in at one election and then building on their majority at the next poll.

And with almost 7,500 Labour votes still to be squeezed in the constituency, he may just do that.

If the Conservatives are really to give Labour a close fight in this election, they must win seats like North Norfolk.

With LibDem activists from throughout the region set to flood into the constituency during the campaign, I can see Mr Lamb boosting his majority here.

Tips for change:

Probable: Braintree.

Possible: Harwich, Cambridge, North Norfolk.

Unlikely: Ipswich, Norwich North, Colchester, Waveney.

No chance: Suffolk Coastal, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Bury St Edmunds, South Suffolk, West Suffolk.

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O you agree with my analysis of East Anglia's parliamentary seats? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk

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