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Will the Blue-on-Blue battle from Ipswich spark a Tory rural revolution

PUBLISHED: 05:30 15 August 2019 | UPDATED: 14:05 15 August 2019

Dr Dan Poulter addressed a meeting to oppose the northern bypass in Witnesham - but are these local residents just NIMBYs?  Picture: Office of DR DAN POULTER

Dr Dan Poulter addressed a meeting to oppose the northern bypass in Witnesham - but are these local residents just NIMBYs? Picture: Office of DR DAN POULTER

Archant

I've known for years that building a new road across the north of Ipswich was a divisive proposal - guaranteed to set town dwellers against their country cousins. I hadn't realised how much Blue-on-Blue anger it would spark!

Can Tom Hunt expect help from Suffolk's rural Tories in the next election campaign? Picture: PAUL GEATERCan Tom Hunt expect help from Suffolk's rural Tories in the next election campaign? Picture: PAUL GEATER

Because this week it has become quite clear just how much antipathy has been unleashed between Conservatives from Ipswich and their party colleagues in the rural towns and villages.

You don't have to be a political genius to realise that the rural area to the north of Ipswich is True-Blue territory. There's a reason why Robin Vickery's Carlford Division has always been considered the safest Conservative seat on the county council.

So the opposition to the new road that you find in this area (and despite claims that there is "hidden" support from the project here, everything I've heard suggests that the opposition is pretty solid) comes not from Red Hot Socialists or Green eco-warriors, but from Conservatives worried about the impact on their rural lifestyle.

I don't think many of them will have been too impressed by Ipswich Conservative candidate Tom Hunt's description of them as "Nimbys" earlier this week.

Given that when a General Election is called, Ipswich Conservatives usually rely on what they call "mutual support" from nearby safe constituencies to help them knock on doors in the marginal seat, that might not have been the smartest move of Mr Hunt's career.

How many "Nimbys" from Grundisburgh, Witnesham, Claydon, or Bealings are going to want to join Ipswich Tories knocking on the doors of Chantry, Gainsborough, or Stoke Park?

Of course Mr Hunt may have decided that his strident support for the new road will be so popular in the town that there is no need for help from elsewhere in Suffolk - or he might be planning to get busloads of help from south Essex seats like Rayleigh or Romford!

Whatever his thinking when making the comment I can't help feeling it was, as Sir Humphrey might say, a "courageous" thing to say!

Politicians in areas like Suffolk do need to be aware that there are real differences of emphasis and lifestyle between urban and rural communities - and these differences do need to be handled with sensitivity.

Traditionally Labour has had much more urban support than the Conservatives who have relied on rural and suburban areas for their strength.

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In shire counties like Suffolk that persists - Labour has never won in five of the county's seven constituencies, not even in 1997.

But that doesn't mean the Conservatives should act as if they can take votes for granted (even if their majority is guaranteed).

There are currently major issues blowing up in rural areas where it appears that the Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council just doesn't seem to understand the concerns of voters.

The county's rural bus services are facing major changes (although it looks as if only a small number of passengers will be inconvenienced) but the worry this causes for far more bus users is very real.

And the way that the county is dealing with the school transport issue is an absolute disgrace.

It asked parents to make sure all their applications were sent in by the end of May but then hasn't got the staff (or the inclination, or both) to get on and get this sorted out on time.

It's now telling parents that places for their children won't be allocated until the term has started in September. Until then they'll have to make other arrangements to get their youngsters to school (presumably driving them even though the parents might possibly have work to get to as well).

This cavalier approach from the county is a disgrace - and shows the contempt with which it holds many of its rural voters.

But who cares about them? They're going to vote Tory anyway. Who cares if we upset them?

Well the voters of Cosford showed them in the elections two years ago. The voters in large swathes of Mid Suffolk and in places in other districts showed them in May.

Whether the issue is a Northern Route across Ipswich, buses to small Suffolk villages, or how your children get to the school of their choice, Suffolk County Council needs to be well aware of the sensitivities surrounding its rural residents whichever party they vote for in elections.

And so do the politicians who represent them!

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