Case study: Ipswich
Numbers: Labour 30, Conservatives 15, Lib Dems 3.
Change since last local elections: Labour -6, Conservatives +6
All out or thirds: Thirds
Background: Ipswich is the county town of Suffolk and one of the oldest towns in England of great strategic importance to the Romans and the Vikings. Geoffrey Chaucer satirised the merchants of Ipswich in The Canterbury Tales. Charles Dickens stayed in the town and used it as a setting for scenes in his novel The Pickwick Papers, featuring the Great White Horse Hotel. The discovery of fossilised animal dung in the nineteenth century proved an economic boon. The material was mined, dissolved in acid, then the resulting mixture providing fertiliser – the business was undertaken by Fisons that went on to become a multinational pharmaceutical company.
Labour has generally run Ipswich Borough Council since the Council was created in 1974 – though there was a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition from 2004 until 2011. Around 15 years ago proposals were made for the town to be restored as a unitary authority but they were not implemented. Suffolk County Council remains the upper-tier authority. The population of the town has increased considerably in recent years. The industrial dock site has been regenerated to become the Ipswich Waterfront. There have been a lot of new buildings – some more attractive than others. A 23 concrete block called Cranfield Mill has been beset with all the predictable difficulties. Other developments have had happier outcomes. Warehouses were replaced with conference centres, hotels and restaurants. However, inertia and mismanagement of the Council’s planning policies also means there has been some missed potential. Theer are complaints of too many buildings left boarded up gathering dust rather than being adapted to provide much needed housing.
Ipswich was created as a constituency in the fourteenth century. It has mostly been represented by Labour since the Second World War. Dingle Foot (brother of Michael) being among the MPs. In recent elections, it has been a marginal seat. Ben Gummer gained it for the Conservatives in 2010, held it in 2015 but lost it in 2017. Tom Hunt won it back for the Conservatives in 2019 with a healthy majority of 5,479
Results: Given the General Election result it is not surprising that Labour lost ground in the council elections. It is more surprising that they still run the Council with a clear majority. They have had plenty of failings – as Judy Terry, Harry Fone, and others have recounted on this site in recent years. The council boundaries are different to the constituency as three wards come under the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich constituency represented for the Conservatives by Dan Poulter. Students are usually partly to blame – Ipswich has the main campus for the University of Suffolk – though one of the victorious new Conservative councillors is a student. He identified potholes and drug gangs as key local concerns.
Since being elected as the town’s MP, Tom Hunt has been hard working, straight talking, and willing to challenge the notions of the woke establishment – unlike so many other Conservative MPs who are pretty craven. All of this has helped him connect with working class voters who have traditionally voted Labour. Labour’s support among ethnic minorities is also less secure than it was. The Bengali community is quite different to the Bengali’s in Tower Hamlets. There are also Indian voters who have been tending to switch from Labour to the Conservatives.
Freeport status for the Port of Felixstowe should prove beneficial to economic growth. Many residents in Ipswich work there. The Towns Fund should provide funding for sports projects to boost community spirit and civic pride.
This is a town at ease with itself. The inhabitants are slow to anger. With its combination of a proud heritage but a willingness to embrace enterprise, it is the sort of place where the Conservatives should thrive. Last year’s election results were an encouraging sign in this political bellwether. Whether or not further progress is achieved this May will be watched closely.