Tuesday, May 11, 2021

2021 County Council elections - looking beyond Mid Suffolk...

So, time to take a wider view of events in Suffolk...

Beyond the boundaries of Mid Suffolk, we entered the elections holding County Divisions in Woodbridge, St Margaret's and Westgate (Ipswich) and Peninsula (think the triangle of land between the Stour and Orwell estuaries).

We'd lost Peninsula before we started, as the sitting Liberal Democrat and former Group Leader, David Wood, had retired, and the seat wasn't even defended - it went to the Greens.

Woodbridge stayed resolutely Liberal Democrat, with Caroline Page scoring 63.5% in a two-horse race against the Conservatives, leaving St Margaret's and Westgate as a potential gain - we held both seats for the first eight years of its existence (2005-2013) and Inga Lockington has managed to fend off both Labour and Conservative opposition to hold one of them ever since - the second seat went Labour in 2013 and Conservative in 2017. Sadly, whilst Inga's personal vote held up nicely, the new Conservative candidate retained her seat and Oliver Holmes came fourth, behind one of the Labour candidates.

Elsewhere, there were respectable second places in Belstead Brook, Blything, Kessingland and Southwold and Stour Valley, but otherwise there wasn't an awful lot to get excited about. The Liberal Democrats are now the fourth party of Suffolk politics at County level, with Suffolk County Council now constituted as follows;

  • Conservatives - 55 seats (plus 5)
  • Greens - 9 seats (plus 6)
  • Labour - 5 seats (minus 6)
  • Liberal Democrats - 4 seats (minus 1)
  • West Suffolk Independents - 1 seat (no change)
  • Independent - 1 seat (minus 4)
The votes received were as follows;
  • Conservatives - 124,969 votes (48.0%)
  • Labour - 56,223 votes (21.6%)
  • Greens - 39,283 votes (15.1%)
  • Liberal Democrats - 25,885 votes (9.9%)
  • Independents - 11,723 votes (4.5%)
  • West Suffolk Independents - 1,959 votes (0.8%)
  • Communist Party of Britain - 293 votes (0.1%)
  • Burning Pink Party - 168 votes (0.1%)
The Conservatives did what you might expect, given that the polls favoured them, in increasing their grip on the County. But, whilst they achieved a net gain of five, two of those were merely regaining seats where the sitting Conservative councillor had been deselected and "gone rogue". They also took five seats from Labour, penetrating Suffolk's equivalent of the "Red Wall". However, they lost four seats to the Greens (Beccles, Halesworth, Stowupland North & Stowupland and Thedwastre North) and swapped seats with the Liberal Democrats (Gipping Valley for Stowmarket South). They did at least remove the last trace of UKIP from the County Council.

It was a pretty disastrous night for Labour - reduced to five seats in Ipswich. It's not their worst performance - they won just four in 2009 - but it's pretty close. Once upon a time, they held seats in Lowestoft, Haverhill, Stowmarket, Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury, all now an increasingly distant memory. In the rural Divisions, they are all but irrelevant, and it's hard to envisage a repeat of 1993, when the Conservatives were caught in a vice between Labour in the towns and the Liberal Democrats in the villages.

It's probably fair to say that the big winners were the Greens, trebling their number of the County Council from three to nine, and now the official Opposition, should they choose to end the partnership with the Liberal Democrats and Independents that existed before these elections. They have a few promising second places which might drive their strategy over the next four years, but they, like the Liberal Democrats and Labour grow weaker as you travel westwards across the county. Where the opportunities to really challenge the Conservatives come from is not easily spotted... yet.

The obvious route for the combined opposition is a "progressive alliance", but, as is usually the case, it is impossible to envisage Suffolk Labour taking such an approach - they still don't play nice, even in their current state. It probably wouldn't mean too much risk from their perspective, they're not competitive in much of the county, yet they run candidates who achieve little other than to make the Conservatives harder to beat, especially now that there is no other right-wing competition to chew away at their support.

Next year is a year off for most of Suffolk, with only Ipswich due to hold elections (it's a "thirds" council, before the Districts are all up in 2023. Will the Conservatives retain their current popularity, or will there start to be a gentle whittling away of their support post-Brexit and post-Covid? Will meaningful opposition emerge in the villages? That remains to be seen...

1 comment:

nigel hunter said...

The Alliances should/must continue to get stronger.Labour,if they do not grow up will be the losers.