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Notes on a quiet election in rural England

Here in Debenham, a village in the heart of Suffolk, it is hard to tell there is an election going on. I have not seen a campaign poster nor has any leaflet from a party or candidate come through my door. Rarely are party political conversations heard in the village.

It is not really surprising, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich is a Conservative hegemony. Dr Dan Poulter, the MP, is sitting on a majority of 13,786. Political activists have presumably been drafted in to marginal constituencies in the eastern region.

Labour needs to win the bellwether seat of Ipswich which Ben Gummer took in 2010, turning a Labour majority of 5,332 into a Conservative victory by 2,099 votes. Shortly before the last election a Daily Telegraph review of his book on the black death suggested his victory would be a loss for literature. He is a personable man, a hard-working constituency MP and a very good writer: I look forward to his next book. (And, yes, he is the son of Lord Deben aka John Gummer.)

Both parties are getting as many activists as they can muster to canvas and leaflet Ipswich.

To the north of Debenham there is a fascinating battle in Norwich South which is one of Green’s key target seats. On the face of it, this is a marginal with a Lib Dem majority over Labour of 310 last time. The Greens were in fourth place with just under 15% of the vote.

But the Greens have a very strong organisation in Norwich: 15 seats on the City Council making it the opposition to the ruling about group which has 21 councillors. So the parliamentary constituency is demanding as many activists as the Lib Dems, Labour and the Greens can find.

So it is no surprise that there are few people canvass the electors of Central Suffolk. Voters go to the poll knowing their vote is not going to change the winner, but the result may be an indication of some underlying trends. How the Green candidate does will be interesting.

Last time the result was:

Results 2010

Table from Wikipedia

This year there are six candidates:

  • Jack Abbott (Labour)
  • Mark Cole (UKIP)
  • Rhodri Griffiths (Green Party)
  • Tony Holyoak (English Democrats)
  • Jon Neal (Liberal Democrat)
  • Dr Dan Poulter (Conservative)

Dan Poulter in open neck shirt.

It would take a major earthquake to unseat Dr Dan Poulter. He is a medical doctor and in his first term has become a health minister. I was disappointed to see him accept the restrictions of being part of the pay roll vote so soon (his predecessor Michael Lord was a deputy speaker and as such did not do politics). Dan Poulter is very active in the constituency and in his newsletters seems to avoid mentioning that he is a minister but concentrates on constituency matters particularly in the health area.

The only complaint I have heard about him comes from Conservative sources: he is reluctant to wear a tie and by having two shirt buttons undone he reveals his hairy chest.

Of the other candidates I know little except what is to be found on the web.

Jack Abbott, lives not far from me in Debenham, and at the age of 23 has become a welcome younger voice on the parish council. If standing in an unwinnable seat is the first step in an ambition for a political career he will be keen to make the best fist of it that he can.

But there is no sign of an army of supporters. I could not even find a biography of him on the local party website. But they do offer “free delivery” if anyone would like a Labour election poster.

The Diss Express does rather better, telling us he “has lived in the local area for over 12 years, attending Debenham High School, and said his interest in politics was triggered while studying at Sheffield University. Nick Clegg was the local MP and backtracked on his pre-election pledge not to vote for higher tuition fees.

And he raises an issue which is hugely important in many rural areas but which I have not heard any of the big guns raising. The paper reported:

Mr Abbott also said there was a “brain drain of young, talented people my age, who go away to university and don’t come back.” Part of that was due to a lack of graduate jobs and poor or expensive housing provision, issues facing everyone, but younger people were under-represented and Mr Abbott hopes to redress the balance.

Rhodri Griffiths, the Green candidate is a former Welsh deputy headmaster who has retired to Suffolk. He looks like a safe pair of hands for his party having previous experience in local government and standing as a parliamentary candidate in Wales.

His aspirations are realistic, saying on the Mid Suffolk Green’s website: “I aim to, at the very least, save my deposit at the general election in May!’

He might do better than that. Green support in the area has been building for several years. They have four councillors on Mid Suffolk District Council and in Debenham their candidate in 2011 pipped Labour by two votes to take second place.

Tony Holyoak is the parliamentary candidate for the English Democrats in Central Suffolk and North Ipswich.” That is all his About page on Facebook says about him. I don’t really want to know more.

Mark Cole, UKIP, runs a driving school in Essex but was brought  up in Suffolk. The UKIP website has a little more information.

Jon Neal, Lib Dem, is a Suffolk lad who returned to county a couple of years ago to work at an agricultural communications agency in Woodbridge. He has stood in the last three elections against David Davies in Haltemprice and Howden so has extensive experience of fighting in safe Tory seats.

He has a degree in British Politics and Legislative Studies according to his website.

Afterword: Since writing the above I have received my first election leaflet; it is for Kathie Guthrie the Conservative seeking re-election to the District Council on the same day as the general election. It was wrapped around Dan Poulter’s newsletter.

Suffolk Local News has no specific”vote for me” message.  Neither is there any mention of his role as a health minister in the main item headed: “Poulter protects our hospitals”. Odd.



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