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Why Did Tory Ben Gummer Lose Ipswich to Labour’s Sandy Martin?

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Image result for ben in the pub ipswich

‘Mr Ipswich’ Off to Spend More Time in the Pub.

“Just 48 hours ago he was one of the most powerful men in the British government. Now Ben Gummer’s parliamentary career has come to an abrupt end – whether temporarily or permanently. Why did he lose?”

Writes the ‘Big Fella’ Paul Geater in the Ipswich Star.

During the campaign Ben Gummer always seemed supremely confident, talking confidently about Labour voters switching to him because they didn’t like Jeremy Corbyn. If this was all spin then he and his team were acting very well when they spoke to me!

Even after our survey suggested Sandy Martin was in the lead, they insisted all was well – but clearly things were not going as well as he hoped. Why?

Firstly many people voted for the first time. Turnout was significantly up and many of these appeared to be young people.

They were motivated to vote Labour because they liked Jeremy Corbyn’s radical plans, especially abolishing university tuition fees, and were determined to make their voice heard.

The number of people voting Conservative in Ipswich actually went up between 2015 and 2017 by about 1,600 – but Labour’s vote increased by more than 6,000 votes. The UKIP vote fell by 4,000 – but these votes appear to have been split evenly.

Some policies were not popular: workers said the confusion and mixed messages over pension reform and social care payments had worried some voters.

The lack of attention from big-name visitors also gave the impression that Tory High Command took Ipswich for granted. They seemed to think that a Cabinet minister with a 3,733 majority couldn’t need help.

Some voters appeared to feel that Mr Gummer’s focus was no longer on the town with his new ministerial role – and the fact that he did not have a home in Ipswich at the time of the election did not help.

Given his work in the town, this was probably unfair – but it created an impression his opponents could exploit by emphasising that Mr Martin had lived in Ipswich for decades.

And a number of small policy statements caused real problems – one of the most irritating for workers was the suggestion that the government could repeal hunting legislation. One of his team said to me: “Why couldn’t she (Theresa May) just shut up about that. It’s not a big issue but it could cost us a few hundred votes!”

Another series of explanations:

  • The Labour vote, as Geater notes, grew amongst young people. As he says, particularly of first-time voters, “They were motivated to vote Labour because they liked Jeremy Corbyn’s radical plans, especially abolishing university tuition fees, and were determined to make their voice heard.” This is a national trend. Most studies of voting behaviour in the UK underline that most people cast their ballot in line with countrywide trends. This would equally apply to people’s concern with “confusion and mixed messages over pension reform and social care payments”, a worry that  was reflected all over Britain. The Star and EADT’s political columnist could have added that young people’s interest in the issue of tuition fees was not just something ‘out there’. It was very evident on the ground. In my own street when delivering Labour leaflets a young bloke saw the Party sign and raised a clenched fist while saying “Up the Labour! I want Corbyn to sort out my tuition fees”. Others can confirm that this was very far from a one off incident.
  • If the Tory High Command “took Ipswich for granted” this was hardly the case for Ben’s own team. They have worked hard over the years to build up an image of the Conservative MP as Mr Ipswich, even putting on their web site a map of the town which you could click on to find what “Ben had done” to help, street by street.  When this Blog pointed out, in a kindly way,  that this may be seen as arrogant, the chart disappeared. But similar bold claims about the candidate’s actions “for Ipswich” continued.
  • The “focus on the town” is, as a result, a more complex issue than Geater’s comments reveals.  Ben’s constant efforts to portray himself as the Minister for Ipswich, and the Best Friend Ipswich has ever had, were not universally appreciated whatever the merits of the former MP’s efforts.  I could cite the the freebie Waterfront Life, which those of us who leave not far from the old Docks, receive. He gave – in two pieces, The Winerack and Non-Political Question Time  – the impression that it was the Right Hon. Gummer who was Ipswich Borough Council, The Right Hon who was the man pioneering the Town’s future. Those who know that the hard working Labour councillors who run Ipswich Borough were not impressed.  Nor were his ‘matey’ evenings, Ben in the Pub, appealing to everybody. Some would have welcomed his focus elsewhere, especially, as many remarked, as  Gummer does not live in Ipswich.
  • It was not just the Conservative Manifesto’s promises for future policies, such as bringing back hunting, but present ones that were unpopular. Locally voters would see that austerity affects their lives directly. Suffolk County Council is at present Tory run. It has ruthlessly cut services, including social care, and outsourced many of their activities. They are in a sorry state. To take one example, the massive cuts in provision for young people, particularity the disadvantaged, is storing up social problems.  To this one could add long-standing problems about the County Council. Many voters are aware of the mess their contracted out Highway Services  is in: the state of the roads in Suffolk is a standing joke.
  • Ben Gummer made much of his commitment to improved rail services. Those who use the trains to get to London will have noticed that his efforts have not affected the steadily deteriorating rail links, and the sky high ticket prices that privatisation has brought. Many will perhaps considered that Gummer’s claims, made since 2010 with no visible result,  are rubbing salt in open wounds. These are just some hard-to-ignore  examples of how Conservative rule has made people’s lives worse and have surely undermined the former MP’s support.
  • If there was one thing which sums up the results of Conservative government cuts, and mean-spirited welfare system, it is the constant presence of street-begging and rough sleepers in Ipswich. People in the town feel shame that in a wealthy country we have the homeless and destitute left to ask for money in the streets.

Then there is his opponent, Sandy Martin who ran an enthusiastic campaign, backed by an energetic team that included many young people.

  • Sandy Martin by  is known across the town as a man whose tireless work, not constantly flagged up as the acts of Mr Ipswich, have made a real difference. From case-work as a Town (until not that long ago) and (now) County Councillor, Sandy has built up a solid reputation as a reliable and likeable local figure. A broad constituency, from ordinary town residents, campaigners on a wider variety of issues,and labour movement activists know that Sandy is somebody who has stood on their side and contributed to their work.
  • Ipswich Labour Party has a well-organised network of supporters, from every walk of life, prepared to talk to and listen to Ipswich people. Sanday’s campaign reflected this. It was very obvious during the campaign that the party is deeply rooted in Ipswich. With a good candidate, the local party backing, the radical and democratic politics in Labour’s Manifesto  found an audience.

Finally,….

Not everybody likes ‘Ben’s Bridge’ either,

General election 2017: New Ipswich MP Sandy Martin to ask for rethink on Orwell Crossing link

New Ipswich MP Sandy Martin is to ask the Department for Transport to look again at the proposals for a large new bridge between Wherstead Road and Cliff Quay.

He is to ask the government to look at diverting the money to help fund the £100m project to a northern by-pass for the town.

It was one of his pledges during the election campaign, and he is planning to take up the issue when he travels to Westminster next week.

He said: “There are three bridges proposed as part of the Upper Orwell Crossing. Two of them – the road bridge to the island site and the footbridge over the lock gates – I wholeheartedly support.

“But the largest bridge does not have public support and I shall be speaking to the department to see if the funds can go to a more important strategic route, the northern by-pass.”

The crossings were strongly backed by former MP Ben Gummer – and are now a formal county council-managed project. The government funding is due to come through when work is about to start.

County council cabinet member for Ipswich Paul West said it would be pressing ahead with the project. He said: “This is a full project, you can’t plan to have one or two of the bridges.

“And it isn’t possible to move the money from one Ipswich project to another in the town – if it is taken away from this then it would go to another part of the country.”

The crossing is also backed by the business community in Ipswich.

Catherine Johnson, chair of Suffolk Chamber of Commerce in Greater Ipswich said: “Firstly, on behalf of the Chamber we’d like to congratulate Sandy on being elected as Ipswich’s MP.

“Secondly, as with the other six Suffolk MPs, we are looking forward to working with him on a range of issues of interest and concern to the business community.

“We note his comments about diverting funds from the Upper Orwell Crossings scheme to that of the northern bypass. We hope to listen in more detail to his thinking on this particular issue.

“We also look forward to a productive dialogue on the overall need for Ipswich to have a modern infrastructure that allows a much freer and more efficient flow of goods and people both within and to and from the town.”

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Written by Andrew Coates

June 10, 2017 at 12:27 pm

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