Wednesday 4th May
There are reports that Tories in St Albans are copying colleagues elsewhere around the country and re-branding themselves ‘Local Conservatives’, to distance themselves from Westminster.
If as seems likely the Tories suffer a heavy defeat tomorrow, expect a furious backlash from the party at local and regional level. They have been prepared to lend their credulity to Johnson thus far, but if he costs hundreds of candidates their political career then they will want blood.
Tales of an uprising among Tories in Letchworth, where anger against Johnson is boiling over. These reports are always sporadic, but there are signs that the government and its regional cohorts may have been taking their support for granted for too long. Most voters aren’t ideological, Tory or Labour, and aren’t interested in political theory. Where party members can delude themselves that their leaders have a cunning plan to get themselves out of this, the average voter calls it as he sees it. There is no reason to assume Tory voters are any more content with Westminster politics than anybody else. They may even be more savage: their trust has been betrayed.
Overall in the Cambridge City elections there seems likely to be little change, perhaps one or two seats, but there remains the likelihood of perhaps half a dozen seats shuffled among the three contenders – Labour, LibDem and Greens – the Tories haven’t held a seat here for years. All three main parties seem to have fought a convincing campaign.
At least one Green is feeling very perky about his chances in Colchester.
Dramatic evidence of just how chaotic and listless this elections Tory campaign has been. In Cambridgeshire they have been using the same leaflet content and just copy and pasting it into each ward, with only the candidate name and the principal opponents changed. In St Neots they even forgot to change the name of the town, so instead the leaflet rails against the parking problems in St Ives. This degree of ineptitude suggests a chaotic campaign which is likely to show, heavily to their cost, in the polls.
On the eve of the local elections Electoral Calculus have polled voters in all the Districts voting this week.
They now predict a 7 percent swing against the Conservatives, who would lose control of 4 councils, while Labour gain 16 and LibDems 3. In the East the Conservatives would lose control of Basildon and Thurrock Councils, leaving both without a clear majority.
Tuesday 3rd May
Several Tory MPs weighing in today on behalf of their local Tory councils. They must have got the note from the whips. One is Paul Bristow in Peterborough, where nevertheless Labour has hopes of taking the one or two seats which will snatch power.
South Cambridgeshire LibDem Council haven’t submitted accounts for four years and that seems to be cutting through. The council leader’s seat is at risk.
Again in South Cambs, both LibDems and Greens seem keen on winning Bassingbourn from Labour.
Yesterday Ipswich Tories gathered a canvass party from the top echelons of the local party, including two MPs, which has led to assumptions from opponents that they are being pressed into service as a last resort.
Monday 2nd May
A tip if you see canvassers still about the streets today or tomorrow. If they are in an area you would expect that party to win, they’re probably worried about the core vote. If in areas you wouldn’t expect to see them, they’re optimistic of a good result.
For all the public’s apparent enthusiasm for a progressive alliance, there is little overt evidence of it in these elections. In some contests it’s possible there is a tacit if surly acceptance of another party taking preference. But with only one day left and still much to play for, the old party war dances are once more noticeable.
A problem for the Greens generally seems to be that, as the election comes closer, so they become greener. Fair enough. But their problem is that it doesn’t seem to be a green election, so turning against the issues preoccupying the voters isn’t likely to concentrate their minds in the way the party wants.
At the beginning of the local election campaign, the approved position in Ipswich was that there would be little change – perhaps a seat or two either way.
But all evidence is that the pressure is on the Tories. If there is movement it will be towards Labour. Whether or not that’s a seat or two or something more dramatic depends on whether Tory voters stay at home. Labour could gain a seat or two, or make more dramatic gains.
All over the region though, the question is the same: will the Tories stay at home?
We usually do a monthly update on local Council byelections, but in April there was only one to report, so we are posting the details here. In the Heybridge West ward of Maldon District Council in Essex, the Lib Dems won with 45 percent of the vote on a low turnout of 17.6 percent. The previous Councillor was an Independent, and this is the first time for 23 years that there has been a LibDem Councilor in Maldon.
Sunday 1 May
South Cambridgeshire Tories accuse Labour and LibDems of having an electoral pact, because neither is standing in all seats. The accusation seems misplaced. But it seems council leader Bridget Smith (LibDem) may have a fight on her hands to hold her seat against the Tories. Her leadership has been controversial.
There are hints that Huntingdonshire may move to no overall control.
Stevenage Labour claim to have canvassed 7,000 residents. They report a much improved reception from last time, though remain cautious.
Saturday 30 April
Four days before the election, and parties will finish their scheduled canvassing this weekend. In the days left, there will only be tactical raids into opposition territory or recanvassing to judge movement in voter intentions.
Partygate is apparently still in full swing on the doorstep in South Cambridgeshire, according to canvassers.
There are reports of many more Labour posters about in South East Cambridgeshire than last time.
Friday 29 April
Amidst the scheduled council elections in the region next Thursday, there is one byelection for a seat on South Norfolk District Council. The seat in Mulbarton and Stoke Holy Cross has become available after Liberal Democrat councillor Vivienne Clifford-Jackson decided to stand down due to ill health.
Clifford-Jackson’s seat is one of three in the ward. She won it in 2019, coming third in the number of votes cast behind two Conservatives candidates. Ian Spratt, who came fifth in that race is standing again, hoping to keep the seat for the LibDems. However, the landscape is more challenging. Unlike 2019 when it was a three-horse race between the Tories, LibDems and Labour, this time the Green and Reform parties are also standing candidates. This will lead to vote splits, which makes this seat a toss-up.
It is interesting to observe the frustrations of local politicians who are thwarted this year because there is no election in their area. The most frustrated seem to be the LibDems. Perhaps that means they are the most confident?
Apparently some Labour councillors in Ipswich are doing two or three shifts of canvassing a day. Desperate to keep their votes or with the scent of a Tory collapse in their nostrils?
Thursday 28 April
See our coverage of the Norwich elections here. Apart from one byelection in the South Norfolk seat of Mulbarton and Stoke Holy Cross, Norwich has the only elections in Norfolk this year, Can Labour and Greens make up before the general election? The answer is probably no.
There is an interesting narrative emerging across the region regarding Labour’s reception on the doorstep. Countless canvassers report that voters are no longer ‘aggressive’ towards them. (That word keeps recurring.) The aggression was seemingly widespread last year.
It was clearly not trumpeted by the party at the time, but the relief with which its absence is reported this year is indicative of the strength of feeling against Labour even a year ago.
The big issue in South Cambridgeshire seems to be rampant development right across the area. But it seems no canvasser from any party has addressed the problem, probably because they have no answers.
There is a continued strong narrative from across the region of disillusioned Tory voters claiming they won’t vote, and the apparent absence of Tory canvassers perhaps suggests that disillusionment has spread to the membership too.
There are claims that traditional farming Tories in North Norfolk are leaving the party is despair at its agricultural policy. For them, next stop would probably be the LibDems, which is another reason for concern for incumbent Tory MP Duncan Bak
It’s clear Labour in Stevenage are relieved at finding a much improved reception from voters this year. Cost of living is naturally the issue that comes up, but here not so much concern over Partygate. MP McPartland is unpopular, called McPartime, but Labour remains cautious.
Wednesday 27 April
See our coverage of the Peterborough elections here. Peterborough is finely balanced politically, with a chequered history. Will the local elections signal national change?
Relations between the parties in Colchester in these elections seem more angry than usual. Social media is awash with accusations and counter-proclamations. But no word on canvass returns, which might have provided a clue as to why.
There is a reported absence of Tory canvassers in Stevenage, it is claimed because of a reluctance after the poor reception they are getting. But Labour is still cautious.
Word from Cambridgeshire, perhaps all the more compelling because it’s not from a party source: ‘Labour is running a fantastic campaign in a number of wards in the SE Cambs constituency. Results in Milton and Fulbourn are the wards to watch.’
In another key ward, Gamlingay in South Cambridgeshire, it’s claimed the Tory candidate is closely pressing the council leader, a Liberal Democrat. Not impossible, but would seem to go against the apparent trend.
Tuesday 26 April
Keir Starmer was out and about in Stevenage today to talk to locals and businesses about the cost of living crisis.
Monday 25 April
See our overview of the Ipswich elections here. Ipswich is a battleground between Tories and Labour, and the rivalry is unlikely to be settled this year. But we may still learn something.
There are claims Labour in Watford are deliberately trying to mislead voters. In one ward, which has three Liberal Democrat councillors, a Labour poster claims Labour leads with 45 percent, with Tories on 35 percent. The LibDems are claimed to be polling at 12 percent, but in the small print this figure suggests the source is different from the other figures.
There is an interesting new Labour group, ‘Migrants4Labour’, which has been out campaigning in Welwyn Hatfield.
An intriguing ward to watch is Whitton in Ipswich, a once safe Labour council estate. But the Tories took it in 2021 by 213 votes. That was a two-horse race, but this time there are also candidates from Greens and Liberal Democrats. Will they split the vote, or will Labour sneak through?
Tory posters in Harpenden warn: ‘Lib Dems could come out of these elections with an unassailable majority’. Not perhaps a sign of confidence.
It seems Labour leafletters allegedly have been nicking Tory leaflets from post-boxes in Southend. Nothing new there, it happens everywhere and it’s a good sport. At the end of the day the sides each tot up how many they’ve pinched and decide who’s won. But in the Southend case the Labour man had the misfortune to be filmed by a security camera. (Technology once again taking all the fun out of elections.) [Please note EAB does not condone this practice. -Ed.]
So the whole affair is being taken very seriously, not least by local Tory MP James Duddridge. “Shocking theft. If this came before nomination papers went in they would have needed a new candidate. With 12 days to go they are stuck with a bad one. Will the decent Labour candidates disown this activity?”
We wait with baited breath…
There are claims of few if any Tory posters in parts of Cambridgeshire, particularly Huntingdon.
In Ipswich, East Anglia Bylines nominated Sprites as a ward Labour and the Tories were likely to fight over. Information suggests the Tories are concentrating on that ward almost exclusively, which sounds like putting all their eggs in one basket, at the cost of all the others.
More on Southend. There is a new candidate standing in the town’s Victoria ward: from the Animal Welfare Party. It seems their main campaign platform is to push for Southend City Council to deliver on its promise of a dog-friendly section of beach.
Sunday 24 April
Tory MP for Ipswich Tom Hunt tells the BBC he has knocked on a thousand doors in the past two weeks… That makes over 70 a day, as well as spending many of his days in Westminster and, apparently, suffering from Covid.
There are indications that the Tories may be about to lose the Buckden ward in Huntingdonshire to the Liberal Democrats. It’s a straight fight.
Saturday 23 April
More tales from the weekend’s canvassing in Ipswich that the Tory vote is very soft. They will find it hard work to dig them out on polling day
There are also suggestions that the Greens are doing well in parts of Colchester.
Colchester MP Will Quince has fallen out with his local paper, the Gazette, over the prominence it gave to a letter from a Labour candidate. It seems that nerves are becoming frayed.
Fews Lane Consortium, a campaign group in South Cambridgeshire, claims it’s planning to make video recordings of all hustings in that district election, in order to hold candidates to their promises.
Friday 22 April
Liberal Democrat canvassers in Holt, Norfolk, report strong kick back against the Tories nationally. ‘I have voted Conservative all my life but never again. Boris is a liar and a cheat.’ There is no election in Holt, but the momentum of politics has geared up and all parties are trying to be ready for all eventualities.
A man who has voted Tory all his life approached EAB: ‘I voted Tory in 2019. What I did not expect was a government so incompetent, under a Prime Minister who is big on headlines and small on detail.
He dithered over the crucial initial lockdown. Being caught in the cladding scandal, has further confirmed to me that the current crop masquerading as the Conservative party are no longer on the side of homeowners.
It’s clear Johnson has lied time and again, and the party has defended him, time and time again, it has become like a cult.
In the meantime, Labour under Starmer is the opposite of Johnson. Big on detail, which matters with the issues this country is facing.
Labour has shown me they’re willing to occupy the centre ground. I probably won’t agree with everything they do, but I do believe they will at least be fair in what they do.
To have the solution to any problem, you need to take the best bits and discard the worst bits, no matter where you stand on the political spectrum.
My hope is for a system to elect a government that represents everyone, instead of the outdated FPTP system.’
An eagle-eyed Hertfordshire Liberal Democrat spots an embarrassing diary faux pas by a local MP: “In the crucial final weekend of campaigning for the May local elections, Hitchin and Harpenden MP Bim Afolami is backing his local colleagues standing for election as District Councillors…
…by going to Amersham for a few pints with the local young Conservatives.
There are boundary changes due for his constituency, and in any case his seat is looking precarious. But Chesham and Amersham is even leafier and greener than Hertfordshire, and the result there in the recent by-election may have been an aberration. Could it be that the ambitious Afolami is thinking of jumping ship?
There is little to be seen or heard of Tories. In areas where there are no elections, they are keeping their heads down, and there is not much sign of them going into election areas to help colleagues with the canvass. And in those areas, it is telling that the emphasis is on local candidates, the local council, local issues. No sign anywhere so far of mentioning Boris Johnson or the government.
In Hitchin and Harpenden it seems canvassers are even blanking their MP, Bim Afolami – possibly because he’s elsewhere when they would have expected his support on the doorstep. (See previous entry.)
Signs of Things Not Going Well #7… There are reports from around East Anglia that some Tory candidates are going into the election without even mentioning their party name on the leaflets.
Thursday 21 April
In Ipswich, Norwich and elsewhere, Labour canvassers claim the Tories’ woes on Partygate and the rest is brought up on the doorstep by the punters, unprompted. Traditional Tories, it’s claimed, are expressing anger over Johnson, an experience apparently shared by LibDems across the region. But in Ipswich this is compounded by Tom Hunt’s jack-in-the-box appearances on TV. It does not go down well with the punters.
In Ipswich too, Labour thinks the Tories have put their strength into two key wards, representing MP Tom Hunt’s core support. Labour is still not looking to make major inroads into the Tory vote, but believe by holding it at bay here they can threaten Hunt’s position in a general election.
In Norwich, canvassers are still hearing repercussions from the county council’s decision not to provide school meal vouchers over Easter.