What a difference a year makes, writes Labour Borough Council Leader, David Ellesmere.
Last year’s Ipswich Borough Council elections were held on the same day as the General Election and were just as grim for Labour, with a loss of four seats to the Conservatives.
Conservative councillors were cock-a-hoop. I remember one confidently telling me that they would take control of the council this year.
Unfortunately for them, voters in Ipswich hadn’t read the script.
In Thursday’s council elections Labour won thirteen out of the sixteen Ipswich wards, gaining two seats from the Conservatives. One of these gains was in Holywells ward which Labour has never won before.
I’ve got to be honest, at the start of this year’s campaign, we did not think we’d do so well.
National opinion polls and political pundits were all saying that Labour were going to lose seats so that’s what we were expecting.
But throughout April our campaigners were out on the doorstep day after day speaking to thousands of people. We started to notice that there was a steady stream of people coming across to Labour.
And there’s something else a bit more intangible that the seasoned campaigner can pick up: how positive or otherwise your supporters are. You may get someone who always tells you they are going to vote for your party but in some years they do it through gritted teeth and in others they can’t wait to get off to the polling station.
This led us to believe that we would do better than the pollsters were saying, but this was tempered with the knowledge that we thought we were going to do well last year…
So what are the lessons to be learned from this year’s elections?
Labour is regarded as running Ipswich Borough Council well in contrast to the way the Conservatives are running Suffolk County Council. It was striking that the vast majority of complaints people have in Ipswich are about County Council issues.
We put forward a small but achievable set of proposals which proved popular: continuing to protect frontline services, keeping brown bins free of charge unlike Conservative-run councils across Suffolk, re-building Crown Car Park and continuing to build new council houses.
Because of our existing track record people believe that we can deliver on these promises.
The two big cuts that the County Council are threatening in Ipswich – to halve our fire service and to close the Park and Ride – are very, very unpopular. Conservative councillors need to rethink these cuts now.
In a few short months David Cameron and George Osborne have squandered much of the support they garnered in the run-up to the General Election. There was a noticeable shift towards us in the aftermath of George Osborne’s second omni-shambles Budget.
It probably won’t be popular with either his supporters or his detractors but there isn’t much of a discernible “Jeremy Corbyn Effect”. I met a small number of people who said they wouldn’t vote Labour because of Jeremy Corbyn, balanced by an equally small number who said they would vote Labour because of him. Both these were dwarfed by the number of people who wanted to complain about the state of the roads in Ipswich. The national press need to get away from Westminster a bit more often and speak to some real people. It isn’t a coincidence that the Star’s Paul Geater had a much better handle on what was going to happen.
So a big thankyou to everyone in Ipswich who voted Labour this year.
We will now get on with the job of delivering on our promises so that we can repay the trust you have shown in us and deliver a better Ipswich for everyone.