At the last election, Labour lost Ipswich to the Tories by 2,079 votes. Then Labour held less than half the borough council seats and only four out of 13 Suffolk county council seats.
But today 35 of the 48 seats on the borough council and 10 out of 13 county council seats in Ipswich are Labour. That swing gives Unite member David Ellesmere a good basis to work on as he stands to win back this key marginal which had been Labour’s since 1992.
David has worked as a software developer for local firms for more than 20 years and has been leader of Ipswich borough council since 2011 when Labour took control from a Tory-Lib Dem coalition.
He believes that Labour can build on the council’s record to unseat Tory MP Ben Gummer , the son of former cabinet minister John Gummer (the man was ordered to repay £11,538 he’d claimed for ‘gardening’ as a parliamentary expense).
He is confident that two council policies, in particular, will benefit the party. “Firstly, the council is an accredited living wage employer. Not one employee of the council is on a zero-hours contract. And secondly, we have started building the first council houses in Ipswich for 25 years – 12 are already occupied, 150 are under construction , a total of 300 are in the pipeline.”
David is also proud of other council policies which have benefitted local residents. These include reducing parking charges to help town centre retailers, saving threatened bus services, helping the local credit union take on the loan sharks – and increasing the number of apprenticeships.
“Ipswich is a low-skill, low-wage town and that needs to be changed. The cost of living crisis is the big issue for many residents,” he points out. “People on low incomes are those who have been hit hardest.”
“I want to see quality apprenticeships that last a minimum of two years with a recognised qualification at the end rather than the training schemes we have at present where the government boasts about apprenticeships and it turns out that 40 per cent of the employers concerned didn’t realise they were running apprenticeships at all!
“I also want to see us build on the education investment we had under the last Labour government – including University Campus Suffolk in Ipswich, which we were waiting for for hundreds of years.
“Labour will protect education funding at all levels and ensure the quality of teaching and leadership in all our schools. This is an important issue locally where we have two academies that have not done well and which have slipped back further recently.”
Building a growing economy and creating jobs are big issues for Ipswich, as elsewhere. “The port is an important employer,” says David. “It’s not as big as Felixstowe, but it is the country’s largest exporter of agricultural products, particularly grain.
“Also a lot of financial and insurance firms have businesses here, including Willis and AXA.”
In his campaigning David is emphasising Labour’s policy for getting unemployed people back to work with a compulsory jobs guarantee and its support for small businesses by cutting business rates.
He is finding that constituents are critical of sitting MP, public school and Oxford-educated Ben Gummer: “Out canvassing I have met a lot of people who say they have gone to him for help and either he didn’t help them or he didn’t get back to them. I think people are seeing through him.”
So the electors of Ipswich have a choice. On the one hand there is Gummer Junior who has voted against increased long-term disability benefit and for the bedroom tax, university tuition fees and cuts to local government funding.
Or else they can vote for Labour’s David Ellesmere, who has lived in the town since 1992 and has been dealing with local people’s issues since he was first elected as a councillor in 1995.
It’s a five-way contest – with the Lib Dems, the Greens and Ukip also fielding candidates – but the key battle is between Labour and Conservative in what is the Tories’ 38th most vulnerable seat.
Pic by Peter Everard Smith