What is it with politicians becoming unlikely sex symbols?

Milifans-hit-IpswichEd Miliband visited Ipswich earlier today, as his unexpected cool status suddenly became mainstream.

Mr Miliband was in town as part of a regional tour including Cambridge, supporting his Labour candidate David Ellesmere, and dozens of students jostled with Labour Party activists to get selfies with him – many more than when David Cameron last visited the UCS Waterfront campus.

Mr Miliband has suddenly found that he has thousands of fans who think he’s cool and sexy, and he isn’t the only politician to find himself the target of fans from an unexpected direction.

Ben Gummer, Tory Candidate for Ipswich, photoshopped by the "Ipswich MP Fan Club" Facebook Page.

Ben Gummer, Tory Candidate for Ipswich, photoshopped by the “Ipswich MP Fan Club” Facebook Page.

Tory candidate for Ipswich, Ben Gummer, also has a Facebook page dedicated to photographs of him “looking sexy” called “Ipswich MP Fan Club” – describing Mr Gummer as “bringing sexy back” to politics.

Joking aside, the campaign is closer than ever. Voters on the streets of Ipswich seem genuinely split 50/50 between Labour and Tory – though Ben Gummer has slightly higher name recognition, probably because he’s spent five years as the town’s Member of Parliament. If it keeps going down to the wire, it could be the ground war that decides it – which side has more activists getting their vote out on polling day. With postal votes already hitting doorsteps, hundreds, if not thousands, of Ipswich voters will already have voted. The Press Association expect a result in Ipswich by 4am on 8th May. That’s looking increasingly optimistic.

UKIP leaflet pledges councillor would introduce Australian immigration system

UKIP-leaflets

I received a UKIP leaflet through my door this week, and it confused me, so I asked if they could clarify some things for me.

“I note the leaflet is your Borough Council election leaflet. I therefore wondered if you could explain to me which department of the Borough Council will be responsible for providing an Australian-style, points based migration system to slash the volume of immigration and end the undercutting of wages of British working people, your top pledge to Sprites Ward residents.

“Perhaps you could also explain to me how much Ipswich Borough Council spends on Foreign Aid.

“I’d hope that you would be able to explain to me which department of the Borough council is responsible for NHS spending, and which department can guarantee armed forces veterans jobs in the border force, prison service or police?

“I note on the “local issues” you are campaigning on, you suggest that IBC has offered to sell the land to SCC at a discount. I was at the meeting when the offer was made, but I have checked my notes and find no suggestion that it would be at a discount. Indeed IBC has a legal duty to obtain the best value for the land possible, so it would be at it’s full value.

“I also note that the issue with parking is not a Borough Council issue but one instead for Suffolk County Council. Your push for a “unitary Ipswich” is commendable, but again not something the Borough Council can do on its own, it needs the County Council to agree and the Government to put forward the legislation. Your third local issue is again a transport issue, which is the purview of the County Council.

“I am also concerned about your fourth and final local issue – the only one on the entire leaflet that deals with something that the Borough Council actually has responsibility for. You say you would “put Ipswich council tenants first, above all others.” Does this mean that I, as a council tax payer but private tenant, would be discriminated against in the provision of all services throughout the council if you get your way? Why should council tenants get preferential treatment? What sort of preferential treatment would they get? Would roads with council tenants on them get swept more often? Would they be given discounts at IBC owned leisure facilities? How would this be funded?

Dear Reader, you may have concluded that I am distinctly unimpressed with this leaflet, which promises many things that are nothing to do with the Borough Council. Indeed I might have suggested that the UKIP candidate, who is also Constituency Chairman, could do some research into what the Borough Council actually does before next year’s IBC elections.

But don’t let that fool you. Thousands of people will have read that leaflet and be completely unaware that the Borough Council has no responsibility for Immigration or for employing people in the Prison Service. It is utterly dishonourable to stand for election based on pledges that you cannot hope to fulfil. It is precisely the sort of thing that got Nick Clegg into deep trouble with the student voters over tuition fees. Surely we should all expect better from those who seek to lead our town, district or country?

Culture Secretary blows into town to support Ben Gummer

Gummer-Selfie-with-Sajid-JavidTory Cabinet Minister Sajid Javid visited Ipswich today to boost the campaign of incumbent Ben Gummer, who is in the fight of his life to hold onto the seat against Labour’s council leader candidate David Ellesmere.

Mr Javid blew into town almost an hour late, after being delayed on his way from Norwich because the overhead wires were brought down by the wind. He visited a couple of shops on St Peter’s Street, answered a couple of questions from journalists, before posing for photographs – including a Gummer Selfie – with campaign volunteers.

He rushed off to meet the train back to London, facing a long trip back to the capital because of the ongoing rail problems caused by weather.

Sajid-Javid-&-Ben-Gummer-answer-journalists-questionsMr Gummer and Mr Javid didn’t face any tough questions about the claims the Tories made yesterday about Labour’s tax plans; nor did they have to explain why shopkeepers should vote for them when Labour’s business rates cut pledge is better for small businesses than the Tories business rate review.

That isn’t the point of these visits though. The real reason is to ensure that candidates like Mr Gummer, in marginal seats that the Tories absolutely have to win if they want Mr Cameron to continue as Prime Minister, can show the support they have right at the top of Government.

Loyalty is powerful in political parties, and incumbents who have shown loyalty to their party during the last five years can expect lots of visits from Cabinet level power brokers within their party. So when people ask why Ben Gummer has followed his party on almost every vote, part of it is because he wants doors to open when he goes to Ministers for a favour for Ipswich.

Mr Javid isn’t the first big hitter to visit during this election campaign – Caroline Flint came to support David Ellesmere, Labour’s candidate, yesterday. I doubt either of them will be the last.

A positive campaign? Some hope.

Today sees the start of the General Election campaign “proper”. You might be forgiven for thinking it had started weeks – or even months – ago. Residents of Ipswich, a marginal seat, have been bombarded with literature by both Tories and Labour since the beginning of the year.

At a meeting of the local Labour Party, the election campaign they promised was one of positivity, hope and change. The local Conservatives also argue that they will campaign positively, arguing that Ben Gummer’s record as the town’s MP is one to be proud of.

Will we really be able to get through the next six weeks without the parties descending into negative campaigning? I don’t mean the sort of rubbish you see in the USA, but are we really going to see the two main protagonists stick to arguing their own messages and their own policies rather than denigrating the other?

Sadly I would not put money on it. As much of the message coming from either camp is about negative elements of their opponent’s message as it is positive elements of their own. David Ellesmere and Labour will want to highlight what they perceive as the failings of the Government and Ben Gummer’s complicity in those failings. Ben Gummer and the Conservatives will want to highlight what they perceive as the failings of the Borough Council and David Ellesmere’s complicity in those failings.

Rather than spending the next six weeks taking lumps out of each other over disputed statistics, who said what to whom and who broke what promise, would it not be better to spend the time explaining to the voters what each candidate would do to make things better for the residents of Ipswich?

Unfortunately a desire to prove the other side wrong is strong in any politician. I suspect that desire will overcome any positivity or hope in this campaign. The public will hate that.

A New Venture

meWelcome to my new venture.

For five years I’ve worked as a local blogger turned hack, covering local politics and news in Ipswich and the local area. Having worked hard to help build a hyperlocal news website, I’m leaving to pursue new ideas. I wish my former colleagues all the luck in the world, and I am sure they will still produce top quality local news.

As for me, I am going back to writing – something that I was becoming increasingly isolated from. I will be covering local, regional, national and even international news and politics. Free from the straitjacket of commercial business, I hope to bring my unique style to areas that I was unable to consider when writing just about my local town.

If you don’t like what I write, well nobody is forcing you to read it. If you want to contribute to the debate, use the comments.