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Essex Elections JU

Eyes on the East: The Only Way is Tory in Essex – will it still be in 2024?

In the fourth of a series on the General Election battlegrounds in the East of England, Jade Uko, associate director with DevComms considers the key seats in Essex, many of them currently Conservative strongholds.

It is fair to say that Essex remains a sea of blue in terms of MPs elected to Westminster even though the seas are often grey.

However recent polling suggests that the Labour Party will be making a few gains during the next General Election.

Harwich and North Essex has a strong majority of over 18,000 for the Conservatives but the latest polls suggest Labour will overturn this and win with a 10 per cent majority. Sir Bernard Jenkin, the current MP, was under investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards over conduct during Covid-19 but has recently been cleared of any wrongdoing.

The long-standing Essex MP (since 1992) is battling Labour’s Alex Diner, a senior housing researcher at the New Economics Foundation and solicitor, working on the Grenfell Tower inquiry on behalf of the people impacted.

Tendring Council recently fell to a Lib/Lab coalition, spelling tidings of woe for the Tories and could be a sign of things to come. Interestingly Reform is polling at three per cent in contrast to their national polling of 13 per cent, which is surprising given that the Leave vote was very strong locally. The polling in this seat will be troubling for the Conservative campaign team in what was once considered a blue heartland.

Harlow is another target for Labour and traditionally a ‘bellwether’ constituency. Robert Halfon MP has a 16,000 majority and was first elected in 2010 but is not seeking re-election.

The Labour candidate Chris Vince is currently leader of the Labour group on Harlow Council who are also fighting to take back control of the local authority this May. Affordable housing is a crucial issue in both elections taking place locally and Harlow will be a key battleground on two fronts this year.

Jackie Doyle-Price, MP for Thurrock is campaigning to protect her 10,000 majority against Labour who are polling at a 17 per cent majority. Jackie has come under fire over her views on gender identity issues and has been in and out of ministerial posts along with various leaders. Her most recent post was as Minister of State for Industry under Liz Truss.

Thurrock Council has recently moved from Conservative led to No Overall Control following two party suspensions. Thurrock Council has effectively ruled itself bankrupt in what has been a massive controversy over solar farm payments and a third of the council is up for election this year. Labour will be hoping for gains locally this May and also a significant General Election win.

Both Southend West and Leigh and Southend East and Rochford are polling red in the general election. The current longstanding MP for Southend East and Rochford, Sir James Philip Duddridge will stand down at the next election leaving the seat open.

Labour councillor and former soldier Bayo Alaba is championing economic regeneration and affordable housing. Over in the neighbouring seat, Labour is yet to select a candidate against Anna Firth MP, the incumbent who replaced the tragically murdered Sir David Amess.

There are also local elections taking place in Southend-on-Sea City Council in May where the Conservatives run a minority administration. Labour alongside the Independents and Liberal Democrats will be hoping for gains and to take over Southend in this key election year.

Overall, the Conservatives are predicted to maintain control of most of Essex in the next General Election but council seats are under threat by a triple whammy of national Labour momentum and smaller party and independent gains.

In terms of the built environment, affordable housing, Green Belt release alongside improved infrastructure are all crucial election campaign issues in Essex. Economic growth and the commercial buildings needed will be very much the focus for policy makers looking ahead who are keen to continue to capitalise on key industries moving from London and Cambridge into more affordable Essex territory.

By Jade Uko

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