On Tuesday I found the Big Suffolk Survey in my East Anglian Daily Times. As an MP, I want to know what people think, especially in my own constituency. That’s why effective politicians knock on people’s doors. An independent survey like this is particularly valuable, because people can say what they really think, rather than humouring the person on their doorstep. I am hoping that the Ipswich Star can give me an idea of what answers Ipswich residents pick. But actually I care what Suffolk residents outside of Ipswich think too, because Ipswich and the rest of Suffolk are linked.
I spent Wednesday at the Suffolk Show. The big tractors that were there last time are now even bigger. I tried a pint of Adnams’ new alcohol-free Ghost Ship which offers a very welcome opportunity to enjoy Suffolk beer – the best beer in the world in my humble opinion – when you are driving or abstinent. I bought a punnet of fresh Suffolk strawberries, which knock spots off imported strawberries for flavour. I posed with one of the Elmers (the patchwork elephants soon to come to the streets of Ipswich).
And of course there were lots of people I wanted to talk to and who wanted to talk to me. I’m afraid I spent less time than I would have liked with one or two friends, because I had a very full schedule – including Paul Geater who I bumped into twice. I had a few brief words with Bishop Martin Seeley, and with Sally Chicken from the East of England Co-op, and with County Council waste officers, and with Lady Caroline Cranbrook.
But I spent most time with four organisations that are central to the show – the Suffolk Agricultural Association, the National Farmers’ Union (NFU), the Country Landowners Association (CLA – which includes small farmers as well as big), and Easton & Otley College. And the issues we discussed – Brexit, protection of our environment, ensuring we have a secure supply of British food, fly-tipping and training for young people – are all relevant to Ipswich as well as the rest of Suffolk.
Ipswich exports grain and other produce. Ipswich imports fertiliser and other agricultural needs. But the links go far deeper than that. Many of the people and institutions in Ipswich meet the needs of Suffolk people from outside our town – not just shops, but the County Council, Police, Hospital, University, and cultural life.
And just as we should want to attract Suffolk people into our town, so we should also welcome the attractions in the rest of Suffolk that lead to people wanting to visit our beautiful County. I want Ipswich to promote itself as a portal for tourism to the rest of Suffolk. While the coast or the Dedham Vale may be beautiful and peaceful during the day, in the evening there are far more restaurants and shows and clubs and concerts in Ipswich than there are at Shingle Street! We ought to aim to persuade visitors to come and stay with us, not just travel up from London as day trippers.
All of Suffolk – including Ipswich – needs more effective training available for young people who want to go into agriculture or other rural employment. We want our young people to succeed whether they stay in Ipswich or not – and a lot of them do stay. All of Suffolk – including Ipswich – needs a cleaner and healthier environment, for the sake of the planet and also to encourage tourism. We cannot achieve that without the support of the farmers, and one of my roles on the Environment Farming and Rural Affairs Select Committee needs to be to make sure that any environmental schemes the government introduces work for our farmers as well as for the environment. In particular, we need a level playing-field with agriculture in other countries – there’s no point in placing conditions on farmers in the UK if we then let in cheap imports from other countries that don’t meet those conditions.
I don’t agree with all the members of the NFU or the CLA about everything. I believe the NFU could have a more open and cooperative relationship with the organic movement. I think some of the crops currently grown in the UK will be uneconomic outside the EU. And I think the badger cull is ineffective, unscientific and cruel.
But agriculture, and the life of Suffolk beyond the Borough boundary, are woven into the history and economy of Ipswich, and neither will prosper without the prosperity of the other.