Battle lines drawn in race for power

IT'S no holds barred as the the local election campaign gets really into its stride across Suffolk.And the big question all the parties are asking themselves is what is going to be the main factor that brings out the voters on May 3.

IT'S no holds barred as the the local election campaign gets really into its stride across Suffolk.

And the big question all the parties are asking themselves is what is going to be the main factor that brings out the voters on May 3.

Will local issues, or even local candidates themselves, prove decisive?

Or will most voters be swayed by national issues?

Of course all candidates will be desperate to claim that it is their policies, or those of their opponents, which will be the most important factor in the way people vote in May.

But past evidence would tend to suggest that national issues will be just as important in persuading voters to go out or, possibly more importantly, to stay at home.

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In Suffolk the battle is very interesting because depending on whether local or national issues prevail will determine whether the Conservatives or Labour end up with most to celebrate.

Nationally there is no doubt that the Labour government is deeply unpopular. It is undergoing the kind of “mid-term blip” that we became used to with the Conservatives but have not seen so far under Tony Blair.

If Suffolk voters follow the national trend Labour will lose seats all over the county with the Conservatives, and possibly the Liberal Democrats, making significant gains.

That will, of course, give locally-based Labour activists the opportunity to say that any defeat was beyond their control.

That gives them a get-out clause which means that in one sense Labour activists approach the election knowing that they can't really lose.

The Conservatives, on the other hand, are in an altogether more uncomfortable position on the ground in Suffolk.

Every district or borough council leader in Suffolk is Tory, so their party is in power across the county - Babergh may be run by a coalition of all the talents but there is a sizeable Conservative influence on the strategy committee.

So if people want to protest about council decisions they may well vote against the Conservatives. And in different parts of the county there are different issues which could be crucial if local issues do dominate the votes.

In Ipswich Labour is claiming that a vote for the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats is a vote for cuts to bus services. That could be decisive in one or two marginal wards.

It is also trying to stir up the issue of the Age Concern tearooms and St Lawrence church which could be decisive as any political student knows elderly people are much more likely to vote than youngsters.

In other parts of Suffolk the reorganisation of schools is likely to be a major issue in district elections . . . even though education has nothing to do with any district council.

Campaigners are not able to give their Conservative county councillors a good kicking this year so their Conservative district councillors will get a kicking by proxy!

My suspicion is that these local factors will have a key effect in one or two wards across the county, but overall the national political tide will ensure that May 3 will be better for the Conservatives than for Labour.

Certainly in Ipswich the Labour leadership does not expect to regain power at Grafton House, although it does hope to chisel away at the Conservative/Liberal Democrat majority.

Later this month, the Star will carry detailed profiles of the battles in Ipswich and the three other districts in our circulation area.

But in Ipswich itself Labour hopes to make up to five gains and to prevent the Tories and Liberal Democrats from nibbling away further at their votes.

That could prove to be very optimistic - one or two of those seats could fall because of the bus controversy but the party really cannot expect that all its former councillors will return at one fell swoop.

AS WE enter the dog days of the Tony Blair premiership, many people will be wondering just why he has hung on so long - leading his party to a spectacular defeat in Scotland, Wales, and in local elections across England.

Everyone knows he and Gordon Brown no longer see eye to eye on many things - but the fact is that there is really no one else with the stature to move into 10 Downing Street.

If he didn't appear so determined to write his own name on history, I'd think that Mr Blair was attempting to get one last major electoral disaster out of the way before handing over to his successor. After all if the election picture nationally is as bad as many suspect next month, the only way for Mr Brown will be up!

A NEW organisation called the Councillors' Commission has been set up to look at why people want to seek election and what the benefits of their work is to the community.

It does throw up some interesting statistics - the average age of councillors is 58 and more than half of Britain's councillors are over 60 years old.

Only eight per cent are under 40 and only four per cent are from minority ethnic groups.

If the commission runs for a few years and highlights issues like this it could be worthwhile - but if it turns into an open-ended commission that eventually degenerates into a self-serving quango it will turn into a monumental waste of money.