Brown faces tightrope walk

I BUMPED into a leading member of the Labour Party in Ipswich the other day, and expressed surprise that he hadn't gone to Brighton for the conference.

I BUMPED into a leading member of the Labour Party in Ipswich the other day, and expressed surprise that he hadn't gone to Brighton for the conference.

“I haven't been for years,” he told me. “Party conferences aren't like they used to be - I'm pretty sure most Labour members aren't very enthusiastic about the government any more.”

That's a theme I've heard from Labour members of all ages and all generations over the last year, both before and after the general election.

I can't help feeling they're just waiting for the day that Tony Blair departs and Gordon Brown moves next door.

Labour nationally has seen a drop in the number of members by almost a half since the heady days of the mid-1990s when the prospect of a new government lead by the inspirational Mr Blair seemed exciting and full of hope.

Now those Labour members that are left seem less than enthusiastic about the government and the current leadership.

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They are looking to Mr Brown now, not Mr Blair who is increasingly being seen as a lame duck leader.

And many have stayed with Labour simply because they're political animals and there's nowhere else for them to go - they couldn't consider the Tories and they are worried that the Liberal Democrats are appearing to cosy up to Conservatives in many places (including Ipswich).

My Labour contact told me: “I'm not too sure about Gordon telling us all he's not going to be any more left-wing than Blair - many of us wouldn't mind being offered a bit more of a socialist programme without talk of more privatisations and staying in Iraq indefinitely.”

That is the problem Labour is facing now - do you go for policies that are aimed at attracting floating voters that don't enthuse your own supporters?

Or do you go for policies that your supporters will be happy to try to sell - even if they might turn off some of the voters in the middle?

For the last decade the party has been so busy trying to attract the floating voters that its dedicated supporters have felt ignored.

The crucial question for British politicians over the next few years is whether Labour returns to its root as Mr Blair winds down - or whether it will continue to chase the middle way and risk alienating its own supporters even more.

I wonder what Gordon Brown thought of the conference - one day he's ready to take over and the next he's told the prime minister is going on and on.

Could his conference theme really be: “I can't get no satisfaction?”

IT WAS good to see so many senior county councillors in Ipswich town centre on Sunday for the first ever farmers' market and public consultation day.

Most of the Conservative cabinet were there - they weren't put off by the fact that the town had only elected one Tory councillor in May.

There has been the feeling that there could be a disconnection between rural Suffolk and its county town over the last few years, as much emphasis has been put on countryside campaigns.

This kind of event will help to bridge the gap - by bringing country produce into the heart of the town is a good way of reminding townsfolk that we're all part of the same county.

HEALTH services in Suffolk and across the country are in a crisis because of the rules about spending laid down by central government.

Don't the ministers and civil servants in Whitehall realise that if you “fine” a health trust or hospital for running a debt, the people who suffer aren't the administrators who let the debt build up.

The people who suffer are the patients who can't get the treatment they need when they need it.

I can't understand why the party that gave us the NHS in the first place and has spend the last 50 years campaigning on the slogan that they are committed to the service should be so totally unable to understand that they are hitting the vulnerable.

And it's also disappointing that no one from within the Labour Party in Suffolk seems prepared to raise their heads above the precipice and defend the policy.

It's very interesting that all this controversy has hit the headlines five months after the general election, not five months before!

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