Council argument does not wash

IF A week is a long time in politics I realise that 12 years is an eon – but really the political leadership at County Hall really should try to improve its memory skills.

IF A week is a long time in politics I realise that 12 years is an eon – but really the political leadership at County Hall really should try to improve its memory skills.

Let's go back to 1992. It was the general election Labour couldn't lose.

The Tories were looking tired after 13 years in power and had just thrown out their iconic leader for the man in grey.

All the opinion polls told us Labour would romp home.


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The opinion polls also told us that people wanted the government to spend more on public services – and if that meant paying a bit more in tax, then so be it.

Labour decided to give the people what they wanted – promises of improved healthcare, education and transport underpinned by a warning we might have to pay a little bit more.

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But it was what we wanted, wasn't it?

No.

The Tories unleashed their "Labour's tax bombshell" campaign, and won another five years in power.

What happened? Why didn't the electorate do what they said they'd do?

Voters lie. Voters – or at least some voters – tell pollsters and focus groups what they want to hear, or what they think they want to hear.

To say you'll pay more for better schools and hospitals sounds caring. So that's what most people say when asked by pollsters.

When they're in the privacy of the polling booth they think: "Stuff the schools and hospitals, I want to hang on to as much of my money as possible."

It's a lesson Gordon Brown learned in 1997 – as proved by his slavish devotion to prudence and the Tory spending plans for the first four Labour years.

But it's a lesson that seems to have completely passed by the senior politicians in County Hall last year.

I know they've come up with a very low rise this year – and that is very, very welcome.

But nothing I have heard will convince me that last year's 18.5 per cent rise was necessary.

If the council had the political will to carry out the kind of exercise it has completed this year, it would have been able to keep the rise down much lower – and still made service improvements. I'm convinced of that.

But it had MORI polls which showed people wanted improved services – even if they cost money.

They'd gathered focus groups who told them the same thing. And the council leadership was prepared to take their word as gospel – despite all the evidence from 1992.

They failed to realise that voters aren't all benign do-gooders who all want what is best for society.

They failed to realise that voters would rather have an extra £100 to spend on holiday than spend it on a new Best Value survey.

Put bluntly they totally failed to understand what makes the voters tick.

And politicians do that at their peril.

I accept that government funding changes meant that rises in 2003 were always going to be in double figures.

But nothing will convince me, or hundreds of thousands of others in this county, that it was necessary to increase bills by 18.5pc last April.

Too many people at county hall were too lazy to look for savings last year – and they didn't think it was necessary to hunt them out.

Yes, it's good that this year the rise is lower. And it will be good if it's lower still next year.

But the voters won't forget the contempt with which they were treated by the politicians in 2003.

EARLIER this week the Star reported that three separate plans had been prepared for a new bridge across the New Cut in Ipswich.

Architects drawings of the bridges had been published in the Ipswich Society's newsletter, so we asked if we could publish them as well.

One firm of architects was happy to let us have their proposals.

Another proposal was drawn up by Suffolk County Council and another came from another architect who was out of his office.

But the county had all the plans because they were running the competition.

We spent three hours chasing the pictures through the County Hall bureaucracy because an official in its environment and transport department couldn't decide whether they should be published.

Eventually it was decided we could use them – and it then took 90 minutes to e-mail them across to us (if we'd known it would take so long we'd have sent an anaemic snail to collect them) with the result that we completely missed our deadline.

And who was the official who wasn't available to release the pictures for publication? David Secrett!

You couldn't make it up.

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