Council not Conservative enough for some

WHO'S in charge at Civic Centre?That's the question I've started to hear more and more over the last few weeks – especially from some rank and file Conservatives.

WHO'S in charge at Civic Centre?

That's the question I've started to hear more and more over the last few weeks – especially from some rank and file Conservatives.

As one Tory somewhat indelicately said to me: “It sometimes looks from the outside as if the Liberal tail is wagging the Conservative dog at the moment.”

There is clearly some concern among diehard Tories in the town that the administration isn't able to be Conservative enough for their taste.

That is, of course, what happens with coalition administrations – you can't do everything you might like to, and it is the more radical ideas that your partners don't agree with that are likely to bite the dust.

The administration itself looks increasingly competent. During its early days there was uncertainty about how it would run things – and this seemed to lead to a certain amount of paranoia among administration councillors.

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Now that they have proved themselves to be pragmatic and willing to listen to the voters on issues like the future of the Regent, it is starting to make its mark.

But this pragmatism and willingness to listen is what has upset some of its more blue-blooded supporters.

I was speaking to one Conservative recently who said: “It's all very well to have a Tory-led administration, but they're not promoting Tory policies!”

He said it wasn't difficult to bring in a low council tax level with Gordon Brown “bribing” the voters before an election – and said that the decision to retain the Regent might be popular but was hardly in line with Conservative thinking.

“It's not the council's job to subsidise pantomimes or rock concerts – the council should concentrate on emptying rubbish bins and making sure that the town is a good place to do business and doesn't suffer from gridlock,” he said.

Another issue which has caused some disquiet on the right is the fact that the council isn't going to sell Ipswich Buses.

An executive member admitted: “If it was up to me, I'd sell the business – it's a very good bus company and I'm sure the management would be interested in a buy-out, but I have to accept that our partners wouldn't agree to that.

“So the council will continue to own the company in the foreseeable future.”

Those Tories who are looking forward to the day when they'll be able to run things in the town on their own may have to be very patient.

At present they have 18 seats, the Liberal Democrats seven and the Labour opposition 23.

I can't see the Tories winning any seats in the Liberal Democrat strongholds of Alexandra or Whitehouse in 2006 – until recently they were solid Labour seats and it is that party which is more likely to upset the Lib Dems there.

If the Tories win every seat in every ward where they currently have councillors, that would give them 24 seats on the 48-seat authority – no majority at all, and certainly they would be in no position to press ahead with a radical agenda on that basis.

And of course they couldn't get all those seats until 2007 – and Labour are going to be snapping at their heels in the next couple of years.

The Tories and Liberal Democrats have shown that they can manage the Civic Centre – but don't expect any radical options while they remain in coalition.

I HAD to smile when I saw Labour leader Peter Gardiner complaining that a professional pantomime at the Regent instead of the Co-op Juniors would be too expensive for many families.

I didn't recall that being an argument he raised two years ago when the former Labour administration toyed with the idea of bringing in a professional panto.

The fact is that the audiences for the Juniors have been falling – I know they dispute the figures put out by the council, but the fact is that a few years ago almost all performances were sold out well in advance.

This year there were “buy one, get one free” offers on some tickets – often a clear indication that things aren't going that well.

The Juniors have always put on fine, energetic and colourful shows – and surely will continue to do so in some form in future. But their departure from the Christmas slot doesn't need to be turned into a political issue – it's simply an indication of changing tastes and economic necessity.

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