Ipswich Tories suffer a week of pain

YOU could forgive Ipswich Conservatives for thinking that their world has been turned upside down over the last week.First we had the national entertainment provided by the Howard Flight affair after a senior MP was sacked from the front bench and then the party after injudicious comments at a private meeting.

YOU could forgive Ipswich Conservatives for thinking that their world has been turned upside down over the last week.

First we had the national entertainment provided by the Howard Flight affair after a senior MP was sacked from the front bench and then the party after injudicious comments at a private meeting.

Then the Dale Jackson issue blew up - and as more details emerged about this it turned out to be an old-fashioned internal bust-up.

Of course the Tories on Ipswich Council are no stranger to such events.

In the past few years we've seen councillors Martyn Green and John Cooper defect to other parties after falling out with their colleagues.

But this time, of course, things are different. The party is the largest component of the ruling coalition at Civic Centre. And the person at the centre of the row is the council leader.

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What is significant about all the rows that have happened within the group have involved personality clashes rather than deep disagreements about policy.

And that is probably the most worrying thing for the party leadership - frankly it doesn't look like a sign of maturity that these personality clashes keep returning to get in the way of running the council.

And for the latest row to blow up just a few weeks before the general election is unbelieveable.

I know candidate Paul West is desperate to win the Ipswich parliamentary seat. Frankly it looks as if some of his colleagues are more interested in stabbing each other in the back.

WHILE everyone is talking about the election that will almost certainly take place on May 5, most people seem to have forgotten about the election that will definitely happen on May 5.

In many ways the county council is the most important public body in the lives of most people in Suffolk.

It runs the schools our children go to, it maintains almost all the roads we drive along, and takes care of us if we are too old and frail to live in our own homes.

It is responsible for the lion's share of the council tax we pay - and it's the largest employer in Suffolk.

And frankly May's result is far more in doubt than that of the general election.

In many ways Suffolk is the epitome of the “Tory shire” but it hasn't been run by the Conservatives since 1993.

In 1997 the Conservatives won back some of the counties they had lost - including Essex - but didn't dislodge the Lab/Lib administration in Suffolk.

In 2001 the Tories clawed back some more counties - including Norfolk - but still the Lab/Lib coalition hung on quite comfortably here.

Two years ago I was in no doubt that the Tories would win Suffolk back. The 18.5 per cent council tax rise would not be forgotten, I felt, and the Conservatives would do enough to regain power.

But there are so many ifs and buts about this year's election that I'm not so sure any more.

There are now divisional boundaries so it is difficult to work out which party is in the strongest position in many areas - so people seeking to vote tactically will have a more difficult job.

And over the last two years the administration has clawed back some self-respect with more reasonable council tax rises.

On balance I still think the Tories must be favourites to regain power at Endeavour House - but the result is far from a foregone conclusion and group leader Jeremy Pembroke would be well advised to resist the temptation to start planning the redecoration of the council leader's office just yet!

ONE last word on the Dale Jackson business. On the day the story broke I was doing some shopping in Ipswich town centre.

On that day I seemed to bump into most of Ipswich Labour Party wearing broad smiles on their face. Not a Tory was to be seen - apparently they were all canvassing with Paul West. Isn't it a funny old world!

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