Liberal Democrats face tough questions

AFTER last week's elections, there has been much speculation about who are the winners and losers in Suffolk. As always all the main parties have claimed they were successful - this time with some justification.

AFTER last week's elections, there has been much speculation about who are the winners and losers in Suffolk. As always all the main parties have claimed they were successful - this time with some justification.

Outside Ipswich it is not difficult to work out who is up and down. The Conservatives strengthened their position on every rural district and Labour was eliminated as a force in the countryside.

There are now no Labour councillors in Babergh or Mid Suffolk and Mike Deacon is a lonely figure in Suffolk Coastal.

In Ipswich, however, the picture is very different. Labour did well and the party with most to worry about is the Liberal Democrats.

There was actually little change on the borough with the only change being Labour and the Liberal Democrats swapping the Westgate and Whitehouse seats. Statistically the Tories gained Bixley from independent, but the only reason they lost it in the first place was because of a defection so that doesn't really count.

LibDem Andrew Cann did take Westgate off Labour - but he made heavy weather of a victory which logic suggested should have been fairly straightforward.

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Last year he lost the seat by 20 votes but there was a significant Conservative vote to be squeezed. This year the Tories did very little in the ward - several of their councillors suggested they would vote for Mr Cann and would not be disappointed to see their own vote collapse if it led to a Labour loss there.

So for Mr Cann to only win by 13 votes does not look like a wonderful performance for the LibDems - and there must be considerable doubt about whether the party can win the seat again without a candidate with Mr Cann's drive and determination.

It also has to be said that the battle in Westgate was the dirtiest political fight in Ipswich in living memory.

Senior Labour figures were calling floating voters telling them that Jamie Cann would be ashamed of his son standing for the LibDems as if they had a personal direct line to the afterlife.

To be fair both the Tories and LibDems didn't do much to improve the quality of the fight in the ward by telling people how much better council meetings would be without Labour's Martin Cook in the chamber. There should be fireworks when Mr Cann makes his maiden speech in the council chamber!

Away from Westgate the LibDems' performance in Ipswich was a mixture of disaster and near disaster.

Losing Whitehouse was a disaster. They had held the ward for four years, and last year completed a borough clean sweep in this part of the town - however there was always the suggestion this was largely because of the personal vote for former Labour councillor George King.

This was the first election after Mr King's death at Christmas - and it does start to look as if the vote may have been more personal than political after they failed to hold the seat.

It must also be said that their campaign in the ward didn't address a key issue.

Last year Steve Williams fought as the “local” candidate who lived in the ward and knew the problems well. There was an implication that Labour's Albert Grant who lives on the other side of town didn't know what it was like to live in the area.

This year Labour chose county councillor Tony Lewis who lives in Bramford Lane. LibDem candidate Howard Stanley lives in east Ipswich. An expression featuring a goose and gander springs to mind!

The LibDems came close to another disaster by only winning their “safe” seat of St Margaret's by 50 votes. The alarm bells must be ringing for their councillors. The party has made great progress over the last 10 years but now the tide may be turning.

Ipswich Conservatives consolidated their position as the largest party at the borough but will be disappointed at their failure to take any of their target seats like Priory Heath, St John's, Sprites, or Bridge.

They seem to have reached a plateau - and will be concerned that they are unable to take the step that would see them in a position to form a single-party administration at Grafton House.

In seats they did win, like Rushmere and Whitton, Labour launched the start of a fightback. This might have been partly because of the bus controversy in those wards - but it shows there is still life in Labour yet.

And it was significant that it was Labour's new young candidates that seemed to really attract votes - 18-year-old Jamie McMahon polled very respectably against council leader Liz Harsant in Holywells.

AT last it's official, Tony Blair is on his way out of Downing Street and the Gordon Brown era and the build up to the next general election can begin.

After last Thursday's elections, Ipswich Labour MP Chris Mole will be feeling much more relaxed. He can't be too confident, but Labour has shown that even with the party in the doldrums nationally, it can get the vote out in Ipswich.

Ipswich Tories, though, will be doing a bit of head scratching.

They were due to select a new parliamentary candidate at the end of last year, but pulled the selection process at the last minute - and there has been no sign of it being restarted.

We have now had more than two years since the last general election and there is no word on who will be fighting the seat next time around - no one is doing any parliamentary work in a seat they always claim is a target.

Have the Conservatives looked at the parliamentary arithmetic and realised that they can't win Ipswich so there is no point in looking for a candidate at present?

Any candidate needs time to establish his or her profile in the seat and the longer they have the better. Already the town's LibDems are considering looking for a standard bearer - it would be strange if a party which finished in a distant third place last time got a candidate in place before a party which claims the constituency is a target.