Liberals have some hard thinking to do

POLITICAL events at Civic Centre in Ipswich are likely to sit on the back boiler for the next few weeks as politicians concentrate on the battle for power in Westminster and Endeavour House.

POLITICAL events at Civic Centre in Ipswich are likely to sit on the back boiler for the next few weeks as politicians concentrate on the battle for power in Westminster and Endeavour House.

But the Liberal Democrat group at the borough council has some hard thinking to do as members digest the fall-out from the Dale Jackson affair.

Their agreement with the Conservatives to form a joint administration expires at the end of this month - it needs to be renegotiated before the next municipal year starts.

And in the light of recent events, it would be quite understandable if they wanted to re-think things rather.

Firstly, the arithmetic at Civic Centre could make a further year of coalition difficult.

Together the two parties only have the narrowest majority over Labour - by 25 to 23 - and it is possible that could be cut, at least temporarily, once the Standards Board has completed its investigations.

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Secondly, I know that many of the Lib Dems were not at all happy with their coalition partners when they tried to have Mr Jackson re-elected on to the council executive after he had eventually resigned as leader.

The Tories had not told the Lib Dems of their proposal, which caused uproar in the council chamber.

One Lib Dem told me later: “They didn't seem to care about what we thought, but we're supposed to be partners - not lobby fodder that will blindly do whatever they tell us!”

It won't be easy for the Ipswich Lib Dems to reach a decision on what to do at the end of April - there may only be seven of them on the council, but there is a wide difference of views about who they would feel more comfortable with.

Some would rather form a coalition with Labour, seeing the two parties' principles as being closer.

While others don't want anything to do with Labour - as much for personal reasons as political principles.

They've got to do a lot of thinking and political headbanging over the next few weeks before deciding what will happen at the council's annual meeting at the beginning of May.

TODAY The Evening Star carries an interview with Conservative leader Michael Howard.

On Tuesday we published an interview with Charles Kennedy.

Several weeks ago we put in requests to interview all the party leaders, including Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The two opposition parties arranged meetings with us, Labour said Mr Blair would not have the time to meet us on our own.

We agreed to interview him with other regional evening newspapers from East Anglia - but it was decided again he would not have the time for us to see him in the run-up to the general election campaign.

We have been offered access to cabinet ministers visiting the area during the next few weeks, which we shall certainly be taking up.

But the reason we have not been able to carry full page interviews with all the party leaders in this election campaign is not because of any lack of effort on our part!

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