Liberals need to get back to basics

LIBERAL Democrat councillors across Britain have made their name with community politics – championing the bread-and-butter issues that affect people on a local scale.

LIBERAL Democrat councillors across Britain have made their name with community politics – championing the bread-and-butter issues that affect people on a local scale.

So what on earth has got into the LibDems on Ipswich Council? It sometimes seems that they just want to turn the organisation into a giant debating society.

Last week's full council meeting was extended by more than an hour as they went into full "student union session" to debate replacing council tax with a local income tax and a new plan to elect mayors from different parties.

I know support for a local income tax is a LibDem idea and one they're very keen on – I've been down to Westminster to discuss it with Charles Kennedy myself.

But what on earth was the point of having a debate on the subject at Ipswich Council?

Do the LibDems here think that John Prescott is going to take one look at them and say "Ipswich council thinks a local income tax is a good idea, we've got to do that?"

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It's political posturing for the sake of it. Rather like when the LibDems promoted a debate about the war in Iraq earlier this year – another example of pure time-wasting.

Ipswich council is the place to discuss how services are run in Ipswich, not high-minded national issues.

If LibDems in the town want the government to introduce a local income tax, then write to the government about it – they've got an ongoing consultation process.

Write to us about it – our Cap the Tax campaign has been very keen to publicise the campaign.

Or go out getting signatures from members of the public.

But don't use council meetings for totally inappropriate discussions like this – they aren't debating societies.

Ipswich LibDems are starting to get a reputation for this kind of infantile posturing – if they want to continue with the success in local elections they'd do well to go back to worrying about local issues.

SMOKING is starting to raise its head as a big political issue again.

First we had the medical journal The Lancet calling for a total ban on the habit.

Now it emerges that the Ipswich Primary Care Trust wants pubs, clubs and restaurants in the town to ban smoking.

All power to their elbow!

Personally I would love to see the habit banned – it's anti-social and it kills people, both smokers and non-smokers who have to breathe in their second-hand smoke.

But that's not going to happen. It's better to regulate it than drive it totally underground (the same could be said for cannabis, but that's another story).

In public places, though, the situation is different – and it's about time this country followed the lead of New York and banned smoking.

It's no good just having no-smoking areas in pubs and restaurants. To expect the smoke to stay in one part of a room where there's no dividing wall defies the laws of physics!

And few pubs seem to have any non-smoking areas at all – Wetherspoons is better than most but could do better.

I was appalled to see one Ipswich publican say: "I'm very much against no-smoking pubs – I have people who use my pub whose life is their cigarettes and their pint of beer."

That attitude is precisely why I rarely go into pubs these days. What about those of us who don't like breathing other people's smoke – presumably he doesn't want people like me visiting his pub.

I'm a non-smoker. I've never smoked. But until a few years ago I regularly visited pubs in the town as part of a quiz team.

One of the main reasons I gave this up was because I didn't like sitting in smoky rooms with my eyes streaming and getting home with my clothes smelling like an ashtray.

Smokers are a minority – and if publicans are only interested in them then I, and millions like me, am not interested in visiting their premises.

The sooner the law is changed to increase the pressure on the smokers the better – it might even encourage more of them to give up and become healthier and wealthier.