What's more important to Ipswich politicians? Town's future or political slapstick?

David Ellesmere and Ben Gummer

There used to be more signs of political co-operation - like when Labour's David Ellesmere got together with then Conservative MP Ben Gummer to support a Spring Clean campaign. - Credit: Gregg Brown

A few weeks ago I wrote a column suggesting there were too many cooks in Ipswich - too many organisations are involved in the management of the town which makes decision-making cumbersome and very long-winded.

I had a very significant response to this - much of it in private messages from people involved in town centre management - and the vast majority of it was in support of what I had said. 

There clearly is a feeling in Ipswich that there is too much talk and not enough action.

What also came across to me, from both business leaders and some politicians in the area, is the feeling that politics and Ipswich has turned really quite nasty and personal in some ways over the last few years.

Not every politician is the same - but you get the feeling that an increasing number from both sides of the political divide are actually far more interested in knocking spots off their political opponents than they are in actually making the town better.

There has, of course, always been an element of this - and it is something that has always come out during election campaigns and during the theatrical set-piece speeches at full council meetings.

But until recently for most of the time you got the feeling that politicians - both councillors and MPs - had the interests of the town at the forefront of their minds most of the time.

That did make it easier to reach agreement on important decisions - like the remodelling of the Cornhill which was a collaboration between the Labour-run borough and Tory-run county councils.

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The Cornhill work may have taken many years to bring to fruition but I fear that if such a major project was proposed today the negotiations between the various parties would be much more strained and protracted.

To see how bad things are you only have to keep an eye on social media. An increasing number of councillors seem to spend all their time on Twitter sniping at their political opponents on every little local (or national) issue that is on the news agenda of the day.

As I said you expect this during election campaigns, but to continue that 12 months a year just serves to develop a rancid political atmosphere in the town.

It is an atmosphere that appears to be encouraging more business leaders to hold up their hands in horror and look for other places to invest where political leaders show rather more maturity.

This state of permanent political warfare isn't something that afflicts all politicians - and I have heard from some who are getting rather exasperated with their colleagues' antics on Twitter and Facebook. But the temperature has definitely been rising over the last few months.

What is needed for Ipswich to really make any progress is for both borough and county councils to work together for the benefit of the town - and not do that only after months of political wrangling for the sake of placating their more stroppy supporters!

In the not-too-distant past we've seen that. David Ellesmere and Ben Gummer worked together on the Upper Orwell Crossing project between 2015 and 2017 before that fell apart (not helped by a lack of will by the new political order after the 2017 general election).

Dr Dan Poulter and former Labour council leader David Ball worked together to get the North West Ipswich Big Local Trust up and running. 

There is no reason why political opponents should not work together for the good of the town  . . . and crucially to be seen working together for the good of the town.

But this is part of the dilemma. For years many people, including myself, have regretted the way that councils can sometimes appear to be a nice little extra job for the active retired -- people who have worked all their lives and want to put something back and get a modest allowance.

That has brought many good people into local politics - but hasn't exactly been representative of society as a whole. Now we are seeing more younger people coming through keen to make a name for themselves.

And a good way to do that is to slag off your political opponents at every opportunity.

Another irony is that when you talk to many of this new breed, they are quite happy to work with members of other parties behind the scenes on non-political issues

But their public persona - and that given to business leaders who may have to deal with them - is that they are constantly at daggers-drawn.

And that doesn't really help efforts to move the town forward.