Politics turns into town hall farce

IPSWICH Council leader Liz Harsant really did sum up the feelings of everyone this week when Stephen Barker walked out of the Conservative group at Civic Centre: “You couldn't make this up!” she said.

IPSWICH Council leader Liz Harsant really did sum up the feelings of everyone this week when Stephen Barker walked out of the Conservative group at Civic Centre: “You couldn't make this up!” she said.

And she was right - once again Ipswich Conservatives have shown us all that real life politics is far more farcical than any television political sit-com!

Just when you think the administration is getting to grips with running the council. Just when you think they're looking set for an extended tenancy at Civic Centre . . . whack, disgruntled members are determined to throw an iron bar in the spokes.

Over the last five years the Conservatives on the borough council have lost one member to Labour, one member to the Liberal Democrats, and have now had two former leaders storm off.

Now Mr Barker and his successor as leader Dale Jackson have both talked about forming their own independent group at Civic Centre.

Given the history between the two men - Mr Barker set in train the sequence of events which led to the resignation of Mr Jackson and his subsequent appearance before an adjudication panel - that would seem astonishing to most people.

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To the personality-driven factions that have been seen among Ipswich council Conservatives over the years it seems almost matter-of-fact.

The latest resignation, and talk of the two men getting together really does look like a case of : “My enemy's enemy is my friend!”

I think they both feel irritation at being forced out of the leadership of their group, and both feel they haven't been supported by their fellow Tories.

More than one Conservative has suggested to me that any group comprising of only Mr Barker and Mr Jackson will see a leadership struggle within a few minutes!

Tories in the town will be praying that this latest resignation will be the last of the personality-driven politics which have gripped the group for so long.

The tragedy for them is that when they haven't been distracted by the shenanigans involving Messrs Jackson and Barker, the Tories haven't made a bad fist at running the council in coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

They've managed to keep council tax rises low, they've made changes to the Regent which has seen a wonderful pantomime coming to town.

And they've finally sorted out the long-running dispute over the market.

But it's difficult to concentrate on these successes when people who were elected as Conservatives are fighting like cats in a sack!

I COULDN'T help but reflect on the fate of two east London MPs over the weekend.

We have the spectacle of one current MP, George Galloway, effectively cutting himself off from his constituents as he prances around the Big Brother house.

Meanwhile we heard the news that a former MP for a neighbouring constituency, Tony Banks, died of a stroke while on holiday in Florida.

Mr Banks - I'll always think of him as that although officially he was Lord Stratford - would never have dreamed of shutting himself away from his constituents, even if he did once describe constituency work as “tedious.”

When he believed something was right or wrong he fought tenaciously.

He worked very hard to ensure London was awarded the opportunity to bring the Olympics to his old constituency and celebrated long and hard when hunting was finally banned.

Meanwhile Galloway's main claim to fame before winning the Bethnal Green seat from a highly-regarded Labour MP, was praising Saddam Hussein during a visit to Baghdad in the 1990s.

I was speaking to one of his constituents the other day who told me: “At least I know where he is, but he's hardly in a position to deal with any issues we might have for the next three weeks, is he?”

I AM delighted to report that borough Liberal Democrat leader Richard Atkins hasn't lost his sense of humour despite all the controversy surrounding his party's national leadership over the last seven days.

We went to the official signing of the market lease just after 8am on Tuesday morning, when someone produced a bottle of champagne and some glasses to toast the success.

Mr Atkins, along with others, raised their glasses in celebration. But as soon as photographer Andy Abbott turned away, he emptied his champagne down the drain.

“I don't think we need to have a leading Liberal Democrat having a drink this early in the morning!” he said with a chuckle.

While on the subject of Mr Kennedy, I am slightly surprised that people are sounding quite so shocked at the revelation that he is seeking treatment for a drink problem. I thought everyone who knew anything about politics knew that he liked a drink. When he visited Ipswich during the by-election campaign in 2001, on one of his three visits to the town he looked the worse for wear.

He put it down to a “heavy cold” - but I never felt in danger of catching it as I interviewed him!

The sadness for me, and I suspect for most others who have been reporting the story, is that when he wasn't the worse for wear Mr Kennedy was the most likeable and forthcoming politician you could ever want to interview.

Before May's election he was happy to make time to chat to a reporter from a regional paper where his party had no realistic hope of winning any seats - and our 20-minute interview turned in to half an hour where he was helpful and clued up.

If only he'd been like that all the time, Charles Kennedy could have been one of the great political leaders of the 21st century.

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