Nice to vote, To vote nice!

I HAVEN'T heard whether Bruce Forsyth has been signed up to be returning officer on the night of May 3, but this year's elections in Ipswich are beginning to look rather like an edition of The Generation Game.

I HAVEN'T heard whether Bruce Forsyth has been signed up to be returning officer on the night of May 3, but this year's elections in Ipswich are beginning to look rather like an edition of The Generation Game.

Labour's candidate list is heavy with experience. It is dominated by councillors defending their seats and ex-councillors trying to get back into the chamber.

By contrast the Tories have a slate of younger candidates with realistic hopes of winning seats on the authority.

Before I get inundated with letters, I know that the youngest candidate in this election is Labour's Jamie McMahon in Holywells Ward.

The 18-year-old sixth-former clearly has a bright political future ahead of him, but as everyone in the party knows he's unlikely to win a seat on the council this time. He's up against popular council leader Liz Harsant in a safe Tory ward.

Elsewhere former mayors Albert Grant and Roger Fern, former leader Bill Knowles, and former executive member Keith Rawlingson are all trying to win seats back on the authority. Former councillors John Harris and Barry Studd are also trying to win back seats there - although they would probably collapse with shock if they won Castle Hill and Bixley!

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They have years of experience between them and of course experience is very valuable for the council.

However with the best will in the world they are not in the first flush of youth and don't really give the impression of dynamism.

On the other hand the Tories are really portraying themselves as the youthful party. They have young candidates in eminently winnable seats like Bixley and Stoke Park.

One of the most interesting contests will be in Priory Heath where the growth of Ravenswood has transformed it from a solid Labour ward into a key marginal that is too close to call.

Here former Labour leader Bill Knowles is hoping to get back on to the council where he last sat in the 1970s . . . before his Tory challenger Tanya De Hoedt was born!

There is something attractive about having youthful candidates. It certainly shows that politics is not only an old man's game. All too often councils can often look like a social club for the active retired.

But any political party does need its experienced councillors, those who have seen pitfalls that their colleagues might stumble into.

What is needed is a balance - and to be fair Labour does have the youngest leader and deputy leader on the council.

But after May's elections the Labour benches at the council could look very grey in comparison with its opponents.

And that is largely a fact of political life when the party nationally is going through a difficult period.

We saw the same thing with the Tories in the 1990s as younger voters turned away from an unpopular party which had been in power for as long as they could remember.

During this time Labour was on the rise and its young guns like David Ellesmere and Martin Cook won seats on the council.

When the Conservatives did win an unexpected victory in council elections during this time there were one or two people very surprised to have got elected who were described as “accidental councillors” by their opponents!

One thing seems likely, however, after May 3 there will be many different faces on the benches of the council chamber. How many of them will be new remains to be seen.

WHAT is striking when you look away from Ipswich is how small an element party politics really is in local government election campaigns.

And yet all across the county people will be voting on purely party political lines when they go into the polling station on May 3.

Looking through party election material, it is quite clear that every campaign is trying to focus on issues which have a direct bearing on people living in that area.

In Ipswich issues are council tax bills, buses, and services in general.

In Suffolk Coastal it is affordable housing and the cost of services. In Babergh housing is also a big issue. And in Mid Suffolk issues vary from SnOasis in the south to the future of middle schools in the west and north.

However in all districts councillors know that most votes will not be based on local issues. People who consider themselves Conservative will vote Tory, people who think of themselves as Socialists will vote Labour . . . and so on.

And frankly none of the parties are really concerned with trying to make you change from your natural party to them. There are not really any “floating voters” in a local election campaign. If you are not interested in politics then you probably won't vote.

The battle is to get your vote out - to persuade your supporters that it is worth going to the polling station on the way home or on the way into work.

Those standing for councils know that most of the votes they get will really be for Tony Blair, David Cameron, or Menzies Campbell.

There are some places, usually with a strong identity, where there will be genuine personal votes for independent candidates.

But these are very much exceptions to the rule.

And the fact is that when a government is unpopular its natural supporters cannot be bothered to go out and vote for it in anything other than a general election.

Opposition supporters, anxious to give their opponents a bloody nose in any election at all, will go out and vote in numbers.

And that is why Labour is preparing for kicking from Felixstowe to Gislingham and from Sudbury to Walberswick on May 3.

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