Parties gear up for election

ON May 2 voters in Ipswich will go to the polls to elect a new council – for the first time in 23 years all 48 seats in the borough are up for election at the same time.

ON May 2 voters in Ipswich will go to the polls to elect a new council – for the first time in 23 years all 48 seats in the borough are up for election at the same time.

And for the first time in 23 years, there is a real chance that the political direction of the town could change.

It's quite possible that the Conservatives could regain the reins of power that they lost in Civic Centre back in 1979.

Senior Labour members are genuinely worried that they could lose power – and have started warning that this could mean major changes in the town.

They've warned that a Tory victory could mean the end of the Regent.

They've warned that the Tories could sell off council houses to housing associations.

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They've warned that the Crown Pools could be sub-contracted to the private sector, having to charge higher prices.

And they've warned that Ipswich Buses could be sold off to a private operator who wouldn't have the interests of the town at heart.

The Conservatives have hit back – one of the first things they say they would do is make major amendments to the Local Plan to allow the South Ipswich Regeneration Project, complete with the Gainsborough Link Road from the A14 to Cliff Quay, go ahead.

They would look at ways of increasing the use of the Regent, possibly by bringing in a private-sector operator – but would not rush into any decisions there.

Those of us with tickets for the re-arranged Deep Purple concert in September should be safe!

The Tories say Crown Pools needs new investment to bring it into the 21st century, and don't rule out finding private money for this – but say they'll ensure it remains at the heart of the town.

They say they've made no decision about what should happen to council housing, but nothing would be done without consulting tenants.

And on buses their main concern is that the town should have a good, efficient, and cheap bus service – not who owns it.

There are still 16 wards in Ipswich. Only one – staunchly Conservative Bixley – has remained unaltered by the boundary changes.

Some have new names, some have the old names but their character has changed.

One of those which retains the same name is Whitton – but there have been enough changes, with smart detatched houses moved into the ward, to make Labour jittery.

Two of its longest-serving councillors, John Harris and council leader Peter Gardiner, were sufficiently worried to move on to pastures new.

"That wasn't a very clever move," one Labour insider told me. "Peter would have had no problems in holding on to the seat but by jumping ship it's made it look marginal."

Whitton Ward could be crucial.

No one knows exactly which wards are best for which party – but most politicial observers in Ipswich have a pretty good idea.

Most think that eight are natural Labour wards and six are natural Conservative wards with two – Whitton and St. John's – somewhere inbetween.

If they both went Tory, then we could end with a completely balanced council.

But – and it's a big but – turnout in some traditional Labour strongholds like Whitehouse, Sprites, even Gipping and Alexandra where the ruling group's big guns have sought refuge, is traditionally very low in council elections.

If the opposition were to mount and effective campaign to get their hard-core vote out in these wards, there could be a major shock at Civic Centre.

The Liberal Democrats have surprised their opponants by fielding a full list of 48 candidates in these elections – but most observers feel they will do well to hang on to their St. Margaret's stronghold.

If they have any hopes elsewhere in town, it's in Alexandra ward (basically the old Town ward) and in Rushmere and Whitehouse where former Labour councillors who have defected will be seeking to mobilise their personal vote.

Inga Lockington won the old St. Margaret's seat for the first time three years ago on her personal vote.

She has been working hard to try to retain it, but the Conservatives have targeted this seat and have given Jeffrey Stansfield, who lost to her in last year's county council elections, the chance to seek personal revenge.

Earlier this year I had a go at the borough councillors for their reluctance to learn the ropes of new technology.

One thing's certain, if Mr Stansfield does win a seat at Civic Centre he won't need too many lessons on this – he's a real wizard with e-mail!

ONLY voters in Ipswich have a direct influence on this year's local council elections – but they do affect many more people across east Suffolk.

Just because you live in Kesgrave or Pinewood doesn't mean you don't use the Crown Pools or the town's buses.

People from as far away as Felixstowe, Woodbridge, Stowmarket and Hadleigh have been known to see shows at the Regent Theatre – in fact the Regent has attracted audiences from as far away as Peterborough and north Norfolk for some of its most popular shows.

Council-owned and run car parks are used by visitors to the town, and the parks, museum and Christchurch mansion are all very popular with people from outside Ipswich.

The elections might be local to Ipswich – but they have a regional importance.