Parties must look critically at themselves to raise standards of political debate

Get down to your polling station on May 2 and cast your vote in the local election, says Iain Dale

Political parties need to have a more critical look at themselves, writes Paul Geater - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Over the last few months I've had quite a bit to say about the standards of political debate in the area - and about how the parties themselves have been dealing with that.

An example of this was the Ipswich council meeting in November which ended in uproar over an apparently innocuous motion on Islamophobia which degenerated into a slanging match and walkouts.

In the fallout from that, Labour councillors Alasdair Ross and Jane Riley had to apologise for calling Conservatives (including MP Tom Hunt who wasn't even at the meeting) racist while Conservative leader Ian Fisher had to apologise for an insult at the mayor as he and some of his colleagues walked out.

The news of these apologies wasn't exactly shouted from the rooftops by the council - or by the parties themselves who, I suspect, were both rather embarrassed by what had happened. I can, however, certainly understand the frustration of Mr Hunt who was dragged into this unseemly episode without being there.

What is needed, though, is for political parties to have a much more critical look at themselves and their members - on a both local and national level. That has been pretty clear over the last few days.

I am sure most people with an interest in politics would want our main political parties to be "broad churches" able to contain people with varying views bound by a general political philosophy. 

It is good for democracy when Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith can be in the same party and Tony Blair and Diane Abbott can make common cause.

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But there do have to be some basic core beliefs for each party - particularly about basic philosophy and a belief in democracy.

And party officials, both locally and nationally, do have a responsibility to ensure that their members - and especially party representatives - accept those principles.

With that in mind, there are many questions around the decision by Ipswich Conservatives to accept Shayne Pooley into the party and stand for it in last May's local council elections in Gainsborough.

Shaynne Pooley

Is Shayne Pooley an asset to Ipswich Conservatives on the borough council? - Credit: Ipswich Borough Council

Mr Pooley had fought the same seat for UKIP in 2018 and 2019. Maybe that could have set alarm bells ringing among the Conservatives when he was chosen to fight it for them last year?

The UKIP of 2014/15, when it was a pretty mainstream home for Anti-Euro voters, had changed by 2018/19. By that time, the then leader Gerard Batten's anti-Islam policies were too much for Nigel Farage, who left to form the Brexit Party.

Mr Pooley remained with UKIP, only later switching to the Tories.

Last week, he posted some views on social media apparently supporting Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

They were later taken down, and he issued an apology saying he had been led astray by Russian propaganda. If you take that at face value, the most charitable slant you can put on it is that he is gullible when it comes to extremist propaganda.

The Conservatives suspended him as a member of their council group at the weekend - although the borough did not put that on its website until Wednesday.

And they held a disciplinary meeting about Mr Pooley on Tuesday evening - but no one was available to talk about that on Wednesday and even association members did not know what action they were planning to take.

Is Mr Pooley the kind of councillor Ipswich Conservatives want representing them on the borough? 

But it's not just the Conservatives. A recently departed Labour councillor retweeted posts from a group which sought to put some of the blame for the war in Ukraine on "NATO expansion." That's a lie straight out of the Kremlin playbook.

The Labour leadership nationally is trying to take action against anti-democratic elements within the party - but during Jeremy Corbyn's leadership it does seem as if a significant number of people with extreme views were allowed to join the party, including some who had been forced out during the Militant purges of the 1980s and 90s.