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Parties need to learn election lessons

PUBLISHED: 17:30 10 May 2002 | UPDATED: 11:53 03 March 2010

NOW that the dust has settled after the local elections in Ipswich, all the town's political parties have some hard lessons to learn.

Last Thursday was a very good day for the Ipswich Labour Party.

NOW that the dust has settled after the local elections in Ipswich, all the town's political parties have some hard lessons to learn.

Last Thursday was a very good day for the Ipswich Labour Party. The town's Liberal Democrats had reasons to be cheerful.

But the Conservatives in Ipswich were devastated – their words – and frankly must now be asking themselves if they have any point in the town.

Before Labour and the Liberal Democrats start feeling too smug, they should have their own concerns.

There are already fears among some Labour members that the party's overwhelming victory on Thursday will fertilise an arrogance that already exists among its leadership in the town.

"Many of our senior people believe they can walk on water – this result will just prove that to them," a senior party member told me after the election.

"I'm pleased we crushed the Tories, but I am worried that the leadership is losing touch with the rank and file members.

"Some people seem to be on the council because they want a hobby – it's the right thing to do to ease their middle-class conscience.

"They aren't really in tune with our heartland voters – and we've started to see a reaction against that in Alexandra Ward where the Liberals took a seat.

"We're already saying we'll get that back next year – but the Tories thought that when Inga Lockington won in St. Margaret's three years ago and now that's a rock solid Liberal ward."

The Labour member warned that in Alexandra Ward, Liberal Democrats would now play the tactical card and appeal to Tories that a vote for them was the only way to get rid of Labour.

"I can see the same thing happening there as happened in St. Margaret's where our vote has now collapsed," I was told.

Some members of the Ipswich Labour Party are worried that what happened in Norwich on Thursday – the Lib Dems took power in City Hall – could happen in Ipswich within the next decade unless they listen to their grassroot members.

If that does happen, it could take a very long time. The Lib Dems are advancing – but at the rate of one net gain a year.

On that basis it will be another 20 years before they take power at Civic Centre – hardly a major revolution!

But whatever concerns exist in Labour and the Liberal Democrats in Ipswich, they hardly compare with the gaping wound that has been opened up in the town's Conservatives – who are starting to look like a pathetic political joke.

For years they have talked about the glorious future when they take power at Civic Centre.

Two years ago they won seats in seven wards – and won more votes than Labour. They looked as if they were in a position to mount a serious challenge in the all-out election this year.

With 15 councillors, they were in a real position to make an impact at Civic Centre before this year's big push.

But two years of infighting and splits – leading to two defections – merely showed up what a shambles they were.

In two parliamentary elections in the town they had little impact so perhaps it was daft for any of us pundits to think they could make a serious challenge this time around.

A few days after the election, I got an e-mail from the Tories telling me that they hadn't done too badly in the election, polling 37 per cent to Labour's 40 per cent.

Not too badly! It just shows how dreadful their organisation was, that it was unable to gather votes where it matters.

There's no point in the Tories working hard to gather thousands of votes in their strongholds of Bixley and Castle Hill if they don't get enough in places like Rushmere, St. Johns and Stoke Park.

In these wards Labour put in a lot of effort, distributing leaflets and knocking on doors.

The Tories sent out one leaflet in most of these wards – they didn't work hard enough to get out their votes.

And all the whinging in the world about boundary manipulation can't hide that fact.

The irony is that the Tories did have some interesting and distinctive policies this time around – but they didn't have enough people prepared to sell them on the doorsteps.

They really should know by now that their Labour opponents are a well-oiled, determined political machine desperate to win every election in sight.

They're even prepared to organise the voting on a website about who should be the town's first directly-elected mayor.

Our fun poll, on www.eveningstar.co.uk was showing Peter Gardiner, Inga Lockington, and Stephen Barker neck and neck – well behind Ipswich Town mascots Bluey and Tractor Boy.

But once a Labour member had spotted the poll, party members logged on by the conference load to back Mr Gardiner.

Any group that takes fun polls so seriously can never be underestimated!

BARBARA Castle's death robs the Labour Party of one of the great figures of its post-war era, but just how great was she for the people of Suffolk – and indeed all those outside the big cities?

In all the tributes to her, I have seen no mention of one of her greatest legacies – the butchery of British Railways in the 1960s.

She is the reason Suffolk's fourth largest town, Haverhill, has no railway. She is the reason you can no longer travel to Leiston or Aldeburgh by train.

Lord Beeching, who as chairman of British Railways produced the infamous report proposing the axe, always gets the blame for closing thousands of miles of rural railways.

But not a yard of track could be closed without the permission of the Minister of Transport – and Mrs Castle was happy to give the green light to the butchery.

The East Suffolk line, between Ipswich and Lowestoft, was saved after a local campaign – but many rural communities were isolated from the rail network with the promise of better bus services which never materialised.

It's ironic that today the Labour government wants us to use our cars less – but it was one of their own heroines who made it impossible for millions to use public transport!


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