Rabble's horror show

ANYONE who stumbled into last week's full Ipswich council meeting at the corn exchange could have been forgiven for thinking that they had wandered on to the set of a Hollywood horror movie - A Nightmare on King Street!

ANYONE who stumbled into last week's full Ipswich council meeting at the corn exchange could have been forgiven for thinking that they had wandered on to the set of a Hollywood horror movie - A Nightmare on King Street!

Frankly few of the councillors who were there on the night covered themselves with glory - except executive member Eileen Smith who came in direct from a doctor's appointment because she hasn't been very well.

But the behaviour we saw from councillors on all sides was enough to have apolitical observers despairing for the state of the town - how on earth can we expect this rabble to come up with any strategic proposals for Ipswich?

The problems for the administration, of course, stem from the fact that disgruntled former leaders Dale Jackson and Stephen Barker have resigned from the group to form an independent block on the council.

They call themselves Independent Conservatives, but even that name is enough to make their former colleagues see red (or should that be “Cadbury blue?”).

The two rebels claim their defection was based on policy differences - but the only real policy disagreement seems to be they want more roads built and bus lanes abolished.

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Anyone at the meeting could have been forgiven for thinking that the only reason for their split was personal - that they hate the people at the head of the Tory group.

One councillor put it bluntly: “They're throwing an adolescent strop!” he said.

But while it is the behaviour of Messrs Barker and Jackson that have sparked the crisis at the council, the behaviour of the Labour opposition and the two parties in the joint administration are certainly pouring gallons of petrol on the flames!

The Labour group still hasn't learned the fatal lessons of three years ago - be magnanimous to your opponents, especially the Liberal Democrats.

Before the meeting there had been talk that Labour was hoping to “pick off” some left wing LibDem councillors and encourage them to switch horses.

After Labour's nit-picking performance, that prospect has now receded to be almost non-existent.

That means that Labour's prospects of winning back power in May have been seriously dented - it's difficult to see them picking up more than one seat in the election and at least four of the seats they are defending look vulnerable.

Labour took great delight in removing David Hale from the executive because of problems with the benefits system.

That seemed a bit rich because the new administration is merely trying to introduce a computer system which was ordered by Labour in the first place!

However, the administration had stored up trouble for itself in May last year by expanding the executive and cutting the number of opposition places on it. Now its chickens have come home to roost.

Liberal Democrat group leader Richard Atkins did himself no favours by launching a tirade against the two refuseniks and Mr Jackson's father who asked a question at the meeting.

So overall the atmosphere at the council meeting was pretty toxic.

It was a bit like having a family of mongooses and a family of alligators sitting in a pit wondering what the pair of cobras would do next.

And I can't see it changing over before May's elections!

LIBERAL Democrats across the country must be wondering what on earth is going to happen next to their party.

Two of their top MPs have now had to admit to damaging personal demons - and frankly Mr Oaten's career as an MP is hanging by a thread.

The only comfort the party can take from all this is that the scandals are all coming out in the first year of the current parliament - by the time the next election comes around they will be ancient history.

The danger is that they will find, like the Conservatives between 1993 and 1997, that this kind of scandal has a habit of breeding.

During the last four years of John Major's government there seemed to be a new scandal almost every month, either involving sex or money.

There aren't so many LibDem MPs as there were Tories in the early 1990s, but whatever happens now I'm pretty sure there will be even fewer after the next general election.

And LibDem headquarters must be very torn by all the talk about whether Mr Oaten should step down now as MP for Winchester.

Many people feel it would be the right thing to do - and would get Mr Oaten away from the party.

But as sure as night follows day, if he leaves the House of Commons in these circumstances, the Winchester seat will be almost certainly won by David Cameron's new-look Tories.

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