Scratching of heads in new political era
POLITICS in Ipswich should be far from dull over the next two years, following last week's election in the town.As Labour lost its 25-year grip in power, albeit only just, officers and politicians were left scratching their heads about what will happen next.
POLITICS in Ipswich should be far from dull over the next two years, following last week's election in the town.
As Labour lost its 25-year grip in power, albeit only just, officers and politicians were left scratching their heads about what will happen next.
With 23 out of the 48 seats on the council, Labour remains the largest single party and will probably continue to set the pace on setting policy.
But it knows it can be out-voted by the 17 Tories and seven Liberal Democrats. And when Stephen Barker is able to resume his career as councillor for Bixley next year the number of Tories will increase to 18.
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None of the parties have yet decided how to handle the new situation – but they will have to make decisions by next Wednesday's annual meeting.
The first crucial decision will be on who should be mayor. Labour's unwillingness to share this honour with other parties over the last 25 years has rankled with them – and if I were Roger Fern I wouldn't be counting on their support when he is nominated.
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Whispers I've heard, suggest that the Liberal Democrats will support Tory Bill Wright's election as mayor on Wednesday, on the understanding that their senior councillor – and former Tory – John Cooper will get the job in 2005.
"I don't think we'd have too much difficulty with that," one senior Conservative councillor told me.
They are furious that Labour may still put up Mr Fern for the mayoralty – and have warned anyone coming to the meeting in the hope of seeing a non-political coronation that they're likely to be very disappointed.
"If Labour does go ahead with Roger Fern's nomination then there will be a very big battle between the parties – and Labour will not win.
"They've always said that if they were not in the majority they would not expect to propose a mayor. It seems that was all bluster," Tory group leader Dale Jackson told me.
Labour's deputy leader David Ellesmere said his group still hadn't decided what to do about the mayoralty. That should be clearer at the start of the week.
The next mayor will, of course, be very important politically – he will have the casting vote on all contentious issues.
It will, of course, be very important for all councillors to attend all the meetings – they won't be able to just send in their apologies.
Liberal Democrat councillor George King has not been well over the last year and has not been able to attend evening meetings.
I understand he's now well on the way to recovery and will be attending meetings regularly from now on.
While the Tories and Liberal Democrats were the big winners in Ipswich, it was the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) which attracted all the headlines nationally.
Michael Howard and his shadow cabinet are rumoured to be very concerned about their success – but that concern doesn't seem to be shared locally.
"What's wrong with UKIP doing well?" one Tory councillor said to me. "If it shows what people think of Europe I'm not going to grumble about that."
I certainly wouldn't be surprised if he had voted UKIP – and I know senior Tories suspect several of their councillors did the same in the Euro-election.
"We can't do anything about them unless they stand against the party," I was told. "We have to respect the secret ballot – but if they were to stand against us they'd be out of the party like a shot."
While on the subject of UKIP's success – perhaps this should be put into perspective.
The party won 16 per cent of the 38pc of votes who turned out to vote – that's just over 6pc (or one in 17) of British voters.
However many people step forward to say how much they trust Robert Kilroy-Silk, I can't see how they can claim a democratic mandate on those figures.
AFTER failing to get elected as MEP for Eastern England, I see Martin Bell has called time on his political career.
I can't help feeling he'll end up in the House of Lords sooner rather than later, to give him a platform for his well-considered views on a number of matters.
I know he seems to have been on our television screens for ever, but I didn't realise he was now officially a senior citizen. I hope I look that good when I'm collecting my pension!