Stalinists toppled in Silent Street

FOR years, Ipswich Labour Party has had a reputation among its opponents – and a fair few of its own members – as being the last outpost of Stalinism.Dissent was not tolerated.

FOR years, Ipswich Labour Party has had a reputation among its opponents – and a fair few of its own members – as being the last outpost of Stalinism.

Dissent was not tolerated. Anyone disagreeing with the party line would find themselves frozen out of the inner circle – sent to Ipswich's own Siberia.

Key to this is the party's stranglehold on power at Civic Centre – and it's determination to ensure the "right people" are nominated to fight seats where the party has at least a chance of victory.

The odd maverick snuck through on to the council – but he or she was usually sidelined from all the important decisions.

However things might be changing. There's be a subtle change in the air – and a couple of revolts from councillors have led to the belief that the old way of doing things might be changing.

The first sign of this came earlier this year when the borough was due to debate a Liberal Democrat-sponsored motion attacking the government's Iraq policy.

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The Labour group tabled an amendment which watered down the criticism – but it remained opposed to government policy.

"We were at first told we would be whipped to support the motion," one Labour councillor told me.

"I said I wasn't prepared to accept anyone whipping me to support a motion which was critical of the Labour government.

"I respect those who opposed the war, but as a Labour Party member I thought the Labour government was right and I wasn't prepared to vote against them even if the local party told me to.

"I pointed this out to my colleagues and said it wouldn't look for them – and lo and behold they dropped the idea of whipping us."

Another council revolt happened a few weeks later when there were nominations for the new Ipswich council executive.

One candidate proposed by the council leadership for a key role was not considered right for the job by many colleagues.

"There was a rebellion, and the leadership of the group found themselves defeated – they weren't happy about it," I was told.

I'm not sure the leadership feels the same way – a senior executive member shrugged it of when I asked him about it.

"The leadership choses a candidate and it's put to the members – it's up to them whether they vote for the nominee or someone else. It's no big deal," he told me.

Ipswich Labour Party has been in the forefront of the town's political life for decades – but just recently it has started to look a bit stale and jaded.

If there are new faces coming through to challenge the old guard – and not just hand-picked successors being groomed in the existing leaders' own image – then it could be an injection of new life into the organisation.

If not then the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are waiting . . . . .

IPSWICH MP Chris Mole laughed off a national newspaper naming him as a "rat" for supporting top-up fees for students in a recent vote in the House of Commons.

He was chastised for going against the Labour Party manifesto of 2001 which said top-up fees would not be introduced.

As he pointed out to me:

1) He didn't stand on the Labour Party manifesto in 2001 because he was elected at a by-election a few months later.

2) The top-up fees aren't being introduced until 2006 at the earliest – which will be after the next general election and the pledge was only for the current parliament.

That's all very true – but it's a bit of a fine distinction for his constituents to appreciate. And I'm not sure many of those who agreed with the sentiments of the story will be prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt anyway!