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Sting in proceedings at Civic Centre

PUBLISHED: 01:01 23 May 2003 | UPDATED: 13:54 03 March 2010

SINCE this month's local elections, there's been a real sharp edge introduced to proceedings at Civic Centre.

The cosy co-existence between the political parties has been ditched comprehensively and there's a real edge to the relationship between them.

SINCE this month's local elections, there's been a real sharp edge introduced to proceedings at Civic Centre.

The cosy co-existence between the political parties has been ditched comprehensively and there's a real edge to the relationship between them.

This edge first appeared last year when the Liberal Democrats won a seat in Alexandra Ward which Labour believed was there's.

This year the LibDems hung on to that seat – and won another "Labour" seat in Whitehouse.

Now the gloves are off – Labour now sees them as a real threat to be put down at every opportunity.

And the structure of the council has given them just that chance – the LibDems have been frozen out of working parties by the two larger groups.

This is because Ipswich council isn't able to get its head round the principle of there being more than one party in opposition.

Seats are allocated to the administration and opposition – and it is for the opposition to decide who takes those seats.

As there are 12 Tories and five LibDems, it's little surprise that the Tories took all the seats up for grabs – Labour sat on their hands when the places were allocated.

Under the rules, there's no reason why the Tories shouldn't do that – and there's no reason for them to be charitable after the LibDems took St Margaret's and squeezed the Tories out of that ward comprehensively.

But senior councillors from both Labour and the Tories are slightly worried about hostility both sides are showing – and feel it could backfire on their parties.

"In a couple of years' time, if votes continue to go in this way, it could just be that the Liberals will hold the balance of power," one senior Tory told me.

"In that case both parties will be trying to do a deal with them – and they're unlikely to regard either party too well if they've stitched them up like this.

"I can see things getting very nasty in the council chamber."

An old teacher once told me: "Be careful who you upset when you're on the way up – you may need their help when you come down again."

Peter Gardiner and Stephen Barker might do well to remember that!

WE could now be two years away from a general election – but that fact doesn't seem to have prodded political parties in Suffolk out of hibernation.

None of the major political parties in the county have selected candidates for seats they don't currently hold.

Nowhere in Suffolk are budding MPs going out, meeting people and making their faces known.

It's as if all the parties know exactly who'll win the seats next time around and don't think it's worthwhile putting in any effort.

Elsewhere in the country the Tories and Liberal Democrats have been busy finding Parliamentary Spokespeople – but not in Suffolk.

And Labour won't start the process of picking candidates until autumn of this year.

Probably the first to be chosen will be the new Conservative candidate for Ipswich – he or she is expected to be chosen in the autumn.

Paul West, who fought Ipswich in the by-election after the death of Jamie Cann, has already said he wants to give it another go – and in the final analysis he did well to prevent the Liberals from leapfrogging the Tories into second place in the constituency.

It would be a major surprise if he was overlooked for the next general election.

But it's the Liberals whose lack of activity has been most glaring. They may have done well in other parts of the country over the last decade, but in Suffolk their performance has been lamentable in parliamentary terms.

Back in 1992, they were second in most seats. For the last two general elections they have been a poor third everywhere in the county.

This is because they've left candidate selection to the last minute – and then sent all their capable campaigners in Suffolk to Colchester or North Norfolk for the duration.

If they're ever going to do anything here, they need to be out of the blocks early, to try to claw back second place before mounting an attempt on the final prize.

There's no sign of their learning that lesson this time around – in fact two years out, it's very difficult to foresee any great change in Suffolk's parliamentary landscape.


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