Tetchy times ahead in Ipswich

IN THE end it was a completed damp squib - but the truncated annual council meeting was enough to show everyone that politics in Ipswich is going to be very tetchy over the next two years.

IN THE end it was a completed damp squib - but the truncated annual council meeting was enough to show everyone that politics in Ipswich is going to be very tetchy over the next two years.

We'd been warned to prepare for a long night as Labour and Tories battled it out for control of the borough.

In the end there was only one vote - for mayor - and when that had been held the Tories just sat on their hands and everything else went through on the nod.

I can see why they did that - they knew that if Labour was ruthless enough to force the mayoralty through on a casting vote then they would be ruthless enough to force the executive through on a casting vote as well.

But it did look as if they missed a trick when it came to the vote on the executive.

If they had pressed their nominees for the executive, they would have forced incoming mayor Roger Fern to use his casting vote in favour of the Labour executive.

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That would have straight away marked him down as a political mayor - and would have undermined his authority to speak for the whole town, not just the Labour Party.

By not pressing the point they maintained the integrity of the mayoralty, but not their own political argument.

What will be interesting is whether they try to challenge the executive at the next full council meeting, when they will hope to have all Conservatives and Liberal Democrats present.

If they do muster all their councillors, Labour will be outvoted 23-24, and they'll be no need for a mayoral casting vote.

Tory group leader Dale Jackson is playing his cards very close to his chest - but as soon as the executive makes a decision the Tories and Liberal Democrats don't like I wouldn't bet against a confidence motion being tabled!

What was surprising about the executive nominated by the Labour Party was the fact that it showed so few changes from previous years.

In fact there was only one change - forced by the voters who threw Harold Mangar off the council.

Labour in Ipswich does seem to be in denial about its poll drubbing earlier this month - and it was a drubbing, not a narrow defeat.

It's all very well for the local Labour members to try to blame Tony Blair's Iraq policy, but they have to realise there was also a local element to the vote.

That's why they lost crucial votes in places like Bridge and Whitehouse wards.

It wasn't just because the voters there didn't like our troops being in Basra, they were also angry about plans to sell off the Corn Exchange and changes to the road network.

By choosing the same people for the executive, Labour do appear to be burying their head in the sand - after such a drubbing an indication that they were prepared to make a new start might have gone down well!

YOU could have cut the atmosphere with a knife at the meeting last night - especially in the minutes before it actually started.

It soon became clear that while there was one well-signalled gap on the Liberal Democrat table, there was also a space on the Labour side.

Mary Blake wasn't in her allotted space. Had she agreed to “pair” with Louise Gooch? Had she been delayed or fallen ill? Would her absence hand power to the Tories and Liberals?

No. In the end she rushed in with about 10 seconds to spare, looking flushed.

What a heroic effort to get there just as the meeting started! Or was it.

“I bet she's been sitting downstairs for 10 minutes just getting us wound up and waiting to make a grand entrance,” a senior Tory sitting near the press desk muttered.

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