Tories at war with each other

IN all my years covering politics in Suffolk, I have never come across any statement quite as damning as that put out by Ipswich Conservatives attacking their party colleagues at Endeavour House.

IN all my years covering politics in Suffolk, I have never come across any statement quite as damning as that put out by Ipswich Conservatives attacking their party colleagues at Endeavour House.

So why did they issue such a strong statement, accusing the Conservative administration at Endeavour House of being irresponsible and saying the appointment of Andrea Hill was a “slap in the face” for taxpayers would be strong if it was about a rival political party.

It is almost unheard of when the accusations are coming from your own side!

It ranks with Neil Kinnock's attack on the Liverpool Militants in the mid-1980s and Sir Geoffrey Howe's savaging of Margaret Thatcher which prompted her downfall in November 1990.

So what made Liz Harsant and the rest of the borough Tories release the statement?

Pressure from the voters on the streets of Ipswich - it's as simple as that.

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Unlike their county council colleagues at Endeavour House, Ipswich Conservatives are facing re-election this year and they have found that Andrea Hill's £220,000 is the big talking point on the doorstep.

And it's fair to say that they aren't finding people desperate to congratulate the county council on getting the right person at any cost - the argument that county leader Jeremy Pembroke uses to justify the appointment.

“We're really suffering on the doorstep,” one Ipswich Tory told me a couple of days before the statement was released.

“People don't make any difference between the councils and think we're responsible for this appointment. I'm furious with the Suffolk Conservative group. We tried to make them understand how bad this looks, but they won't listen to us.”

The argument has even spilled over to affect other parties.

One Labour canvasser told me: “It's incredible. Some people still think we're running the councils and are blaming us. When we put them right, they tell us they are not voting Conservative if that's the kind of thing they do.

“Now people realise who appointed Mrs Hill, I think this will turn out to be very good for us.”

The problem that has arisen over the appointment of Mrs Hill is that the Conservative administration at the county council is totally out of touch with ordinary people, especially ordinary people who live in Suffolk's large towns like Ipswich.

Mr Pembroke is a thoroughly decent man who has had a very successful career in the City of London, but he is not a natural politician who can instinctively feel how his decisions go down among the majority of voters in places like Ipswich.

For the overwhelming majority of people in Suffolk, £220,000 is not a salary, it is a lottery win.

Constantly saying “Suffolk deserves the best, whatever the cost” misses the point entirely.

Suffolk County Council is a basically well-run organisation with talented directors running services. It is also an authority which is going to be pulled apart in about two years' time.

It doesn't need a new chief executive to manage the services it currently runs - that operation is not a problem.

When the future shape of local government in the county is known at the start of next year is the time to start picking chief executives for the new authorities - that is the time when vision and strong leadership will be needed.

That is understood by the politicians in Ipswich, at district councils across Suffolk, and on the opposition benches at Endeavour House.

But for some reason Mr Pembroke and his administration has totally failed to grasp that idea.

It's not a malicious decision. It's not a decision that was taken to deliberately waste council tax-payers' money.

However, it was a decision that was taken by an administration totally out of touch with the feelings of people on the ground - and with members of their own party who go out on the doorsteps to try to rally support.

SPIN-doctors are a scourge of modern politics, always on hand to tell politicians exactly how to handle a photo-opportunity.

I'll never forget being kept hanging around for ten minutes to interview then Conservative leader William Hague while he had a deep discussion with Lord Seb Coe about whether he could be photographed with Pudsey Bear during a visit to Ipswich just before Children in Need.

But there are occasions when politicians do need a little advice about how to be photographed!

Chris Mole really could have done with someone tapping him on the shoulder and saying: “I don't think that's really necessary to show off your Town shirt,” before he had this picture of him taken in the Palace of Westminster.