Tories seen blue dawn ahead

WHO has the biggest smile in Ipswich political circles at the moment? It must be Conservative leader Liz Harsant who must have felt all her prayers were answered when she saw the nominations for the council seats in next month's elections.

WHO has the biggest smile in Ipswich political circles at the moment?

It must be Conservative leader Liz Harsant who must have felt all her prayers were answered when she saw the nominations for the council seats in next month's elections.

Not only had the independent (Conservative) group which had threatened to field eight candidates failed to find a single nominee to stand, but the Greens have also intervened in several key wards which could have a significant effect on the final results.

The Liberal Democrats must be especially peeved because the Greens appear to have targeted wards where they have their best hopes.

That makes sense from a Green perspective - they tend to appeal to the same voters as the Liberal Democrats - but in first-past-the-post electoral system, which is what we have like it or not, by fighting each other for the same votes the only real winners will be the other parties which are far less Green.

I don't see the Green candidate's intervention in St Margaret's as being particularly significant - Inga Lockington should not have too many problems there.

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But in Alexandra, the Greens could deny victory to the Lib Dems - allowing Labour's Liz Cooper back on to the council two years after she lost in St Johns.

And the Lib Dems have high hopes in Westgate Ward where county councillor Andrew Cann is seeking election to the borough. His attempts could come under pressure from a Green candidate, allowing Labour's Mary Blake to hold on.

Elsewhere however, Green intervention could cause problems for Labour. Sandy Martin, who is standing in the marginal St John's Ward, is a keen environmental campaigner - but could face problems thanks to the arrival of a Green candidate. That could let the Tories win there.

The Conservatives, meanwhile, have no problems with fringe parties and can watch their opponents squirm slightly.

I've been running my eye over the wards and my best estimate, at the start of the campaign, is that the Conservative/Liberal Democrat administration will strengthen their hold on the council in next month's elections - but neither group will be large enough to even dream about taking power on their own.

Labour's election night will not be as bad as it was two years ago. I expect them to retain seats at Bridge and Whitehouse (thanks to former mayor Albert Grant's personal vote) which they lost last time.

But they won't even start to recover power at Civic Centre this time around.

This is my estimate of the 16 seats:

Safe Labour: Gipping, Priory Heath, Gainsborough, Sprites.

Safe Conservative: Bixley, Holywells, Castle Hill.

Safe Liberal Democrat: St Margaret's.

Labour/Tory marginals: Bridge (Labour will win this year), Whitton, Stoke Park, Rushmere, St Johns (Tories will win these this year).

Labour/Lib Dem marginals: Westgate, Whitehouse (Labour will hang on), Alexandra (Lib Dems will win this year).

This would see the Conservatives winning three seats from Labour (in Whitton, Stoke Park and St Johns) and the Lib Dems one (in Alexandra).

Labour would take heart from the fact that it hung on to seats in Whitehouse and Bridge which it lost two years ago and in Westgate where it came under a big challenge from the Lib Dems.

It would leave the overall shape of the council: Labour 19, Conservatives 19, Liberal Democrats eight and Independents two.

If they formed another coalition (which seems pretty certain they would) the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats together would have reasonably comfortable majority of six.

Without the intervention of the Greens, I would have expected to see Labour hang on in St Johns and the Lib Dems to have snatched Westgate. That would have given one more Lib Dem councillor and one less Tory.

nIndependent Dale Jackson was lamenting to me that he was having difficulty in getting candidates for the election because they might then face expulsion from the Central Conservative Club in Ipswich.

To be honest that would hardly be a surprise - there's a bit of a clue about which party it expects members to support in the name of the club!

AT CIVIC Centre in Ipswich, councillors and senior officers are getting all excited about the prospect of local government reorganisation.

They're talking about little else - and on Tuesday their executive discussed a paper describing why they should take over all council functions in the town.

Meanwhile other districts in Suffolk are totally ignoring the subject. They're carrying on as if no one is interested.

Mid Suffolk is even considering expanding its Needham Market headquarters - it's not letting the threat of abolition get to it. But then again, why should it?

I'm not at all sure all this talk about reorganisation will come to anything. It's got all the hallmarks of “something should be done about . . .” issue which could easily be forgotten about.

All this talk is currently being driven by the up-and-coming minister David Miliband. I can't help feeling that when Mr Blair resigns, and I still think that is more likely than not to happen this year, Mr Brown will move Mr Miliband to a more high-profile job.

Whoever replaces him as local government minister will realise that council reform is something that can be put off while the new prime minister pursues his own pet subjects.

Like many people I can see the logic of one council for an enlarged Ipswich. It would make great sense give the town much more of a say over its own affairs.

But unlike people at Civic Centre, I'm not at all sure that the concept is worth wasting much time worrying about at the moment.

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