Tough talking by top Tories

SENIOR Conservatives in Suffolk have a blunt message for their colleagues in one constituency: You are the Weakest Link!Members of the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Conservative Association are being told that they must do better in future election campaigns.

SENIOR Conservatives in Suffolk have a blunt message for their colleagues in one constituency: You are the Weakest Link!

Members of the Central Suffolk and North Ipswich Conservative Association are being told that they must do better in future election campaigns.

And to emphasise this, Ipswich Conservative Association is making all the running in this year's borough council elections.

Senior Tories were very frustrated about Central Suffolk's performance in the General Election and county council elections last June.

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich was the only Tory-held seat in the county where the party's majority fell last June.

And four Tory-held county council seats were lost – two to Labour and two to the Liberal Democrats.

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Only one non-Tory seat was gained, at Hoxne in the north of the county where the sitting Liberal Democrat was standing down.

"The performance in that seat wasn't good enough. Whether it was complacency or resignation to the fact that we weren't going to win the general election, I don't know," one senior Tory told me.

"Not enough people were pulling their weight."

Another Tory pointed out the scale of the problem: "We should never have lost seats like Castle Hill and Broomhill in Ipswich. Gipping (the Bramford, Claydon area) and the Kesgrave and Martlesham seat should have been safe for us.

"We should have also been taking back seats like Debenham and Framlingham. If our people in Central Suffolk had done as well as those in other parts of the county we would have been very near taking power at County Hall."

In this year's borough election, Conservatives in the four north west Ipswich wards are still using the Central Suffolk constituency office in Earl Soham as their official base.

But they are using the same leaflets as their colleagues in the rest of the town – and all the campaigning is being co-ordinated centrally.

"Looking at the new wards, we can be pretty confident about Castle Hill. The old Broomhill, now called Westgate, looks lost to us – but we could easily take Whitton," said one Conservative worker on the ground.

"But we do need to be focussed on this as a borough election and fight a co-ordinated campaign."

THEATREGOERS in Ipswich seem to be the main target of both Labour and the Conservatives in their early local election skirmishes over the last couple of weeks.

Both parties claim they would run the Regent Theatre better than their rivals – and both are claiming that their opponents will see the end of the venue.

The Tories have always been seen as vulnerable to claims by their opponents that they would be the death of the Regent.

They opposed the complex deal that saw the Regent saved in 1990, claiming it would cost poll tax, and later council tax, payers too much.

Since then they have been critical of the borough's running of the theatre – pointing out that it is closed on more days than it is open.

They have criticised the council's continued management of the theatre, saying it should be run by private enterprise – and that could have led to fresh government grants.

The Labour group have countered by saying it is fantasy to suppose there are "sugar daddies" out there who want to plough millions of pounds into a large venue like the Regent – which is really only a cinema with a small stage.

They warn that the Conservatives' efforts to divorce the theatre from the council will ultimately lead to only one thing – closure.

They are aiming to look at all possible future uses for the Regent – from rebuilding it as a West End-style theatre with a new £12 million backstage to simply building on its reputation as a fine concert venue.

Labour says the only option it will categorically rule out is total closure of the venue.

Now the Tories have hit back, attacking Labour's record of running the theatre – and claiming they will make it much better if they are elected. "Labour has falsely claimed the Conservatives will close The Regent if returned to power at the Civic Centre on 2 May," said Tory association chairman Paul West.

"Effectively it is Labour which has already closed it through inaction, incompetence and sheer bloody mindedness.

"What the Conservatives would do is quite simple. We will promote it as one of the jewels in the crown.

"The council itself will find capital through far-sighted land and property deals and invest in this great potential asset as a priority"

So we do have a degree of agreement between the two parties on the Regent. If either come up with plans for closure of the theatre over the next four years, we will know they were lying to voters in this election!

I'VE got a pretty broad-minded sense of humour – ask any of my colleagues – but I was shocked to see the latest "Action Man" style dolls currently on offer in America.

Apparently both the George W. Bush and the Osama bin Laden dolls are selling well.

But no one has yet bought a grinning Tony Blair doll.

I don't know what's more surprising – the fact that no one wants to buy our Prime Minister to put on their mantelpiece or that there are 5,000 people willing to shell out hard-earned cash for President Bush and bin Laden.