Unspinning the truth an art in itself

WHAT on earth is happening with next year's council budgets?Every year it seems that the government changes the way its grant is announced - and that gives politicians of every colour the chance to put their own spin on the question.

WHAT on earth is happening with next year's council budgets?

Every year it seems that the government changes the way its grant is announced - and that gives politicians of every colour the chance to put their own spin on the question.

So this week when the figure for Suffolk was announced we had members of the new Conservative administration running around like headless chickens telling anyone prepared to listen: “We're all doomed, the sky's falling in!”

While Labour politicians in Suffolk and Westminster were telling us that it wasn't the end of the world, and there had been far worse years when the nasty Tories were in power.

And frankly it has been very, very difficult to get anywhere near the truth.

I'm still not at all sure what the real situation is - and in that I suspect I'm not alone. Council officers seem as confused as the rest of us.

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When I tried to get an off-the-record briefing from one officer, I ended up being given the line direct from the political leadership at Endeavour House. Just to reinforce that, leader Jeremy Pembroke rang me a few minutes later to put “on the record” what I had just been told.

Unfortunately this essentially repeated what we had had from the administration in their original press release.

Meanwhile Labour's Chris Mole and Bryony Rudkin were assuring me that the settlement could have been much worse - and that once everything had been taken into account there would be nothing to worry about.

In short both main political parties were giving the issue their own spin and there was no one able to give us an objective, unspun account.

There's nothing really new in that - but it doesn't do the business of running the country, or the county, any good. Many people who rely on social services will be worried that they will get less help if there are cutbacks.

On the other hand there's no point in pretending that everything in the garden is rosy if there are real problems.

The real problem in this situation is that there is no one there to say: “Forget the spin. These are the facts.”

But then that is probably a microcosm of political life. These days no one seems interested in the truth - just in using bits of the story to back up their own case.

DAVID Cameron's election as leader of the Conservative Party was the least surprising political news since the Monster Raving Loony Party failed to win any seats at the last general election.

But it remains to be seen whether he will be the man to lead the Tories out of the political wilderness. We should know that within a few months.

Mr Cameron seems to have all the qualities the party needs - he's young, attractive, and it's not difficult to see that he has the potential to attract votes from people who are not natural Conservatives.

In that respect it is not difficult to see why he has been compared to Tony Blair - even if it is a comparison with which he is not happy.

What is significant about his election is that it's the first time in a generation that Conservative MPs and party members have looked beyond their own political beliefs and have elected someone who can appeal to those who are not true-blue party supporters.

His election is an indication that the party itself is fed up with being opposition and fighting for its own electoral purity and wants to be back in government.

So will he achieve his aim? It's too early to tell, and if I was a betting man (which I'm not) I'd put my money on Labour to win the next general election.

However I do think he could well lead to a revival in his party's fortunes which could well put it on target to win the election after next (with him still at the helm).

If he really does have this public appeal - and is facing Gordon Brown at the next election - the Tories could well come back well and mount a strong challenge.

Labour, though, must be favourites to hang on because they will be likely to win back many of the seats they lost to the Liberal Democrats in May.

Natural Labour voters who deserted Mr Blair over his support for the war in Iraq are likely to return to the fold once he is out of the way.

In fact the Lib Dems could be forgiven if they look ahead to the next general election with fear in their hearts.

They could be squeezed by a Tory Party led by someone who is not nearly as scary as Michael Howard, or even William Hague.

In short, the next general election, in four years' time, could well turn out to be an old-fashioned British two-horse race. And the runners could turn out to be evenly matched.

IT WAS the headline I never thought I'd see again: “Crushing win for Thatcher in election!”

More than 18 years after her mother's last victory, Carol's success in “I'm a Celebrity get me out of here” shows that personality traits don't always run in the family.

Carol started the show as a rank outsider, but the more people saw of her, the more they liked her until she romped to victory in the final reel.

That seems to be the exact opposite of her mother - the more people saw of her in Downing Street the more they disliked her. And by the time she finally left office everyone in the Tory Party and outside was relieved to see her depart.

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