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Will Labour lose its partner?

PUBLISHED: 17:11 16 September 2002 | UPDATED: 12:39 03 March 2010

WHO is most concerned at the prospect of the Liberal Democrats pulling out of the ruling coalition at County Hall?

Is it the officers who wouldn't know from one week to the next which direction they were heading if there is a minority administration in charge?

Or is it the Labour group, which would lose a very useful lightning conductor?

Senior Liberal Democrats at County Hall insist there is no chance of their leaving the ruling administration.

WHO is most concerned at the prospect of the Liberal Democrats pulling out of the ruling coalition at County Hall?

Is it the officers who wouldn't know from one week to the next which direction they were heading if there is a minority administration in charge?

Or is it the Labour group, which would lose a very useful lightning conductor?

Senior Liberal Democrats at County Hall insist there is no chance of their leaving the ruling administration.

But pressure is mounting as activists in South Suffolk start making early plans for their next general election campaign.

And the grassroots efforts to break up the coalition could gain strength if it feels the party is being damaged by what is happening at County Hall.

They certainly have cause for concern – the Liberal Democrats in the coalition at County Hall do look as if they're being set up as the fall guys for the current problems surrounding the administration.

The biggest political hot potato at present is the fire service – the controversial decision to scrap the marine unit and the looming strike by firefighters.

I wonder just how distressed the Labour leaders in the administration are to see all the flak in these two issues being directed at Liberal Democrat Peter Monk.

It wasn't his sole decision to disband the marine unit – it was a county council decision.

The fire dispute can't be settled by him and the leaders of the FBU in Suffolk even if they wanted to – it's all down to a national agreement.

But he's the public face of the county council in its dealings on these two issues, and it's him – and his party – who have the most to lose.

Of course, publicly all the members of the administration are standing shoulder-to-shoulder.

But I can't help wondering if there's a bit of whispering going on behind the scenes.

Frankly there are enough dedicated party street-fighters in all the political groups at County Hall to have a great time stabbing each other in the back.

In the current climate the Labour leaders of the County Council are in a real win-win situation.

They can put their heads down, get on with their own little portfolio and let someone from another political party take all the flak.

So what is there to worry them? Only the prospect that more Lib Dems will come to the same conclusion as those in South Suffolk – that their presence in the ruling administration is doing their future prospects no good at all.

It would be cynical in the extreme for the Lib Dems to pull out of the coalition – but politics can be a cynical business and I wouldn't place money on the coalition being as cosy as it is now in 12 months' time.

ANYONE who's ever moved home knows how easy it is to mislay or lose things when the removal men are in.

But have you ever heard of a team of government ministers being lost in reshuffle? That's what happened recently at the Transport Department in London.

The department lost its responsibility for local government and the regions during the reshuffle which followed Stephen Byers' resignation – they were passed to John Prescott in the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister.

And as everyone knows, old Two Jags is never slow to get the best pickings from any situation – he quickly grabbed the best offices for his new empire.

The DTLR was always a huge empire, and extended across three large blocks in Westminster.

The largest of these – always regarded as the former department's headquarters – is Eland House, in Bressendon Place.

When I took copies of the Evening Star for Transport Secretary, I took them to this address.

"Yes, this is the right office for Mr Darling," said the helpful receptionist. "I'll call his office to get someone to collect them."

She checked her phone directory. "I'm sorry," she said. "That section of the department has just moved – it must have been very recently. You'll have to go to Great Minster House – it's not far away."

In fact it's a good half-mile – but when I got there, the receptionist seemed even less clued-up.

"You have brought these papers for Mr Darling and Mr Jamieson (the shipping minister), which section do they work in?" the receptionist said.

"They're the Secretary of State and Shipping Minister," I said.

"They don't work from this office – it's Eland House they work at," she replied.

I asked her to check again, and after a few phone calls she accepted their office was in the building – but no one seemed to know where in the building or whether they had actually started work there yet.

"We're still getting things sorted out here," she added.

I hope they get them sorted out soon – if the department doesn't know its way around its own offices, what hopes do the rest of us have for the transport system?

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