Write off Labour at your peril

LABOUR did badly in last week's elections in Ipswich, but it could have been a lot worse for the party.And it's still got a long way to go to match the Conservatives' lamentable performances in the town during the 1990s.

LABOUR did badly in last week's elections in Ipswich, but it could have been a lot worse for the party.

And it's still got a long way to go to match the Conservatives' lamentable performances in the town during the 1990s.

During that decade there were occasions when the Tories were winning only two wards a night at election time - last week Labour still won six of the 16 seats up for grabs, that's more than a third of the total.

It shows that even when things are going badly for the party nationally and it must be very difficult to get the vote out there is still a substantial hard-core of Labour voters.

And when they all turn out - as they did in last year's general and county council election - Labour in Ipswich is still a formidable force. You write them off at your peril.

The election results were strange - it's difficult to work out why the Conservatives won Sprites for the first time ever yet failed to take St John's where they have won well and which deputy leader John Carnall won two years ago.

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And did Labour hold Bridge so easily this year when they lost the ward two years ago when one of their big-hitters, Harold Mangar, was fighting it? He managed to hold on comfortably to the seat in the county council campaign in 2005.

At the start of the campaign, I gave my prediction of the final results - and in the final tally I was only one seat out.

That was in Whitehouse, where I thought Albert Grant's personal vote would be enough for him to hang on. In the event the Liberal Democrats ran a very strong campaign there and have effectively turned a marginal into a safe seat for them.

I got my predictions wrong in Sprites and St John's, but they cancelled each other out.

One seat I got spot on in my first analysis was Westgate where I said the Green Party intervention could prove costly for Liberal Democrat candidate Andrew Cann.

Labour won the seat by 20 votes, with the Greens getting 136 votes and it's not unreasonable to assume that more of those would have gone to the Lib Dems than any other party had the Greens not stood.

I wouldn't be surprised to see the Liberal Democrats take that seat next year. They are now firmly in second place and can appeal to natural Conservative voters by claiming that they are the only people who can beat Labour in Westgate.

But that all assumes Labour will be in as bad shape next year as they are now. They'll still be in power in Westminster - but if the party has a new leader, who knows what it will look like in May 2007.

MANY people have been claiming that after last week's local election results, the Labour government looks like the last days of the Tories under John Major.

That is ridiculous. The current government has problems on many fronts, but it doesn't have the whiff of decay that settled over the Tories for four and a half of its last five years in office.

However the current government does start to look more and more like the Tories did during the last months of Mrs Thatcher's premiership - and I can't help feeling that the events over the last seven days make it even more likely that Mr Blair will be out of office by Christmas.

He may want to hang on until he's served 10 years in power - but I'm not at all sure that his party will wear that.

An increasing number of MPs and party workers seem to accept that he is now more of a liability than an asset - and importantly there is someone else in the wings waiting to take on his job in the shape of chancellor Gordon Brown.

There are Blair loyalists who are desperate for him to remain - just as there were Thatcher loyalists before she was toppled in 1990 - but there are clearly many who feel that his presence in Number 10 is more of a hindrance than an asset to the party and the country.

Their number is set to increase the longer he clings on to power - the reshuffle looks like a desperate attempt to cram the government full of loyalist MPs and punish anyone who is not doing exactly what he wanted.

That's fine in a dictatorship - but one wonders how loyal people like Geoff Hoon, Jack Straw and John Prescott feel about the humiliating way they've been treated. Will they be desperate to keep the captain afloat at all costs?

IPSWICH is a town where the BNP has made no impact at all - and long may that situation remain.

But I was disturbed to hear comments from two local politicians on Thursday night about the attitude they had found on the doorsteps.

One told me: “A lot of the people in my pub tell me they'd like to vote for the BNP.”

While another said: “In the parts of the ward where I've been canvassing, I would say if there had been a BNP candidate he could have got 50 per cent of the vote - and that's very frightening.”

I cannot believe that the current increase in the vote for the BNP is any different to the rise in support for the National Front we saw in the late 1970s.

An extreme right-wing party which depends on racial tensions to attract support is never going to attract mass support.

And I've always felt Ipswich is a very tolerant place where different races live happily together in a refreshingly mixed society.

To hear that there are people in the town who are openly declaring support for the BNP and its policies about race is very worrying. But I can't believe that they have found much underlying support in the town.

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