You didn't want to do that . . . .

IPSWICH'S great missing votes scandal was one of the most extraordinary affairs I've ever come across at Civic Centre.The way it was handled was incredibly ham-fisted and makes a mockery of the council's claims to be keen on open government.

IPSWICH'S great missing votes scandal was one of the most extraordinary affairs I've ever come across at Civic Centre.

The way it was handled was incredibly ham-fisted and makes a mockery of the council's claims to be keen on open government.

Accidents do happen in local government as everywhere else, and I'm prepared to accept claims that there was nothing sinister about a load of postal votes ending up in the waste office rather than the ballot boxes.

I don't believe this was a plot to delibrately alter the votes in May. Someone fouled up and I'm sure they've been made aware of their mistake.


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But that isn't the main issue here.

The issue is the way the council handled the situation once senior officials knew about it – frankly it looks like a major cover-up.

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Senior councillors were called to a meeting with chief executive James Hehir and told the situation – but no one else was told a thing.

Mr Hehir told me it was felt it should be a political decision made by senior politicians whether to let anyone else know what had happened.

Because the results of the election weren't affected he felt nothing else needed to be done. That's just not good enough!

The politicians apparently told their political groups straight away – but all these councillors kept mum until the news leaked out.

It eventually seeped out on the day that the minister for local government visited town – that's some coincidence!

The affair has left the council looking as if it was trying to cover up the mistake – and anyone who knows anything about politics knows the worst thing you can do is to try to cover up bad news.

You don't have to necessarily make a big announcement – but a few "planted" leaks can get the news out without it looking suspicious.

As it was, the council's communications department – whose job it is to deal with the media – knew nothing about the lost votes until we contacted them!

What is the point in employing communications officers who are media specialists if you don't ask their advice when an embarrassing problem shows up?

Frankly the whole business of how the council dealt with this embarrassment was cack-handed in the extreme.

I can imagine council press officers for years in the future will be told in training sessions to look at how Ipswich handled the missing ballot papers as an object lesson in how not to deal with bad news.

WHEN someone of the political stature of Tony Benn comes to town to talk about his political beliefs and answer questions, wouldn't you expect Ipswich's local politicians to be queing up to hear what he has to say?

In fact very few were at the Regent theatre last night to hear about his political beliefs – they had something else on their agenda!

Ipswich council was holding its monthly full meeting at the Corn Exchange – and although it wasn't expected to be a long meeting, few were going to follow me along the town's golden mile.

"I don't think any of my colleagues are going to hear him – although a few of the Tories are going along there," a senior Labour councillor told me.

How times change! Back in the 80s, the prospect of Tony Benn addressing a meeting in Ipswich would have had Labour councillors falling over themselves to get in.

I know this was promoted as entertainment rather than a strictly political event, but it was undeniably a political event.

If today's politicians aren't prepared to hear what a real heavyweight has to say, is it any wonder that the public think they don't have anything to do with them?

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