Sunday, 6 March 2011
What now for the Lib Dems in Ipswich?
Last Thursday Labour got the result they expected and worked hard for in Barnsley, but the talking point has been how the Lib Dems slipped from second place At the General Election in May to sixth place last week. The Lib Dem vote was so poor that I actually got 14 votes more than the Liberal candidate in Barnsley when I won Rushmere Ward, Ipswich in 2008! UKIP also did well, taking votes from the Tories, BNP and the Lib Dems, they now hope to position themselves as the third party in Britain.
But where does that leave the Lib Dems in Ipswich? Will the national decline in their popularity be repeated in Ipswich? Barnsley was of course an election for parliament and in a strong Labour town but on the same night in East Anglia, we saw Labour push the Lib Dems into third in a safe Tory seat in Cambridgeshire.
Nationally, many Liberals are unhappy with Clegg and it is not just Student fees, last week whilst sharing a table with a leading Suffolk Lib Dem, I was left with no doubt that many are unhappy that the Lib Dems are involved in a government that is forcing through many of the severe cuts that local councils will have to make.
I was interested to see many of the comments from Tory activists at their Spring Conference were not as critical of their junior coalition partners as I thought they would be – in fact many praised Nick Clegg – not sure that is what Lib Dem activists wanted to hear, one comment from a Tory summed their feelings for Clegg up best:
“Nick Clegg seems like a nice person. I don't think he is really a Lib Dem. He seems to be more in tune with a lot of Conservative philosophy. I don't think he ever really believed in tuition fees. He is not a proper Lib Dem but it would be difficult for him to defect to the Conservatives because he gets his power from being the Lib Dem leader.” Matthew Miller – Tory activist.
But back to Ipswich, will we see the same fall in the Lib Dem vote? Even before the General Election the Lib Dems were on the back foot in Ipswich, from having councillors in four Ipswich wards they were down to being represented in only three, and this May that could be down to only two wards. What will they do to fight back? In Stockport and other parts of the country we have even seen Lib Dems Cllrs and activists split from the main party and next week we are told to expect the Lib Dem ministers to take a pounding from Lib Dems Cllrs at their Spring Conference. With an expectation that Lib Dems MP’s will be instructed to not vote for the proposed Tory plans for the NHS, might be a difficult week for Clegg but will we see Lib Dems leaving the party in Ipswich? Will we hear Atkins, Cann or others criticizing the coalition’s plans for the NHS?
Don’t hold your breath would be my answer, the Ipswich Lib Dems are not a party that the traditional Ipswich Liberal family the Grimwade’s would recognise, two of their seven councillors are refugees from the other two main political parties and many of the others seem to have just arrived by default from a St Margaret's Ward Residents Association meeting.
Of course they would find it hard to be critical of Clegg and his fellow Lib Dem ministers, they themselves jumped in to bed with the Tories when offered a chance of (limited) power, they are so determined to stay in power with the Tories they just covered their ears when Tory councillor Wells attacked them in his final speech as a councillor, it seemed to me he was just saying out loud what most of the rest of the Tory councillors believed.
We may not have to wait for election day in May to see where the Lib Dems currently are and where they are heading , we will see when the nominations for the local election are announced whether they will stand in every Ipswich ward, will Councillor Andrew Cann stand again in Westgate Ward, try and find another seat or just not stand and concentrate on his duties as a County Councillor? Will we see leaflets in any other Wards on top of St Margaret's Ward and Alexandra? We have not seen a council election leaflet in Rushmere ward for at least 4 years. Now it may seem that most of the Lib Dem councillors in Ipswich are quite happy with the coalition government, but it is not their blind loyalty to Clegg that will decide how well they do in May, it will be if Lib Dem voters are willing to forgive Clegg for his stance on tuition fees, it will be if the voters of Ipswich are willing to vote for a party that is forcing these severe cuts (many that seem to be driven by a right wing ideology rather than because of the need to make cuts to help reduce the national debt). Not sure there have ever been many Lib Dem members in Ipswich but I am sure there must have been a number of activists who were willing to go out a deliver leaflets – even if only in a very few of the Ipswich wards, will they still be prepared to put on that yellow rosette and spend a couple of hours delivering the local ‘Lib Dem Focus’ leaflet? Not sure the Lib Dem leaflet that went out in Barnsley on Wednesday helped them – ‘it's Lib Dem or Labour here’ will we see a truthful ‘only the Lib Dems can come last here’ leaflet?
The Tories, may be slightly less popular than they were in May, but seem to have not suffered the same fate as the Lib Dems, though like the Lib Dems, very little campaigning seems to have been done, with only one Tory leaflet being seen in Rushmere between May and December last year, though we have seen two leaflets delivered in Rushmere ward over the last month.
Finding out what the local Lib Dems in Ipswich think about how the government is doing is quite hard, Cllr Pollard and Cann are often quoted in the local papers, but no Lib Dems leaflets are to be seen and their website has had only 4 news stories since last May and two of them were on the same subject.
What you will see over the next two months, is the Ipswich Labour Party continuing to campaign hard, we have not stopped to be fair since last May, and plus we have been buoyed by the many new members that have joined since the last election. I am sure we will see the Tory election machine move up a gear (seems to stuck in neutral at the moment) but will we see the Lib Dems?