Ipswich Spy have being doing some good political reporting on the Ipswich Borough Council Conservative Group leadership contest with their sources telling them there will only be two contenders for the top job: current Deputy Leader Cllr Chris Stewart and Cllr Nadia Cenci.
Current canvassing looks as if Cllr Chris Stewart will win the ballot. This is not good news. As much as Cllr Stewart is an intelligent chap, who I have always found amiable, and instinctively is a Tory rather than a “wet” Cameroon, he is not exactly box office. The current Deputy Leader of the Tory Group might have a grasp of detail and could quite happily table and trundle through pointless motion after motion (which is all opposition parties can do) but he does not stir people to sit up and listen. His diction is at best monotonous, at worst, dare I say it, boring. With most of the electorate not even bothering to turn up and vote for local government councillors, do the Tories really want a man leading them who would not stand out in a crowd?
But the Conservatives at Grafton House are in luck. They have a person in their midst, who despite having some strange views, DOES make people sit up and listen: Cllr Nadia Cenci. And she can actually be heard in a Council chamber: the acoustics might be bad but I can always hear every word Cllr Cenci says whereas when most councillors stand up they drone on to the point individual words don’t punctuate through the ether. Given politics is about the art of communication, this is a pretty dire state of affairs.
I have not always agreed with Cllr Cenci. For instance, when she was Communities Portfolio Holder, during the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition at the Borough Council, I saw her give far much lee-way to so-called “charities”, some of which basically were businesses in another guise, but I always respected Cllr Cenci’s passion and active approach to her brief. When it comes to bread-and-butter Tory subjects like the economy, you couldn’t put a cigarette paper between Cllr Cenci and I. Nadia Cenci is no shrinking violet. She says what’s on her mind and be damned with the consequences. Some members of her own political group might not like this but the media love it. Cllr Cenci is a reporter’s dream: copy guaranteed on every occasion!
Experience is also a big factor when it comes to choosing a leader. This does not mean they should be 101 years old and have done and seen it all. That is not experience, that’s just an ability to not die. Cllr Stewart’s Achilles heel is his lack of experience as a councillor with only two years spent in an Opposition role, which, frankly, is a basic level. Cllr Cenci on the other hand has been on the Executive Committee as a Portfolio Holder when the Tories ran the Council between 2004 and 2011: that counts for a lot when it comes to knowing how to deal with officers (ever a thorn in a
Tory councillor’s side) and the politics of local government, skills which a Conservative Opposition will need in droves just to survive as a distinct force on the Council over the coming years.
So, who do the Tories want to be their face to the public: a retired schoolteacher with a touch of the Sir Humphrey about him or a brash Anglo-Italian who, when she stands up and speaks, the blogosphere and the Ipswich
Morning Star’s Mr Geater reach for their notebooks. How does the old saying go? All publicity is good publicity. You never know, there might be some votes in it – if I was standing as a Conservative candidate this year or next, I’d be happy with that.
As a sidebar, it is disappointing to see two young Tory councillors sitting on the sidelines in this leadership election. Both Cllr Richard Pope and Cllr Kym Stroet sit in ultra-safe Bixley ward in the east of the town; they are both capable of taking on the mantle of leader but have decided not to throw their hat into the ring. The Conservative Group ARE going to lose seats in 2014: would it have not been wiser for Cllrs Pope and Stroet to step up to the plate rather than see the leadership being decapitated next year?