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Can we really change minds about Ipswich - or is prejudice too deep-seated

PUBLISHED: 05:30 17 January 2019

It is difficult to persuade some people that there is anything positive about Ipswich . Picture: ARCHANT FILE

It is difficult to persuade some people that there is anything positive about Ipswich . Picture: ARCHANT FILE

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Much has already been said and written about the comments from Suffolk Coastal councillor Geoff Holdcroft about the "cesspit down the road" which was almost universally seen as dig at Ipswich.

Councillor Geoff Holdcroft outside the offices of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils in WoodbridgeCouncillor Geoff Holdcroft outside the offices of Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils in Woodbridge

I was very surprised when I first heard about this, not least because I’ve always regarded Mr Holdcroft as one of the more competent politicians at Suffolk Coastal.

I’m still not sure whether Mr Holdcroft was really expressing a deeply held (but usually repressed) belief that he holds about Ipswich – or whether at that precise moment in a heated debate he thought it would be a clever thing to say to make a point to the audience.

Whatever his motivation it was a very stupid comment and frankly he’s lucky to have kept his senior job at Suffolk Coastal.

But in one sense he’s given Ipswich, and all those concerned with improving the county town, a reality check. The fact is that the town does have its critics. They’re prepared to be very rude in making their point.

County council leader Matthew Hicks gave a sound County council leader Matthew Hicks gave a sound "political" answer to questions about Ipswich - but

And frankly there’s probably nothing anyone can do to change their minds – their prejudices are set in stone and whatever they say deep down their feelings about the town will remain negative.

You only had to see the comments that accompanied the story online (before we had to turn them off after the stories became a repository for racist and xenophobic rants) to see that many people in Suffolk, including some who claim to live in Ipswich, simply despise the place.

And I think we have to recognise that fact – and accept it is unlikely we will ever change what they truly think.

When I was getting views on Mr Holdcroft’s ill-judged comments, I spoke to county council leader Matthew Hicks.

Now Mr Hicks is one of the most effective and diplomatic politicians I know – very keen not to rock the boat and keep everyone on board. In many ways that is good, it stops you creating enemies, but on this occasion it made him look very lame.

He is the only person I’ve spoken to who seems to want to accept that when Mr Holdcroft said “the cesspit down the road” he wasn’t referring to Ipswich.

If you make that kind of comment at a meeting in Melton and refer to somewhere “down the road,” you’re not referring to somewhere 50-100 miles away.

And if you’re referring to somewhere outside the district you have to look at where the main road from Melton heads – so sorry Mr Hicks, your claim that he wasn’t talking about Ipswich doesn’t wash and I don’t really think you or anyone else truly believes he was referring to Debenham, Shotley or the Emerald City for that matter!

Also Mr Hicks’ claim that Conservatives from all over Suffolk think Ipswich is a great place simply doesn’t ring true.

I’m sure if I asked a Conservatives from anywhere in Suffolk what they think of Ipswich on the record they would say how marvellous Ipswich was.

But for many of them, put them in a private situation where they felt comfortable being really honest and the story would be very, very different.

A few years ago I was at a drinks reception with many councillors. I didn’t have my notebook in hand and was chatting socially with someone who was a long-serving backbench county councillor.

He was telling me how much he enjoyed the role – and the opportunity it gave him to get around the villages in his division. He then said: “The only downside is that I have to come into Ipswich once or twice a week!”

When I challenged him, he firstly seemed surprised that anyone actually liked living in Ipswich and then dismissed his comment as “a joke.” I felt it was a classic case of “Many a true word spoken in jest.”

Given that these attitudes do appear to exist and – whatever anyone says – remain part of the Suffolk psyche, is it worth trying to change people’s minds?

I’m not sure there is anything that can be done. We urge people to change their minds. Critics can turn around and say they’ve changed their minds. But what do they think in their heart of hearts?

For those reasons I simply don’t believe that all the county’s rural Tories love Ipswich. I don’t believe everyone in Suffolk thinks Ipswich is a great place.

There will always be differing views on the benefits of rural-v-urban living. But I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect that our elected councillors don’t insult other parts of the county simply because they don’t want to live there – or to get a cheap laugh.

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