All eyes on the Lib Dems' vote pile

THERE'LL be an anxious hour or two for Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley and his constituency officers as the votes are counted in Thursday's Stowmarket North and Stowupland by-election to Suffolk county council.

Graham Dines

THERE'LL be an anxious hour or two for Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley and his constituency officers as the votes are counted in Thursday's Stowmarket North and Stowupland by-election to Suffolk county council.

Having lost the neighbouring seat of Thedwestre South to the Liberal Democrats last year, they can ill-afford the gloating which would be their lot should they lose this by-election.

If the Tories retain the seat, it will mean the political fallout from the appointment of a county chief executive on a pay scale up to £220,000 is not so great as Labour and the Liberal Democrats claim. As a Labour gain seems highly unlikely, all eyes will be on the vote pile for the Lib Dems.

YOU can find some puerile drivel on the Internet, but there's nothing quite so inane as the computer game “A Kick in the Balls” which has been posted by Conservative Central Office.

It takes a poke at the very public falling out of Jack Straw and one of Gordon Brown's closest henchmen, Ed Balls. The object of the game is to manipulate Straw into kicking Balls where it hurts. And I thought that David Cameron wanted to put the maturity back into political debate!

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But if you put the Tory web lark to one side, the underlying reason for the game is no laughing matter - Justice Secretary Straw and Schools Secretary Balls were involved in an altercation which was so heated that it almost came to blows.

Tensions in government circles are at breaking point. Opinion polls indicate that Labour is in deep trouble with the electorate and MPs are already muttering that Gordon Brown will go down in history as Labour's worst Prime Minister - mind you, there's only five others from which to choose!

How different from last summer, when Brown was at the height of his popularity after taking over at Number 10 and he would have coasted to a General Election victory. But he bottled that election and what a heavy price Labour is paying.

HARWICH'S Conservative MP Douglas Carswell is being feted for daring to call for Speaker Michael Martin to quit over the mess which has flowed from parliamentary authorities trying to stop the publication of MPs expenses. Challenging the Speaker's authority and performance shatters the Commons convention that right or wrong, the Speaker is always right. But if Parliament is to be modernised, its arcane methods must be overhauled.

A POST St George's Day rally is to be held by the Campaign for an English Parliament at the Conway Hall, 25 Red Lion Square, Holborn, in London on Saturday April 26. Among the speakers are Birkenhead's Labour MP Frank Field, Professor Hugo de Burgh who is professor of journalism at the University of Westminster, and Canon Kenyon Wright who is executive chairman of the Scottish Constitutional Convention.

Admission for the day, which starts at 10.30am, is free. Tickets can be obtained from the Campaign for an English Parliament, Rea Bank, Weir Road, Hanwood, Shrewsbury SY5 8LA (telephone 07779 338343).