OPINION: Image published on Ipswich Conservatives' website was tasteless

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

A blog post by Ipswich Conservative Association contained a composite picture of Jimmy Savile and Sir Keir Starmer - Credit: PA

Politics is a very important part of life for many people - on a number of different levels.

That drive can take you to the centre of government - in parliament or even ministerial office - it can lead to a role as a councillor representing your local community. Or it can simply involve being a member of a political party or an activist for a cause.

But whatever level of political activity someone takes up, there really does need to be an understanding that this should be a serious interest, it should be done with the aim of making life better for people - and it should be done within the law.

That means the participants really do need to have a knowledge of what legal restrictions they are working under - and of the standards of behaviour that should be expected.

Over the last few weeks in this region there have been a couple of issues that have highlighted this.

The Ipswich Conservative Association posted a blog on its website that contained an offensive image falsely linking Sir Keir Starmer to the decision not to prosecute Jimmy Savile for sex offences.

It would be difficult to argue that there was anything illegal in this - but there were false claims and it was tasteless in the extreme. It did absolutely nothing to enhance the reputation of the ICA.

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It was later taken down once the serious lack of judgement had been realised by Tory officials - I don't think anyone who knows anything about the process of putting up a blog post would accept the explanation that this was an "administrative error".

The party will be hoping its quick action to solve the problem will minimise the damage - but it is a reminder that politics is not a game, it should be a serious matter.

Another issue that has blown up in Essex shows just how important it is that local councils - and their members - accept that they do not operate in a vacuum. Their decisions must take heed of national planning laws and guidelines.

We've all heard people say "councils shouldn't allow this or that development to go ahead". Most recently I've seen comments that there are too many coffee shops in Ipswich. For example, some say Starbucks shouldn't be allowed to open in Westgate Street.

The fact is councils cannot pick and choose which businesses they want to that extent. They can prevent a clearly inappropriate development like a fast-food joint opening opposite a school but there are very strict guidelines on what can go where.

And with major housing developments, there are strict guidelines that councils have to follow before deciding on planning permission. If they get these decisions wrong the applicant can win an appeal - rendering councils (and therefore council taxpayers) liable for huge legal bills.

If that happens too often, the government can take the "nuclear option" and take over planning from the local authority - and that's what's happened in the west Essex district of Uttlesford (which includes Stansted Airport).

Saffron Walden

Saffron Walden-based Uttlesford council has lost the power to decide major planning applications. - Credit: Paul Geater

A group of campaigners against the airport development and plans for thousands of new homes in the district stood for election and got themselves on to the council with a majority to oppose many of the proposed building projects.

When they came up for planning permission most were turned down - many against the advice of professional planning officials - which prompted lots of appeals to the government which were upheld.

Now the council has had the right to take decisions on major planning applications removed - they will now be decided directly by the government until ministers are satisfied that the district is capable of making lawful planning decisions again.

That really doesn't benefit local people at all - but it is a stern reminder that local councillors' powers are limited and if they ignore national policy they aren't likely to win an argument with Whitehall.

A lot of people take part in politics for wholly-laudable ideological reasons - they want to work to promote their own view of Utopia. 

But that ideological zeal really should never trump the rule of law or the vital importance of common sense and decency - politics should be about making people's lives better, not just be seen as a points-scoring exercise.