Tea and sandwiches with Tony

This column was published in the East Anglian Daily Times on Tuesday, March 8 2005WHEN the summons to Downing Street comes, everything gets dropped.

This column was published in the East Anglian Daily Times on Tuesday, March 8 2005

WHEN the summons to Downing Street comes, everything gets dropped. So it's off to No 10 this lunchtime and with the General Election now set for May 5, there's little doubt that over sandwiches and coffee, the Prime Minister and will be at their most charming.

Next week, Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats are holding a lobby journalists' reception in the House of Lords to discuss policies with the top team while Michael Howard and the shadow cabinet have already mingled with the lobby media at the impressively high-tech Conservative Central Office, successfully relocated from Smith Square to Victoria Street.

Regional morning and evening newspapers are too often overlooked by politicians. But in an election period, they are fundamental to getting the message across, especially in marginal constituencies.

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With Harwich and Braintree two of Labour's most vulnerable seats, and Ipswich and Waveney central to any improbable Tory bid for power, the parties know whose toast they have to butter!

THE Liberal Democrats – the party that claims it's the real alternative – got all high and mighty at its Harrogate conference this weekend, dubbing the Government's anti-terror laws "unlawful, illiberal and ineffective." Delegates backed an emergency motion calling for the power to impose control orders to be placed in the hand of judges not politicians.

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Where were the moral high ground Liberal Democrats, including Mr Kennedy and Chief Whip Andrew Stunnell, when Parliament debated the Government's plans to place under house arrest any suspected terrorist who for various reasons can't be put on trial?

It seems many were on gardening leave – the parliamentary term for MPs being excused to spend time in their constituencies to work on bolstering their image with the voters – instead of voting against the Bill.

The absence of 17 Lib Dems – which party strategist Lord Rennard glibly dismisses as a "cock up" – helped the Government avoid a highly-damaging defeat in the Commons. The Bill scraped through the Commons by 14 voters; if the gardening MPs had been in the chamber, it would have been defeated.

Last Monday was not a mere cock up but a dismal abdication of parliamentary duty from a party that keeps ranting that it is on the verge of an historic leap forward.

They'd better watch out or that leap could be over a water fall into the drowning pool.

BELATED congratulations to 2001 Ipswich Tory candidate Edward Wild and wife Tessa on the birth of son Theo on Christmas Eve. Theo weighed in at 7lb 8oz at St Thomas's Hospital, appropriately situated on the opposite bank of the Thames to the House of Parliament.

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