Why you should care about Norwich South
So, I’d better ‘fes up from the start. I am a Green Party activist. I’ve been a party member for nearly a decade. It’s not surprising that I am writing about why one of the top target seats for the party is significant. But give me a chance.
The election in Norwich South is unique in England. It is the only place I can think of where a right wing Labour incumbent faces a serious challenge from their left.
It’s Adrian Ramsay or Charles Clarke in Norwich South
The seat has come down to 2 candidates: Green Party deputy leader Adrian Ramsay (no relation); and former Minister now right-wing rebel, Charles Clarke. Greens have the majority of councillors across the seat. They’ve topped the poll in the local elections every year since 2007, and came first in the Euros. Adrian’s been endorsed by numerous former Lib Dem and Labour councillors, and their ground campaign is second to none. This seat really is up for grabs.
28 year old Adrian has been a councillor for the last seven years, and was, until recently, leader of the Greens’ first ever official council opposition (he stood down as group leader to focus on the General Election). He has gained a reputation in Norwich for defending public services – nursery schools to care gomes – from council cuts, opposing PFI deals, and defending jobs by stopping a Tesco takover of the high street destroying local businesses. In his ward in the heart of Norwich South, he was re-elected with around 62% of the vote. His campaign is focussing on jobs, public services, and opposition to privatisation.
Within the Green Party, Adrian has, through ‘show not tell’ helped lead the way in persuading activists to put social justice front and centre in the campaign – that fair is worth fighting for.
Charles Clarke needs little introduction. Perhaps it’s enough to say that he has attempted 3 coups against Gordon Brown for not being right wing enough. He is the man behind top-up fees, ID cards, PFI city academies. He represents everything that’s wrong with Labour.
Is this the only seat where it’s a lefty vs a Blairite? I think so. In Brighton Pavillion, the other Green hope, all the evidence is that it’s come down to Caroline Lucan vs Charlotte Vere, the Tory. There are some progressive Lib Dems, sure. But their national party message is ‘cuts cuts and more cuts’. I suppose you could argue there are examples in Scotland and Wales, but George Kerevan (SNP, Glasgow East) is no real lefty, and most people are happy to exceptionalise the nations and so fail to learn the appropriate lessons.
So, why does all this matter?
Well, if Labour lose this election, we can expect some soul searching about what went wrong. We’ll see, I’d guess, three camps. The first, loyalists, will say that the recession was unlucky, they made the best of a tough job, and 13 years is a reasonable term. The second, Blairite rebels, will say, we can expect, that Brown’s “class war” rhetoric and lack of charisma lost it – that, as Charles Clarke seems to think, Brown wasn’t right wing enough. The third, lefties, will argue that the swing to the right over 15 years was to blame.
For progressives in the UK, whether or not we support the Labour Party, it will be important that the third camp wins this argument against the second (and the first).
There are two ways that a Green win in Norwich South will matter in this. Firstly, it will provide a case study. When someone on the right of Labour is challenged by someone clearly on their left – campaigning against cuts and privatisation – in a constituency with the full gammut of demographics – the result is clearly worth paying attention to.
Secondly, Charles Clarke is one of the intellectual leaders of the right. Sure, he has lost most of his credibility in the party, but he is sharp enough to help organise those who haven’t. While he doesn’t need to be an MP to do this, it will certainly be much harder if he isn’t.
There’s a much simpler way to think about this. Imagine it’s election night. Imagine Labour has lost, but Charles Clarke has kept his seat. What will he say in his victory speech?
OK, now imagine Labour win nationwide, but Charles Clarke loses to Adrian Ramsay. What message would that send to New Labour?