Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour?


8:57 am - April 13th 2010

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contribution by Adam Ramsay

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’s a much simpler way to think about this. Imagine it’s election night and Charles Clarke loses to Adrian Ramsay. What message would that send to New Labour?

Help make that happen.

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Reader comments


Current odds for Norwich South:
Labour 11/8
Lib Dems 2/1
Conservatives 10/3
Greens 5/1

There’s money to be made if you’re right.

Was nearly a Labour->Lib Dem marginal at the last election, with Clarke leading by 8.7% of the vote. The latest poll suggests that the opposition to Clarke is now split fairly evenly three ways, with the result that he’s now 19% ahead of his nearest rivals. so, erm, the answer to the question in the headline is probably “no”.

Was nearly a Labour->Lib Dem marginal at the last election, with Clarke leading by 8.7% of the vote. The latest poll (my comment keeps getting moderated if I actually link to it, but it’s not hard to find by Googling “Norwich South poll”) suggests that the opposition to Clarke is now split fairly evenly three ways, with the result that he’s now 19% ahead of his nearest rivals. so, erm, the answer to the question in the headline is probably “no”.

Voting to send a message just doesn’t work, and is the worst argument any party can use to advance their candidate.

Tim F,

Voting is all about sending a message, be it the direction you want the country to take or even getting someone to take even the most irrelevant of local issues seriously.

Take the European Elections. Some people were so pissed off with mainstream politics from the fallout of the MPs expenses scandal that they switched support to one of the ‘others.’ UKIP, despite their own poor record on the transparancy of EU parliamentary allowences, took the lions share of public anger.

For students in Norwich South, if they are pissed off at Charles Clarke over fees, can vote Green.

For civil liberties campaigners, if they are pissed off at Charles Clarke, can vote Green.

Adam raises some valid points. The re-election of Charles Clarke will not contribute to shifting the Labour Party back on the road of progressive politics. If anything, it will embolden Clarke and the Blairites to stay with Labour and wait for the next opportunity to launch a coup.

If progressives are interested in punishing the right-wing within their own ranks, then it makes sense to switch to the most viable, progressive alternative which, in the case of Norwich South, is Adrian Ramsay and the Greens.

Although the odds suggest that the LibDems would be a far better bet in both senses.

Lib Dems and Greens will split the anti-Labour vote. Clarke gets elected.

Better luck next time!

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 … ID cards,

No, that was David Blunkett*. But even that’s inaccurate – the Labour leadership is to blame for being authoritarian.

Clarke was one in a line of authoritarian Labour Home Secretaries: Straw, Blunkett, Clarke, Reid, Smith, and now Johnson.

*…in terms of Labour’s ID cards. Michael Howard, Home Secretary in John Major’s Government attempted to introduce them too – but I don’t recall the plans being as authoritarian as Labour’s.

Hello,

yeah, I think I will go and put money on the basis of those odds.

The headline figure in that poll was the ‘definates’, which was only around 250 odd of the people polled. The vast majority there are undecided, which was very much the feeling I got when I was there. The poll was taken more than a month ago, before the campaign got into full swing.

Tories have given up in the seat, and are focussing all their efforts on Norwich North (when Cameron vistited the city last week, he didn’t even meet the candidate in South). 5 former Lib Dem councillors have endorsed Adrian, not coz they are Greens, but because they think he has a much better chance of beating Clarke. The 2005 result is irrelevant – back then, the Lib Dems had almost all the council wards in the seat and were well organised. They have now lost most of those seats to Greens, and are putting very little resource into the seat either. I think Clarke may well hold on, but the Lib Dems and Tories, based on my two days canvassing this weekend, and many days canvassing over the last few months, really don’t stand a chance.

Sure, sending a message is not the best way to persuade people to vote for someone – athough I agree with Luke that it is sometimes a useful way. I have been encouraging voters in Norwich South to vote for an MP who will work to defend public services and jobs in Norwich. This piece is for readers of Lib Con, most of whom live outside Norwich South, and are concerned about the broader impact on UK progressive politics.

Adam

the 2005 result is irrelevant

So I suppose one could surmise from that, that the Lib Dems, or even the Greens could form the next government? Results matter, boy.

Voting to send a message just doesn’t work, and is the worst argument any party can use to advance their candidate.

what? thats the whole bloody point of voting.

also, I do love the cynicism of people here who would normally be pretending to spit blood on New Labour. who will you be supporting then?

12. Shatterface

‘Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour?’

Live – from Norwich! It’s the Quiz of the Week!

(Sorry, nostalgic for daytime telly.)

Blanco –

No. I don’t mean that the 2005 results are irrelevant everywhere. They are a useful shortcut for a series of questions – organisation of the parties in the area, voting habits of people in the area, etc. My point is that, in Norwich South, if you drill down into each of those things, there has been a massive shift. Norwich has local elections every year, and so it’s easy to map that shift. Greens have come first across the constituency in the last 3 elections. The local Lib Dems have been decimated, to the extent that they seem not to have done any canvassing in the constituency at all, and the national party doesn’t seem to be putting any resources into it. Greens, on the other hand, have gone (from memory) from 3 councillors across the constituency in 2005 to around 20 now. Even just travelling aruond the constituency, you see a forest of Green Party window posters and poster boards in gardens, and a reasonable number of Labour ones. I saw 3 Lib Dem ones all weekend, and not a single Tory. Obviously none of these things on its own is enough, but together, they add up to Adrian having all of the momentum.

Adam

#4 and #10

No, voting is not about sending a message, it’s about getting people elected. It’s about electing individual MPs and it’s about electing a government.

I’m not saying you can’t advocate a vote for the Greens on that basis; I’m saying that the article doesn’t do so, it talks about sending a message.

As for Sunny’s barbed comment, I’ve always been consistent on this – I may not like Charles Clarke and his ilk, I supported John McDonnell’s leadership campaign etc but I have always been a party loyalist. I’ve always advocated a vote for Labour and I don’t think I have ever advocated using the voting system to “send a message”. That’s just gesture politics, it’s a liberal idea aimed at getting people in power to change their minds rather than in taking power.

tim f – Surely under our electoral system sending a message is the only power that many people’s votes have?

For example by voting Green in a seat they can’t win I’m sending a message to the Green party that even if they lose this time they should continue to campaign and invest resources here; and to other voters who might consider voting Green that there are people like them in the area and that at the next election a vote for the Greens might be a viable choice. I might not have got my candidate elected in 2010, but the message I send may help me get them elected in 2014 or 2018.

People can get involved in their local CLP or LA to decide who the candidate is. Tim F is right, voting PURELY to send a message never works. You think the other parties have greened up their act as a result of more Green votes? No, they just stole Green rhetoric.

Similarly, lots of white people voted BNP last year. Have the government actually addressed their grievances about housing, services, cultural identity etc? No. Neither have the Tories come up with any actual solutions to the problem. Both main parties, and the Lib Dems with Chris Huhne on Question Time, just stole the BNP’s rhetoric.

Sending a message works WHEN it results in an MP being elected – look at Galloway in 2005. Alternatively, don’t….

I’ll shed no tears if Clarke manages to lose, but the idea that the contest in any constituency will be a referendum on anything is stupid, almost by definition. It does have a fairly long history, of course. Quite a few by-elections in the inter-war period were seen as referendums on this or that issue of Great Importance (and weren’t. One by-election in London was widely regarded (and reported on) as a referendum on an aspect of foreign policy, even thought the main issue for the people that actually voted for the winning party (Labour) was almost certainly housing) and I suppose it’s asking too much for that idiocy to end now. Regardless, Norwich South is hardly typical of the rest of the country. At best you might have a referendum on ‘New Labour’ (whatever that term means these days) in Norwich South – wider implicatons would simply not exist… other than to say that middle class lefties don’t like ‘New Labour’ anymore. Which is hardly newsworthy and would most unlikely to influence the deliberations of senior figures in the Party and in the Unions…

“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. ”

apart from Jim Fitpatrick in Poplar and Limehouse and Roger Godsiff in Birmingham Hal Green you mean?

The Green Party are even backing Salma Yaqoob in the Birmingham seat

I’m not really sure if it’s accurate to call Godsiff ‘right-wing’ these days…

20. Strategist

#19 Yes, it would be more accurate to call Godsiff “shitting it”:

http://www.thestirrer.co.uk/April_10/godsiff-goes-underground-120410.html

Salma Yaqoob is on the march in Birmingham Hall Green http://www.socialistunity.com/?p=5588

21. Strategist

@3 Rob: the opposition to Clarke is now split fairly evenly three ways, with the result that he’s now 19% ahead of his nearest rivals. so, erm, the answer to the question in the headline is probably “no”.

Rob, you misunderstand the nature of an election campaign. All the poll reveals is that there’s a lot of opposition to Clarke (and a heck of a lot of undecideds, as Adam @9 points out). That opposition will, over the course of the actual campaign on the ground, coalesce around whichever opponent emerges as the lead challenger to Clarke. Voters do this by weighing the various leaflets they have received on their bathroom scales.

The chances of the Greens emerging as the lead challenger are good, as the seat is the Greens’ No.2 UK target, and they are flooding the seat with resources. Also the “LibDem vote” isn’t really a LibDem vote, it’s obviously well used to voting Green come local election time, or the Greens wouldn’t have so many councillors. A strong campaign could pull almost all of it over to the Greens.

@18 To the Greens, Respect don’t exist. In fact, they don’t even acknowledge the BNP – hence their decision to stand in Barking, which will split the anti-BNP vote.

Wonderful bunch, those Greens. Their failure to get an MEP in the North West last year, despite the support they got from Respect and others, let Nick Griffin in.

And now they plan on doing so again.

Blanco – yeah. Running in Barking is crazy unless they are actively targeting ‘pissed off with politics’ voters in an attempt to hive them off the BNP – but, yes, I agree they shouldn’t have run there, and the local party was, as I understand it, put under quite a lot of pressure from the national party not to, but in the Green Party, these decisions are for local parties, which I think is a good thing.

On the two RESPECT seats,

a) I wouldn’t count a homophobe like George Galloway as progressive.

b) Salma Yaqoob is excellent, and I very much hope she wins. I’m afraid I don’t really know Roger Godsiff, but he certainly isn’t as much of a villain as Clarke.

Adam

“The third, lefties, will argue that the swing to the right over 15 years was to blame.”

For a conservative government?

It’s like 1983 all over again.

25. Strategist

@23 Adam: “I wouldn’t count a homophobe like George Galloway as progressive.”

Don’t be a silly billy, Adam. George Galloway is no more a homophobe than you are. And he is one of the doughtiest fighters the weak and dispossessed in this country – and in Gaza – have got. Don’t believe the nonsense you read in the mainstream media about him and from the New Labour and establishment hacks who hate him because they fear the fact that he speaks the truth about the crimes they have committed.

http://www.therespectparty.net/manifesto.php?category=LesbianGay

@23 Adam

He’s not a homophobe; but he doesn’t seem to much care for the plight of gays in the Middle East and his party; moreover, is stuffed with homophobes in the East End and the West Midlands.

I’m a student at UEA which makes me able to vote in the Norwich South constituency. I want to vote Lib Dems, but would it be a wasted vote?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga

  2. AdamRamsay

    RT @libcon Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga << @adrianramsay see my latest piece #NorwichS #GE2010

  3. Justin Baidoo

    RT @libcon: Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga

  4. Dan Lee

    RT @AdamRamsay: RT @libcon Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga << @adrianramsay see my latest piece #NorwichS #GE2010

  5. Darren

    RT @libcon: Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga

  6. andrew

    Liberal Conspiracy » Could Norwich South be the referendum on New …: Liberal Conspiracy. Could Norwich South be … http://bit.ly/dcUATY

  7. Tessa Gee

    Liberal Conspiracy » Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://ow.ly/1ygp6

  8. Libs ‘n’ Greens « greenopolis

    […] in the battle for Brighton then this short video from John Harris is worth watching. Over at Liberal Conspiracy, Green Party deputy leader Adrian Ramsay suggests a breakthrough could also be on the cards in the […]

  9. Therese

    Only just twigged: Greens are battling the hiddeous Charles Clarke in Norwich South (their 2nd best seat). Go Greens! http://bit.ly/aD8sta

  10. Liberal Conspiracy » Why it’s important for Greens to win Norwich North

    […] read Adam Ramsay’s piece on Norwich South with great (admittedly vested) […]

  11. William McFarland

    RT @libcon: Could Norwich South be the referendum on New Labour? http://bit.ly/aBKrga





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