by Hannah Rose
I cycled through a hailstorm last Saturday so that I could attend a Labour Party rally at the Silver Road community centre. The things we do for politics, I said to myself, hailstones pinging off my helmet. Clive Lewis, Norwich South MP, hosted the event wcromeith Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, who was making a visit on his campaign rounds in light of the upcoming local elections on May 5th.
The Norwich City Council election will be a significant juncture since Corbyn-mania. The Council is currently a Labour and Green hold, with 39 councillors and 13 elected wards: 22 Labour, 14 Green, 3 Lib Dem. Not a blue badge or Union Jack bowtie in sight.
The turnout at the Silver Road community centre was promising; around two hundred people had gathered to hear the Shadow Chancellor speak and about half stayed on to go out canvassing in the Catton Grove ward. It was a diverse crowd, with a wide range of ages and a number of different nationalities filling the room. Clive Lewis opened the rally by stressing the importance of canvassing in Catton Grove—a key ward for a Labour. Currently, all three councillors are Labour, but a low turnout could mean the Tories get in, since Chloe Smith won in Norwich North last May.
It seems that a skills and brain drain might be the fallout for Norfolk if Brexit becomes a reality.
The warm-up acts featured Richard Howitt MEP, Alan Waters, Labour councillor for Chrome, and Chris Jones—who is standing for the Police and Crime Commissioner for Norfolk. I’d been waiting to hear more from Richard Howitt on what the European Union means for Norfolk—so far I’ve only discovered fairly platitudinal examples on his website. Plenty of EU funding exists in Norfolk, but Howitt cited just six examples. He spoke of Norwich being a “proud European city,” whose contribution to academic and technological research relies on being part of the EU, which helps fund the Institute of Food Research and the Hethel Engineering Centre. It seems that a skills and brain drain might be the fallout for Norfolk if Brexit becomes a reality.
Chris Jones followed up by sharing a strong message about the Police service. He highlighted that we’re led to believe that crime and security is not a Labour issue, and then he contested this belief by pointing out that “Crime affects the poorest in society.” He’s right – the rich are more protected and resilient to it. Our police are another public service being dismantled by the right and Jones wants to see PCSOs return to the streets of Norwich, filling the gap made by the hundreds of jobs that have been cut by the Tories since 2010.
John McDonnell—who grew up in Great Yarmouth—stipulated the vital role local elections have in making that step-by-step approach to winning the next general election. His realism towards new Left politics, that’s been roused since Corbynism seduced many in the disaffected Left with humanitarianism in a cosy jumper, helps mitigate my concern that this isn’t reactive politics making unqualified statements and undeliverable promises. It’s about listening to real people, and working on policy that’s robust, ready, and achievable for 2020. One area of key concern for Labour is about what the party can offer young people. McDonnell didn’t say he had all the answers, but wants to see improved discourse in the Labour Party about what the future holds for the next generation.
Education is a gift from one generation to the next; not a commodity which can be bought and sold
Norwich is a youthful city; hundreds of young people come here to study each year and Labour could better represent young people at a local level, as well as national, I feel. McDonnell spoke pragmatically about universities—working on policy that will undo the Con-Lib university fee mess. “Education is a gift from one generation to the next; not a commodity which can be bought and sold,” he said—a timely message, since our schools are currently being turned into corporations. I hope that the burgeoning anti-academy voice in Norwich will also find a seat at the City Council post-election.
Do I want an all-out Labour win, and for my City Council to be red all over? I feel conflicted on the matter. Norwich has always had a solid Green delegation; Norwich South was tipped to be the second Green constituency—after Caroline Lucas won in Brighton Pavilion in 2010. The Green voice is necessary, I believe, and has successfully campaigned for reduced pollution levels in Norwich with greener buses. McDonnell hinted at this, saying that Norwich “demonstrates what local councils can do on environmental issues.”
Dialogue within the Left between its differing shades of opinion aligns with my idea of true democracy: diversity in all its guises matters. In a diverse world we find strength, quality and equality. The question is, can one party—whose resounding message is one of equality—sustain and deliver a truly diverse and democratic politics? Can a Labour council in Norwich really do it all? Alan Waters thinks so, and the most salient point and resounding message at Saturday’s rally came from him. He spoke of the equality chasm between rich and poor in our our city: there’s an eleven year gap in life expectancy between people living in affluent and poorer areas—a shocking fact. Can this change if the Left campaigns for affordable homes and job opportunities at a local level? I hope so.
“We’re [Labour] in government in Norwich—keeping it free from centralised government, neo-liberals, destroyers of public services,” Waters continued. The way I see it, this isn’t just a local election, but instead it’s part of a long-term plan to construct and implement an alternative to Tory rule in 2020. With vigorous and united Left representation at a local level, driving home that equality message, perhaps Norwich can realise itself as a beacon of hope in a dark world. So I will be holding them accountable to that, and voting Labour on May 5th. I’ll even cycle through another hailstorm if need be.