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2015: A year of political revolution on both a local and national scale

PUBLISHED: 09:24 29 December 2015 | UPDATED: 09:38 29 December 2015

Prime Minister David Cameron helps with a reading lesson. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

Prime Minister David Cameron helps with a reading lesson. Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

At the end of a dramatic year for politics, Annabelle Dickson looks back at the eventful and often unexpected political news of 2015.

David Cameron started 2015 unsure if he would still be prime minister by the end.

Jeremy Corbyn certainly would not have predicted that he would lead Her Majesty’s opposition by the year’s conclusion.

The long-awaited general election certainly saw a shake-up in Westminster.

While Mr Cameron’s place in the history books is secure, along with the Scottish National Party which enjoyed a Scottish landslide, for UKIP, Labour, the Green Party and Liberal Democrats, 2015 is likely to be a year they would rather forget.

While national politics was rarely out of the headlines, at a local level a 
continued path of austerity dominated proceedings, as the question of how to run our public services and where power should lie was on the agenda.

Events in 2015 proved the old cliché that a day is a long time in politics is as apt now as it has always been.

It has been a year where a huge amount has happened.

A SURPRISE CONSERVATIVE MAJORITY IN A GENERAL ELECTION

David Cameron walked back into Number 10 after a general election result which the pollsters failed to predict.

Norfolk, Suffolk and the Fens remained largely blue, with just one seat changing hands in Norwich South, where Labour’s Clive Lewis defeated Liberal Democrat Simon Wright.

Norman Lamb clung on in North Norfolk to ensure there was still a yellow presence in the East of England, despite a poor showing for the party nationally.

Bury St Edmunds remained Conservative, but with new MP Jo Churchill replacing David Ruffley.

Nationally, the Conservatives won 330 seats and 36.9pc of the vote – resulting in a working majority of 12.

NEW LEADERS FOR THE DEFEATED PARTIES

Annihilation at the polls for Labour and the Liberal Democrats prompted two high-profile leadership campaigns.

Corbyn-mania came to Norwich in the summer when more than 1,000 people turned up to the city’s Open venue for the veteran left-winger’s rally.

Mr Corbyn was declared the winner of the contest at a special conference in September, where he clinched a stunning first-round victory that dwarfed even the mandate for long-serving Labour leader Tony Blair in 1994.

He won with nearly 59.5pc of first-preference votes, beating rivals Andy Burnham, who scooped 19pc of the voting papers, and Yvette Cooper who received 17pc. Liz Kendall came last on 4.5pc.

Mr Corbyn quickly appointed a shadow cabinet, giving old friend and political ally John McDonnell, who grew up in Great Yarmouth, the job of shadow chancellor.

An old school friend from Norfolk confirmed to the EDP that he did have an ability with numbers, recounting how he had whispered the answers to her to save her from having her knuckles rapped.

The Liberal Democrats had already chosen their leader by the time the Labour campaign had really got going.

Norfolk MP Norman Lamb threw his hat into the ring and put up a good fight against the favourite, and ultimate, victor – former party president Tim Farron. Mr Farron, the MP for Westmorland and Lonsdale, won 56.5pc to Mr Lamb’s 43.5pc of the votes in the early summer poll.

NEW LOCAL GOVERNMENT LEADERS TOO

It was not just at national level that leadership battles took place.

At City Hall in Norwich, Alan Waters – a councillor for more than 20 years – took the helm.

At County Hall, the Conservative group appointed its third leader in just 10 months, following a leadership challenge. Cliff Jordan, who had a seven year stint as leader of Breckland Council, replaced Tom FitzPatrick as leader of the 39-strong opposition Conservative group.

At Great Yarmouth Borough Council, Conservative Graham Plant won back control from Labour’s Trevor Wainwright, after his party won two seats at the local council elections in May. In Suffolk, Colin Noble was voted in to lead the Conservatives, replacing council leader Mark Bee, who announced he was quitting in May.

ANOTHER TOUGH YEAR FOR CHILDREN’S SERVICES

The Department for Education drafted in a new commissioner at the end of a mixed year for Norfolk County Council’s children’s services.

Dave Hill, who is currently responsible for children’s services at Essex County Council, has been tasked with assessing if alternative arrangements are needed to look after some of the most vulnerable children in the county.

In October the authority was branded “inadequate” for the way it looks after children for the second time in three years.

Two of three areas within child protection and services for children in care in Norfolk were rated as “requires improvement”, but another – support for looked after children and care leavers – was deemed inadequate. That led to an overall ‘inadequate’ rating, although inspectors had been content with improvement to support for schools.

The county council maintains there has been improvement over the past couple of years.

DEVOLUTION

Norfolk and Suffolk started negotiations with the government for a so-called “devolution deal”.

After announcing a blueprint for Greater Manchester as part of the chancellor’s vision for a “northern powerhouse”, the government urged other areas were urged to come up with their own proposals for which powers and budgets they would like to win back from Whitehall.

The two counties agreed to join forces to submit a bid,

No deal was signed, but the move could pave the way for a new combined authority or elected mayor for the region.

INFRASTRUCTURE IN THE SLOW LANE

Preliminary work on the Norwich Northern Distributor Road (NDR) finally started this month after a year of setbacks, including the revelation in the summer that the cost of the project had rocketed by £30m. The government, county council and enterprise 
partnership joined forced to plug the funding gap.

News that another road upgrade – the A47 – was not likely to start

construction until 2020, prompted prime minister David Cameron to quip that he would get in the diggers himself.

The campaign to run trains from Norwich to London in 90 minutes took a step forward with key aims in the new contract for an operator, but an upgrade to the junction vital to twice-hourly trains between King’s Lynn and Cambridge and Norwich and Cambridge was delayed.

CHALLENGES AT COUNTY HALL

The question of where the axe should fall on council budgets dominated business this year.

Cuts were approved to the transport budget for people using adult social care services in Norfolk, community services, arts funding, libraries and roads spending this year.

Attention turned to cuts of the future proposals. Plans to shut 27 of Norfolk’s 47 libraries to save £1.6m and the most extreme £2.9m cuts to the fire service, which might have led to the closure of 18 fire stations and the loss of hundreds of firefighter jobs, were abandoned. The EDP launched a Save Our Stations amid warnings from fire chiefs that lives could be put at risk.

The fire service is still facing a redesign and it is likely the public could be consulted over the closure of two fire stations – at Outwell and Heacham.

RAF MARHAM JETS EXTEND INTO SYRIA

Prime minister David Cameron finished the year with a convincing parliamentary mandate to extend air strikes into Syria. A day-long debate culminated in MPs giving the green light for RAF Marham jets to carry out missions beyond the Iraqi border with Syria. In our region just Norwich South MP Clive Lewis and North Norfolk MP Norman Lamb opposed the extension of the strikes.

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