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Election 2017: The battle for Norwich South

PUBLISHED: 01:57 09 June 2017 | UPDATED: 04:12 09 June 2017

General election candidates from Norwich South (L-R): Richard Bearman (Green), Lana Hempsall (Conservative), Clive Lewis (Labour) and James Wright (Liberal Democrat). Photo: Archant

General election candidates from Norwich South (L-R): Richard Bearman (Green), Lana Hempsall (Conservative), Clive Lewis (Labour) and James Wright (Liberal Democrat). Photo: Archant

Archant

Billed as a seat whose result could predict the outcome of the general election as a whole, Norwich South has been a key Labour battleground to defend Clive Lewis’ majority.

And if the exit poll is to be believed the chances are Mr Lewis has held on.

The former shadow cabinet minister has played a key role under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and has been defending a majority of 7,654.

The question has been the destination of the 4,539 votes UKIP picked up in the constituency at the last election, as the party decided not to field a candidate this year.

The last time the Tories won Norwich South was after Margaret Thatcher’s 1983 landslide but defeated Labour man John Garrett stood again in 1987 and snatched it back. He passed the baton to Charles Clarke ten years later as Labour swept to victory across the country. Mr Clarke more than doubled the majority.

But a Lib Dem pledge to scrap tuition fees saw Mr Clarke defeated by just 310 votes in 2010. It was a promise that was broken by the Coalition Government and this was key in Clive Lewis grabbing the seat back for Labour two years ago.

Responding to the exit polls which predicted a hung parliament Mr Lewis said the election had been “completely unnecessary” and has weakened Mrs May’s hand heading into the looming Brexit talks.

“We were being told by the Tories they were going to be the largest party and they would be celebrating a landslide but look what’s happened,” said Mr Lewis. “If this is correct we haven’t won, but this is the most left wing, progressive manifesto we have seen in the last 30 or 40 years

“If there is one thing you can say for sure now – it is Theresa May is toast.

“She called this election for a mandate. Even if they are the biggest party she goes in to these talks with a weaker hand.

“She has caused instability and chaos. It was a completely unnecessary election for her own personal aggrandisement.”

He added he was confident about hanging on to his seat, but stressed he was “not taking anything for granted”.

Campaign manager for the Conservatives in Norwich South, Dave King, said: “I never believe in exit polls. The only one that matters is the one at 4am. 
“We expect a good showing. One thing the Labour party has done well here is bring the Green and Lib Dem voters across.

“At the start of the campaign the hope was for the Green vote to hold steady and the Lib Dem vote to hold steady. We have fought a very strong campaign and achieved growth. We have done as well as could have been expected.”

Liberal Democrat candidate James Wright said people “perhaps haven’t yet come round to the implications of Brexit”.

“The key thing locally was to use this as an opportunity to get out the Liberal Democrat position to have a final vote on the Brexit deal,” he said.

“Clearly there is still a lot of work to do on that. It was a very short campaign and there needs to be more time to get the message across. People wanted desperately for there not to be a Tory government, and for people passionately pro remain are often passionately anti-Tory. It seems the anti Tory views were more important to people.

“We are early on our journey of rebuilding the party and it will take a number of years. This election came a little too soon.”

Conservative candidate for Norwich South Lana Hempsall said she is “disappointed” at the result and accused Greens and Liberal Democrats of “abandoning their parties”.

“Clive has always talked about a progressive alliance against the Conservatives. This has been denied by the other candidates but you have Richard Bearman taking a holiday half way through the campaign.

“Norwich is a really progressive city with really highly educated people and liberals. That’s why this constituency voted remain.

“I find it disappointing so many abandoned their party – that is catastrophic and a massive step back to the two party system.

“This is going to be new territory. A coalition with the Liberal Democrats simply won’t happen this time. There is so much anger and aggression with people not listening because you are Conservative.

“I do not wake up every morning trying to find a way to destroy the NHS. That is blinkered.”

She added she would be sad if Theresa May was to step down because the Prime Minister had been supportive of her.

A result is expected from the count, at The Assembly House in Norwich, by around 4am.

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