Let’s praise all the positives - Clarke

Think back 10 years. In May 1997 there was no Forum, Riverside or Chapelfield, no new Norfolk and Norwich Hospital or Medical School, no direct Norwich-Cambridge rail service, none of the new Sure Start centres, schools and school buildings which now exist throughout the county, no brand new doctors' and dentists' surgeries.

Think back 10 years.

In May 1997 there was no Forum, Riverside or Chapelfield, no new Norfolk and Norwich Hospital or Medical School, no direct Norwich-Cambridge rail service, none of the new Sure Start centres, schools and school buildings which now exist throughout the county, no brand new doctors' and dentists' surgeries. Three sections of the A11 remained to be dualled, not one. The Yarmouth Outer Harbour was just a dream. You could fly from Norwich just to Amsterdam and a couple of UK destinations.

Northern Ireland was still riven by violence. We still had legal fox-hunting and you could still buy handguns. There were no legal civil partnerships. Ramblers had no right to roam. There was no minimum wage. Trade union membership was not an absolute right. Paid maternity leave was for three months, not nine, and there was no paid paternity leave. Overall crime was about 45pc higher. Two million more pensioners were living in absolute poverty. There were long waiting lists for life-saving treatment for cancer and heart disease. Academic success was significantly less than today.

"Boom and bust" economics was still a reality, with many in Norfolk suffering bankruptcy after "Black Wednesday", youth unemployment at the top of the agenda, and deep concern about the closure of Nestles and the privatisation of the Stationery Office.


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Labour's victory in May 1997 made an enormous difference. It directly created many of these improvements and indirectly encouraged the strong economy which has encouraged so much investment in the City. This progress would not have been achieved without both Tony Blair's leadership and Gordon Brown's stewardship of the economy.

It is certainly true that Labour could have done better if we had been more ambitious; we were insufficiently courageous, for example in promoting environmental sustainability and in strengthening our relationship with the European Union; we were too indecisive in some public service reforms; we should have reformed the constitution more urgently. And internationally our commitment to development in Africa and addressing climate change, combined with successful intervention to defend human rights in the former Yugoslavia and Afghanistan, has been tarnished by the failure to secure peace in Iraq.

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These are important qualifications in the narrative of Labour success. But they are as nothing in comparison with what would have happened had Labour not won in 1997. Conservative economic and social decay would have become chronic and cities like Norwich would have slipped into long-term decline.

I am sad that Tony Blair is leaving office reaping the media consequences of positive changes that he has sown. Labour rightly legislated for the first time to require publication of political donations, to permit Freedom of Information and to guarantee Human Rights. All of these now offer weapons which enable the prime minister's critics to make their case, often dishonestly.

I hope and believe that when Norfolk people look back on these

10 years of Tony Blair's

premiership they will credit his overall record of positive achievement for this county and the country.

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