Final push may not be enough for outright victory
Shaun Lowthorpe A wet Wednesday in Norwich - the last day of a local election campaign that will have passed many people by - a contest which may be the last of its kind at City Hall under the existing council system. For activists of all political parties it was the day of the final push.
A wet Wednesday in Norwich - the last day of a local election campaign that will have passed many people by - a contest which may be the last of its kind at City Hall under the existing council system.
For activists of all political parties it was the day of the final push, last minute leafleting, telephone canvassing, and door knocking all aimed at getting the vote out for a result which could be anything but clear cut. The canvass cards were out and the teller's rotas were being sorted.
Norwich is one of three contests locally, with Yarmouth and Waveney also going to the polls - each with a third of the seats up for grabs.
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Conventional thinking says that Labour, which has 15 seats at City Hall, will remain the largest group in charge of a minority administration thanks to a criss-cross combination of losses and gains. The Greens, on 10, are set to pass the Lib Dems to become the main opposition party, while the Tories will also pick up a couple of extra seats.
Yet the maths could see Labour and the Greens level pegging, with the Lib Dems down to six and the Tories up to five - and with a Lib Dem mayor for the next civic year and out of the voting equation, you could be looking at a stalemate council.
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The key battlegrounds appear to be centring around Bowthorpe, which the Tories hope to take from Labour - and unseating deputy council leader Brenda Ferris in the process.
But the last-minute predictions were that the Greens were putting up an unexpectedly strong fight in University, a Labour target from the Lib Dems, while the Lib Dems were also fighting hard to stop Labour taking Lakenham.
And then there was Eaton where sitting Lib Dem councillor Judith Lubbock was in determined mood spending the day telephone canvassing from home before an evening of door-knocking.
The Tories, meanwhile who hope to win the seat from her after 13 years, are fielding Niall Baxter, a 21-year-old student and David Tennant lookalike. Last night more than 40 party activists bussed in from the rest of the city and south Norfolk were out and about in the ward for a last minute push. Yet Labour, too are also working hard in the ward with candidate Phil Taylor, a former special advisor to Peter Hain, getting a taste of party politics in a perhaps less rarefied atmosphere than he is used to.
Labour group leader Steve Morphew was spending the day pounding the streets in Catton Grove and Mile Cross along with activists and Jon Collins, his counterpart from Nottingham City Council, who had joined him for the day.
Labour has a track record of getting its vote out in the city, yet a backlash against the government and even the weather could each affect his party's chances.
"At this stage we are trying to remind people what they are voting for, and encourage them to vote," he says.
"Most people understand that the 10p tax rate has nothing to do with the local elections. There are inevitably people who are cross with the government, but I think they understand that being cross with the government is not going to sort out the problems the city has.
"I don't do predictions, but mathematically all manner of things are possible," he adds.
Lib Dem group leader Brian Watkins, spends his day at work before heading out at 6pm for some last minute canvassing.
His opponents are gleefully predicting his group will take a pummelling, but he doesn't sound defeatist and feels voter discontent at post office closures and council tax rises will tempt people to stick with his party.
"I don't think we are seeing the strange death of Lib Dem Norwich," he says. "These things come in cycles. In the last few years we haven't done quite as well, but I am still finding our candidates have been well received."
Green group leader Adrian Ramsay was yesterday marshalling his activists from the home of a fellow councillor just off Unthank Road.
"We've had about 100 people delivering our latest leaflets in the last three days," he says. "Our top priority has been to defend the two seats we have up for election. If we were to make three gains that would be a massive step forward - more Green influence on the council and see us as the main challengers for Norwich South in the general election.
Meanwhile, Conservative group leader Antony Little looks like a man with nothing to lose and all, well some seats at least, to gain.
"The weather has been awful," he says. "We started the campaign in the snow, then had sunshine and finished with rain. But it has been fun. I've knocked on hundreds of doors and met some fantastic people. There's always a worry that you'll get a door slammed in your face, but people haven't had a bad word to say."