Ed Miliband visits Norwich and says ‘Labour has a mountain to climb’

Labour leader Ed Miliband began the task of trying to rebuild the party's fortunes in the region with a campaign stop in Norwich yesterday and an admission it has a 'mountain to climb' to win back voters.

Mr Miliband took a tour of the Norwich University College of the Arts to meet staff and students, and also to raise the issue of coalition cuts.

He later held a question and answer session where the fate of the NHS was raised as a particular concern, as well as questions on police cuts, help for older people, the coalition government's academy schools programme, Sure Start centres, and how to save local pubs from closure.

He then met local Labour candidates standing in the May 5 elections and was presented with a small parcel of goodies from the city including chocolate, mustard, and an 'I love Norwich' tea towel.

Labour was all but wiped out in the region in last year's general election, losing Westminster seats in Norwich, Great Yarmouth, and Waveney.

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But locally, the party fared well in last year's delayed Norwich City Council elections and is hopeful of gaining outright control of City Hall.

There is also a sense of optimism that the party could pick up seats in other Norfolk councils too.

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Yet given the party is starting from such a low base, and the Lib Dems and Tories are bracing themselves for a coalition backlash, it may be too early to claim a positive result as proof of a national revival.

And with much of the election campaign likely to be dominated by national issues, Mr Miliband said he hoped that voters would elect Labour councillors as 'instruments for standing up against government policies'.

'I am hopeful we are going to do well in these elections, but I take nothing for granted,' Mr Miliband said. 'I know we have got a big task to persuade people.

'I know we have got a mountain to climb, but that starts here,'

Mr Miliband said the country faced major challenges linked to how to tackle the deficit caused by the financial crisis, and what sort of society young people would inherit in the years to come.

He said the postwar Labour government of 1945 proved you could build a better society even at a time of huge debts, but the coalition strategy was simply about cutting the deficit.

'I worry that this government is making things worse by some of the decisions they are taking,' he said. 'Yes we have to cut the deficit.

'I don't say to you that there would have been no cuts if I had been prime minister. There would have been cuts, but the scale and the balance is the real issue.'

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