EXCLUSIVE: Labour leadership talk is ‘fantasy politics’, says Clive Lewis as he ponders spending more time in Norwich
- Credit: Archant
Norwich South MP Clive Lewis has so far fit more drama into his short parliamentary career than some MPs fit into 40 years on the green benches.
His meteoric front bench rise ended this week with his dramatic resignation after he decided to defy leader Jeremy Corbyn's three-line whip on triggering Article 50.
It has been characterised by some as positioning himself for a leadership challenge, an act of treachery, but he insisted it was a matter of principle and to 'fulfil the promises I made to the people of Norwich South'.
Yet his departure from the front bench still thrust him into the eye of a political storm this week. Stories started circulating after his resignation that he was ringing around Labour MPs to sound them out as part of a coup against the veteran left-winger.
'There has been speculation about that, and it is just that. You can quote me on this. It is total ********,', he said. He insisted he would still be 'working hard to support the leadership and the party from the backbenches'.
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He claimed any talk that he was preparing for the top Labour job was part of a 'game of fantasy politics in Westminster', insisting that 'nothing could be further from my mind'.
'I have been in parliament for just over two years, I still have a lot to learn, my plan consists of getting back into a backbench routine. Working hard for my constituents and helping my party hold the government to account,' he said.
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Despite reports of heated shadow cabinet discussions in the run up to this week's Brexit showdown, he said he and Jeremy Corbyn were still friends. The MP, who was one of just a handful of MPs to initially put Mr Corbyn onto the leadership ballot paper, said they spoke twice over the course of the two days of voting in the House of Commons this week.
Even on Mr Corbyn's three-line whip, which cost the former shadow business minister his front bench job, the Norwich South MP was sympathetic to the leader's 'no-win' scenario - for sci-fi fan's he compared it to Star Trek's Kobayashi Maru test.
'If we hadn't whipped it would have meant that myself and others could have kept our places on the shadow cabinet. But not whipping would have come with its own problems. There was no easy answer. To be honest I think the party had to make a stand on this one way or another. It was a no-win scenario. I think Jeremy has shown leadership on this,' he added. And he said he was upbeat about a more Norwich-focused life after holding two of the big shadow offices of state.
'It means I get to spend more time in Norwich and to start talking about things I want to talk about. I was a backbencher for, what, three months before I went onto the front benches. I can redouble the amount of time I want to spend on the issues and campaigns I care about such as the mental health crisis. You saw the Panorama programme. It is tragic what is happening in Norfolk and Norwich. I'll be doing lots on public services and also on how Brexit will affect Norwich.'
He is planning summits on what the city can do to prepare itself for life outside the European Union, claiming the city needed to lobby the government on what the trade deals and the exit deals should look like.
'There is a bright future for Norwich, we have to make sure it is not undermined by the decision the government makes on Brexit,' he added.
After weeks of agonising the Norwich South MP returned to the city yesterday looking relaxed. He remains sure he made the right decision and feels he has stuck to an election promise.
'It was on my election leaflets. I will be Norwich's voice in Westminster, not Westminster's voice in Norwich.'
'I know the people of Norwich do different. They like people who speak up for them. They are not interested in people who toe the line for the sake of it. That crosses party lines. People are independent minded. It is a historic tradition. We are an open and welcoming and tolerant city. We don't like conformity.
'I like to think I have represented that in what I have done. I hope people accept that and the spirit in which it has been done and the principle of representing Norwich.'